If there’s one thing you can always count on Beyoncé for, it’s her ability to completely slay a performance.
Over the years, she’s dominated the stage everywhere from the Grammys to the MTV VMAs, not to mention giving the Super Bowl two of its most memorable Half-Time shows ever and performing at both of Barack Obama’s inaugurations.
And more than 20 years after she first burst onto the world’s stage as a member of Destiny’s Child, Bey is still upping her game when it comes to live performance – not just in terms of vocals and choreography, but including thought-provoking and political messages in some of her more recent on-stage appearances.
In honour of the superstar’s 40th birthday, here are 18 of our favourite Bey performances ever, beginning with the one that started it all for her as a solo artist...
2003: Baby Boy/Crazy In Love – MTV Video Music Awards
Beyoncé’s first major performance without her Destiny’s Child bandmates came in 2003 at the VMAs, where she showcased the signature precision and star quality that would come to be staples of all of her on-stage appearances.
Is this the performance we’d show someone who’d never seen Beyoncé before to convince them of her unique talents? Probably not, no. There is, after all, seemingly no microphone to speak of on that stage. But this clip still worth a watch, for fans of Bey to see she started off strong and only got better as the years have gone on.
2004: Purple Rain/Baby I’m A Star/Crazy In Love/Let’s Go Crazy – Grammys
Still relatively early on in her solo career, Beyoncé still more than kept up with the musical legend that is Prince’s energy when she joined him on stage at the 2004 Grammys. She and Prince performed a string of his hits, later transitioning into a chorus of Bey’s signature hit Crazy In Love, while he accompanied her on guitar.
The seal of approval from Prince was a big deal for artists, particularly those who were still making their stamp on the industry, as Beyoncé still was back in 2004. Still, he wouldn’t be the only music icon Bey would end up sharing the stage with.
2008: Proud Mary – Grammys
Beyoncé began this special performance with a spoken-word introduction, paying tribute to the musical icons that came before her, including Aretha Franklin, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and Diana Ross.
She then declared: “But there is one legend that has the essence of all of these things – the glamour, the soul, the passion, the strength, the talent… ladies and gentlemen, stand on your feet and give it up for the queen.”
After welcoming Tina Turner to the stage, the pair then gave a spirited rendition of the classic song Proud Mary.
2008: Listen – The X Factor
After gaining the respect of her own idols, Beyoncé paid a very special visit to The X Factor in 2008 to help an aspiring British singer who looked up to her.
Alexandra Burke and Beyoncé’s duet of the Dreamgirls cut Listen has long been held up as one of the show’s most iconic moments, and it’s not hard to see why. The pair’s performance shows strength, drive and, of course, talent from both stars – and who wouldn’t be every bit as emotional as Alexandra after getting to share the stage with their hero?
2009: At Last – The inaugural ball
One of the biggest honours of Beyoncé’s career came in 2009, when she was chosen to sing at Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony.
She performed At Last – which she’d recently covered for the film Cadillac Records – while the recently-sworn-in president danced with the new First Lady Michelle Obama, in what was both a highly emotional but also powerful TV moment.
2009: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – MTV Video Music Awards
By the time the 2009 VMAs rolled around, Single Ladies was absolutely everywhere. And with a video as iconic as that one (just ask Kanye West), Beyoncé had to pull out all the stops to make sure her performance measured up.
Fortunately, it’s Beyoncé we’re talking about, so she more than pulled it off.
The performance begins with a recreation of the video, with Beyoncé nailing the famous Single Ladies choreo flanked by two backing dancers. Over the course of the number, rows and rows of dancers start to fill the stage, all performing those memorable moves in unison.
Later that night, Single Ladies was awarded Video Of The Year, with Beyoncé choosing to share the moment with Taylor Swift, whose speech was infamously interrupted by Kanye West earlier in the evening.
2010: If I Were A Boy – Grammys
Let it never be said that Beyoncé doesn’t know how to make an entrance.
After walking into the Grammys auditorium surrounded by what looked like riot police, she then launched into a note-perfect rendition of If I Were A Boy.
To really hammer home the empowering message behind the performance, she then segued into a cover of Alanis Morissette’s You Oughta Know.
2011: Run The World (Girls) – Billboard Music Awards
We all know Beyoncé is an incredible vocalist, but at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards, she was able to show the world how technical and precise she is as a dancer and how much imagination and innovation she has as an all-round performer.
This Run The World (Girls) performance is probably best remembered for her empowering speech during the introduction, the amazing special effects throughout the number on the screen behind Beyoncé… and how alarmed Matthew Morrison looks when she approaches him midway through.
2011: Irreplaceable – Glastonbury
It’s truly hard to pick a favourite moment from Beyoncé’s headlining set at Glastonbury in 2011, by which time she’d cemented herself as not only one of the biggest stars in the world, but also one of the most impressive voices in the music scene.
We’ve decided to pick Irreplaceable, because we love the way it started off quiet and low-key, allowing the crowd their moment to sing that iconic chorus, before Beyoncé brought it home as truly only she could.
2011: Love On Top – MTV Video Music Awards
Beyoncé’s 4 album was only a couple of months old when she returned to the VMAs stage in 2011, so this would be many viewers’ first time hearing Love On Top. And the singer made sure it would be a performance people would remember.
After being introduced by Britney Spears and Lady Gaga (the latter in character as her male alter-ego Jo Calderone), Beyoncé then entered the stage declaring: “I want you to feel the love that’s growing inside of me.”
Not only did she nail her choreo and those endless key changes without even batting an eye, she then stole the night when she unbuttoned her bejeweled jacket to reveal what fans had long suspected – that she was pregnant with her first child. And you thought your old school mate’s Facebook pregnancy reveal was extra.
2013: The Star-Spangled Banner – Super Bowl press conference
It’s rare that anyone would call Beyoncé’s talent into question, but after Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, many viewers were alarmed to discover the singer lip syncing the US national anthem, rather than singing it live.
So as she prepared for her Super Bowl performance weeks later, Bey clearly felt she had something to prove.
Entering the pre-show press conference, she asked the journalists present if they wouldn’t mind standing up, before kicking off a live – and note perfect – rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner.
As cameras flashed in front of her, the star kept her composure throughout, asking the press afterwards: “Any questions?”
Truly, truly iconic.
2013: Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Super Bowl Half-Time Show
And then came the show itself – where Beyoncé really excelled herself.
The 15-minute set contained a string of her most-loved hits, and featured an impromptu Destiny’s Child reunion when Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams joined her on stage for a medley of their old songs and a new version of Single Ladies.
Bey’s Super Bowl performance broke the record in 2013 for becoming the most tweeted-about moment in Twitter history.
2014: Drunk In Love – Grammys
Truly cementing herself as a game-changing artist, Beyoncé shocked the world in December 2013 when, seemingly from nowhere, she dropped her self-titled fifth album, complete with elaborate music videos to accompany every single track.
Lead single Drunk In Love was an early stand-out from the surprise album, boosted even further when she and Jay-Z performed it together at the Grammys in what swiftly became known as one of Beyoncé’s most steamy performances to date.
2014: ***Flawless – Video Music Awards
After completely shaking up the music industry and releasing an entire album’s worth of stunning videos, it seemed only right that MTV showed bestow their Video Vanguard Award on Beyoncé at the VMAs in 2014.
On a night where performers included Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Maroon 5 and Sam Smith, all eyes were truly on Beyoncé, who performed a 16-minute medley encompassing all of the tracks on her latest release.
The whole performance is hard to track down online, but the highlight was probably the snippet of Flawless she performed. Not only was this the moment she boldly appeared in front of the word “feminist” and caught the world’s attention, there was also some adorable singing along from Blue Ivy who was watching along with Jay-Z in the audience.
2016: Formation – Super Bowl
Beyoncé kicked off her Lemonade era in style with a powerful performance of Formation (which was released, alongside its impactful music video, just days earlier) at the Super Bowl.
For the politically-motivated next stage of her career, Beyoncé served perfect choreography on the pitch while she and her dancers referenced the Black Panthers and Malcolm X with their outfits and formation on the floor.
2016: Lemonade medley – Video Music Awards
And then came… Lemonade. Clearly not done keeping people on their toes, Beyoncé’s second surprise album debuted in April 2016, this time around not just accompanied by music videos for each of the tracks, but a full 65-minute film exploring race, gender and addressing apparent infidelity within her marriage to Jay-Z.
The album and film both received glowing reviews from critics and Bey’s loyal fans, and that year’s VMAs were another big night for the woman of the hour.
While that year’s Video Vanguard winner Rihanna chose to split her performances up over the course of the evening, Beyoncé crammed in yet another medley spanning the highlights of Lemonade, beginning with the sorrowful Pray You Catch Me, through to the empowering Hold Up and Sorry, before ending with a defiant version of Formation.
2016: Freedom – BET Awards
Absent from her Lemonade VMAs medley was album highlight Freedom, which was probably because she’d already done that song justice at the BET Awards a few months earlier.
Not content with just surprise albums and videos, Beyoncé gave a whole surprise performance at the opening of the awards show that year, entering the stage accompanied by a speech from Martin Luther King before giving a stunning version of one of her most empowering songs.
She was also joined on stage by rapper Kendrick Lamar, who appeared alongside her in a giant pool of water, which later featured in Beyoncé’s incomparable Formation tour.
2017: Lemonade medley – Grammys
By the time the Grammys came around again in 2017, Beyoncé had announced she was pregnant with twins, which formed a huge basis for her performance at the awards show that year, which celebrated womanhood and motherhood.
After an eerie introduction featuring spoken-word sections of the Lemonade film and holograms of Tina Lawson and Blue Ivy Carter, Bey then sang two of her album’s ballads, Love Drought and Sandcastles while performing perfectly syncronised choreo and sporting an eye-catching bejeweled gown and crown combo.
Album Of The Year might have eluded her that year (Adele did dedicate her win to Beyoncé and Lemonade, though), but there was no denying the night belonged to Bey.
What even is there to say? In a decades-spanning career that’s seen Beyoncé top the charts all over the world, sell out stadiums and even reinvent the way that artists release music, the pinnacle of her career (so far!) was undoubtedly her headlining set at Coachella in 2018.
Due to her pregnancy, Bey was unable to perform as planned in 2017, but when fans saw her in action, it very quickly became apparent that it was more than worth the wait.
The triumphant set was inspired by HBCUs and featured guest appearances from Destiny’s Child, Solange Knowles and Jay-Z. It was later immortalised in the Netflix special Homecoming, accompanied by – of course – another surprise album, which was comprised of a recording of the two-hour set, alongside two bonus tracks.