Beyonce’s Hit Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best

Look up there! It’s the Super Bowl audience, and they’re waving at you!

With Beyonce performing at the Super Bowl this Sunday—perhaps you’ve heard?—I figured this was an excellent time to rank her hit singles.

After all, performing in the Super Bowl halftime show confers a certain status on a musician, especially when that musician is the lone headliner. After Sunday night, Beyonce will be in a league with Madonna, Prince, and Michael Jackson, and honestly, that sounds about right. In the 15 years since Destiny’s Child broke through with “No, No, No,” she’s become a perpetual force in pop music who has defined herself less by scandal and intrigue than by her talent. She’s a “respectable” artist, but she’s interesting. She makes crowd-pleasing hits, but she takes risks. And perhaps most importantly, she continually evolves her sound, which allows her to stay surprising. She’s arguably at the top of her pop music generation.

So let’s think about how she got there! Here’s a list of Beyonce’s top twenty hits, ranked from worst to best.

Note: My girl has released many excellent singles that never made the top twenty—especially “Countdown”—so I’m honoring them in my heart. I’m also leaving off hits that only give Beyonce a “featured” credit, because it doesn’t seem right to put “Love In This Club, Pt. II” against “Crazy In Love.”

Previously: I rank Pink’s hits! And Katy Perry’s!

The Bad

(17) “Diva” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #19

Sigh. This song. The video is cool and sexy, but Beyonce can’t sell the “bad bitch” persona. She comes across as too professional and too glamorous to seem like someone who would talk about stick ups and bags of money. Lil’ Kim and M.I.A. can sell that story because they both seem a little crazy, but when Beyonce tries to play the game, she seems like Kate Winslet rocking corn rows. It’s a bad fit, and it obscures what works about the artist and the style she’s taking on.

(16) “Check On It” feat. Slim Thug
Hot 100 Peak: #1

If it weren’t for Beyonce’s nimble vocals, then this song would make me crazy, but when I get irritated by the generic beat and rap interlude, I can at least enjoy her slinky high notes. Really, though, my least favorite thing about this utterly forgettable track is the stupid lyric, “Got to be patient/I like my men patient.” Rhyming a word with itself? Really? A song has to be amazing to overcome something like that. (And we’ll get to that later in the countdown.)

The Decent

(15) “Beautiful Liar” feat. Shakira (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #3

Why do so many diva duets fall flat? Madonna and Britney. Whitney and Mariah. Beyonce and Shakira. They all just sound so lifeless. And look, I’m not pretending that Shakira is in Beyonce’s league, but she still has personality. I don’t understand how two women with so much pizzazz could land on such a bland song. Stargate’s thundering beat keeps it from being a total disaster, but there’s nothing here that you can remember the next day.

(14) “Deja Vu” feat. Jay-Z (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #4

If “Crazy in Love” had never happened, then “Deja Vu” might seem like the hottest jam in history. But “Crazy In Love” did happen, you know? And it’s impossible not to compare it to this song, which has a similar beat, similar Jay-Z interlude, and a similar lyric about being really into your man. And when you put it next to “Crazy in Love’s,””Deja Vu” seems like thin gruel.

(13) “Naughty Girl”
Hot 100 Peak: #3

In case you weren’t clear that Beyonce’s channeling Donna Summer’s breathy sexiness here, she helpfully sings “Love to love you baby” at the top of the song. And you know what? It’s nice to have a modern version of Summer’s “turn the lights down” seduction. In fact, I don’t have a problem with “Naughty Girl,” but when it’s compared to Beyonce’s masterpieces, it just doesn’t demand as much attention. It’s perfectly passable, but that’s not good enough for a high ranking.

The Good

(12) “Baby Boy” feat. Sean Paul (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

God, remember Sean Paul? It’s like Pitbull swallowed him whole. But we’ll always have this hit, which is the best “slow and sexy” single that Beyonce ever released. Compared to “Beautiful Liar” or “Check on It,” Beyonce sings with more nuanced vocals, like when she puts a twist on the line “feels like true paradise to me.” The way she stretches the note there, practically forcing the drum track to wait until she’s finished, tells you a lot about how sexy she’s feeling. Plus, Sean Paul’s reggae-rap plays perfectly against the percussion. Bonus points also go to the line about the dance floor becoming the sea, which doesn’t make sense but still sounds erotic.

(11) “Best Thing I Never Had” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #16

I  admire Beyonce for releasing a single like this in 2011. It’s a power ballad produced by Babyface, and even though it would’ve sounded perfect in 1994, it sounded aggressively old-fashioned alongside “Firework” and “Raise Your Glass.” But did Beyonce care? No! Because this was the music she felt like making at the time, and she clearly wasn’t worried about being on trend. And because of that, “Best Thing I Never Had” is kind of refreshing… a throwback to the days when military drums and growled-out choruses were exactly how you sold emotions. It’s only because she’s released so many great singles that this one isn’t higher on the list.

(10) “Sweet Dreams”
Hot 100 Peak: #10

For her detour into Eurodance, Bee delivered a winner. Her voice sounds pure as cold water as it stretches those high notes over the frantic beat, and when the chorus hits, the sudden appearance of shouted background vocals (“turn the lights on!”) adds a dark new texture. Because it sounds so different from the rest of Beyonce’s catalog, “Sweet Dreams” is probably doomed to be forgotten, but it’s still a shimmering success.

The Great

(9) “Me Myself and I” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #3

Oh, shit! Everybody hold on to your panties, because this song is making them drop! But you know what’s amazing? Despite the pretty-kitty beat, this isn’t a song about freaking. Nope! It’s about Beyonce kicking her man to the curb. From now on, she’s going to be her own best friend, and she doesn’t need to see him or his three kids ever again. This is another hit that seems to be forgotten, but you should revisit it. It’s got a great story, a sick beat, and amazing vocals.

(8) “Telephone” (Lady Gaga and Beyonce) (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #3

Released in the second wave of Lady Gaga hysteria—after “Just Dance” but before “Born this Way”—”Telephone” proved that Gaga could hold her own against a major duet partner. But at the same time, it demonstrated that Beyonce could slay a dirty dance track with her growling vocals. A million bonus points go to the music video, which creates a lesbionic prison movie for the ages.

(7) “If I Were a Boy” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #3

It’s no surprise that Reba McEntire covered this song: It’s got the clever lyrics and raw emotion of a country classic. But really, it’s impossible to imagine the song without Beyonce’s heart-ripping vocal, which gives me chills every time I hear it.

(6) “Ring the Alarm”
Hot 100 Peak: #11

Hear what I’m preaching, America: Other than “Countdown,” “Ring the Alarm” is Beyonce’s most under-appreciated single. The beat just thunders away at your body until it almost knocks you flat, and Beyonce destroys the vocal. She sounds legitimately pissed, and she does that fast-singing thing  so well here that I could lose my mind. I’m listening to this right now, and I’m about to throw my hands in the air in the middle of my office. Plus, you have to watch her acting in the video. She’s terrifying, and it’s amazing.

The Flawless

(5) “Love On Top” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #20

Like “Best Thing I Never Had,” this follow-up single from the album 4 is indifferent to current musical trends. And this time, the results are even better. Rocking a soul vibe straight out of the late 70s, “Love On Top” is joyous, which is not something you can say about a lot of songs in our weary and ironic era. And you know what increases the joy? Beyonce’s ludicrous vocal. When she hits those key changes at the end? Getting higher and higher and never once missing a note? I have to laugh because it’s just so audacious and awesome. It’s like she’s saying, “Oh… you thought that was hot? TRY THIS!” I linked to the album version of the song instead of the official music video because the video cuts out the last minute of vocal explosions, and that’s just silly.

(4) “Halo” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #5

This is why I said that OneRepublic should be a better band. Because Ryan Tedder is capable of writing songs like “Halo,” which perfects his formula of putting echoing drums beneath a string-drenched, swooping chorus. (You can also hear that approach on “Already Gone,” “All the Right Moves” and “Bleeding Love.”) I have a friend who basically spent an entire weekend crying to this song, and I get it, you know? This is a power ballad with real power, enhancing the grandeur of the track with heartfelt lyrics about devotion and an especially emotional vocal. “Halo” is such a good song, in fact, that it survived being dedicated to Haiti that one time.

(3) “Crazy in Love” feat. Jay-Z (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

I mean… seriously. When it comes to the top three, this countdown is basically splitting hairs. All the remaining songs are classics, and they’re all “definitive Beyonce records,” which is pretty impressive. Most artists are lucky to get one. Ask me tomorrow, and I might put “Crazy in Love” first, but today, that feels too predictable. I’m slotting it in third because it’s had my devotion since 2003. It can handle a brief moment out of the spotlight. But no matter where it is, this song will always work me over with its horn blasts. And its “oh-no-no” refrain. And its line about tennis shoes. And the sickening throb of the beat under the verses. Really, it’s three or four great songs at once, since each section has its own personality. And magically, all those sections hang together.

(2) “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” (watch)
Hot 100 Peak: #1

“Single Ladies” is kind of like “Crazy for You,” since it sounds like several great songs spliced together. The handclaps-n-sass of the verses blends perfectly with the slowed-down attitude of the bridge and the majestic keyboard swells that occur at several intervals. It keeps your hips guessing, even as it keeps them popping. And obviously, I have to acknowledge the video, with its hand-swivelling choreography and “Mexican Breafast” references and eventual parodies by Justin Timberlake and Glee. The song is great without all that extra attention, but that extra attention makes it even better.

(1) “Irreplaceable”
Hot 100 Peak: #1

Like I said, I could reorder the top three and still be happy, but as of today? Right now? “Irreplaceable” is feeling like a rediscovery. I haven’t listened to this song in a while, and damn, it is still intoxicating. The easy, insistent pulse of the drum loop and the gentle guitar carry us along like a river. Then there are those lyrics, mostly written by Ne-Yo. Yes, the song rhymes “minute” with “minute,” but it also tells us to put our shit in a box to the left, to the left, which is so weirdly specific that it paints an entire picture. You know exactly who this fool is and why Beyonce is calling him a cab. And that’s the kind of storytelling that makes great melody even better.

Mark Blankenship has written about music and culture for the New York Times, NPR, and many others. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.