Crazy in Love rewrote pop history the moment it landed. Beyoncé’s 2003 smash hit is widely considered her debut solo single – eclipsing its largely forgotten predecessor, Work It Out, released a year earlier on the soundtrack to Austin Powers: Goldmember. After Beyoncé had affirmed her talents with Destiny’s Child as the R&B group’s lead and dabbled in acting (a role in Goldmember and musical Carmen: A Hip Hopera), few doubted she had the goods to go it alone; if anything, the stakes were sky high.
Beyoncé’s demigod status is divisive, but she wasn’t universally liked even before she became a dominant pop-cultural force. Her drive, perfectionism and near birth-right stardom was read as ego. Her solo bid came in the wake of Destiny’s Child’s controversial personnel shuffles and departures. It wasn’t long before the press blamed Beyoncé – the golden girl whose father managed the band and whose mother dressed them, saving the most stylish iterations of their matching outfits for her daughter. The media stoked a battle of the bandmates; when Kelly Rowland stepped out to team up with rapper Nelly on 2002 R&B hit Dilemma, the release of Beyoncé’s first solo album was delayed.
Crazy in Love confirmed that we were to believe the hype. The announcement of her arrival via those unforgettable blaring horns, sampled from the Chi-Lites’ 1970 hit, Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So), erred on regal fanfare, inspiring endless struts across makeshift dancefloors-turned-catwalks to this day. Even the video plays out like a one-woman variety show in which she gives all she’s got, putting on an all-singing, all-gyrating pop-goddess performance complete with six outfit changes, each more grandiose than the last. Beyoncé was auditioning for the part of pop’s new reigning diva, a role she knew she had already secured.
Its creation involved more serendipity than the slick execution expected from anything usually helmed by Beyoncé. The day the song’s producer, Rich Harrison, was due to play her the demo, he was hungover from prematurely celebrating its success. Beyoncé wasn’t keen on what she heard but gave him two hours to finish writing it while she went out. The chorus came from Beyoncé catching her dishevelled reflection in the mirror and remarking that she was “looking so crazy right now” and the famous “uh-oh uh-oh” hook was improvised. Even the inclusion of her then boyfriend, now husband, Jay-Z, was last-minute addition: “I asked Jay to get on the song the night before I had to turn my album in,” Beyoncé told Entertainment Weekly. “Thank God he did.”.
The mystery surrounding their relationship status added another dimension – they had secretly been together for at least three years, though their duet on Jay’s ’03 Bonnie & Clyde, from 2002, had stoked the speculation.
When Crazy in Love was released in May 2003, Beyoncé became the first female artist (and fifth artist ever) to top the singles and albums charts simultaneously in the US and the UK. In 2018, Rolling Stone named the track the greatest song of the 21st century. It is timeless, covered across the years by indie bands, orchestras and even as a 1940s-style swing number. The most famous redux was, in true Beyoncé fashion, by Beyoncé herself: a sultry, slowed-down remix for the 2014 film 50 Shades of Grey. While rappers are well-known for hyperbole, it was no exaggeration when Jay-Z declared Crazy in Love “history in the making”.
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