Still from the music video for 'Formation'

A definitive ranking of every lead single by Beyoncé

The Queen is back with the dance anthem ‘Break My Soul’ – how does it measure up to tracks like ‘XO’ and ‘Single Ladies’?

by Fopé Ajanaku
|
21 June 2022, 4:08pm

Still from the music video for 'Formation'

Stan culture can be wild, and it’s one of the defining reasons that the internet is such a deeply unhinged and terrifying place. But I would die for Beyoncé. It’s very unlikely I will ever have to, but it must be said: there is no other artist who wields such mastery of not only her craft, but her entire image and sound. That’s power. With the news that Renaissance would be coming, to end a six year famine (The Lion King album has cute little songs but it does not and sadly will never count), I knew that a good meal was on the way. 


Break My Soul” is an intriguing album appetiser. Bey’s lead singles are often a slightly off-kilter thematic precursor to the world of the full record, and this one is yelling, loud and clear: house is back, baby! With Big Freedia’s commanding vocals, a killer beat and an affirmative mantra of a chorus, the Queen evokes better times spent in worse clubs – a vibe very much in line with the new era she’s teased in interviews about the forthcoming record. But this is far from Beyoncé’s first rodeo so, in honour of the new song’s release, let us consider the archive. Here is every album lead single by Beyoncé (minus “7/11”, which deserves justice), ranked in order of greatness.

10. Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)

Deeply ironic for the married and loved-up queen to be singing about the plight of the uncoupled and unmarried, but you cannot say she is unrelatable! I will not lie, the deep, guttural tone of the line: “Don’t treat me to the things of the world / I’m not that kind of girl”, still goes hard. However, if “Single Ladies” is your favourite Beyoncé track, you may unfortunately be very boring and very basic. And that’s okay too!

9. Spirit

Great gowns, beautiful gowns. Do not get me wrong: the vocals are absolutely stunning.  Beyoncé took us to church with “Spirit”, and I was dutifully seated among the pews. But no song from an album about cats can ever truly bang. Sorry. 

8. Run the World (Girls)

An inescapable 2011 classic. A journey into the ill-fated subgenre of feminist empowerment pop. The lyrical genius of a global superstar singing the line: “I work my nine to five, better cut my check”. We stan an awareness of gendered class consciousness, but ultimately “Run the World” is simply the weakest song on 4, an album of straight hits: from “Countdown” with its impeccable vocal riffs and runs (seriously, how does she do that) to underrated noir homage “Dance for You”.

7. If I Were a Boy

A single that truly highlights exactly how gorgeous Beyoncé’s voice is: a crowd-pleaser that starts slow and really builds into a stunning final chorus. You can’t hear it without feeling the heartbreak in that final “but you’re just a boy”. However, the elephant in the room – the music video, or more specifically Bey’s cop cosplay in it, is just ridiculous. And so ACAB dictates that this song be ranked lower.

6. Break My Soul

Potentially a little underwhelming upon first listen, “Break My Soul” is bonafide bop with a great beat and an even greater potential for remixes. The house revival has been definitively made the theme of this summer. If Beyoncé wants me in the club, who am I to deny her?

5. XO

There’s just something about XO that’s so, so charming. The music video’s dreamy visuals and aesthetics take us back to 2013. I am about to go to university, and I am filled with the hope and possibility of a brighter tomorrow, the prospect of a dizzy night at a fairground. “Baby love me, lights out.” Call it nostalgia, but nostalgia works!

4. Drunk in Love

We’re firmly in cultural reset territory now. The beauty of her self-titled album is that Beyoncé really wanted us to know that she fucks, and that she fucks hard. So she made “Drunk in Love”, and it’s a song that has lived rent-free on everyone’s sex playlists ever since. If you’re a few wines in when you hear this, you’re legally allowed to be insufferable about it. She said this one is for the girls, gays and theys who fuck!

3. Formation

Finally. Beyoncé killed the cop in her head, and we love to see the growth. A fittingly political music video to announce an album that samples Malcolm X. But for the most part, Lemonade is a poetic project that charts the emotions of betrayal, anger, and eventually forgiveness – it’s the personal and the political that leans much more on the former, and so a song like “Formation” feels a little out of step with the record, especially when it proceeds “All Night”, which is arguably a (more) perfect album closer. But Lemonade is Lemonade and we’re drinking it all in, regardless.

2. Crazy in Love

A classic Beyoncé song that will get the room pumping no matter the circumstances. A little too obvious for the number one spot, but Bey’s first official debut single is an undeniable banger all the same. She was twenty-two years old, in those booty shorts and that white singlet when she came to change our lives: “It's the way that you know what I thought I knew / It's the beat that my heart skips when I'm with you”. She invented emotional storytelling with this one and never once looked back.

1. Deja Vu

Bass. Hi-hat. 808.

A spectacular song. I know she takes her husband everywhere but goodness, did he serve his purpose here. The chorus? The ad-libs? That bridge? The breath control? Her body is covered in sweat because she was working during those dance breaks. A violently perfect song and no, I will not be debating this.

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