As long as I have been alive, the sun has never set on Beyoncé’s musical empire. The 40-year-old multi-hyphenate has spent the last few decades accruing a global following, dozens of accolades, and an unchecked influence on the cultural zeitgeist.
"She is one of the few marquee names in music who can command our undivided attention in an increasingly crowded pop culture landscape," Michael Blackmon wrote for BuzzFeed News in 2019. "Her ascent to becoming the King of Pop was hard-won."
In honor of one of the best live performers of our time — and just in time to celebrate her new album Renaissance — here are 10 of Beyoncé’s best performances throughout her career. (Disclaimer: This list is, of course, completely subjective. If you wholeheartedly agree with it or hate everything it stands for, share your thoughts with @BuzzFeedNews on Twitter.)
“Déjà Vu” on Star Academy, 2006
It goes without saying that as Beyoncé’s star rose, her production budgets got bigger. As she came into herself as an artist and visual director, her onstage performances grew more elaborate and breathtaking. But there’s something about this earlier era of Beyoncé — fresh off the official breakup of Destiny’s Child, hopping around in kitten heels and a knee-length halter dress — that makes this performance so striking now. Watching a then-25-year-old Beyoncé inexplicably guest-star on a French TV singing competition feels a bit like seeing Gordon Ramsay make a grilled cheese; the abilities are unmatched, but there’s so much left in store.
Yes, Beyoncé really did appear on The X Factor to perform a duet with then-contestant Alexandra Burke. Don’t let the surreal intricacies of the event distract you from how lovely they sound together. Standing next to a starstruck Burke, Beyoncé nails this performance with the blasé demeanor of someone killing time at a karaoke bar before moving on to the next party. Beyoncé’s casualness aside, the performance ends on a sweet note as Burke tearfully tells the singer, “You’ve made my dreams come true.”
Beyoncé’s homage to this classic, and her role as soul legend Etta James in 2008’s Cadillac Records, has long been a focus of derision for everyone from internet trolls to James herself. Still, this cover showcases so much of what Beyoncé excels at: airtight vocal control, magnanimous stage presence, and a genuine acting talent combined with winking self-awareness that says, Yes, I’m still Queen Bey, and don’t you forget it.
“Halo” at the National University Hospital in Singapore, 2009
According to the New Paper, a Singaporean news publication, Beyoncé stopped by the children’s cancer ward at the hospital to do a short, private performance for the patients and staffers. It’s a performance that could’ve read as a photo op but instead exudes warmth and highlights Beyoncé’s raw talent. During “Halo,” she’s accompanied by nothing but an acoustic guitar and the sound of people snapping for most of the song, and it sounds spectacular.
This would’ve been an exceptional performance no matter what. “Love on Top” is notoriously difficult to sing, and Beyoncé belts it out while backed by an entourage of attractive people in formal wear. But once Beyoncé called out, “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me,” put a hand on her baby bump, and transformed this number into a pregnancy announcement song, it was over for all of us. It was over for all of us.
"Run the World (Girls)," "Love on Top," "Crazy in Love," "End of Time" "Baby Boy," "Bootylicious," "Independent Women Part I," "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," and "Halo" at the Super Bowl halftime show, 2013
I’ve written and rewritten this section multiple times trying to find the right way to convey how awe-inspiring this medley is. Nothing I could say will do it justice. This performance is one of Beyoncé’s greatest ever. It is the pinnacle of live entertainment, and watching it is worth your time.
“If I Were a Boy” at the Grammys, 2010
If I were tasked with sending aliens a cultural artifact to help them understand humanity’s beauty, tenacity, and brilliance, I would send them the record “If I Were a Boy.” I don’t care if you disagree. This is not an invitation to debate me.
A much fiercer rendition of the iconic sad-girl ballad, Beyoncé radiates a level of ferocity so potent that it’s possible her performance doubled as a literal hex against all men. She marches through the audience flanked by dancers in military garb, kneels onstage, head-bangs, and sings Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” — all just during the bridge. The aliens wish they could see this.
“Formation” at Citi Field in New York City, 2016
Gone are the days of Beyoncé smiling and waving for random French reality TV. Her opening song for the New York leg of her 2016 world tour, “Formation” crescendoed across the outdoor stadium with the potency of an atomic bomb. Beyoncé intones lines like “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster” with the conviction of a holy prophet, and in return the abyss of screaming fans respond rapturously. As Angelica Jade Bastién notes for Vulture, Beyoncé’s “Formation” era was a key stepping stone in her transition from capitalist girlfriend to matriarch to goddess in the public eye — and this performance in particular reads as a trial run for Beyoncé’s image as feminine divinity.
“Freedom” with Kendrick Lamar at the BET Awards, 2016
Strutting onto a semiaquatic stage as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech announces her arrival, Beyoncé enters with the unspoken force of someone who knows they’re going to leave a lasting mark on this world. Here, she’s learned to harness the power of sustained silence followed by explosive energy, and the moments she lets loose and screams are just as evocative as her meticulous harmonies. Together with Kendrick Lamar, “Freedom” is a master class by two generation-defining artists at the top of their game, delivering an urgent, unforgettable message of Black survival to a national audience.
“XO” at Kobe and Gianna Bryant’s memorial, 2020
Following the tragic deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, friends and fans filled the Staples Center in Los Angeles to pay their respects. Among them was Beyoncé, who was introduced to the crowd as "a very close friend of the Bryant family" before giving an emotive performance of “XO,” one of the basketball player’s favorite songs. Beyoncé has a knack for balancing theatricality and somber sincerity, and it shines in this tribute to Bryant and his family.