By now you're either on your way to buy Beyoncé's 4 (on public transportation, we hope--neither B nor Popdust is worth computing while driving), very familiar with 4 already thanks to leaks and pirates, or quite confused about your reading material.
We'd give you the rundown on 4, but we already did that. We'd try to defuse all those pesky flop rumors, but we did that too. What's left to do, then, but put 4 in its proper context with an exhaustive assessment of Beyoncé's exhaustive career, from Destiny's Child to solo stardom?
Ground rules: Singles only, no album tracks. Featured credits don't count, which rules out "Telephone" and "'03 Bonnie and Clyde" but keeps us from having to listen to Lil O (Houston, Texas, baby! Just not high-profile elsewhere.) Soundtrack appearances and promo singles do count, if only because "Why Don't You Love Me" and "Listen" deserve spots. And for the top ten, we'll tell you why each song is so great. Hopefully you'll agree, or at least have your own rankings or creative insults for us in the comments!
Not why Beyoncé dropped Mathew Knowles as her manager, but could've been.
56. CATER 2 U
55. NASTY GIRL
As fun as your mother calling you a slut!
54. STAND UP FOR LOVE
A pseudo-charity single off a greatest hits album. Enough said.
53. BIG MOMMA'S THEME FT. DA BRAT
52. ONE NIGHT ONLY
The point of "One Night Only" in Dreamgirls is that Beyoncé/Deena's version is the terrible disco ripoff of Effie's song. Naturally, Beyoncé got the single.
51. VIDEO PHONE
"Telephone" was better.
50. WHAT'S IT GONNA BE
48. BROKEN-HEARTED GIRL
46. BEST THING I NEVER HAD
45. WISHING ON A STAR
43. CHECK ON IT
42. ME, MYSELF AND I
Peggy Lee after four aspirins.
40. WORK IT OUT
39. GREEN LIGHT
Start writing those angry comments! But really: now that Survivor, LaTavia, LeToya and Farrah have mostly left us, what's left?
Cadillac Records: surprisingly good! Beyoncé 's version: also surprisingly good! Etta James: Etta.
A "Diva" is the belated version of "A Milli".
34. I KNOW
Not quite on par with Jennifer Holliday/Hudson's "And I Am Telling You," but close.
31. WITH ME
30. IF I WERE A BOY
29. GET ON THE BUS FT. TIMBALAND
Are you "Are You That Somebody"?
28. GET ME BODIED
Sporting the Michelle Obama stamp of approval.
To hear songs that go from pretty good to great, with only one that's been featured on a movie soundtrack, click NEXT.
26. FIGHTING TEMPTATION FT. MISSY ELLIOT, MC LYTE AND FREE
Only ranked this low because it's not really Bey-centric.
25. UPGRADE U
24. STIMULATE ME FT. MOCHA
23. NO MORE RAINY DAYS
22. NO, NO, NO
(Programming note: From here on out, things get good.)
21. RING THE ALARM
20. NAUGHTY GIRL
19. ONCE A FOOL
A NFL collab with blatant Beyoncé/Kelly feud-baiting that's so much better than that makes it sound.
17. BABY BOY
16. DEJA VU
15. WHY DON'T YOU LOVE ME
When housewives get desperate and/or real....
14. BEAUTIFUL LIAR
12. LOSE MY BREATH
11. RUN THE WORLD (GIRLS)
We really wanted 4 to be represented in the top 10, but it's not a singles album, and it turns out Beyoncé's other songs are just way too good.
For the top 10 songs from Queen B (complete with music videos!), click NEXT.
10. BUG A BOO
OK, the conceit is dated as--well, pagers and beepers, or MCI and its phone poles or AOL wanting to be an Internet company. But just pretend you're hearing "tweeting me" or whatever, and "Bug a Boo" holds up: as raucous as "Lose My Breath" or "Run the World (Girls)" and as bitter as "Bills, Bills, Bills," with a jackhammer intro more commanding than three-quarters of this list. And unlike "Bills, Bills, Bills," the group never had to explain themselves through a Charlie's Angels infomercial. Nobody wants a proto-cyberstalker!
9. INDEPENDENT WOMEN (PART 1)
Speaking of infomercials, ignore the Charlie's Angels commercial-breakdown at the beginning. "Independent Women (Part 1)" (and Part 2, which is phenomenal but not a single) is, as we've said, an answer-the-haters song to "Bills, Bills, Bills," but unlike "Survivor," it works as a song. Destiny's Child and B have seldom sounded so relaxed, coasting through braggadocio, a surprisingly pretty chorus and, on the bridge, gorgeous falsetto. And the second verse, particularly "I worked hard and sacrificed to get what I get / ladies, it ain't easy being independent," is a nice dose of realism when so many empowerment songs run on gas and wishful thinking. We can name plenty. Some are by Beyoncé.
8. SWEET DREAMS
Beyoncé hasn't sounded this little like herself since the late '90s and DC's clone-stamping of Timbaland/Babyface. The production, all ooze and synth, could've been given to anyone from "Disturbia" on. But it works, B's quavery "Halo" high notes sounding even more poignant when wrenched out of their reverent context. And anyone surprised by how vulnerable or otherwise human the tracks on 4 are has forgotten how ghoulish and codependent Beyoncé makes love sound.
7. JUMPIN' JUMPIN'
Destiny's Child's first real club song, "Jumpin' Jumpin" is a crowded nightful of nonstop beats, endless shifts (try singing it in karaoke--it's not easy) and vocals always one second away from leaping off the verse. By the time Beyoncé does on the final chorus, it's as much of a star-defining moment as anything else in her discography.
There's no signature choreography attached to the mid-tempo ballad, just the mixed emotions that often come with a breakup, handled in an entirely self-loving way. Rather then seek revenge or wallow in the loss of a relationship, B comes up with a slogan that will resonate with just about anyone, thanks to a confident chorus and incredibly unforgettable hook. (Literally. Go on and try to get "to the left, to the left" out of your brain this afternoon. We can't.) Over the course of the track, produced by Stargate and co-written by Ne-Yo, Beyoncé moves into the higher register, skillfully floating through notes of hidden heartache, masked by that outward confidence and sass we all wish we could replicate ourselves.
5. BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
The definitive female checklist of what every potential boyfriend shouldn't do, presented to you by the kind ladies of Destiny's Child. Beyoncé rattles off the things her man has failed to take responsibility for (car, phone, credit card), taking the somewhat chanty "Can you pay my bills?" chorus and drawing it out to showcase her vocal prowess by song's end (moreso than we had heard up until this point). Calling upon fellow ladies for support, the song encourages women who to take a stand against their deadbeat men, and inspired throngs of "Independent Women" before many of us even hit puberty. Credit Kelly Rowland's hook with teaching us the meaning of trifling.
B steps away from her vocally biting list of grievances to misbehaving men, for a straight up love song, celebrating her relationship with hubby Jay-Z. (Aww.) Sure, the initial haunting echoes are enough to give us chills, but it's the persistent bass drum that pushes things along into mid-tempo pacing, preventing it from being just another sleepy ballad. Co-written by OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, it's his biggest song to date—and what many will argue continues to influence his writing to this day—proving that Beyoncé is truly multidimensional, capable of winning us over with both dance crazes and beautiful love songs all the same.
3. SINGLE LADIES (PUT A RING ON IT)
The incomparable track that spawned plenty of copycat tributes (by everyone from Justin Timberlake, Joe Jonas and Glee), inspired a new slogan for marriage proposals and received the "Best Video Of All Time" crown from Kanye West (in memorable fashion), with a dancehall meets bounce beat that gets everyone clapping and singing along. But while it's seen as a stark representation of independence (based on the title alone) there's a slightly conflicted message within, serving both as an anthem for the unattached female and a reminder that some women do simply want to be part of that grand, romantic fairytale ("Here's a man that makes me, then takes me / And delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond"). In big, bass-bumping fashion—with dancing that's become as ubiquitous as the chorus itself—B created a phenomenon, untouched by anything else this century.
2. SAY MY NAME
It is impossible to overrate "Say My Name." It's one of the defining tracks of turn-of-the-century R&B, the best song Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins has ever produced--yes, that includes "The Boy Is Mine"--and arguably DC's signature song, even more so once its color swatch of a Joseph Kahn video emerged with two members missing. B's vocals are practically spring-loaded, tiptoeing around Darkchild's skittering beat and only letting her pent-up belting free in spritzes. The chorus is the same, working up paranoia and obsession every time it repeats until, by the end, it's a panic of melisma and faint-alarm synths. Stalled relationships never sound this good.
1. CRAZY IN LOVE
Beyoncé's debut solo single announced her presence in a shout, with help of blaring horns taken from The Chi-Lites "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)." Moving her way through feelings of infatuation that borderlines on obsession, she lets herself go with every high and unrestrained note to emphasize just how foreign—yet intoxicating—new love can be. The bombastic score is off set by the bouncy "Uh-oh, uh-oh" that feels totally infectious even without forming an actual sentence. (We know what she's thinking.) Wrapped around a signature Jay-Z verse—a sign of what was to come—the '70s soul influences breathe life into a song that still manages to sound new with every listen. It may have been B's first solo track, but it quickly and powerfully asserted herself as an innovator and a hitmaker, two titles she doesn't seem likely to relinquish anytime soon.
Beg to differ? If you think "Cater 2 U" was an unfairly neglected masterpiece or that "Crazy In Love" was just okay, go ahead and tell us all about it in the comments below. (If you simply want to marvel at Beyoncé's brilliance, we'll settle for that, too.)