Happy Birthday, Beyonce! 8 Bey Bangers and Ballads That We Love

by | PopCrush
The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Telecast
Larry Busacca, Getty Images for NARAS

Today (September 4) is, of course, a national holiday, which is why all of you in America are sitting at home right now to observe this extraordinary day in our nation’s history: It’s Beyoncé‘s birthday!

The Child of Destiny-turned-global superstar has certainly come a long way ever since her debut as a part of Destiny’s Child — even earlier if we’re counting that moment with Girls Tyme! And along the way, she’s blessed us with dozens of sweat inducing, dance floor-ready anthems for Single Ladies (and Gents), feminist empowerment jams and devastating ballads — and even an ode to the surfbort.

To celebrate this joyous occasion, the PopCrush editors gathered together in their most bootylicious Freakum Dresses to dish about their favorite Queen Bey moments, from deep cuts in her extensive catalog to more well-known smash hits. Everyone has a special connection with Yoncé’s music, so here are some of ours. Feel free to contribute your favorite musical moments in the comments below — and help us with Bey a very, very happy B’Day!

“Freakum Dress”

First things first: I don’t own a freakum dress, nor have I felt a particular inclination to invest in one, but I’d be lying if I said B’Day’s seventh track didn’t elicit a bit of curiosity. The song — a caution against infidelity — is a total vocal blitzkrieg that’ll leave you breathless by the bridge’s Everest-spanning ascent. It’s manic. It’s a bit unhinged. It makes me want to dance, which — for someone who’d usually prefer to high-five a bear trap — is really saying something. — Matthew Donnelly

“Ring Off”

A love letter to her mother, “Ring Off” is one of the most personal songs in Beyonce’s hefty discography. Adept at maintaining that separation between celebrity and fan — even as the growing popularity of social media continues to blur those lines, for better or for worse — Beyonce’s always managed to remain the perfectly pristine, enigmatic pop star, never revealing more about herself than she deems absolutely necessary. But the dissolution of her parents’ marriage proved too much for her, and “Ring Off” lays it out bare. In it, Beyonce declares, quite loudly, that there’s strength in ending something that stopped working long ago, that the end of a marriage is not the end of the world. It’s a touching, candid tribute to her mother, and an open lettered declaration of solidarity to anyone starting over. — Ali Szubiak

“Upgrade U”

“03’ Bonnie & Clyde” and “Déjà Vu” are great, but “Upgrade U” is my all-time favorite Beyonce and Jay Z team-up. It’s got some of my favorite Beyonce’s-not-having-it lyrics as she lightly sasses her then-boyfriend: “I hear you be the block but I’m the lights that keep the streets on” and then, “I’m known to walk alone but I’m alone for a reason / sending me a drink ain’t appeasing, believe me.” With Bey’s stuttering “heys” in the background, it boasts classic production from Swizz Beatz at the top of his game (like DJ Mustard today, Swizzy’s sound was instantly recognizable back in 2007). The odd, lilting way Jay ends his verse with “Mama let me upgraaaaade you” gets me every time, and so does Beyonce’s verse right after as she kicks her vocals into overdrive. — Samantha Vincenty

“Smash Into You”

Sure, yes, there’s “Halo.” There’s “1+1.” There’s “I Care.” But buried within I Am… is arguably Bey’s other best ballad. Originally recorded by Jon McLaughlin as “Smack Into You,” the striding, classic power pop ballad not only showcases Bey’s impressively versatile vocal chops, but her masterful ability to emote. That unbelievably huge finish (“I’m ready to run, run, ruh-OO-oo-OO!”) never fails to provide full body chills. — Bradley Stern


A song had to meet one of two conditions to earn real estate on my college iPod: Can it help me complete this goddamn distance-run? Or Can it help me fall asleep once I get home? “Radio,” a fiery, bellicose dance-pop track from I Am…Sasha Fierce, filled the former’s requirement and then some. Between an eager 808 and competing synthesizers, every part of the song feels necessary, and it doesn’t rest until the album advances to “Diva.” Suffice it to say, there’s a reason I finished my first marathon in 2008. — Matthew Donnelly

“I Care”

“I Care” is one of those songs, like “Jealous” and even the jubilant-but-also-slightly-depressing “Love On Top” (“he finally put me first!”), that can get a devoted Beyhive member obsessing over the health of Beyonce’s relationship. It’s also the most sonically interesting of the three — producer Jeff Bhasker, who also made “All of the Lights” with Kanye, weaves handclaps with Beyonce’s backup “la las” and wrings emotion from a guitar jam-out accompanied by Bey’s improvised “woo”s. The result is a richly layered power ballad that’s both slick and emotionally raw. — Samantha Vincenty

“End of Time”

“End of Time” is a rollicking mishmash of insistent percussion. The military-like drum beat underlines the increasing crescendo of Bey’s always stellar vocals, as she declares an obsessive, intense kind of love. The particular brand of co-dependence on “End of Time” would come off as desperate from your lesser, average pop star, but Beyonce maintains her assertion and her strength. When she repeats, “Say you’ll never let me go / Say you’ll never let me go,” it’s a demand, not a question. Don’t worry, Bey, we’ll love you ’til the end of time, too. — Ali Szubiak

“Schoolin’ Life”

Honestly, how was this never a #1 smash? Then again, 4 never made as much noise as I Am..Sasha Fierce, which is shameful. The laid-back record is deeply underappreciated — especially when it comes to the deluxe cuts — and gave us an early hint that Bey would be leading down the artistic lane with the surprise album that briefly titled the globe on its axis. If anyone holds the answers to all the questions of the universe, it’s Beysus, which is why her kicky empowerment anthem isn’t just a delicious, dance-ready blat of retro synths and horn blasts — it’s a heaping helping of genuine, feel-good knowledge. (Also, Beyoncé dishing on kissing boys and loving a good drink really makes her relatable — it’s almost like she’s human! Just kidding. She’s Beyoncé.) It’s basically an uptempo version of The Secret audio book. Who needs a degree when you’re schoolin’ life? — Bradley Stern

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