Originally I was going to have these scores count down from  to , but never mind…
Brad Shoup: This is the speed B should maintain: a bouncy cruising velocity with The-Dream and Raymond Scott as co-pilots. There’s a surfeit of vocal and lyrical details, touched on as gleefully and arbitrarily as a pranked bank of elevator buttons. The track itself stomps like the best Southern productions, issuing heraldic horns and marching-band percussion (probably Cainon Lamb’s input). I’d rather not issue a 10 so close to my last, but there’s an unquenchable sense of wonder here, a superhuman confidence and joy.
Edward Okulicz: Great hit songs usually have to win me over with their chorus, or they’ve got no chance. The descending-pitch-shifted countdown actively annoys me; it’s air coming out of a balloon, metaphorically and sonically. Its lyrics don’t work, and it sounds like some bedroom hack playing around with a microphone and a freeware sound editor. But the rest of the song is Beyoncé on her A+ game. From horn parts to skittering drums that conjure up the bliss of falling in love over and over again, the verses throw such a bewildering mess of beautiful noises that resistance is pointless. Beyoncé on top is like chocolate syrup on top of the most rich, creamy ice cream cake and then whipped cream on top of that: sweet, if overwhelming. But the chorus sounds like it was flown in from another song, and I wish it would go back there so I can enjoy this slice of near-perfection untainted.
Katherine St Asaph: This score is artificially deflated; when “Countdown” leaked, I’d have given it a , but I’m halving that because of weeks-long irritation. At the risk of repeating myself, but since I’m particularly pissed today: “Countdown” does not work as a song. It’s a junkyard of sonic baubles that neither fit together, grow nor develop depth. But luckily for Beyoncé and her eight co-writers, nobody cares. 60% of the adoration for “Countdown” is just adoration of “boof boof,” which turns Beyoncé into a lolcat and doesn’t even make sense. “Me and my boof, and my boof boof riding” is the sort of astoundingly bad line that’d be savaged if uttered by a Rebecca Black or Taio Cruz or similar Internet punchline. Elsewhere in the lyrics: clueless Roberta Flack references, shoehorning words to make the “countdown” work, gender shit somehow worse than “Cater 2 U,” motherfucking grocery-bag hashtags. 20% of the adoration, meanwhile, is just for the “Beyoncé: Buzzfeed Edition” video. 10% is crappy biographical criticism that we all sighed at when that Slant guy did it but that’s A-OK now that Beyoncé’s pointed to her slightly enlarged abdomen. The last 10% is genuine appreciation, but it’s outswooned by the rest. Sad thing is, 4 is full of nuance and emotion and terribly represented by this animated GIF of a song. But this is 2011, where immediacy trumps nuance and memes trump quality. Just as “Umbrella” was coronated as classic because people found “ella-ella-eh-eh-eh” amusing, this song is going to be inescapable forever because of nonsense. Oh, fuck it: BOOF BOOF. That’s all you want to hear.
Jonathan Bogart: Is it a novelty? Sure. Are there songs of equal merit — or possibly even better — on 4? Of course. (Bonus track “Schoolin’ Life” goes to 11.) It’s even, according to classical songwriting principles, a mess: the joins show, there’s no melodic, rhythmic, or lyrical throughline. Doesn’t matter. BOOF BOOF.
Alfred Soto: It’s all about the BOOF BOOFs.
Alex Ostroff: Admittedly, Countdown is more of a series of incredible moments than it is an actual song, but what moments! Besides the obvious “BOOF BOOF”, there’s the magnificent “grrrrrriiinnnndd uponit” and “Houston ROCKIT!” and the dizzily melismatic “boy” that opens the extravaganza. Beyoncé is more often praised for her range than her interpretive skills, but I can’t think of another current pop star who could pull this off, let alone make it all hang together.
Jonathan Bradley: From demands that a man pick up the cost of her credit binges to “Cater 2 U,” Beyoncé’s always had some affection for the kind of femininity wrought from passivity. Over the latter and, by no coincidence, less interesting half of her career, she’s tried to mold her throwback housewife urges into the air of refined domesticity exemplified in Mad Men-chic, as if the power of the independent woman can be willed back into being through the force of ladylike poise. “Countdown” doesn’t entirely free from its more uncomfortable connotations the image of one of the world’s biggest pop stars cooking dinner in heels for her husband, but the girlish flutter of the fanfare goes a long way toward explaining it: she’s sprung, and she don’t care who sees. I preferred her back in 2002 as Bonnie with Carrie-fever, watching Sex and the City with her husband-to-be, as opposed to this paragon of (very!) blissful domesticity, but you can redeem a lot with some well-placed BOOF-BOOFs.
Anthony Easton: Outside of the fashion, costumes and video — but with Beyoncé is anything beyond fashion, costumes and videos? — the song pops. The chorus is perfect, there are a few lines that are just brilliant, and it has Tarantino-level skill in working through genre and floating pop signifiers, which makes any accusations of stealing choreography profoundly missing the point.
Hazel Robinson: Frightening prenatal aerobics aside, this is the most interesting thing Beyoncé’s released for a long time — I’m slightly tempted to say since “Ring the Alarm” — and where the chaotic elements of her higher-speed songs finally gel coherently. The speed-changes and aggression, flattened melodies and saccharine possible-threats from Sasha Fierce are tessellated expertly and into something catchy, on which she misfires often for me. It’s frightening/inviting, flirty/grinding in a heart-fluttering fizzy cocktail.
Jer Fairall: A bright, jaunty splay, this never sits still long enough to become any one thing in particular, but any mess that is made trying to shape steel drum percussion, “Tusk” marching band horns, hashtag raps and minimalist electro-funk into any kind of coherent whole is bound to be happy.
Al Shipley: My relationship with my wife over the past ten years lines up chronologically pretty well with that of B and Jay: the long courtship, then finally the wedding and not long after that the baby. That adds a little personal resonance to how perfect an expression of love and devotion her latest album and this song in particular are. Being able to write an ode of infatuation as delirious as “Crazy In Love” early in a relationship is one thing, being able to write something even more dizzily ecstatic almost a decade later is another entirely.
Zach Lyon: Every new Beyoncé album holds the expectation of one mega-earthshaker, that one song that’ll show up on every top 10 singles-of-the-year list and also win every Grammy and almost every VMA. “Get Me Bodied” didn’t have that much of an impact, but “Crazy in Love” and “Single Ladies” did. Those three were perfect unions between the performance of Knowles and innovation of production, and if I hadn’t become so aware of our need for this song, I’d easily slide “Countdown” in there too. After all, its production is just as weird and eye-opening as that of “Single Ladies,” and she’s just as hypnotizing as she was in the former two. And I have been listening to it nearly non-stop for a week, but… I just can’t call it classic yet. Although it does really make me want to marry Jay-Z.