Beyonce’s 10 Most Feminist Songs
There’s only one person who runs the world: Beyoncé. That’s not an opinion. That’s scientific fact.
Queen Bey’s illustrious career—which began with dance classes at Houston’s St. Mary's Montessori School—spans nearly three decades, a collection of albums with Destiny’s Child, six solo sets, a handful of sold-out world tours, 22 Grammy awards and a slew of other industry trophies.
Her looming stature as one of the most influential artists of all time had to start somewhere, though. Her childhood dance teacher Darlette Johnson once recounted what it was like to be the first to discover Beyoncé's vocal talent: “I was just kinda sweeping around...and I was singing a song out of tune and Beyoncé finished the song for me and she hit a note and I said, 'Sing it again.'"
"She was a very shy girl," Johnson shared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show back in 2006. "She was maybe about six or seven, and her parents came to pick her up, I said, 'She can sing! She really can sing.' They let me put her in some singing competitions and dance competitions, and it's been history since."
And the industry has never been the same since.
Beyoncé turns 36 today (September 4), and to commemorate her growing legacy, we gathered ten of her most feminist songs, ranging from biting breakup fist-pumpers to socially-aware, tear-inducing ballads (and yes, including her work with Destiny's Child).
“If I Were a Boy,” I am...SASHA FIERCE
Opening her third solo album with this brooding gender-flip was quite the statement piece. The accompanying visual exposes the social layers in a way the song itself does not, but the iconic clip, in which Bey shatters the glass ceiling, serves as a stark reminder of society’s gender biases and stereotypes. She imagines herself as the perpetrator, slyly hiding away in dark alleyways and flirting with another man (“It’s not like I’m sleeping with the guy,” she claps back in the video’s pivotal reality-bending scene) and how, if she were a boy, she could do things without fear of public recourse. It remains eerily relevant.
Before pop radio turned its back on her, she was a reliable staple, garnering a string of massive hits well into the early 2010s. Among those is this brash and magnetizing barn burner, in which she tosses her cheating boyfriend’s belongings onto the curb. “It’s my name that’s on that Jag, so remove your bags, let me call you a cab,” she maintains, never wavering on her own self-respect. It’s knowing you deserve nothing but the best and remaining strong in the face of deplorables. He is replaceable, but she is most certainly not.
“Independent Women, Pt. 1,” Survivor
A bubblier version of Bey’s later entry on this list (see: “6 Inch”), the trio of Destiny’s Child playfully hearken to Charlie’s Angels but bring womanhood and independence into the 21st Century. “All the ladies who truly feel me, throw your hands up at me,” clangs the hook. The driving intention of the song lies in never needing a man to provide for her. Borrowing a TLC-soaked slink, Beyoncé, Michelle Williams and Kelly Rowland blaze their own trail, too. “I worked and sacrificed to get what I get / Ladies it ain’t easy to be independent,” Bey concedes before imparting women everywhere with their potential to dominate.
“6 Inch,” Lemonade
The core of Beyoncé's landmark, culturally-crucial Lemonade album was her marriage to fellow mogul and trailblazer Jay Z. She often depicted the most devastating and vulnerable aspects of their relationship, and here, she avows that she is worth every single dollar and has worked tirelessly for everything she has earned. She doesn’t need a man to prop her up; she’s doing just fine on her own. And it’s all true: peep any behind-the-scenes featurette, and Beyoncé is the commander of her art, from the lighting and costumes to choreography, editing and fashion spreads (and everything else you could possibly think of). No one green lights anything without her express endorsement.
“Run the World (Girls),” 4
“Who run this motha?” That’s right, girls. The strength and resilience of women is remarkable. They’ve literally built nations all across the world, devouring the patriarchy and rampant systemic sexism ferociously and unapologetically. We’ve got miles to go before we sleep, but it is a start. The arrangement is hinged on tribal-bent percussion, dressed with synths and dizzying vocal distortions. Beyoncé rises as a visionary, and while the chorus is decidedly-repetitive, which is exactly the point, it worms its way into your brain. “You can’t hold me / I work my 9 to 5, gotta cut my check,” she howls.
In the aftermath of a breakup, Beyoncé, Rowland and Williams flex their survivor skills on this early ‘00s smash. “I’m not going to stop / I’m going to work harder,” they swear, also proclaiming they’ll only surround themselves with “positive things.” The mercurial march from brokenness to richness (also mirrored in the rapid, calculated production style) grants release from the toxicity through finding their inner lioness. Relationships might crash and burn, but we are all the better for it.
“Pretty Hurts,” Beyoncé
Male artists can roll out of bed, slap on a baseball cap, a tattered pair of blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt and nothing is said. But a woman? She has to always be on, often swatting away unwanted advances, concealing herself behind the perfection of beauty. If she doesn’t live up to those egregious standards, her every move is picked apart. “Perfection is a disease of our nation,” Bey weeps over thunderous drums and a shimmering collection of other instruments. Ultimately, all the gloss and the play-pretend can be damaging, leading to a sad life of never feeling good enough. “You can’t fix what you can’t see / It’s the soul that needs the surgery,” she later muses.
“Ring the Alarm,” B’Day
One of her more aggressive vocals, Queen Bey has had it up to here on this one. “Ring the alarm! I’ve been through this too long! I’ll be damned if I see another chick on your arm,” she roars into a flurry of sirens, dropping down into a fiery mix of intuitive urban and jaunty pop. The melody steam rolls at a breakneck pace and mirrors her inner rage, unleashing spits at the flick of her tongue. When she sings, you listen.
“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” I am...SASHA FIERCE
You want it? You gotta work for it. Bey yearns for a sign of commitment, but let’s be clear: she ain’t tied to any man. Not even Jay Z. “If you like it, then you should have put a ring on it,” she chants. Another stunning video, the sequence is set in one solitary location, a dazzling white warehouse space, and contains some of her tightest, most on-point choreography of her career. It’s intimidating, but that’s generally the charm of Beyoncé. “Your love is what I prefer, what I deserve,” she demands.
Women should never apologize for being who they are or feeling what they feel. Bey is here to remind you: you are worth it. Framed loosely in the context of the album’s greater arc, it is a colossal take down of the male ego. “I ain’t thinking ‘bout you / Middle fingers up, put ‘em hands high,” she rips. “Waving it in his face / Tell him, ‘boy, bye.’” And there has never been a better anthem encompassing today’s male nonsense.
Beyonce's Best Dance Breakdowns:
Celebrity Members of the BeyHive: