When life gives you Lemonade, well, you judge the 12 new ways and then rank them against the best ballads of her 13 -year career thus far. Here’s our Top 50. We await your outrage.
With the release of Lemonade simply one week and one billion gues pieces ago, Beyonc infused an already astonishingly robust catalog of music with 12 new masterpieces to shore up her status as this generations singular musical icon.( Fight me on this and fear the fury of the Illuminati. Or, worse, the BeyHive .)
Since 2003, Beyonc has released six solo albums, peppering her discography with assorted singles that have appeared on movie soundtracks, greatest makes releases, or, sometimes, only the damn Internet for the hell of it. Thats over 175 songs. That translates to more than 700 minutes of grandeur. Virtually 12 consecutive hours of near-perfection. Taking into account infinite re-listens, thats years of happiness in our ears, all politenes of Queen B.
And what do you do when you work for the Internet, the industrys more influential artist falls a flawless new album on you, and Beyonc has been in your earbuds so long that its now actually her vibrato that pumps your heart, and not any cardiovascular biology? You rank those anthems, of course.
Am I an expert on Beyonc? Im better than that: Im a goddamn fan. Im also worse than that: Im a goddamn fan with an Internet outlet. The Daily Beast is my megaphone, and I am hollering my views through itmy opinions on what the 50 best Beyonc ballads are.
( The first 25 come with written justifications. The bottom half you get for free. And the Lemonade anthems are currently unavailable to include here. Blame Jay Z .)
The metrics: the quality of the ballad, the cultural resonance, the importance in Beyoncs career, and my instead baseless reasons for penchant or detesting it. The list is definitive, both because of my certitude in my picks and because that reads better in a headline.
And so here I am, strapping on my red kitten heels, shaking my hair out, and strutting ferociously into the firing squad. You cant rank Beyoncs sungs and not trigger a little bit of outrage. Hell, this is Beyonc. Its a lot of outrage. What have I done? Oh god.
This piece is my suicide note.
Sometimes a song is a metaphorical call to the dance floor. Sometimes it is a literal one. Single Ladies, opening with a hypnotizing drum beat and a summoning of All the single ladies, is both. The poems are funky and polished, sassy and proud. Her vocals are positively jubilant. The hook: humongous. There are songs that are catchy, and then ubiquitous, and then stale. And there is Single Ladies, a rhythmic earworm that never wears out its welcome , no matter how many weddings make it the corsage toss soundtrack. Its the rare various kinds of empowerment anthemone that demands respect and acknowledgement of worth while being unabashed about the desire to be in love and get married. Guys, its the perfect pop song.
The third single from 4 was never the commercial make it deserved to be. Sampling Boyz II Mens Uhh Ahh, its a potpourrus of genresfunk, hip-hop, a little bit of reggae, a lot of uptempo R& Bwhile somehow escaping the tonal cacophony that tended to plague Beys earlier efforts. Instead, it rides a frantic club beat to a cohesive, strictly pop anthem. Zany and frenetic, it was perfectly suited for the age of YouTube, becoming viral video fodder in its own right. Countdown is powerful, flirty, and an addicting testament to Beys whirlwind ambition.
Its hard to zoom out and take an objective view on Formation when its power, its significance at this zenith of Beyoncs career, and, most importantly, its current cultural necessity demands sharp focus. And its hard to magistrate the song Formation without calling on the searing commentary from its water cooler atomic boom of a video. But Formation is a triumph of an artist owning her roots and her blackness, celebrating her sexual power, inciting political action, and dedicating unapologetic middle thumbs to critics. The video and the anthem work in tandem to accomplish that. Lyrically, its her most quotable sung yethot sauce in my purse, black Bill Gates in the making, I slaybut its not song lyrics were quoting; its chants of a movement.
Those horns. The blaring, the vamping, the flame: theyre a veritable brass hype machine. They crescendo, and they unleash Beyonc. The rest of the sung is a tornado of soundthe staccato sing-along of the uh oh uh oh uh oh oh no no is the pop version of a catwalk, leading the way to that sonic maelstrom of a chorus. Its what pop stars should be, but too rarely are: utterly thrilling.
The best of Beyoncs anthems dont have choruses or refrains as much as the government had catchphrases. Mottos even. When she mixes melody and message she doesnt get a sung stuck in your head; she gets it lodged in your heart, your spirit, your spirit. To the left, to the left, You must not know bout me: theyre lyrics, but theyre also therapy. Irreplaceable is the most effective example of the common theme in her work: breakups dont break you. They can fix you. They can induce you better. Its radio-friendliness, too, is an unshakable example of what Beyonc does better than anyone: combination a certain pop sunniness and warmth with a steely defiance.
Beyonc masters. She polishes. She perfects. She makes things flawless, which is why the magnificence of her Flawless remix with Nicki Minaj is its fearless flinging into imperfection. Its a hip-hop pas de deux of slinking, salivating dominance, with Bey and Minaj celebrating hubris, aggression, femininity, self-awareness, and, despite the title, flaws. Together, they turn all the braggadocio of Flawless into something we mere mortals can espouse as a relatable daily affirmation. Naturally, Flawless became the soundtrack to the selfie: I woke up like this. And Minajs carnal, mic drop-off delivery is the best shes been since Monster. As a whole, its a startling hell-raiser, built for us all to dance in the fire.
Intensity, aggression, and even angerparticularly from the woman scornedhave stalked most of Beyoncs career, peaking with Lemonade. Throughout, though, Bey has never played the part of the psychopath, or stumbled into any misogynistic clich about what it means to be an angry female or a woman trying revenge. Instead, and beginning with Ring the Alarm, shes turned these elementsthis impassioned rageinto affirmations of your self-worth. From the siren that serves as the anthems entry point, shes both demanding your attention and firing off a warning: You aint never seen a flame like the one Imma cause.
By the time Beyonc jolted the world awake with its surprise release in December 2013 a hour when a astonish release wasnt yet the most unsurprising thing an artist could dothe singer had perfected the dance track, developed the formula for the crossover radio make, constructed the brilliant hip-hop song, induced the brilliant pop ballad, and built the brilliant emotional ballad, each many times over. XO, quite unexpectedly, was her foray into the stadium stone anthem. Epic in scale with its quiet verses and booming chorus, its call-and-response refrain was built for the arena. Here, shes not tugging your heartstrings. Shes not beckoning you to the club. Shes giving you goosebumps. XO is a love letter to being in love, delivered as an adrenaline hurry. Its Beyonc gone U2. And that is, strangely, a much more beautiful thing than it sounds.
Listen to Beyonc and you can hear a second coming of Michael Jackson, an artist who owes much of her sound and vocal styling to the likes of Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, and Prince. The pleasure of Love on Top is its gleeful espouse of the 1980 s vibe from which she was birthed, almost a pop deconstruction of an artist in her modern prime to the pieces that stimulated her who she became. The easy danceabilityyou could even call it boogienessof the beat is the aural version of the smile you wear while grooving to it. But everything takes a backseat to the forceful, yet effortless, vocal marathon Bey runs as she climbs her style through four key changes, climaxing with girly, positively joyful whistle notes from an artist singing hosannas of love.