A considered ranking of all six Beyoncé studio albums before she drops Renaissance
I still haven’t recovered from the surprise release in 2013
The Beyoncé drought hath finally ended. Renaissance is coming – Beyoncé’s seventh studio album and one what’s release will be a landmark cultural moment, like every album she releases is. But this release feels expectation and hype on a different plain. Following BEYONCÉ and Lemonade, Queen Bey elevated herself to a figure in our culture beyond that of a beloved singer and performer. She operates above it all, and does what no one else can do. Her six studio albums reflect that – each a distinct album of unmistakable sound and laden with hits that have changed the industry like barely any other. When Beyoncé does as much as breathe, the world is listening. Before she changes the world once again with Renaissance, here’s all six Beyoncé studio albums we’ve had thus far ranked. Bey Hive, be gentle.
The Lion King: The Gift is as a soundtrack album, so it’s not included on the studio album ranking. Bloody amazing, though, isn’t it?
6. Dangerously in Love
Look, for a first album – most artists would sacrifice a Victorian orphan to release a record a fraction of iconic as this is. The three track opening punch of Crazy in Love, Naughty Girl and Baby Boy is absolutely untouchable. Even the Beyoncé albums ranked higher than it here can’t touch the power of that introductory Dangerously in Love trio. WOW. But the album tracks and the deep cuts don’t match the single’s promise, and this album never resonated with me the same as the ones higher. Still, it’s a debut to be impressed by.
5. I Am… Sasha Fierce
I Am Sasha Fierce feels huge. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of the tracks were inescapable hits. This is Beyoncé at her most commercial, and sometimes at her most empty. She’s evolved so much from the sounds here – there’s generic production and anthemic moments that feel too often on the nose. But I have such a soft spot for this album. It’s the first Beyoncé album I was old enough to really demand on CD – and I was weirdly obsessed with so many of the tracks. If you’ve not had a Beyoncé Ave Maria era, don’t talk to me.
This album is POP pop. Radio is laughable but I love every second of it. Diva, without question, changed the trajectory of the mid 00s gays. Ego, especially with the Kanye verse, felt like the coolest song I’d ever heard at the time. And Sweet Dreams? Sweet Dreams sits extremely comfortably (and perhaps deeply controversially) in my top five Beyoncé bangers ever. I love it. Shove it all in with If I Were A Boy, Single Ladies, Broken-Hearted Girl and HALO… It’s an album where nearly every song is engrained into the culture.
Coming in fourth out of all Beyoncé albums ranked is, album four, called, well, 4. Big day for that number. Do you know how you open an album in a way that changes the world? Love On Top. Do you know why no one else has done so? Because they don’t have the ability to. Love On Top is a Love On Bop, a tour de force of vocals and key changes and musical magic. The rest of the album is incredible too – End of Time is a song I cannot go to the gym without, Run the World (Girls), with its rip-roaring Major Lazer sample could stir the most miserable of souls to the dance floor and Best Thing I Never Had has sing along in the car energy, even if it does sound like an I Am Sasha Fierce leftover.
Countdown? COUNTDOWN? Every single person in the world tries to do the opening “boOoOoOoy” riff at least once a week (day, hour, minute). Finishing with I Was Here, a song that to me reminds me of my friend saying she’s going to have it as her funeral song, is a showstopper. 4 feels like an artist in the process of evolution, ready to ascend into the glory of albums five and six.
B’Day is the opposite of the dreaded sophomore slump. An album of blaring horns and celebration – fitting, as it was released to coincide with Beyoncé’s 25th birthday. It’s a record laden with samples, with personality and with singles that ooze star quality. Deja Vu’s intro, with Beyoncé naming the instruments as they snap into action, is hypnotic. Irreplaceable is a breakup anthem for the ages, Green Light’s raucous bellowings of “Go” are sheer euphoria and Listen from Dreamgirls lurking at the end just to truly close the show in style. And Beautiful Liar? Bey and Shakira compliment each other with oozing chemistry to make a song that’s still God tier Beyoncé in my books.
B’Day stands above the other Beyoncé albums ranked here so far because even its album tracks sound like lead singles. Upgrade U literally could have been the lead. Suga Mama is iconic. Freakum Dress is too powerful I fear. It’s just an outstanding album only a superstar could release. She never loses steam ONCE.
How do you follow up an album that changed release strategies and broke the internet? With a record that is both infinitely huge and intricately personal. Lemonade is an album about Beyoncé dealing with infidelity. Beyoncé, when describing the concept of Lemonade to the video director of Formation, said she “wanted to show the historical impact of slavery on Black love and what it has done to the Black family, and Black men and women—how we’re almost socialised not to be together.” She also discussed the “generational curses” in her family, saying she comes “from a lineage of broken male-female relationships, abuse of power, and mistrust. Only when I saw that clearly was I able to resolve those conflicts in my own relationship. Connecting to the past and knowing our history makes us both bruised and beautiful.”
It makes for powerful listening, and an album that consistently leaves you breathless with its songwriting, its production and its sheer power. It’s an album that is a melting pot of genre and a symphony of musical references. Whether Beyoncé is doing rock on Don’t Hurt Yourself or the dreamlike and timeless sound of Hold Up, she’s in her element. When she goes country on Daddy Lessons, I could listen to a whole album of it. Every song on Lemonade deserves 1000 words written about it, but none more so than Formation – the masterpiece of all the masterpieces in Beyoncé’s gallery. It’s a song that’s changed the world forever – a decade defining song that feels more anthemic every year that passes by since its release.
Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they got the news that BEYONCÉ had been surprise released. I was in a van driven by my dad, going through a particularly ugly little suburb called Bredbury in my hometown. Bredbury is the last place on Earth where songs as outstanding as the ones found on this album deserve to be played, but you make do with what you have. It’s important to reflect on the fact that before this album got its surprise drop, that was really unprecedented. It was a marketing strategy of genius, that every pop star on the planet has had a dabble in emulating themselves – to varying levels of success. But BEYONCÉ is more than its marketing strategy – it is her magnum opus, and my favourite of all the albums ranked.
We open with Pretty Hurts, and we never go down from the high bar it comes in with. Haunted, with its “ohhh woah ohh woah” refrain. Drunk in Love – a euphoric song that takes its time and relishes every second til it crescendos. Blow, all flirts and winks and sex appeal. No Angel, the Caroline Polachek penned, chillwave moment. The “Hey, Miss Carter” sex-positive anthem of Partition. The dreaminess of Jealous. The Prince-esque funk of Rocket. The outstanding duets with Frank Ocean and Drake. XO, and its huge ode to love. Flawless, is, well, FLAWLESS. Rounding everything off with the delicate and special Blue – with Blue Ivy chatting away adorably as the album closes.
This album has it all. It’s an odyssey that never stops feeling accessible. It’s everything special about Beyoncé, that alongside Lemonade proves why she’s worshipped in a godly manner amongst her contemporaries. It’s because she has no rivals, no contemporaries. It’s a higher dimension of excellence – and I can’t wait for another entry into this catalogue of albums that have changed the universe for the better.