Arts, Music, Review

Beyoncé Owns Country in New Album ‘COWBOY CARTER’


“Okay, they ready. Drop the new music,” is how Beyoncé left off her 2024 Super Bowl ad, exciting fans with the possibility of a new album.

 Over a month later on March 29, Beyoncé’s eighth studio album, COWBOY CARTER was released, and it’s safe to say the wait was worth it.

After sending the BeyHive into a frenzy, COWBOY CARTER was announced as “Act II” to Beyoncé’s prior album, RENAISSANCE. COWBOY CARTER is part of the trilogy Beyoncé began in 2022 with RENAISSANCE, and represents a formal step into the genre of country, one which she historically was not welcomed into.

In an Instagram post for the 10-day countdown to COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé explained, “It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed … and it was very clear that I wasn’t.”

At the 2016 Country Music Association Awards, Beyoncé performed her song “Daddy Lessons,” one which ventures into the country genre, alongside country band The Chicks. Despite the strong performance, Beyoncé faced significant backlash on the basis of her race, given that the country genre is often seen as white-dominated.

Many have pointed toward this performance as the “experience” Beyoncé refers to on her Instagram post, making this album a vessel for her to push back against this hate. 

The first track of the album, “AMERICAN REQUIEM,” transitions the listener from the pop and R&B persona Beyoncé has formerly utilized to her new country identity.

Beginning with angelic, layered vocals, this transition occurs when the lengthened end of the word “amen” is then interrupted by strong strums of both acoustic and steel guitars, along with an organ. 

“It’s a lot of talkin’ goin’ on / While I sing my song / Can you hear me? / I said, ‘Do you hear me?’” Beyoncé sings in a subtle Southern drawl.

Using the first song to address the purpose behind her entire album, Beyoncé makes many references to the treatment she has faced in the country music industry. From repeating the phrase “Can you stand me?” to mentioning her Southern roots through her parents, Beyoncé makes clear she is not going to allow others to push her away from the country genre.

“They used to say I spoke, ‘Too country’ / And the rejection came, said I wasn’t ‘country ’nough’ / Said I wouldn’t saddle up, but / If that ain’t country, tell me what is,” she sings.

With the aim of proving country is not just for a certain group of people, Beyoncé moves through the album by looking to great artists of the past to cement her status in the genre. 

This comes notably through “JOLENE,” Beyoncé’s cover of Dolly Parton’s famous country hit.

Introduced by an interlude titled “DOLLY P,” sung by Parton, Beyoncé exercises her lyricism to redefine Parton’s original into a more forceful rendition, unique to herself.

“Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene / I’m warnin’ you, woman, find you your own man / Jolene, I know I’m a queen, Jolene / I’m still a Creole banjee bitch from Louisiane (Don’t try me),” she sings, effectively altering the lyrics.

“JOLENE” is where Beyoncé shows just how well she can adapt to a new genre, claiming a rightful place in the country world by refashioning a classic to be uniquely hers. She doesn’t just use Parton to solidify her country identity, but also features interludes with Willie Nelson, who expertly summarizes this collaboration in another interlude titled “SMOKE HOUR II.” 

“Sometimes you don’t know what you like until someone you trust turns you on to some real good shit,” Nelson says.

While Beyoncé takes a classic and molds it into her own by rewriting, she also plays into more stereotypical country. 

Slowing it down, “II MOST WANTED,” featuring Miley Cyrus, takes a step away from the upbeat, country-pop sound like that of “TEXAS HOLD ’EM” to focus on the classic country theme of trucks and love.

“I’ll be your shotgun rider / ‘Til the day I die / Smoke out the window flyin’ / Down the 405 / I’ll be your backseat baby, drivin’ you crazy / Anytime you like,” Beyoncé duets with Cyrus.

Despite country music often being criticized for its corniness when it comes to song topics, Beyoncé manages to balance the subject perfectly with beautifully rich vocals backed by a traditional guitar melody. The instrumentation combined with the Southern drawl used in the album is what brings out the country in many of the song—particularly “ALLIGATOR TEARS,” “PROTECTOR,” and “II MOST WANTED.” 

Not only does Beyoncé successfully tackle the classic instrumentation and topics of country music, but she also uses other songs—the perks of releasing a 27-song album—to bend the genre in a way that plays more into pop and hip-hop. 

Take “YA YA,” which not only samples “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra, but also introduces a hip-hop rhythm with clapping and quick bursts of singing. In its introduction by Linda Martell, the first commercially successful Black female artist in country music, Martell outright praises it for its genre-bending and novelty.

“We wanna welcome you to the Beyoncé Cowboy Carter: Act II, ah / And a rodeo chitlin circuit,” she begins singing. 

Beyoncé combines an enticing hip-hop sound with empowering messages throughout the album by melding country with Black culture.

On top of covering revolutionary songs such as  The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” a song originally inspired by the civil rights movement and the struggle of Black women, she also adds culturally significant terms in her songs. These include mentions of the “chitlin circuit” in “YA YA,” referring to the network of entertainment venues for African Americans in areas of segregation during the Jim Crow era.

With COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé proves those who fought against her presence in the country industry were wrong. By simultaneously going back to the greats with interludes, samples, and genre-bending, Beyoncé has truly cemented her place in the country world. 

April 4, 2024