Today is a sacred day for young Kevin O’Keeffes everywhere: Beyoncé’s birthday!
Happy birthday to the King of Pop! To celebrate this happy occasion (and to correct this awful list of the best Beyoncé songs that somehow does not have “Countdown” at No. 1 I mean what is this world coming to), here’s my personal list of Bey’s ten beyst songs. (Note: for a list of the most Bey songs, check out Rembert Browne’s Spotify playlist, which is just divine.)
10. “That’s Why You’re Beautiful,” I Am… Sasha Fierce
One of her less-well-known ballads from her third solo album, “That’s Why You’re Beautiful” strikes the mix of seductive and longing that only the Queen herself can seem to reach. Her vocal is lovely and lilting, and it’s eminently listenable. It’s also one of her most starkly emotional songs, unconcerned with boasting or being the HBIC. In many ways, this may be as close to hearing a “real” Beyoncé as we ever have been.
9. “Bow Down / I Been On,” self-leaked track
A controversial release, Beyoncé leaked “Bow Down / I Been On” with almost zero fanfare on her personal site. It was unclear what exactly we were listening to: two unrelated snippets? A hybrid experimentation? Pure noise? Once the speculation died down, though, we were left with an absolutely savage, taunting minute of music, accompanied by what has to be Beyoncé’s weirdest work ever, pitch lowered and including boasts about being in a Willie D video. Everything about it shouldn’t work, yet it’s truly captivating – and a breathtaking departure I hope to see included in her next album.
8. “Sweet Dreams (Live),” I Am… Yours
“Sweet Dreams” is a fine song, even though it does sometimes feel like a contemplative ballad wrapped up in a club-banger beat. “Sweet Dreams” live, however, is gorgeous both in interpretation and performance. I’ve yet to see any performance where Beyoncé doesn’t do the slower version, and for good reason – it transforms a forgettable single into a standout in any show.
7. “Diva,” I Am… Sasha Fierce
Make no mistake: “Diva” is absolutely savage. Yes, it borrows heavily from “A Milli” by Lil Wayne. Yes, she’s had other songs that are similarly power-packed (including two on this list). But nothing leaves the same impression that Beyoncé is a legendary figure, hitting the lyrics harder than we had ever imagined possible. Diva wasn’t a name for just the Broadway greats or drama queens after this song came out – Beyoncé was and is the Diva, and we all aspire to the same status.
6. “Ring the Alarm,” B-Day
There are two possible interpretations of “Ring the Alarm.” One is that, like many of the Queen’s best songs, it’s based on nothing but emotions that are easily relatable for the audience. (“Single Ladies” is a great example of that.) The other interpretation is that this song really is about an affair she discovered Jay-Z was having with Rihanna – or, at least, her suspicions that something was going on. Like many a tall tale, sometimes believing the rumors is more fun than the likely truth with this song. You just hope that Bey burned the chinchilla coat Riri left at their home by accident – and that she had fun doing it. In a way, this song posits that Beyoncé is a dark Superwoman: taking the revenge we all want but could never have.
5. “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (with Jay-Z), The Blueprint2: The Gift & The Curse
Keep your “Upgrade U” and “Crazy in Love.” Don’t come to me with “Deja Vu” or “Hollywood.” Those songs may be great in their own way, but “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” is magical. Both performers ooze charisma, and Bey’s hook is flawless: “Down to ride to the very end / It’s me and my boyfriend.” While we may not want Jay-Z, that doesn’t mean she can’t make us want what she has with him: a love so strong, it’s criminal.
4. “Listen,” from Dreamgirls
Finding your own voice is hardly novel ground for a song, much less a movie theme, much less a movie theme in a film that also includes “And I Am Telling You.” Yet “Listen” stands apart from that other legendary hit largely because it goes beyond what Deena feels. “And I Am Telling You” is defiant from a character that we expect defiance from. “Listen” is the first real display of defiance from Deena, and feels right at home in Dreamgirls. But it’s just as effective considered all on its own – and the amount of amazing performances it has produced is a testament to that. (Check out Bey’s duet with X Factor UK winner Alexandra Burke below, and weep.)
3. “Schoolin’ Life,” 4
4 saw Beyoncé experimenting with different genres in ways that paid off better for some than others. The Queen herself must not have been very confident in “Schoolin’ Life,” a Prince-esque endeavor that was relegated to the deluxe edition of the album. Yet she shouldn’t have been afraid: “Schoolin’ Life” is different, daring, dynamic and so, so quotable. No matter what your station in life, this song is for you (literally, she says it’s for basically every age group possible), and you’re lucky to have it. It’s her surest hit that isn’t nearly as well-known as it should be.
2. “Say My Name” (as part of Destiny’s Child), Writing’s on the Wall
Destiny’s Child had plenty of hits in both its original four-girl incarnation and the renowned Bey/Kelly Rowland/Michelle “Who?” Williams trio. “Survivor.” “Bills Bills Bills.” “Soldier.” Yet when you think of DC, you think of “Say My Name.” Of Beyoncé’s big singles, it stands out as being deserving of the hype. Everything about it works, from Bey’s lead vocal to the bridge, filled with nothing but the word “yea” over and over. The cadence is unique and varied. The lyrics are the right mix of catchy and fierce. It would be a worthy #1 on any of these lists. The best DC song ever, and definitely among the best of Beyoncé’s.
1. “Countdown,” 4
Yet there couldn’t be any other. “Countdown” stands apart as being Bey’s best for so many reasons. On the album, it was one of the most successful experimentations, effortlessly combining a mix of sounds that could have been chaotic, but instead was desperate for you to dance along. Among her big hits, it recalls some of her best, yet stands apart as not just a club hit or a radio favorite. There’s serious artistic exploration happening here, from song to the video (that she filmed while four months pregnant!). “Countdown” is a classic, the kind of song you know will be around for years and years to come. It’s perfectly Bey, an overjoyed expression of marital bliss that even the unmarried can relate to. It’s not just good: it’s a masterpiece.
Think I’m “Crazy” for leaving off some of Bey’s biggest “Single”s? Wish there were some other DC “Survivor”s at the top? Tweet me your thoughts: @kevinpokeeffe.