In The Quantity Ones, I’m reviewing each single #1 single within the historical past of the Billboard Scorching 100, beginning with the chart’s starting, in 1958, and dealing my approach up into the current.
“Yo, Taylor. I… I’m actually pleased for you. I’ma allow you to end. However Beyoncé had among the best movies of all time! Probably the greatest movies of all time!” On the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, the evening was nonetheless younger, and Taylor Swift had simply received the award for Greatest Feminine Video. Taylor was aw-shucksing her approach although her acceptance speech when a visibly drunk Kanye West immediately appeared beside her, taking away her microphone in order that he may right the historic file.
Kanye West’s actions that evening had been clearly impolite. They had been additionally ridiculous. The VMAs are pure kayfabe. Apart from Kanye West, no person cares who wins. Later that evening, the Beyoncé video that Kanye was so wanting to defend received Video Of The 12 months. If the yr’s finest video is made by a girl, wouldn’t it observe that it’s additionally the Greatest Feminine Video? It doesn’t make sense, and it’s not imagined to make sense. The awards are merely MTV’s excuse to get a bunch of well-known folks into the identical room. Even by the wildest stretch of the creativeness, you may’t say that these awards are any indication of benefit or esteem. Nonetheless, Taylor Swift’s win offended Kanye West’s sensibilities, and he mentioned what he mentioned. (Taylor Swift, by the way, received that VMA for “You Belong With Me,” a tune that peaked at #2. It’s a ten. We’ll see loads of Taylor Swift on this column.)
Kanye’s interruption led to a right away and overwhelming backlash. Barack Obama, the newly elected President of the USA of America, known as Kanye a “jackass.” Kanye’s VMA second would result in ripple-effect penalties that no person may’ve probably predicted — penalties that had been musical and cultural and perhaps even geopolitical. One way or the other, we’re nonetheless dwelling in its aftermath. If Kanye hadn’t jumped on that stage, our world would now be profoundly completely different, and I’ve to think about that it might be higher. However right here’s the factor: Kanye wasn’t unsuitable.
The video for “Single Women (Put A Ring On It)” might be the best, most stripped-down clip that Beyoncé ever made, and it’s additionally essentially the most memorable. Jake Nava, the identical director who’d made Beyoncé’s “Loopy In Love” video, shot Beyoncé and backup dancers Ebony Williams and Ashley Everett towards a clean background, carrying leotards that Beyoncé’s mom Tina Knowles designed. The costumes and the areas by no means change. As a substitute, Beyoncé, Williams, and Everett merely dance, chopping dramatic silhouettes and projecting absolute power, because the digicam whirls round them. It’s mesmerizing. Greater than any precise film that Beyoncé ever made, the “Single Women” clip is cinema.
The video didn’t emerge from a void. Beyoncé, Jake Nava, and choreographer JaQuel Knight had been closely impressed by “Mexican Breakfast,” a Bob Fosse routine that Fosse’s spouse Gwen Verdon carried out with two backup dancers on The Ed Sullivan Present in 1969. Bits of Fosse’s choreography make it into the “Single Women” video, and Beyoncé’s dance additionally pulls closely from J-setting, a mode carried out by dancers in Atlanta’s homosexual Black golf equipment and by the Prancing J-Settes, the Jackson State College dance troupe.
These influences are essential, however they don’t actually seize what Beyoncé was in a position to do with the “Single Women” video. In a second when the music video itself was in an odd state of flux — not in MTV rotation, not fairly a dominant YouTube power but — Beyoncé was in a position to flip the “Single Women” clip right into a monocultural sensation, seemingly by means of sheer power of will. In that video, Beyoncé offers a definitional star efficiency. Her eyes radiate energy, and each hand-flip and hip-twitch feels significant. Within the video’s closing seconds, Beyoncé’s icy facade lastly cracks. She raises her metal-gloved hand and slowly reveals her gigantic $5 million marriage ceremony ring. Lastly, gasping for breath, she flashes a fast megawatt smile.
Earlier in 2008, Beyoncé had secretly married her longtime accomplice and collaborator Jay-Z. That marriage ceremony was the topic of heavy hypothesis, however Jay and Beyoncé didn’t verify their relationship standing till that one second within the “Single Women” video. That’s the best way that Beyoncé has at all times communicated. Even in a social-media age, she retains full management, solely nodding to her non-public life in essentially the most meticulously planned-out gestures. “Single Women” is a tune about not being married, however Beyoncé used it to make historical past’s biggest marriage ceremony announcement. From that second, the tune and the video can be without end inextricable.
Beyoncé didn’t even put on her marriage ceremony ring within the studio when she recorded “Single Women.” After the success of her sophomore album B’Day, and particularly its ultra-huge kiss-off ballad “Irreplaceable,” Beyoncé had large plans for her subsequent file. Beyoncé had a sort of imaginary alter-ego; when she was required to carry out grand-scale exuberance, she referred to that performer, who she noticed as being separate from her actual self, as Sasha Fierce. The third Beyoncé album was known as I Am… Sasha Fierce, and the entire concept was that it might discover the cut up between Beyoncé’s selves.
Possibly Beyoncé ought to’ve requested Garth Brooks how these split-personality albums normally work out. I Am… Sasha Fierce is by far Beyoncé’s worst solo LP. The file has some nice songs, however as an entire, it’s a muddled and vague mess. The I Am half — the sleepy ballads that supposedly come from the actual Beyoncé — showcase an amazing voice, however they’re boring, particularly when grouped collectively at the start of the file. The Sasha Fierce songs, principally uptempo dance-pop, are usually so much higher, however even these ones really feel undercooked. I actually like her tune “Diva,” as an illustration, but it surely was unimaginable to disregard that the observe was an apparent chunk of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” with a beat from the identical producer. (“Diva” peaked at #19. “A Milli” peaked at #6. It’s a ten.)
For all its points, although, I Am… Sasha Fierce nonetheless has “Single Women,” a type of superb moments when the machine creates one thing larger than the sum of its elements. For “Single Women,” Jay-Z enlisted The-Dream, Difficult Stewart, and Kuk Harrell, the identical crew that had been accountable for Rihanna’s game-changing monster smash “Umbrella” the yr earlier than. (The-Dream and Difficult Stewart additionally co-wrote and co-produced Mariah Carey’s “Contact My Physique,” however Kuk Harrell didn’t get a credit score on that one.)
The-Dream, who’d parlayed his songwriting success right into a solo profession, was the opening act on Jay-Z’s co-headlining tour with Mary J. Blige. (I noticed that present at Madison Sq. Backyard, and I can report that The-Dream was not able to share the stage with these two.) When The-Dream and Difficult Stewart headed to the studio, they discovered themselves surrounded by different famous person producers — Stargate in a single room, Timbaland in one other — all attempting to make hits for Beyoncé. The-Dream hyped himself as much as write by speaking shit to all his friends, telling them that he’d be the one to give you Beyoncé’s first single. Having mentioned that, Dream needed to ship. Dream later instructed Genius that he wrote his “Single Women” lyrics in “roughly round 17 minutes” and that the tune’s central lyrical hook — “if you happen to prefer it, then you definately shoulda put a hoop on it” — sounded “like some sassy shit a lady would say to me.”
Have you ever ever listened to the “Single Women” instrumental? It’s so bizarre. The central a part of the beat is sort of punishingly easy — a syncopated stomp, some militaristic handclaps. There are just a few funky guitar stabs in there, and we get some artificial horns that evoke the HBCU marking bands that Beyoncé loves a lot. However the beat additionally has tons of otherworldly sounds — beeps, whirs, clicks, bloops, squelches, all made to sound as mechanical as doable. A few of these noises remind me of first-generation online game power-ups. Others are just like the buzzing clanks that Robocop makes when he walks. With just a few changes, that beat may’ve been Nitzer Ebb or Entrance 242, however The-Dream and Difficult Stewart weren’t attempting to channel early industrial music. As a substitute, they had been hoping to make one thing like “Get Me Bodied.”
The Swizz Beatz manufacturing “Get Me Bodied” — one other tune with an astonishing Bob Fosse-inspired video — is the hardest and finest tune from Beyoncé’s B’Day album. Like “Single Women,” “Get Me Bodied” has a hammering, handclap-happy beat that offers Beyoncé an opportunity to go completely bugshit. “Get Me Bodied” wasn’t an enormous hit — it peaked at #46 — but it surely stays one of many biggest issues that Beyoncé’s ever carried out. The-Dream and Difficult Stewart weren’t shy about the best way they went after that sound on “Single Women.” Shortly after the tune’s launch, Difficult instructed Individuals, “I at all times consider that each artist has a groove to them. That rhythm is what she responds to.” Can’t argue with the outcomes.
The entire lyrical concept behind “Single Women” is about so simple as it will get. Beyoncé’s narrator simply broke up, and now she’s up within the membership, doing her personal lil thang. She’s having fun with the corporate of a brand new man, and her ex, who’s evidently up in the identical membership, is upset about it. However this man by no means dedicated to her. He by no means received down on one knee. Beyoncé cried her tears for 3 good years, and now he can’t be mad at her. The ex’s love may be what Beyoncé prefers, what she deserves. However now she’s discovered a person who makes her, who takes her and delivers her to a future, to infinity and past. I don’t fairly perceive why Beyoncé must quote Buzz Lightyear to make her level, however the shit sounds good.
“Single Women” is filled with little hooks — the “whuh oh oh” chant, the playground-taunt cadence of the verses, the howling-in-a-tornado bridge, the mantra of the title itself. All of them imprint themselves in your reminiscence. (My daughter, who was born the yr after “Single Women” got here out, couldn’t bear in mind the title of Beyoncé’s outdated group in a Trivial Pursuit sport final yr. Her finest guess was All The Single Women. That is definitive proof that I don’t attempt to power my musical tastes on my youngsters.) Beyoncé delivers all these slick little traces and melodic turns with tight, offended precision. She sounds powerful and fiery and ebullient unexpectedly. She is aware of that her ex has fucked up, and she or he’s delighted on the likelihood to rub his nostril in it.
As at all times, Beyoncé’s personal life and persona thrums within the background all through “Single Women.” It’s a tune that she may’ve solely launched after getting married — a teasing provocation about what would’ve occurred if Jay-Z hadn’t put a hoop on it. “Single Women,” ostensibly a breakup tune, carries its personal ecstatic newlywed glow. When “Single Women” hit, it turned a marriage perennial. For years nearly each Fb engagement announcement was a line about somebody liking it and placing a hoop on it. Beyoncé shared writing and manufacturing credit score on “Single Women.” I don’t know the way lots of the lyrical or musical decisions actually got here from her, however she owns the tune fully. I can’t think about anybody else singing it.
Beyoncé launched the primary two singles from I Am… Sasha Fierce on the identical day — the concept being that she’d present each side of the file without delay. “Single Women” was the Sasha Fierce single, and the I Am single was the album’s opener, the anguished pop-feminist ballad “If I Had been A Boy.” Each songs had been hits; “If I Had been A Boy” peaked at #3. (It’s a 6.) However “Single Women” was the tune that hit the zeitgeist like a bomb, that instantly turned a vital a part of Beyoncé’s iconography.
The “Single Women” single finally went platinum 9 instances over, and it drove I Am… Sasha Fierce to sextuple platinum standing. For a lot of, a few years, it was Beyoncé’s final #1 hit. Beyoncé has remained a massively consequential determine, however she hasn’t actually made all-consuming and dominant monocultural tracks like that since. Different Sasha Fierce songs had been hits, however they weren’t hits like that. Beyonce co-wrote and co-produced the ballad “Halo” with “Bleeding Love” auteur Ryan Tedder, and it peaked at #5. (It’s an 8.) Since then, “Halo” has quietly turn into a Spotify colossus; it’s Beyoncé’s most-streamed tune by a snug margin. However “Halo” didn’t have something just like the instant impression of “Single Women.”
One other I Am… Sasha Fierce single, the synth-rumbling “Candy Goals,” made it to #10. (It’s an 8.) By this time, Beyoncé had ascended to the realm of celeb that she nonetheless occupies as we speak — the one the place you don’t actually must do the talk-show rounds anymore. Beyoncé performed Etta James within the mostly-forgotten awards-bait film Cadillac Information, after which she sang Etta James’ “At Final” at Barack Obama’s inaugural ball. (The actual Etta James, who was nonetheless alive, was pissed that she didn’t get the invitation.) In the course of the inaugural festivities, John Legend, an artist who will finally seem on this column, caught a video of Obama doing slightly little bit of the “Single Women” dance whereas joking round presidentially with Beyoncé.
Beyoncé collected loads of awards within the wake of “Single Women”; she actually didn’t want Kanye West stumping on her behalf on the VMAs. After Kanye’s interruption, when Beyoncé received Video Of The 12 months, she made the magnanimous transfer to welcome Taylor Swift again to the stage, letting her end. Just a few months later, Taylor Swift defeated Beyoncé for Album Of The 12 months on the Grammys. That yr, “Single Women” received Tune Of The 12 months. Beyoncé has received extra Grammys than some other human being in historical past, however all of her different awards are in style classes, not within the large ones. The “Single Women” Grammy is the only real exception. That’s is among the causes that individuals like me had been so infuriated to see Harry Types, an artist who will finally seem on this column, beat Beyoncé for Album Of The 12 months just a few months in the past.
Beyoncé took a brief break after the I Am… Sasha Fierce album cycle lastly died down, and she or he fired her father Mathew Knowles as her supervisor — an indication, on reflection, that Beyoncé would not chase hits with the identical stage of laser-eyed focus. As a substitute, Beyoncé eased into a brand new position as a distinct sort of artist. Each Beyoncé file after I Am… Sasha Fierce has been some sort of album-length assertion. When she returned with 4 in 2011, Beyoncé took a step away from the pop mainstream. First single “Run The World (Ladies)” was each a feminist assertion and, because of its Main Lazer pattern, an try to have interaction with the EDM sound that had taken over the pop mainstream. However “Run The World (Ladies)” was a little bit of a flop by Beyoncé requirements; it peaked at #29. When 4 got here out, that tune was successfully decreased to bonus-track standing, caught onto the tip of the album.
A lot of the 4 album confirmed Beyoncé blissfully partaking with older R&B types, one thing that she did amazingly effectively. The album was enormous at Black radio, and the sunny, slinky throwback “Love On Prime” reigned over the R&B charts for seven weeks. In the present day, it’s one among Beyoncé’s best-loved songs. On the Scorching 100, although, “Love On Prime” solely made it to #20. Not one of the singles from 4 went top-10; the album’s greatest pop hit, the stormy ballad “Greatest Factor I By no means Had” peaked at #16. Beyoncé didn’t appear too burdened about that. She’d made a improbable file, and she or he knew it.
On the finish of that album cycle, Beyoncé sang the Nationwide Anthem at Obama’s second inauguration, and she or he gave one of many biggest Tremendous Bowl halftime exhibits in historical past. Throughout that set, she briefly reunited Future’s Baby, and the stadium misplaced all energy for just a few disorienting minutes. Then the Baltimore Ravens received. That was evening.
After that Tremendous Bowl efficiency, Beyoncé may’ve transitioned into legacy-artist standing, her legend already safe. As a substitute, she plotted out an entire new transfer. One evening in December 2013, a complete Beyoncé album immediately appeared on iTunes. Beyoncé had one way or the other made a top-shelf pop album, filled with big-name collaborators, and she or he’d shot movies for each observe on the LP — all in secret, all with none leaks. Within the course of, she subverted the entire album-rollout mannequin, and the business scrambled to catch up.
Beyoncé’s self-titled LP is one among my favourite albums of the ’10s, however the precise music appeared to take a backseat to the best way she ambushed everybody with its launch. Thousands and thousands of individuals paid $20 for entry to the album and its attendant movies, and Beyoncé dominated the cultural dialog for some time. Since then, each different shock album from a famous person has been an try and recapture the stop-the-world power of that second. No one has ever pulled it off. Hit singles weren’t the level of that file, and its launch technique virtually kneecapped the person tracks. However one tune, the delirious Jay-Z collab “Drunk In Love” nonetheless made it to #2. (It’s a 9. It may be a ten with out the Jay verse — particularly the road about “your breasteses my breakfast.”)
Beyoncé wasn’t enjoying the pop-star sport anymore. As a substitute, she was making essential grand-scale artwork. Greater than any earlier Beyoncé album, that self-titled file felt like an occasion. That may’ve been much more true of her subsequent album. With 2016’s Lemonade, Beyoncé addressed Jay-Z’s reported infidelity from a galaxy-brain standpoint, digging into the numerous ways in which Black girls have been traditionally mistreated. Once more, Beyoncé wasn’t actually attempting to make hit singles; the album wasn’t even out there on most streaming companies. However Beyoncé nonetheless received to #10 with the big-statement single “Formation.” (It’s a ten.)
The whole lot that Beyoncé did after Lemonade felt like a victory lap. In 2017, Beyoncé performed a completely dizzying headlining set at Coachella — an entire new sort of inventive triumph. When everybody else in my home is asleep, I nonetheless habitually get excessive and placed on Homecoming, the Coachella live performance movie that Beyoncé made for Netflix. This at all times proves to be determination. Every time I do this, I’ve a nice time. In 2018, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, having apparently reconciled, launched The whole lot Is Love, a particularly mid collaborative album about how nice it’s to be married and ridiculously wealthy. Lead single “Apeshit” peaked at #13, and its existence principally appeared like an excuse to lease out the Louvre.
After Lemonade, I received the sensation that Beyoncé didn’t notably care concerning the pop charts anymore, that she was extra involved with making impactful artwork that solely glancingly intersected with the enterprise of getting a lot of folks to hearken to three-minute pop songs. However Beyoncé, it seems, nonetheless cares about making pop songs, and she or he may even care about whether or not these songs do effectively on the Scorching 100. It’ll be some time, however Beyoncé will seem on this column once more.