Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our favourite 11 Beyoncé songs, ranked
You could pull out 11 Beyoncé songs from a randomizer and still end up with a pretty decent list. Choosing the best was always going to be nearly impossible, in no small part because so many Beyoncé tracks are as much cultural moments as they are songs. It’s hard to separate ‘Single Ladies’ from nights spent dancing to it, or to listen to ‘Break My Soul’ without remembering the frenzy around its drop. Just to illustrate how difficult a job this was: neither of those two tracks made it onto this list.
What did make our top 11 are some of the greatest pop and R&B tracks to be released in the last twenty years. With Bey’s now finally back on UK stages, here are what we consider to be her best 11 songs to date.
11. If I Were A Boy
(I Am… Sasha Fierce, 2008)
Beyoncé was ahead of the curve when, back in 2008, she expertly laid out the double standards in heterosexual relationships and hid it in an R&B ballad. What starts as a thought experiment turns into a scalding break-up track, the final chorus flipped and weaponised against an ex. That trembling “But you’re just a boy” that she leaves us with? Devastating.
10. Cuff It
“Have you ever had fun like this?” asks Beyoncé on ‘Cuff It’. Honestly, no. That breathy yet powerful vocal, those playful lyrics and that irresistible brass… Bey was ready to dance on RENAISSANCE and ‘Cuff It’ epitomises that. It would be a great song regardless of when in her career it arrived, but as a follow up to Lemonade it feels euphoric.
9. Crazy In Love ft. JAY-Z
(Dangerously In Love, 2003)
Beyoncé teams up with her most frequent collaborator on ‘Crazy In Love’ – and the man who would go on to inspire some of her best work, for better or worse. As interesting as it is to hear her singing with Jay-Z way back in 2003, by far the most notable thing about ‘Crazy In Love’ is just how incredibly strong a debut single it is. What a way to announce to the world that Bey was now flying solo.
8. Love On Top
Bey goes pop in this sunshiny, soul-filled ode to a happy relationship. Demonstrating vocal chords of steel and an unbelievable range, the singer delivers one of her best ever performances over an 80s-style beat. The song’s seemingly endless key changes were even more impressive when the audience at the 2011 MTV VMAs got to see her perform the song live – and its joyous lyrics even more meaningful, as Bey revealed her pregnancy bump to the world for the first time at the song’s close.
‘Partition’ is basically two songs, and they’re both incredible. The singer talks us through a date night that doesn’t make it past the limo – for good reasons. Bey delivers an excellent Monica Lewinsky reference, a smooth, sultry vocal and some of her best bars (“I sneezed on the beat and the beat got sicker/’Yoncé all on his mouth like liquor”). She also opens the track by flirting with an entire crowd. It’s the kind of thing only she could pull off.
6. Daddy Lessons
A blend of country, jazz and americana, ‘Daddy Lessons’ isn’t particularly similar to anything else in Beyoncé’s discography – and yet she pulls it off so well that we can’t help wishing for an album of it. The retro sound takes us back in time to her childhood in Texas and examines her relationship with her father. It’s as stirring as many of her best R&B ballads without ever being soft.
The detached cool in ‘Irreplaceable’ is enviable, perhaps matched only by Rihanna’s ‘Take A Bow’. Beyoncé has released plenty of music’s best break-up songs – see all of Lemonade for reference – but this single from B’Day is one of her most defining. “Can you walk and talk at the same time?”, she asks her ex as she evicts him from her house and takes back the car that she bought him. Rather than simply telling her audience not to sacrifice their self-respect for a man, she leads by example. It’s no wonder that ‘Irreplaceable’ was the most popular ringtone by a female artist in the entirety of the aughts.
4. Best Thing I Never Had
From the minute that opening refrain hits, Bey doesn’t let up for a minute. It’s a little Vanessa Carlton meets the Backstreet Boys in the best way, and whilst it might lack the sophistication of some of her later work, ‘Best Thing I Never Had’ makes up for it in sure enjoyability. Beyoncé belts and growls her way through the ballad with total commitment – only she can sell the line “I bet it sucks to be you right now” quite this convincingly.
3. Brown Skin Girl
(The Lion King: The Gift, 2019)
Maybe it’s Blue Ivy’s voice bookmarking the song, or the sense that Beyoncé is, in places, speaking directly to her daughter. Maybe it’s the generations of young Black girls that will get to grow up watching Black Is King and listening to the music that it features. Something about ‘Brown Skin Girl’, though, is intensely emotional. It’s also an incredibly skillful piece of writing, layered in its celebration of Black beauty, brimming with hope and love for the next generation, and doing it all in just over four minutes.
‘Formation’ proved that Beyoncé is at the very forefront of experimental pop/R&B. Our first introduction to her best record, Lemonade, it saw Bey fully embracing her heritage, identity and Blackness with an explicitness that shocked some corners of her listenership. Political, sincere and something you can move to – ‘Formation’ does everything that the best of Bey should do, capped by a fantastically playful vocal performance.
Anyone who reduces ‘Sorry’ to a feminist anthem about refusing to over-apologise needs to listen again. Not only is ‘Sorry’ musically perfect – so tightly constructed without ever being traditional, and featuring some brilliant melodies – but it paints a painfully detailed picture of the aftermath of infidelity. Bey sits at home waiting for her husband to return as it slowly dawns on her what’s happening. Her next move is unclear. She could confront him, she could take her daughter and leave, she could give him a taste of his own medicine. No clear plan can emerge, because the only coherent thoughts she can form at that moment are angry ones. Whilst many of her other, more detached break-up songs may be more satisfying, ‘Sorry’ is so effective because of its honesty. Even one of the most inspiring, independent women in pop has a breaking point. Thankfully, she’s able to pour it all into the music.