Beyoncé came to the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards to collect the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard trophy; she left having made a powerful statement. During a medley of her hits, the word feminist appeared, followed by lines from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech “We Should All Be Feminists.” In it, she also included this tongue-in-cheek advice for women: “You should aim to be successful, but not too successful; otherwise, you will threaten the man.”
Queen Bey’s been singing about formidable females for ages: See “Independent Women, Part 1” (“I depend on me”), “Run the world (Girls)” (“Strong enough to bear the children / Then get back to business”), and “Bow Down” (“I took some time to live my life / But don’t think I’m just his little wife”). Even playing up her sexuality, in song or costume, is a conscious act of liberation, as is co-writing most of her songs — and making bank for it. As B says on “Formation”: “Best revenge is your paper.”
Ahead, explore Beyoncé’s top-charting — and most empowering — hits through the years.
2003: Crazy in Love
The fanfare of those blaring horns (courtesy of a sick sample from the Chi-Lites) heralded the arrival of a new queen. Reigning at No. 1 for eight weeks — and still causing delirium on the dance floor today — this titanic Beyoncé/Jay Z joint was everything the singer needed to fulfill her solo destiny.
The acoustic guitars may suggest a sad breakup song, but there are no tears on this kiss-off. Her longest-running solo No. 1, spending 10 weeks at the summit, it tells a cheating man exactly which way to get gone: “To the left, to the left.”
There’s a ’60s girl-group charm to that hand-clapping bounce, but this No. 1 smash is a thoroughly modern manifesto for bachelorettes everywhere: A woman won’t be held down unless a man makes it official. Bonus points for the iconic video.
I Am… Sasha Fierce let B explore her pop side more than ever before, and this blissed-out ballad showcases the singer at her most angelic, floating through the heavens with a chorus that will never come down to earth.
2008: If I Were a Boy
One of her few hits that she didn’t have a hand in writing, this folk-flecked ballad was nonetheless owned by Beyoncé. Stripping away all the diva attitude and revealing a vulnerable soul, it shows our goddess may be part human after all.
2011: Run the World (Girls)
Behind a boom-bastic attack, complete with militaristic drums and what sounds like an army of Beyoncés, this female empowerment anthem will not be stopped short of a total global takeover. Witness the woman at her fist-pumping fiercest
2011: Love on Top
She played a Diana Ross–like character in Dreamgirls, but it was here that Beyoncé really captured the silky essence of her girl-group-to-solo-superstar forebear.
2013: Drunk in Love
Love? More like crazy in lust on this hypnotic banger that emphasizes how there’s no shame in owning your sexuality.
In the first half of this track — co-written and co-produced by Justin Timberlake — Yoncé flaunts her rap skills. The second half channels Erotica-era Madonna atop a thrusting bass line. This is Mrs. Carter at her edgiest and most explicit.
This feminist anthem is, simply put, epic. Blast it full volume when you want to remind yourself that you’re the baddest B out there, even if you’re simply taking a shower.
She takes the hot sauce out of her bag and pours it all over this surprise release, dropped the day before her second Super Bowl. Celebrating both her Southernness and her Blackness, B goes hard for ladies to join her in systematic slayage.
2016: Hold Up
Cue up the music video in which Beyoncé smashes the windows of parked cars in a yellow gown … because she can. The song lyrics go: “What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? Or, like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I’d rather be crazy.” The hitmaker owns her feelings — no matter what they are — and you should, too.
2019: Brown Skin Girl
This track not only features Blue Ivy Carter’s vocals, but also her songwriting skills (which won Carter her first BET Award). The song also inspired the viral social media movement, #BrownSkinGirlChallenge, in which women of color celebrated themselves on social media.
2020: Savage (Remix)
Behold, the soundtrack of 2020. When Meghan Thee Stallion dropped the song in March and it’s all about being a boss ass babe. Queen Bey and Meghan Thee Stallion launched a remixed version of the TikTok hit the following month. She announced that proceeds for the track would be donated to Bread for Life to support the Houston community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.