Beyoncé's Hot 100 No. 1 Singles, Ranked: Critic's Take

Daniela Vesco/Invision for Parkwood Entertainment/AP Images
Beyoncé performs during the Formation World Tour at Amsterdam ArenA on Saturday, July 16, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

What’s left to say about Beyoncé? At this point, even JAY-Z is making better music because of her. Her take-no-prisoners approach to pop has tightened up everyone’s standards, loosened up the R&B world’s sonic vocabulary, and revolutionized the music video format entirely.

But in the strange and sometimes unfair realm of the charts, it’s taken until her new collaboration with Ed Sheeran, on his “Perfect" duet remix, for the 36-year-old icon to obtain her tenth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (between her solo works and her time in Destiny's Child), and her first topper since “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” in 2008. This is, of course, despite the fact her most lauded projects ever (Beyoncé in 2013 and last year’s Lemonade) have won multiple album-of-the-year accolades since then.

It’s become a very different landscape in the time that Queen Bey has made the leap from Singles Goddess to Album Auteur, so let’s trace her highest-charting works of mostly genius that have gotten her to this point.

10. “Perfect” (originally from Ed Sheeran’s ÷, hit No. 1 12/23/17, one week at No. 1 so far)

The evolution of pop hits can be truly astounding. Here’s a A) love song that Sheeran B) wrote while hanging out with James Blunt while C) listening to Future’s “March Madness” and D) now features the Queen of Pop. Does any of that make sense to you? Perform the aural equivalent of squinting and you can hear the melodic triplets of “March Madness” in the waltz-time balladry of Perfect," and it’s no surprise that James Blunt had something, even tentative, to do with this. It’s even less of a surprise that Queen Bey is the best thing about the tune, breathing far more life into her part than the too-easy chord sequence really insists on. And would it shock you that her newest chart-topper is the least essential thing on this list?

9. “Check on It” (bonus track from Beyoncé’s B’Day, 2/4/06, 5 weeks)

The effusive minimalism of this wordy soundtrack vamp was instantly memorable and would be a signature earworm for almost any other pop star. For a juggernaut like Beyoncé, though, it was a palate cleanser between careers, bridging the demise of Destiny’s Child with her own solo next chapter, appearing on both her former group’s #1s compilation and as a bonus track on her slightly undervalued, banger-laden B’Day. Bun B and Slim Thug’s guttural accompaniments provide more grit than any of her JAY-Z duets, and Swizz Beatz’s unmistakable triumphalist beat gives the illusion of how Bey would’ve sounded on one of those ubiquitous turn-of-the-century Ruff Ryderz hits.

8. “Independent Women Pt. 1” (from Charlie's Angels OST and Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, 11/18/00, 11 weeks)

A thumping behemoth of the finest millennial R&B sonics, Survivor’s opening track steamrolled the pop chart with its steely, stop-start beat, call-and-response harmonies, and spy-theme staccato string parts. Plus, it was an early sign of Beyoncé’s exemplary craft for zero-tolerance feminist anthems to come. Unfortunately, the message and general enjoyment level are sullied considerably by some of the crassest and most uncomfortable product-placement in pop history, loaded with ad libs about the Charlie’s Angels film franchise and its cast that border on Simpsons-like subliminal parody. Good thing it was merely “Pt. 1” to its leader’s now-signature string of rallying cries for her fellow sisters.

7. “Baby Boy” (from Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love, 10/4/03, 9 weeks)

Possibly Beyoncé’s most underrated hit, the best song-as-song on her solo debut was so easy and catchy that it feels markedly less tremendous than her more recent work. But she and then-smoking duet partner Sean Paul tap a shocking fount of melodic elasticity from Scott Storch’s squelchy, Bollywood-channeling beat. The star and her guest trade fours between his double-time, proto-Auto-Tune sing-rapping and her own multi-dimensional harmonies, doubling up on the hook shortly after the two-minute mark. A tightly-wound, four-minute masterclass in what can be done with a simple exotica riff and two expert vocalists.  

6. “Crazy in Love” (from Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love, 7/12/03, 8 weeks)

“Crazy in Love,” the first song that truly signaled Beyoncé’s arrival as her own pop entity, isn’t a more ingenious melody or composition than “Baby Boy"; in fact, it’s a little patchy as a song. But as a force of nature it’s undeniable. This is where she and JAY-Z really took the reins as a power couple, even though they stayed mum on it in the press. And the Run-D.M.C.-worthy rhythmic elements and blistering fanfare, all generously heaped on from the Chi-Lites’ 1970 soul-igniting funk jam “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So),” instantly made for one of the most iconic sample usages of the last 15 years.

5. “Bills, Bills, Bills” (from Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall, 7/17/99, 1 week)

Not everything in “Bills, Bills, Bills” works; the attempted wordplay of “automo-bills” gets by on its sense of play more than the cringy result. The whiplash beat-changing probably kept it from being much of a floor-filler, either. But along with the beatwise advances of Timbaland, “Bills, Bills, Bills” changed the R in R&B, gluing the harmonizing divas to a beat that glitched and bubbled and shifted tempos on a dime as expertly as any punk. In fact, many of Destiny’s Child’s hits are just blindingly fast. There’s a reason they’d later ask baby boy if he could keep up.

4. “Bootylicious” (from Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, 8/4/01, 2 weeks)

Let anyone who denies Destiny's Child prowess as expert rhythm chameleons pay close attention to the shift from the intro to the first verse, in which the trio sit on the beat sideways, balancing on it like a surfbordt and altering the emphasis entirely. The track itself is more minimal than your average Kompakt jam, with just the insistent opening inches of Stevie Nicks’ palm-muted special “Edge of Seventeen” serving as the entire bed here. Not bad for a song called “Bootylicious,” eh?

3. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (from Beyoncé’s I Am…Sasha Fierce, 10/31/08, 4 weeks)

Beyoncé’s signature solo tune is so omnipresent, so embedded in pop culture between parody videos and sparking a feud between titans (neither of whom is Bey herself) that still hasn’t ended, that it’s easy to forget just how weird the song itself was. The wayward beat of staccato claps that threaten to fall off the track while the singer herself leaves curious pauses and extra beats between her breathless deliverances of verse slamming into chorus. Don’t forget those oddly ominous strings on the chorus and the artsy bridge that climaxes on a Buzz Lightyear reference. You’ve heard it a thousand times but there’s too much here to take for granted.

2. “Say My Name” (from Destiny’s Child’s The Writing’s on the Wall, 3/18/00, 3 weeks)

Along with “Bills, Bills, Bills,” the biggest hit of Destiny’s Child’s career made pop and R&B sound like they were on fast-forward, shooting production elements and startling chord and time changes at us a mile a minute, with such shiny aplomb that only PC Music alumni have really tried to match their bracing complexity in the last few years. But “Say My Name” managed to stretch an instant pop classic over top of this unwieldy exoskeleton, something even those lacking a hyper-intuitive sense of rhythm could sing along to. It’s fast, it’s slow, it’s everything at once, and you know it by heart. Quite possibly postmodern R&B’s “Stairway to Heaven.”

1. “Irreplaceable” (from Beyoncé’s B’Day, 12/16/06, 10 weeks)

While Beyoncé’s innovative dance productions and semi-political art-house symbolism have become her calling cards, the finest of her most successful commercial hits is very nearly just a great song. And yet “Irreplaceable” is also her most uncompromising feminist track (boiling down to “never take me for granted”), her most quotable lyric (“I could have another you in a minute/ Matter of fact, he’ll be here in a minute”), her most devastating breakup tune (“everything you own in a box to the left”), and her greatest lesson to the world all at once (that she can’t be replaced, duh). But it’s the melody, the hurt and longing for stable companionship in those chords, that made it a touchstone for everyone from pop aesthetes to country singers alike. “Irreplaceable” was the moment Beyoncé was the whole universe. And she’s never looked back.  


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