The List: Beyonce's top live performances

Erica Thompson

Whether or not you're in the Beyhive, you can't deny Beyonce's talent as a live entertainer, and her ability to continuously deliver performances that make cultural waves. Before she hits another out of the park with Jay-Z at Ohio Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 16, here's a look back at her top live performances (not ranked because I know not to poke the hive).

“The Star-Spangled Banner” at the 2004 Super Bowl

You forgot she did this, didn't you? Beyonce has had other national anthem performances that generated more hoopla (the lip-sync controversy at President Obama's second inauguration, and the live rendition at her press conference a little over a week later — a glorious middle-finger move to silence critics). But the 2004 Super Bowl appearance is worth revisiting for her beautiful, soaring vocals.

“Deja Vu” at the 2006 BET Awards

Before peak “King Bey” heights, Beyonce opened the 2006 BET Awards with a performance that is still a sight to behold more than a decade later. There are no dancers, no marching band — mostly just the singer commanding every inch of the stage with crystal-clear vocals that never waver as she joyously dances her heart out. It really is perfection, and I don't use that word lightly.

2013 Super Bowl halftime show

Scrolling through the last five decades of the Super Bowl's halftime shows, Diana Ross is the only other black woman to carry an entire performance (I'm not counting the minute Destiny's Child was onstage). That is a huge deal, and Beyonce did not disappoint. She was blamed, er, credited for knocking the power out of the Superdome.

“Formation” at the 2016 Super Bowl

You know you're a cultural icon when your two-minute performance generates widespread fear and outrage among everyone from fragile TV personalities to police unions.

“At Last” during President Obama's 2009 Inaugural Ball

No one else can say they performed for Barack and Michelle Obama's first dance as the first black president and first lady. It's one for the history books.

“Run the World (Girls)” at the 2011 Billboard Music Awards

Prior to receiving the Billboard Millennium Award, Beyonce gave a critically acclaimed performance, during which she interacted with an impressive graphics presentation on a screen behind her. “I never worked so hard on anything in my life,” she said in an interview. It shows.

“Love on Top” at the 2011 Video Music Awards

Pre-Lemonade, pre-4:44, pre-MAGA Kanye, and with the sweet reveal of baby Blue at the end. Look at the joy on Jay-Z and Kanye's faces in the audience. I just got really depressed.

2004 Grammy Awards with Prince

“I was really curious as to how much she knew musically and I was really pleased to find out that she knew a lot,” Prince said in an interview. “I was just trying to show her some chords on the piano and help her to respect the fact that if she learns piano a la Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, the sky's the limit as to what she could do because she's so very talented.” Enough said.

“Love Drought” and “Sandcastles” at the 2017 Grammy Awards

A visibly pregnant Beyonce was the picture of womanhood and motherhood as she channeled ancient goddesses and moved audiences with words of healing. It was the same night Adele bested her for Album of the Year, but also had to stop her performance and start over. I'm sorry, Beyonce would never do that.


As the first woman of color to headline Coachella, Beyonce induced chills with her tribute to HBCUs and her rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“I know that most of the young people on the stage and in the audience did not know the history of the black national anthem before Coachella,” she toldVogue. “But they understood the feeling it gave them. It was a celebration of all the people who sacrificed more than we could ever imagine, who moved the world forward so that it could welcome a woman of color to headline such a festival.”