With five UK number ones to her name, 118 million records sold (not to mention an additional 60 million with Destiny’s Child) and a record-breaking 28 Grammys in her trophy cabinet, no one can deny that Beyoncé’s impact throughout her career has been absolutely immense.
But it’s not just record sales and accolades that prove how impactful an artist the Queen Bey really is.
During her time in the spotlight, Beyoncé has impacted almost every aspect of popular culture and the music industry at large, from how musicians create to the way they release their output onto the world.
As the legendary singer celebrates her landmark 40th birthday, we’re marking the occasion with 20 ways she’s totally changed the game...
1. The surprise release
Let’s start with one of the most obvious, shall we? On Feeling Myself, Bey sings that she “changed the game with that digital drop, you know where you was when that digital popped” and she was not wrong, was she?
In December 2013, there had been whisperings of new music from Beyoncé, but no one could have predicted she would drop a complete album unannounced, including guest appearances from some of the biggest names in music and elaborate videos for every single one of the tracks.
In the years since, plenty of artists have tried their hand at the surprise release, from Drake and Eminem to Madonna and Taylor Swift, with varying levels of efficacy – but Beyoncé’s self-titled album will always be remembered as the OG.
She’s even done it herself on several of her more recent releases, including Lemonade (and its lead single Formation) and The Carters’ Everything Is Love.
2. Visual albums
As we just mentioned, what was remarkable about Beyoncé (the album, not the woman, although, as we’ve established, the woman herself is pretty remarkable too) was not only that the singer managed to keep the whole project a secret, but also complete videos for every single one of its tracks.
This was an idea she took one step further when Lemonade came along in 2016, not just filming videos for every song on the album but weaving the whole thing together in an accompanying film.
However, it’s the Disney+ film Black Is King that will probably go down as Beyoncé’s crowning visual achievement. Designed as a visual accompaniment to her Lion King soundtrack album The Gift, Black Is King retells the story of the Disney classic, while showcasing some incredible Black talent and incorporating some of the most incredible music videos Beyoncé has ever released.
Oh, and did we mention that she directed and executive produced the whole thing?
3. Making music videos events again
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the idea of the music video was starting to lose its relevancy, and people began questioning why they were even needed. But Beyoncé (and other big-name artists from that period, like Lady Gaga and Kanye West) proved these critics wrong, and has been upping the ante when it comes to the quality of her music videos ever since.
In 2021, a whole range of Beyoncé’s videos have reached iconic status, including the dance-led Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It), the surreal and cinematic Telephone, the sexually empowered Drunk In Love, the politically charged Formation and the feast for the eyes of Apeshit.
4. Did someone mention Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)?
Yes, actually, let’s talk about Single Ladies for a minute. Considering how simple the black-and-white video actually was (Beyoncé revealed in 2021 that she deliberately made the video black and white to prove a point to her record label), its impact was completely immense.
Obviously, the hook of Single Ladies was its distinctive choreography, which everyone had a go at with varying levels of success at the time. It was hailed by some critics as the first dance craze of the decade, and in those early years of YouTube, it felt like a new Single Ladies homage or parody was going viral every day – which Bey alluded to when she performed the track on her I Am… world tour.
Considering how big TikTok dance trends have become in the last few years, it’s not a stretch to say this is something that Single Ladies’ recreation-friendly choreo paved the way for.
5. And she’s self-directed loads of her own videos too
Beyoncé tried her hand at co-directing videos for the B’Day cut Flaws And All and her cover of Des’ree’s Kissing You (though one lawsuit later, we’re guessing she’d rather you didn’t mention that one).
It was during her I Am… Sasha Fierce era that people started paying more attention to Bey’s self-directed music videos, including the stripped-back Ego and the retro glamour of Why Don’t You Love Me?.
Other huge videos that Bey has self-directed or co-directed include Love On Top, Hold Up, Sorry and 7/11.
6. Taking control of her own narrative
For many musicians, doing press around a new project is among the most dreaded parts of the job. But when Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, she decided to take a very different approach, and instead let her work speak for itself.
Presumably buoyed by how well her self-titled fifth album performed without any promo (and continuing a media near-silence that began after the infamous 2014 Met Gala drama), Beyoncé gave no interviews about Lemonade, in which she alluded to Jay-Z having cheated on her earlier in their marriage and the emotional journey this set her on, ending in forgiveness on the penultimate track All Night.
In fact, Bey has given only a handful of press interviews in the last six years, instead choosing to share updates on her life on her carefully-curated Instagram page, which is where she announced her pregnancy with twins Rumi and Sir.
This approach was later picked up by other artists including Rihanna and Taylor Swift, who gave no interviews during their Anti and Reputation eras. In fact, Taylor accompanied her British Vogue cover at that time with a specially-written poem for the magazine, and made her own newspaper (including an interview with herself) for fans around the release.
7. She’s always going bigger and better with her live shows
Anyone who’s been to a Beyoncé show will know that she brings production value like pretty much no one else. For the Formation tour, she included a 60-foot LED cube that served as both lighting and a screen, not to mention a massive treadmill for the stage and a pool that filled with water for one number.
This on its own is impressive enough, but when you consider...
8. Her awards show performances are always a true water cooler moment
Every time Beyoncé is announced to be performing at an awards show, she makes sure the whole thing is an event.
An ideal example would be when she was awarded the VMAs Video Vanguard title in 2014, and celebrated with a 15-minute medley of tracks, topping this two years later when she brought Lemonade to the same stage.
9. And she undoubtedly helped make the Super Bowl Half-Time Show relevant again
At the time when Beyoncé was announced as the Half-Time Show headliner in 2013, the slot had become pretty much synonymous with legacy acts like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, The Who and Madonna.
Bey helped change that, and when she took to the stage in New Orleans, it helped that year’s Super Bowl become the most tweeted-about moment ever at that time.
In the years since, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and The Weeknd have all performed the Half-Time Show. Beyoncé even returned as a guest of Coldplay in 2016, delivering a rendition of Formation that got the whole world talking.
10. Destiny’s Child shone a light on a new kind of independence
Destiny’s Child were famous for their tight harmonies and the empowering message that ran throughout almost all of their songs, from Survivor to Say My Name.
But the group also sang about a different sort of independence – financial. On Bills, Bills, Bills but particularly their signature tune Independent Women the group encourage their fans to be able to support themselves in a way that few (if any) had ever sung about before in a mainstream group.
11. Oh, and while we’re on the subject of Destiny’s Child
We have to sing Destiny’s Child’s praises for a minute, as they’re unquestionably among the biggest girl groups that the music industry has ever known. The iconic group have sold 60 million records worldwide, while Independent Woman was the longest-running number one single for a girl group, as recognised by the Guinness Book Of Records.
Billboard also recognised them as the third most successful girl band of all time in 2016 based on chart performance, behind only TLC and The Supremes.
12. Refusing to be nailed down to one genre on Lemonade
Lemonade and its accompanying video saw Beyoncé experimenting with new themes – delving not just into her own personal life, but issues of gender inequality and racism – as well as exploring new musical territory, too.
Don’t Hurt Yourself saw Bey teaming up with Jack White for an edgy rock-heavy revenge track that samples Led Zeppelin, while on Daddy Lessons she goes down a country music route.
Beyoncé performed the latter when she made a surprise appearance with The Chicks on stage at the 2016 Country Music Awards – with the perplexed faces of certain *ahem* conservative figures in the audience proving why it was so important that the genre move forward and diversify.
13. Coining new terms we all still use to this day
We’ve already touched on Single Ladies’ global impact, but one effect of the song we didn’t mention was the fact it gifted us the phrase “put a ring on it”.
Similarly, Flawless gave us “I woke up like this”, which has captioned countless Instagram posts over the years, while the Lemonade kiss-off Sorry inspired the Democratic National Committee’s slogan “boy, bye”.
14. Breaking down barriers for other artists
And we don’t just mean her fellow performers and musicians – as Beyoncé’s profile has risen and she’s been able to call the shots more behind the scenes, she’s helped open the door for some incredible Black creatives.
For example, when Beyoncé appeared on the cover of Vogue’s September issue in 2018, the magazine’s first ever African-American photographer Tyler Mitchell took the photos.
With her film Black Is King she was able to take this one step further, shining a light on Black talent who wouldn’t necessarily always be given the opportunity to be put in the spotlight, including the team of syncronised swimmers she performed alongside in the Mood 4 Eva sequence.
15. Inspiring her peers
You’d be hard pressed to find any burgeoning singer in 2021 who wasn’t inspired by Beyoncé to some degree, but she’s also been directly responsible for getting several of her peers into singing.
Rihanna, Ariana Grande and Lizzo have all said that they were inspired to start their own careers in music by listening to Bey, while Lady Gaga said that watching the star in Destiny’s Child made her want to start performing herself.
16. Helping nurture new talent
As well as inspiring new artists, she’s also been directly responsible for boosting various up-and-coming musicians’ profiles.
The most obvious example would be Chloe X Halle, who she signed to her entertainment company Parkwood after watching their covers on YouTube. The duo have since been nominated for five Grammys, with Chloe gearing up to launch her solo career and Halle about to make a literal splash as Ariel in Disney’s Little Mermaid remake.
Beyoncé has also been a huge cheerleader for artists like Normani and Lizzo, and helped push Megan Thee Stallion even further into the mainstream when she recorded a guest verse on her breakthrough tune Savage.
The Lion King companion album The Gift introduced acts like Tiwa Savage, 070 Shake Tierra Whack to a whole new audience, while she’s also credited the UK’s very own Raye and MNEK on tracks like Bigger and Hold Up, respectively.
17. Using her platform for important causes
Particularly in her recent years, Beyoncé has publicly showed support for the Black Lives Matter movement, spoken out in favour of transgender rights and lent her voice to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign (fans were also treated to a blast of Tamu’s Fuck Donald Trump on the Formation tour in the lead-up to that election).
She also helped raise funds in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, donated millions of dollars to mental health charities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and gave the proceeds from her 2020 single Black Parade to the Black-Owned Small Business Impact Fund, which gives $10,000 grants to Black-owned businesses.
And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, Beyoncé isn’t the first celebrity to speak out about causes close to her heart or raise awareness of charitable initiatives, but there’s no denying she’s worked hard to make sure this forms an important part of her legacy.
18. Can we please talk about her iconic Coachella set?
Beyoncé made history in 2017 when she was announced as the first Black woman to ever headline at Coachella, but due to her pregnancy, she was unable to perform in her scheduled slot.
Fortunately, she returned a year later and… well, we’re still in awe, to be honest. In fact, we’ve just made a note to rewatch Homecoming at the nearest available opportunity.
19. More Grammys wins than any other artist
In 2021, Beyoncé made Grammys history when she became the woman with the most wins in the awards show’s history.
Her wins began back in 2001 when Destiny’s Child picked up two awards for Say My Name, and stretch right up the present day, with Brown Skin Girl, Black Parade and Savage (Remix) among the tracks that earned Bey her latest gongs at the Grammys.
20. That voice
Beyoncé has been doing what she does for such a long time that we almost take it for granted that she is capable of doing such amazing things with her voice, but it’s important to take a moment to give her the props she deserves for those vocals.
The fact she’s been in the game for as long as she has and can still sing circles around pretty much all of her peers is an incredible feat – particularly as she seems to only be getting stronger and discovering new ways of singing as the years go by.
And frankly, long may that continue.
Happy birthday Bey.