If there’s one thing Beyoncé has on her, it’s a set of lungs. The girl can sing like no one’s business, and it does become all too apparent when in songs like “1+1” she wants it to be known that her best asset is still her voice. A weirdly dark and touching love song, it begins with downplayed electric guitars as she professes: “If I ain’t got nothing, I got you!” But the darkness doesn’t truly come to light until she proclaims: “I don’t know much about guns, but I been shot by you / And I don’t know when I’m goin’ die but I hope / I will die by you!” Most likely meant to imply that she’ll be by her lover’s side when she goes, you can’t help but hear a morbidly dark undertone of death and love. It was an odd choice for a lead-in single to her album 4, but Beyoncé has always been on the forefront of change in the R&B musical landscape, and while at the time the pumped-up masses may not have been crooning for a laid-back ballad with hushed instrumentation, it did its best to gently guide others in her direction.
(I Am… Sasha Fierce, 2008)
Beyoncé‘s third album was preceded by an odd choice of single. This ballad saw Beyoncé sing to her seeming penis-envy; however, by the end of the song you realize that what she’s really singing about involves her superior handling of gender-related behaviour compared to most men—highlighting what men/boys get wrong in their treatment of women and life in general. Unfortunately, what Beyoncé blames on gender is in actuality simply the behaviour of an asshole, regardless of gender. Still, it’s a powerful sentiment that plays the blame game in such a way that Beyoncé comes out victorious. Not only is she shaming her lover, she’s chalking his shotty behaviour to gender faults—which doesn’t allow him much room for redemption.
Austin Powers in ‘Goldmember’ soundtrack, 2002)
Beyoncé’s first ever single as a solo artist still racks up as one of her best. Recorded and promoted as part of her first starring role in a major film, Austin Powers in ‘Goldmember’, it’s only fitting that she shed her girl-group beginnings and proved to the world that she was more than capable of sustaining your interest all on her own. Not that her work with Destiny’s Child wasn’t great, but it was this minimal Pharrell-produced gem that started her solo ascent into veritable stardom.
This stellar track and the one following, are without a doubt the best examples of popular R&B by any artist. Although not the lead-in single to her sophomore album B’Day, I’m sure it surprised even Beyoncé herself when, despite rhyming “minute” with “minute”, everyone was quoting “To the left / To the left!” It’s the kind of track that fortifies her empowered femininity, and just when you thought that was a cliché, she dismisses your impression and lack of respect with a simple “You must not know ‘bout me / You must not know ‘bout me / I can have another you in a minute.” She’s essentially stripped you of your ability to dismiss her as a hackneyed popstar by proclaiming that you are the one a dime-a-dozen. It’s awe-inspiring.
(Dangerously in Love, 2003)
If “Work It Out” proved to the masses that Beyoncé was capable of breaking out on her own and sustaining a solo career, it was “Crazy in Love” (her second single) that solidified her undeniable superstardom. She wouldn’t just be a generic Rihanna, spouting track after track of throwaway radio hits, but rather create the kinds of anthems that were worthy of becoming obsessed over. Who didn’t have this track in their “Best of 2003” playlist? Who didn’t have Beyoncé’s booty and chaotic video etched into their psyche when this video was being played everywhere? Who didn’t break out into harmonized sing-a-long when the bridge to this song began and she sang: “Got me looking so crazy, my baby / I’m not myself, lately / I’m foolish, I don’t do this / I’ve been playing myself / Baby I don’t care!” I bet you just sang that line right now, didn’t you? Well, if there was ever any doubt, you need only have another listen to this super hit to be reassured that Beyoncé has earned her place as one of the greatest pop singers of our contemporary time.