Once more, Beyoncé shocked the world by releasing her sixth album, Lemonade unannounced. Now the question is, how does Lemonade fit in the context of Beyoncé’s discography? Re-examining Beyoncé’s studio albums here is how I would rank them. Remember, this is one person’s subjective opinion.
1) Lemonade (2016)
Lemonade is by far Beyoncé’s most distinct album of her discography. Lemonade shows Beyoncé at her most fierce and personal, definitely setting itself apart even from her first visual album, Beyoncé from 2013. There isn’t a bad track on this album, as Beyoncé sifts through numerous styles, including rock (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) and country (“Daddy’s Lessons”). This should be a frontrunner for album of the year, much like Beyoncé was at the 57th Grammy Awards.
Essential Song: “Don’t Hurt Yourself”
2) Beyoncé (2013)
Previous Commentary: Surprise fifth studio album Beyoncé (“The Visual Album”) is by far Beyoncé’s most risqué effort to date. Also, I believe there is a legitimate argument this is her best album not because of the risqué quality, but because of Bey’s willingness to experiment and transcend the label of dance-pop contemporary R&B artist. Vocally, Beyoncé is as stunning as ever – no questions asked. The records on this particular album also match the compelling voice, even with more sexuality involved in the mix. Beyoncé also doesn’t spend all of her time being naughty; she’s opens with mighty punch with “Pretty Hurts” and closes with heavy numbers in “Heaven” (arguably about her miscarriage) and “Blue” (about the joy that is daughter Blue Ivy).
But let’s face it – the “Naughty Girl” side of Beyoncé is quite alluring without question. Ojn “Drunk in Love”, Bey’s booze isn’t Jack Daniels, but rather Jay-Z. On, “Blow” she transforms candy, specifically skittles, into sex. “Rocket” is both incredibly passionate and explicit, with Beyoncé role-playing what’s going down in the sack… On “Jealous”, Beyoncé does everything she can to keep her man while on the Drake assisted “Mine”, she’s also incredibly paranoid. Then she balances controversy and feminism on “***Flaweless” where on the first half she infamously repeats the line “bow down bitches” while on the second half she drives home women’s empowerment. Beyoncé is a site to behold.
At the time of its release, Beyoncé was Beyoncé’s most risqué effort. Originally, I ranked Beyoncé a notch below Beyoncé’s debut Dangerously In Love but looking back, this effort truly marks a step forward in Queen Bey’s artistry. Beyoncé is sexual, unapologetic, and sleekly produced, yielding hits with “Drunk In Love” and “Partition.
Essential Song: “Drunk In Love” ft. JAY Z
Tie-3) Dangerously In Love (2003)
Previous Commentary: Is Dangerously in Love my favorite Beyoncé album? The jury is still out on that one chief. I believe that Dangerously in Love is the chanteuse’s most important album as it serves as the genesis of Beyoncé the solo superstar. Ultimately, it is a well-crafted affair. At the time of release, it was a standard-setter, period. Because of its importance, this is the reason I’d rank Dangerously in Love at the top. Sure, Beyoncé has evolved since this effort, particularly evidenced by the curve balls of 4 and most recently Beyoncé, but this is where the magic all began.
“Crazy in Love” was iconic with the dance itself serving as one of the defining moments of the year and arguably the decade. This was the peak of producer Rich Harrison, who would go on to produce Amerie’s biggest hit “1 Thing”. “Naughty Girl” is now tame compared to Beyoncé’s recent songs, but at the time, it was deliciously edgy without overstepping boundaries. “Baby Boy” was pleasant and featured a then hot reggae-rap star, Sean Paul. “Dangerously in Love 2” found Bey flexing her balladry muscles, while “Be With You” also slowed things down, but kept it sexy. Other nice touches include the reprisal of powerful cover duet “The Closer I Get To You” (with Luther Vandross) and the lovely, thoughtful “Daddy”. No matter what Beyoncé releases in the future, Dangerously in Love will always be considered the ‘classic’.
Dangerously In Love isn’t Beyoncé’s best album, but it is her most important. Why? This served as the beginning of the superstar, and “Crazy In Love” is definitely an iconic record. In addition to “Crazy In Love,” a number of other records make Dangerously In Love rank near the top of Beyoncé’s discography. Both Lemonade and Beyoncé move the chanteuse to the next level, though Dangerously In Love shouldn’t be forgotten or underwritten.
Essential Song: “Crazy In Love”
Tie-3) B’Day (2006)
Previous Commentary: An argument could be made that B’Day stacks up equally to both albums ahead of it in these rankings, specifically her debut album Dangerously in Love. That said B’Day is in some respects more like an extension of Dangerously in Love as opposed to say an innovative tour de force. That doesn’t mean it is a ‘copycat’ as it’s not, but it is patterned after the style of her debut, naturally. Regardless, quality shines brightly upon this effort, yielding numerous hits and garnering Beyoncé both Grammy nominations and a victory for Best Contemporary R&B Album.
Promo single “Déjà Vu” failed to match the oomph that “Crazy in Love” possessed from her debut, but it was by all means consistent and a worthy successor. “Ring The Alarm” was another attempt at achieving the lofty expectations of the singles chart performance of Dangerously in Love, but like “Déjà Vu”, it would fall short. Manic, “Ring The Alarm” was still an exceptional track, as was the suggestive gem “Freakum Dress” with its hard, buttressing drums. Other cuts allure as well for various reasons, whether it was the ultra-successful adult-contemporary R&B no. 1 pop single “Irreplaceable”, the feisty “Upgrade U” and “Suga Mama”, or the traditional R&B highlight “Resentment”. Expectations were stratospheric for this album – way too high – but ultimately, I find it to be well rounded.
B’Day is one of Beyoncé’s most underappreciated albums. There’s an argument to be made that this album is better than Dangerously In Love given its consistency and numerous hits. The problem is, the album, despite selling well, had the feeling that it was merely a ‘sophomore album’ and maybe felt a tad too similar to her debut. Still, hard to find a miss with gems like “Ring The Alarm,” “Freakum Dress,” or “Irreplaceable.”
Essential Song: “Irreplaceable”
5) I Am…Sasha Fierce (2008)
Previous Commentary: Normally, if an album is nominated for such a lofty honor like album of the year, you’d expect it to crown the top of the rankings of an artist’s discography. I Am…Sash Fierce was by no means a bad album, but nor was it Beyoncé’s ‘crowning achievement’. I suspect part of the reason that Beyoncé wasn’t awarded the big award on Grammy night was that Beyoncé tends to make an album of big ‘records’ as opposed to say ‘songs’. That is no knock against Bey, but may not ever earn her the coveted AOTY.
Bey definitely does show more artistic range on this double album, split between more of an adult contemporary pop set (I Am…) and her more expected danceable contemporary R&B joints (…Sasha Fierce). Bright spots from I Am… includes the brilliant “If I Was A Boy”, the angelic “Halo” (a Grammy nominee and winner), and the moving “Ave Maria“. From the edgier …Sasha Fierce, standouts includes the ubiquitous song of the year winner “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”, the hip-hop swag “Diva“, and the egocentric “Ego“. Be them just big records or decent songs, I Am…Sasha Fierce was stacked with some fine moments.
Beyoncé’s third album is chocked full of hits, none bigger than “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).” This is her big pop album. It’s unsurprising the double album was nominated for album of the year and took home numerous trophies. This isn’t her crowning achievement, but it’s also hard to knock an album housing “If I Was a Boy,” “Halo,” or “Diva.”
Essential Song: “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”
6) 4 (2011)
Previous Commentary: 4 might be considered to be Beyoncé’s oddest and least heralded album; critics and fans were divided alike. When I first listened to it, I was confounded in several respects. The track ordering seemed awkward, particularly opening with ballad “1+1” as opposed to the clunky girl empowerment single “Run the World (Girls)”. The experimental, foreshadowing of alt-R&B touches is appreciated, though at the time, felt very un-Beyoncé like. After being accustomed to a more dance-pop oriented artist, 4 was a departure from the expected. Still, it definitely had it bright spots.
“Love on Top” was the sole Grammy recognition for the album, winning deservingly for best traditional R&B performance (a very underrated, talented Melanie Fiona might have something to say about that though). “Countdown” had some swagger about it, but didn’t quite receive the same buzz as Beyoncé’s previous ‘home-runs’ you might say. There were also clunky moments like the blasé “I Was Here“, a song attempting to rekindle Beyoncé’s adult contemporary success on I Am…Sasha Fierce. “Best Thing I Never Had” does adult contemporary R&B more justice; though I’m not sure it supplants say “Irreplaceable” from B’Day. Ultimately, 4 was a flawed album with good intentions and some worthwhile moments overall.
4 will always be Beyoncé’s “odd album out.” There are plenty of excellent pieces – songs rather – but it’s oddly conceived. In one respect, looking back on 4, it seems to be transitional – that moment that leads Beyoncé to the surprise Beyoncé and Lemonade albums. In the singles department, “Best Thing I Never Had” was arguably the best moment.
Essential Song: “Best Thing I Never Had”