Beyoncé's 10 best music videos

Making this list was just as tough as you’d imagine.

Culture

Beyoncé is an accomplished visual artist. But more than that, she’s a prolific one. Nearly two decades since the heyday of countdown shows like TRL and 106 & Park — back when big-budget music videos were thought to be key components of superstardom — Bey has remained committed to a medium her peers seem to only have a casual interest in now. With every album she drops, multiple meticulously crafted visuals are a given. She’s a throwback to a different generation in this regard.

Sometime after MTV and BET became best known for Ridiculousness and Baby Boy reruns, making YouTube the final frontier for music videos, artists and audiences began to devalue the practice of bringing songs to life. Today, whenever there’s new material from certain luminaries — Drake, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar — fans are lucky to receive one visual per album. In general, the modern rules of music supremacy support this; reclusiveness is more valuable than visibility these days. Artists who can afford the cost of mystique would rather be heard than seen. This means no cover stories, no concert films, and very few music videos. Yet, despite the part she’s played in this new normal (the industry is just now recovering from when she killed the album rollout in 2013), Beyoncé is one of the last titans left still showing up for interviews, documenting her shows, and creating cinematic experiences out of four-minute songs.

Every track on Beyoncé’s last two albums, her 2013 self-titled LP and 2016’s Lemonade, came accompanied by a music video — the latter of which was packaged as a film and premiered on HBO. The first time she did something like this was when she released music videos for every song on her sophomore album, B’Day, as a straight-to-DVD anthology in 2007. For The Lion King: The Gift — the soundtrack she curated for the live-action remake of the original movie — she wrote, directed, and starred in a companion film that streamed on Disney+ (2020’s Black Is King). Even her Emmy-nominated Homecoming concert doc is worth mentioning, as clips from that Netflix special have been viewed more times than most artists’ actual music videos. With all this, smart money would bet that the imagery from her forthcoming Renaissance album, due July 29, will raise the bar again.

Throughout her near-20-year solo career, Beyoncé has established herself as music’s most important visual artist this side of Michael Jackson and Missy Elliot. Here are the 10 best videos she’s released along the way.

10. “Apeshit” with Jay-Z as The Carters

Certain music videos are only as good as their environments. Especially videos for songs about stunting. Of all the ways The Carters have flaunted their wealth, power, and influence on camera, “Apeshit” is the most impressive display of all three. After Bey and Hov rented out the Louvre to film the visual for their lead Everything Is Love single, what was already the most visited museum in the world reported a record-breaking 25% increase in visitorship in 2018. This was partially helped by the guided tour the Parisian institution created featuring the 17 works of art shown in the video.

Today, the two shots of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in “Apeshit” — the one featuring The Carters in their now-famous pink and teal suits, and the still of another black couple used for the EIL album cover — seem museum-worthy themselves.

9. “Partition”

Even more so than stunning environments, what the greatest music videos have in common are unforgettable moments that can be recreated on stage for years to come. Think Michael Jackson’s gravity-defying lean in the “Smooth Criminal” video. The silhouette of Beyoncé’s seductive chair dance in “Partition” is a similarly lasting image that fans got to relive throughout her and Jay-Z’s On The Run Tour in 2014. The routine itself only lasts about 20 seconds, but that’s all that’s needed to make it the most memorable moment from Bey’s second visual album.

8. “Deja Vu” feat. Jay-Z

The limbo arch Beyoncé does while holding onto Jay-Z’s belt in the “Deja Vu” video is another tentpole moment in her videography. Alongside that is the Senegalese and Gambian Mblax dance she performs in the very next scene.

Yet, while the choreography from “Deja Vu” is remembered fondly now, it received mixed reactions when it premiered in 2006. Nearly 7,000 people signed a petition that summer demanding Beyoncé reshoot the video. Among the signees’ complaints were the “unacceptable interactions” between the singer and her now-husband, and the “erratic, confusing and alarming” nature of her African-inspired dancing. True to the song’s title, “Deja Vu” wouldn’t be the last time Beyoncé’s talent would cause some controversy.

7. “Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)”

Despite her sexual chemistry with Jay-Z, naturally, Beyoncé’s best routines are ones she can perform with other dancers. “Get Me Bodied” is the most fun example of this. Throughout the video’s two-minute instructional dance breakdown, Bey and company hit over a dozen moves that would’ve set TikTok ablaze if the song had dropped a decade and change later.

Like the dancing in “Partition” and “Deja Vu,” the choreography in “Get Me Bodied” — which blends Black American movements with routines inspired by the 1966 musical Sweet Charity — has lived on thanks to Beyoncé’s stage show. She first performed the song at the 2007 BET Awards, where she was joined by Solange and her former Destiny’s Child groupmates (who also appear in the video) as backup dancers. A similar moment was shared between Bey and her sister in 2018 during her monumental Coachella performance, as “Get Me Bodied” remains one of her most timeless dance records to date.

6. “Countdown”

Years after the Sweet Charity homage in “Get Me Bodied,” Beyoncé once again channeled her inner theater kid with the video for “Countdown.” West Side Story, Flashdance, and Fame are among the many references to screen and Broadway musicals in this visual, all tied together as Bey rocks a similar outfit and hairdo as Audrey Hepburn in 1957’s Funny Face. Beatnik looks, bebop moves, and bubbly performances make this quick-cut, technicolor imagining of 20th-century classics feel as fun as “Countdown” sounds.

5. “Crazy In Love” feat. Jay-Z

It’s always hard for an artist to top their first classic. Before being dethroned later in her career, for years, “Crazy In Love” had a fair claim as Beyoncé’s best music video. The visual for her debut single and first No. 1 record as a solo artist contains all the tenets of peak pop stardom. Its choreo and styling are legitimately iconic in ways that don’t abuse the word’s meaning, its direction provided a distinct image for a brand new diva’s signature song, and its meta documentation of the beginning of her and Jay-Z’s relationship makes it impossible to overlook when taking in the breadth of her work.

“Crazy In Love” is at once an essential contribution to the canon of early-2000s music videos, a necessary chapter in the story of Beyoncé’s career, and a blueprint that new pop acts are still studying today. In most other artists’ videographies, it’d go down as their absolute best.

4. “Me, Myself and I”

Before Lemonade, “Me, Myself and I” was the quintessential cheating song in Beyoncé’s discography. And much like certain parts of her 2016 visual album, something about the subject matter of this 2003 single inspired one of her most innovative music videos to date. In what the singer described at the time as her most difficult video to film, the plot of the song plays out in reverse, revealing the inciting incident that leads to her character’s discovery of her partner’s infidelity at the very end. The effect, intentional or otherwise, is a resonant depiction of the way a person often replays certain events in their mind after having their trust betrayed.

While “Crazy In Love” may be the most important video from Beyoncé’s debut album, this one is the most predictive of the sort of artist she’d eventually become. From the song’s themes to the sophistication of its visuals, “Me, Myself and I” is one of the few entries in her early catalog that’d fit seamlessly within Lemonade.

3. “Hold Up”

Thirteen years after keying a car in “Me, Myself and I,” Bey is back vandalizing vehicles in “Hold Up.” What separates this standout Lemonade single from the rest of the hour-long HBO special is its Tarantino-esque juxtaposition of sonics and visuals. As Beyoncé sings of devotion and disillusionment over a deceptively pleasant-sounding reggae track, she wreaks havoc on a neighborhood with a baseball bat in her hand, a skip in her step, and a smile on her face. It’s as manic and disorienting as discovering freedom through heartbreak tends to be in real life.

The video’s sense of bittersweet liberation begins in its opening sequence. While swimming in a bedroom filled to the ceiling with water, Beyoncé is heard delivering a spoken word piece in which she lists all the metaphorical concessions she made to convince her partner to love her: “I tried to change/ Closed my mouth more/ Tried to be soft, prettier, less awake.” Finally, the doors of the mansion she’s drowned herself in swing open, and water floods the streets like a wave of inhibitions she no longer needs, as she asks, “Are you cheating on me?” It’s the most cinematically clever moment throughout the entire film.

2. “Formation”

“Formation” is the Lemonade track that arguably has the least to do with Beyoncé’s romantic life, and its music video is better off for it. Both the song and its visuals are declarations of black pride that make the album and film feel less like explorations of acrimony and more like works of anthropological study. In just under five minutes, Bey and director Melina Matsoukas cover an entire syllabus’s worth of Black Southern culture. Subjects include Mardi Gras, cowboys, crawfish, plantation-reminiscent architecture, Black Lives Matter protests, wig shops, kufis, grills, steppers, second lines, Hurricane Katrina waters, baby hair and afros, and Jackson Five nostrils.

Simply put, a significant amount of post-Lemonade scholarship would be lost without “Formation.” Perhaps the only imagery associated with the song that’s more penetrating than its video is that of Beyoncé’s Black Panther-inspired Super Bowl performance. “Formation” and everything that surrounded it fundamentally changed the way the public viewed Beyoncé as an artist. Six years later, her music is now met with the expectation of similarly impactful statements on race, class, gender, and a number of other things pop stars aren’t usually sought after to speak on. But the element of surprise is what made this 2016 cultural bombshell so shocking in the first place.

1. “Single Ladies”

“Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” A years-long pop cultural saga unfolded after Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift on the VMA stage to make this declaration in 2009. But even as the public shamed West for his timing and delivery, no one dared to disagree with his statement — because it was undeniably true.

“Single Ladies” is an accomplishment of perfectly distilled artistry. Its simplicity reveals what’s essentially at the core of every great Beyoncé video: her singing and dancing her ass off as she performs an anthem for the ages. Everything about the visual seems engineered for transcendence. Its black and white tone paired with Bey’s single titanium roboglove gives the complete composition a texture that’s at once classic and futuristic. Likewise, its choreography combines elements of Bob Fosse’s 1969 “Mexican Breakfast” routine with more modern movements inspired by J-Setting — a flamboyant lead-and-follow dance style used by the J-Settes of Jackson State University. Long, sweeping shots of Bey and her backup dancers performing in an infinity cove, along with the absence of any outfit changes, give the video the illusion of uninterrupted continuity. The result is a mesmerizing piece of pop excellence that feels unbound to the zeitgeist of its time or that of any other.

If aliens came to earth and demanded to watch our leader’s best music video instead of being taken to her, “Single Ladies” in its limitless brilliance would be the only appropriate option.