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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

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Beyoncé’s ‘COWBOY CARTER’ sparks commentary from country fans, BeyHive alike — but is there overlap between the two?

Illustration by Ziye Wang
Beyoncé’s new album “COWBOY CARTER” has sparked debate from country music fans and the BeyHive alike.

Global superstar Beyoncé released her eighth studio album and first country album, “COWBOY CARTER,” on Friday. It features 27 songs totaling 79 minutes, almost maxing out the 80-minute capacity of a CD. Both political and personal, the album is composed of broken song fragments, spoken introductions and heavy-handed Western motifs.
The new genre influences have sparked commentary from Beyoncé followers and country fans alike — although there might be more overlap than we think. The Daily had two of our own sit down with the album and share their thoughts.
Jillian, a country music fan:

“COWBOY CARTER” embraces Americana while analyzing its faults. As a country music fan, I was intrigued by how Beyoncé would fit into the genre — and even change it. I’m thrilled with the result.

On her “SPAGHETTII” feature, Linda Martell — one of the first commercially successful Black female country singers — says, “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?”

Indeed, the album is a genre departure from Beyoncé’s past work. Unapologetically adding her own twist to country staples, Beyoncé covers Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” with an attitude and later samples Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” in “YA YA.”

The song is no ode to the ’60s, however. She sings, “Whole lotta red in that white and blue / History can’t be erased” and “Are you tired workin’ time and a half for half the pay?” Protest has gone hand-in-hand with patriotism since the dawn of country music. It’s only fitting that Beyoncé, long known for albums that spark conversation, embrace this sentiment.

On just the second track of “COWBOY CARTER”, she features four young Black women pursuing country music careers on a remake of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” — a song about the struggles of Black Americans during the Civil Rights Movement.

The “COWBOY CARTER” version sends a message about the exclusion of Black country artists in America. Although Beyoncé doesn’t revolutionize how the classic is performed, she does re-center the song around its original meaning.

The album also includes some contenders for straight-up country radio stations. In an incredibly refreshing departure from the polish of digital filters and programmed beats, Beyoncé features acoustic guitar, ukulele, banjo, harmonica and tack piano.

“TEXAS HOLD ’EM” — one of the album’s two lead singles, released on Feb. 11 — has already earned the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. So “park your Lexus, and throw your keys up,” because country listeners across America will soon join the BeyHive.

“I don’t think this music is what everyone expects,” Beyoncé said in a press release. “But it’s the best music I’ve ever made.”

Beyoncé grew up in Houston, where country music has combined with jazz, blues and — more recently — hip-hop. While the themes of country are more inclusive than many realize, with gospel and spiritual songs contributing strongly to the genre’s development, most of those who perform it at a commercial scale have historically been white.

Through the haunting vocal riffs on “DAUGHTER,” the American motif-packed “II HANDS II HEAVEN” and the gothic slow-burn “ALLIIGATOR TEARS,” she chooses to create a mix of eras and styles that breaks from country’s exclusionary tradition.

If storytelling is a defining feature of country — and I think it is — we can examine “16 CARRIAGES,” another lead single off the album. The song takes a look back at Beyoncé’s work ethic throughout an industrious career, starting from her time spent on tour buses as a 15-year-old teenager signed to Destiny’s Child.

In a post-Kacey Musgraves world where country is increasingly semi-autobiographical, “16 CARRIAGES” is a grand and honest contribution.

As the vocal powerhouse sings in “AMERIICAN REQUIEM”, “For things to stay the same / They have to change again.” With “COWBOY CARTER”, Beyoncé pushes the country music industry to do some much-needed soul-searching — and continues to push the boundaries of her legacy.
Taylor, a Beyoncé fan:
When Beyoncé said that this is not a country album, this is a Beyoncé album, she described “COWBOY CARTER” perfectly. Her ‘act II’ of Renaissance goes past the surface-level album of 10-15 tracks — the 27-song full-course-meal includes preludes and interludes that contribute to the art form that this album is.
Throughout the new release, there are subtle reminders that this is the second act of the Renaissance series by swapping out the letter “I” for the Roman numeral “II” in several songs such as “LEVII’S JEANS,” “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” AND “SPAGHETTII.”
Compared to the R&B vibe that most associate Beyoncé with, “COWBOY CARTER” sticks out like a sore thumb in the best way. Almost all of the songs are incomparable to her prior music, yet Beyoncé’s signature sound remains in every song. Beyoncé can do it all, and that’s something she spotlights in this album, collaborating with artists of all genres and fusing her own niche “country” sound.
The album opens unexpectedly on a spiritual note with “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” but speaks to a deeper message — the hate Beyoncé has received in pursuing the genre.
Specifically, the lyrics in the chorus, “It’s a lot of chatter in here / But let me make myself clear (Oh)/ Can you hear me? (Huh)” evoke flashbacks to Beyoncé’s 2016 “Daddy Lessons” performance at the Country Music Awards, where the audience loudly made negative comments live.
After the performance, Beyoncé experienced a lot of backlash for trying to experiment with country music. The Recording Academy also declined to consider the song in country categories. In “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” Beyoncé says it’s time to let in love and put an end to the toxicity behind artists entering uncharted territory.
The song that most resembles what could be considered Beyoncé’s typical sound, “RIIVERDANCE,” is one of my top songs on the album. The beat during the chorus brings you back to the hip hop-heavy Beyoncé in “Lemonade,” but it’s special because it could simultaneously be a line dance song in Nashville.
I have to shine a light on the best song on the album — and possibly a top-10 Beyoncé song of all time. “16 CARRIAGES” describes the trials and tribulations of navigating fame at 15 years old and the responsibilities that she’s borne since then. Outside of the storyline, the vocals are nothing short of extraordinary, and the background instrumental could be its own song; It’s just a full package of Queen Bey’s beauty.
What can’t be neglected are the iconic features, including Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Linda Martell and Post Malone. All of the features add to Beyoncé’s flare while speaking to the entire point of “COWBOY CARTER”: making artists feel welcome in all genres. Beyoncé channels her varying discography to craft songs that match not only these artists but also match her style.
All in all, “COWBOY CARTER” is proof that there’s nothing Beyoncé can’t do. Each song is unique, complex and defies all stereotypes of country music. As someone who is not the biggest country fan, I’m much more open to venturing into the genre now.

Email: [email protected]
X: @jillian_moore7

Email: [email protected]
X: @taylorhancock23

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