No. 15: Beyoncé, “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”

Dec 29th, 2008 // 25 Comments

I can understand why “Single Ladies” might be horrifying on an ideological level, but anyone who’s followed Beyoncé’s career can’t be all that surprised by it. For B, romance has always been a cold and materialistic thing, a battle of the sexes in which traditional gender roles are used as secure battlements from which to achieve victory. Love is never trusted, and needs to be constantly reaffirmed; the only way to achieve balance is for both parties to become financially independent, at which point any emotional violations become essentially meaningless. Should the partnership be dissolved, there will be no regret or remorse, only a relentless march towards retribution and renewal. It’s empowering on the surface, but underneath it seems banal and depressing.

In “Single Ladies,” men are treated as a fungible mass, their only important quality being the willingness to commit. But there’s a sense of false bravado here, too—a stiff upper lip covering over the undeniable emotional commitment of “three good years” with a kind of flippant apathy. The song’s appeal is not to our empathy, but to our self-interest—which might make it even more effective.

“Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” [Dailymotion]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)


  1. Maura Johnston

    @janine: YES.

  2. Anonymous

    Ehh, I agree that the song’s message is suspect, but it makes for one ass-tastic video so I’m okay.

  3. Guy_Whitey_Corngood

    Nah sorry, this song sucks. Message-related shit aside, it’s loud and shrill like the fuckin’ crazy frog, or a crazy frog remix. And it’s a boring video with mediocre dancing.

  4. Anonymous

    @Guy_Whitey_Corngood: Ah, you must be one of the ones who got to join last week when Maura suspended auditions.

  5. Maura Johnston

    @slowburn: nah, whoever it is is a gizmodo/kotaku refugee. which was my guess, actually.

  6. MayhemintheHood

    Not a bad song really, for pop stuff. I always thought the lyrics were kind of strange, and the comments in the post regarding the subject matter make me realize why.

  7. Guy_Whitey_Corngood

    @Maura Johnston: Can’t I read the Giz AND Idolator? I just think it’s a really overrated song!

  8. Maura Johnston

    @Guy_Whitey_Corngood: aw, you can! i just suspected that you weren’t totally new around these parts is all.

  9. Adairdevil

    I’m surprised that this is the song getting the hand-wringing on Beyoncé’s commodified notions of sexual identity and relationships. I mean, hell, next to “Independent Women” (which reduced the entire notion of feminism to financial wherewithal) and “Ring the Alarm” (where the litany of horrors is all the expensive shit the next woman will get if she relinquishes her relationship with a cheating partner), this is positively romantic in its notions. It’s even got the “this isn’t about money, it’s about love” bridge! Really, on the list of songs for which I have to set aside my politics/ethics, this is pretty low.

    Anyway: “for pop stuff” or otherwise, good song.

  10. Guy_Whitey_Corngood

    @Maura Johnston: Oh I read this site pretty religiously too. This list has been kicking ass so far. I guess I’m more prone to commenting about iPhone apps than iTunes charts is all.

    There’s good monotonous like ‘A Milli’ and then there’s this song, IMHO.

  11. janine

    Not to mention No Scubs, What Have You Done for Me Lately, and possibly Mercedes Boy and What Cha’ Gonna Do For Me by Chaka Khan (I don’t love thinking about lyrics, so those could just be about sex). There’s also the flip side of it in the Glamorous Life. It’s clearly a thing. An amateur sociologist might suggest a connection to the divide in mean education, income, and employment levels between African American men and women, but I won’t. That’s not my style.

  12. kevink.

    @MayhemintheHood: yeah, not bad for pop. because you know, pop isn’t as good as serious music

  13. Molly McAleer

    I really don’t this song should be taken literally. You can “put a ring” on anything that deserves commitment. Your job, a friendship. If you like it, do it and do it well. At least that’s what the message has always been to me.

  14. Adairdevil

    @janine: You aren’t wrong. There was actually a point in the “No Scrubs”/”Bills, Bills, Bills” era when I was relieved that “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” came out. Because even if it wasn’t (IMO) a good song, it at least didn’t make everything sound like a transaction.

    Also, I apologize to everyone for using the word “notion” three times in my comment. Idea, concept, sensibilities . . . insert these as appropriate.

  15. shuja x

    It seems to me that what B does is less directly about cash and more about “financial independence” as a gendered thing. The way men are treated in “Single Ladies,” as a “fungible mass” characterized only by their “willingness to commit” is a fair description of how women are often regarded in hip-hop, no? (e.g. “Girls Girls Girls” by you-know-who.) So this one, “Independent Women,” “Ring the Alarm,” etc., strike me as more like a performance of a kind of masculinity, while maintaining that “secure battlement” of femininity. Almost a queering of pop’s gender roles, in its Machiavellian instrumentalism.

    More importantly I’m surprised no one brought up this masterpiece again:

    Seals the deal for me. Awesome song.

  16. Lucas Jensen

    I thought this song was sassy. I liked it.

  17. Mike Barthel

    Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t think it needed to be said that the song itself is the catchiest thing in the tri-state area, and the video is so awesome it makes you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon whilst weeping like a baby.

  18. janine

    @Adairdevil: Yeah, there’s more songs than that from the pre Bills, Bills, Bills era, but while I was trying to scour my head for more tunes, I got “Don’t Disturb This Groove” by the System lodged in there. Really lodged in there.

  19. phaballa

    I think you’re completely missing the point of this song, which is not about money or bling or equality. It’s about not waiting around for some guy to pull his head out of his ass for the girl to know what she’s worth. She’s saying being single can be a choice, and a good one; the heteronormative relationship of man-woman, the very idea of marriage, isn’t necessarily the ideal in this world anymore. Neither is she dissing it–for the right guy, who understands how awesome she is, she’ll settle down. But when she’s given him time and he’s continued to be made of fail, she has no qualms about leaving.

    This is basically the song equivalent of “I CHOOSE ME.”

  20. MayhemintheHood

    @kevink.: So there’s Top 40 music and everything else is “serious”? I just don’t like the majority of the Top 40 stuff aka pop(ular) music…generally maybe a few will stick out to me each year. This one, like I said, is not a bad song.

  21. kevink.

    my statement was TIC

  22. Anonymous

    I just read the lyrics and there actually are no mentions of finances or feminine helplessness. I suppose we just read those into it due to Beyonce’s former lyrical crimes.

  23. Anonymous

    I like that shrill little bit that doesn’t quit. Because it doesn’t quit. It’s like one of those 17 minute long stoner/psych delay-pedal-abuse jams. Possibly counts as frippertronics, I’m not really sure the details on that.
    Anyway, it’s noisier and dumber than punk rock, so it has that going for it.

  24. Anonymous

    I am terrified of Beyonce’s robot-hand. I DO NOT WANT TO PUT A RING ON THAT

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