Study Guide

Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) Lyrics

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All the single ladies, all the single ladies

Quick Thought

Once the virgin goddess, now the single lady.

Deep Thought

Images of single ladies as strong leaders, rabble-rousers, and members of all-girl posses have been important cultural icons as least as far back as ancient Greek mythology, with tough virgin goddesses Athena and Artemis. With the release of I Am...Sasha Fierce, Beyoncé released her own fierce single lady alter ego to the world.

Behind her iconic independent image, though, Beyoncé is married to star rapper and music business exec Jay-Z. The singer even broke from her own strict policy against PDA when she told Jay-Z she loved him at the Grammys in early 2010, while accepting one of numerous awards for "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)."

Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it

Quick Thought

How about putting a tattoo on it?

Deep Thought

"Single Ladies" isn't an anthem of independence throughout. The song actually addresses a jealous ex-boyfriend who failed to propose marriage and lost his chance with the singer. Is the ring line literal, or just a metaphor for the stability that the relationship lacked?

These days, there's plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that marriage isn't a precursor to commitment. Oprah Winfrey and her partner Stedman Graham are among many famous people who stay in long-term relationships without getting married—see also Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and Leondardo da Vinci, who bequeathed the Mona Lisa to his long-term partner Giacommo Caprotti when he died. Not to mention all the non-celebrities who stick together without marrying.

Social commentary aside, the real Beyoncé has no reason to be bitter about a ring. She didn't go public with her own $5 million wedding ring until five months into her own marriage. It turns out that when they got married on April 4th, 2008, Beyoncé and Jay-Z (whose birthdays are September 4th and December 4th, respectively) got matching tattoos of the Roman numeral IV on their ring fingers. 

When People asked her why she didn't get an engagement ring, Beyoncé responded, "People put too much emphasis on that. It's just material and it's just silly to me." (Source) It's probably safe to surmise that even for Beyoncé, "putting a ring on it" is more a figure of speech than a literal requirement.

Don't be mad once you see that he want it

Quick Thought

Jealousy endures, just like in Othelloor Eclipse.

Deep Thought

Okay, it might not be exactly like Othello—no racial controversy, no murder theme, and Beyoncé's lyricists are no Shakespeares. And we can probably also agree that Beyoncé is a little more, um, human than the jealous vamps and werewolves in Eclipse

But the reappearance of the theme of jealousy in all these places reminds us that Beyoncé is toying with an emotion that fascinates all kinds of audiences. And she's not just toying—here it sounds like the lyric is about trying to make her ex jealous.

If we were giving out relationship advice, we might say this was a bad choice, or at least kind of immature. But in a song, it works, and even comes off as kind of empowering. The message is clear: "I'm so hot, I can have any guy I want, and there's nothing you can do about it, so back off."  This is the singer's way of showing that she has power over the guy. 

What do you think? Is this line empowering, or actually sort of embarrassing? Is trying to make someone jealous a sign of moving on, or a sign of hanging on?

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