As simple as a double-dutch chant and as complicated as half a decade of psychotherapy, “Single Ladies” encapsulates the lessons pop songs have picked up from hip-hop: that a great beat and a great voice can carry a lot of weight, that a slightly sour sound (the little electronic swoop that keeps tugging at the song’s fringe) can make everything else sweeter, that looping your audience into a hook is a great idea.
By the time “Single Ladies” appeared, Beyoncé Knowles was already 10 years into her stardom, first achieved with Destiny’s Child, then as a solo artist. Her public persona crystallized a long time ago—she’s the voice of women who won’t settle for less than the best—and the song fits neatly into that premise (and sets up its scenario with ingenious concision). It’s a sing-along that lets Beyoncé show off her virtuosity, a focused, commanding display of individuality that speaks for every raised hand without a ring on it.
(Browse the All-TIME 100 Songs and more than 100 other pop culture lists on TIME’s Populist iPad app)
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