It's difficult to debate and rank Beyoncé's best songs. With a deep catalog of five albums and soundtrack cuts, the singer has recorded a number of tracks that resonate with fans. While most artists hope to have at least one or two songs that have a significant impact, Beyoncé has several records that have helped shape radio, push the limits of what's to be expected of an artist, and even impacted the careers of others.
While Beyoncé has recorded a number of ballads, “Irreplaceable” was about as slow things got on the radio. Originally penned as a country song, Bey transformed it into a radio-friendly R&B jam. The song defied genres, appearing on urban, pop and country stations and represented one of her largest crossover hits. Everyone was singing “to the left, to the left” as they kicked their unfaithful men to the curb.
One of the most surprising tracks from Bey’s fifth album was “Flawless.” First released as a teaser, the full-length version combined trap music, rap and a speech delivered by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie’s speech about feminism exemplified Bey’s transformation as a representative of female empowerment. As an artist, Bey has pushed that message on stage and off but never more so completely than on that record. But Adichie’s speech was not just a message to women, it’s a message to anyone “who believes in the social, political and economic equality.”
8. "Say My Name"
While technically a Destiny’s Child song (which were purposefully left off the list), it was the first song to recognize that the other girls in the group were really Bey’s backup singers. After swapping out LaTavia and LeToya for Farrah and Michelle, Bey took center stage on the group’s biggest hit. There was only one name on people’s lips: Beyoncé. It was just a matter of time before she became a solo star.
7. "Ring the Alarm"
“Ring the Alarm” is the most aggressive and emotionally charged Beyoncé song yet. Thanks to the blasting siren, Bey’s paranoia was not just heard but shoved down your ears in three minutes of fury. While not a huge radio hit, the song transformed Bey as a live performer. Her performance at the 2006 MTV Video Music Awards demonstrated her ability to make jaws drop during what most artists use a time to safely plug their project. Since then, Bey has become a staple at award shows and the Super Bowl.
6. "Telephone / Video Phone"
While Beyoncé has worked with several female artists, “Telephone / Video Phone” marked her most significant collaboration to date. Her and Lady Gaga came together on sister tracks from each of their albums. In the world of fighting divas, Bey and Gags proved the two were not above working together. While “Telephone” raced to the top the charts, it was “Video Phone” that served as a message about the future of sexting: We were all going to be sending sexy videos via mobiles one day. Thanks to SnapChat and Vine, we’re practically there. Leave it Bey to predict to the future.
The fourth single from 4 was a melting pot of musical genres. Funk, hip-hop, Latin pop and dancehall sounds were brought together in a track that propelled Bey’s career forward while parodying her former group’s final records. The song landed with fans largely in thanks to a frenetic music video that rocked the Internet. Much like the song itself, the video melded together pop culture references from Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker to Audrey Hepburn in Funny Girl. Debuting in October of 2011, the video also served as a celebration of Bey’s pregnancy with shots her bump scattered throughout.
4. "Drunk in Love"
The first of two lead singles from Beyoncé’s fifth self-titled visual album, “Drunk in Love” became a surprise crossover hit. One of the most sexually free of Bey’s songs, the singer was having sex in the kitchen with her husband seemingly serving as the conception place of Blue Ivy. In what is the bookend to “Crazy in Love,” “Drunk” is about a woman in full control of her romantic (and sexual) destiny. While it’s still early to fully appreciate it’s larger impact, “Drunk” has spawned parodies (see “Dunkin Love”), hashtags (#Surfboardt) and a live Grammy performance that felt like a sex tape in the making.
3. "Run the World (Girls)"
While it became the most divisive of Bey’s singles, it did more to show where the singer was going rather than please her fans at large. By hijacking Major Lazer’s “Pon de Floor,” she bluntly announced that she doesn’t care what people. She was a defiant R&B fashionista that was focused on taking women to the top and shoving her Gareth Pugh heels in the face of whoever got her way. The risks that she took here would later lead to tracks like “Flawless” and the Arabic arpeggios in “Drunk in Love” as well bolster the career of Diplo. The producer (and one-half of Major Lazer) went from producing indie darlings, M.I.A. and Santigold, to mainstream juggernauts, such as Justin Bieber, Usher, Bruno Mars, and Britney Spears.
2. "Crazy in Love"
The lead single from Bey’s first solo album not became the song of the summer of 2003 but easily became one of her best records to date. “Crazy in Love” arrived with so much fevered energy that there was no looking back on Destiny’s Child. The singer’s solo career was here and it was going to be big. It also marked Jay Z’s first appearance on a Bey track (she had previously appeared on his single “’03 Bonnie & Clyde”). The guest spot on this song and Pharrell Williams' "Frontin'" injected new life into Jay's sagging career. (The Blueprint 2 did no favors for anyone.) While it wasn’t confirmed they were dating at the time, the song marked the beginning of their relationship with their other collaborations (“Déjà Vu,” “Upgrade U,” “Drunk in Love”) serving as markers of their personal life.
1. "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)"
While not as timeless (or as good) as other songs in Beyoncé’s deep catalog, “Single Ladies” definitely has the most cultural relevance. Thanks to a Gwen Verdon-inspired dance routine, the video became one of the most recognizable of the singer’s career. Suddenly everyone from Joe Jonas to Liza Minnelli was doing the dance spawning a craze that swept the nation, the Internet and flash mobs everywhere. Bey even got in on the joke by performing a parody on Saturday Night Live with host Justin Timberlake. In addition to launching viral sensations, it also launched the career of Heather Morris. The actress was the singer’s backup dancer during The Beyoncé Experience world tour and part of the singer’s “Single Ladies” promotional tour. Morris took the knowledge to the set of Glee, where she was hired to teach the choreography to Chris Colfer. She was later added to the cast and became one of the show’s most memorable characters. Without “Single Ladies,” there would literally be no Brittany S. Pierce.