Beyoncé Knowles has had quite the career. In only 32 years she’s managed to release 10 full-length albums (five with super girl-group Destiny’s Child), toured almost as many times as she released LPs, starred in seven feature-length films, and received all kinds of accolades and awards for her contribution to pop and R&B. She effectively filled the very glaring hole left by Janet Jackson when she decided that she wasn’t going to be cool anymore. Since her departure from the group that skyrocketed her into stardom, Beyoncé has led an almost incomparable solo career all the while maintaining her hotness. She’s been fairly contradictory in her music, simultaneously decrying the need for a man, all the while buying into the heteronormative matrimonial standards. She does it with class and integrity that makes it difficult to find fault in her fairly conservative standards.
Recently, she shocked the Internet with the completely surprise release of her fifth solo album, titled simply BEYONCÉ, which managed to hit number one on the Billboard charts, earning her a place in music history as the first solo artist with five consecutive No. 1 albums! In celebration of this illustrious career, PopMatters gives you the Top 10 Best Beyoncé Singles of All Time.
Although there are probably a dozen different singles that could have been slotted in this position, it’s the formidable “End of Time” that stands out as the favoured track. It’s a chaotic tune packed with drumcore snares, impressive (even for Beyoncé) vocal acrobatics, and a sentiment that is ever endearing. From her fourth album, titled simply 4, “End of Time” was a small release that didn’t make the kind of impact that it probably should have. With its hypnotic chants and formidable presence, you can’t help but appease her when she sings: “Say you’ll never let me go!”
(I Am… Sasha Fierce, 2008)
While most of singles on this retrospective have some type of social conscience, or have been huge catapults for her career, “Halo” stands as one of the only singles that Beyoncé’s produced where the simplicity and overall catchiness stands front and centre. The singular concept is simple enough, likening her love to an angel—“Halo” makes little sense, but dammit if it won’t get stuck in your head. On the track “Partition” from her latest album, there’s a line where she sings: “And why you think ya keep my name rolling off your tongue / ‘Cuz when you wanna smash I’ll just write another one.” Well, “Halo” is proof of that truth.
(I Am… Sasha Fierce, 2008)
Probably one of her most questioning tracks, “Single Ladies” is the kind of tune that through a spectacularly minimal music video and superior live version, was elevated beyond its relatively sparse production and entirely heteronormative lyrics enforcing the patriarchy of monogamy and matrimony. It’s difficult to hear a vibrant and thoroughly independent young woman sing about wanting her man to “put a ring on it” if they like it—as if to imply there is a way to possess her, you just have to be willing to commit. This message becomes completely subverted in a live performance with a fully female band rocking the shizzle out it. Beyond that, it has become one of her most recognizable tracks and helped to transform the being of feminism that can still groove with patriarchal structures in ways that was never intended. It’s like transformation and rebellion from the inside.
4 was littered with tracks that delved into ‘70s R&B and marriage-hood. While the majority of them celebrated her complex (and some would argue befuddling) relationship with rapper Jay-Z, “I Care” is one of the finest—even if it was a small release that saw little impact on the charts. While many in the past have dismissed women who have had the audacity to “care” about things their partners do not, Beyoncé doesn’t take to being dismissed or belittled too well: “I know you don’t care too much, but I care!”, striking power dynamics on their head and forcing her partner to understand that unless he begins to see her truth in the situation, he’ll be caring about no one but himself. Musically, the song crackles and builds until the ferocity through which Beyoncé sings becomes all too prevalent—you are forced to care, where you previously hadn’t.
Mired in the kind of controversy that Beyoncé has not previously been privy too, “XO” is the accidental lead single off her surprise fifth album that stunned the world upon its release. Dismissive non-creatives lambasted Beyoncé with decries of being “insensitive” and “tasteless” for daring to sample Steve Nesbitt speaking in regards to the Challenger disaster—forgetting that although it was a specific thing that happened to people with families, it exists in the consciousness and history of many, and is not a holy grail incapable of being included in creative works. Its placement in such a beautiful track, the likes of which Beyoncé has never written before, provides a poignancy of the urgency of love in a fleeting world.