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Cowboy Carter: Beyoncé’s Historic Release

Taking a look at Beyoncé’s instant classic Cowboy Carter and how she’s changing the game yet again


Credit: Billboard 


 

“So, she covered The Beatles and Dolly Parton?” is what I said to my friends immediately after listening to Cowboy Carter on March 29th. If you’re a Beyoncé fan like me, I’m sure you haven’t been able to stop listening to Beyoncé's new album. The extensive track-list features 27 songs and features from Post Malone, Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, and more up-and-coming artists like Shaboozey.


From releasing one of the most danceable house/disco albums of all time to pulling a reverse Taylor Swift by making a heavily country-influenced record, Beyoncé is showing the world how talented and innovative she truly is. Beyoncé herself declared Cowboy Carter a “Beyoncé” album, not a country album, and it is definitely not the one to squeeze under a single genre.


Just as Beyoncé’s Renaissance (2022) incorporated numerous genres, including pop, disco, afrobeat, Jersey club, and more, into one cohesive production, Cowboy Carter utilizes different Americana genres such as country, original rhythm & blues, folk rock, and even some psychedelic rock, as well as pop and R&B.


For instance, the opening track “Ameriican Requiem,” which uses a sitar, an Indian instrument that is often found in psychedelic music, is very reminiscent of psychedelic rock of the 1960s. In fact, it incorporates the folk/psychedelic song “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield which was written by songwriter Stephen Stills, a former resident of Gainesville. The harmonies throughout the album, which I thought stood out the most on “II Most Wanted,” “My Rose,” and “Ameriican Requiem,” also show Beyoncé’s use of gospel elements, a genre that influenced a lot of early country.

He imagined a black woman taking her “broken wings and learning to fly” rather than a bird.

When I saw “Blackbiird” listed on the album’s track listing, I was not expecting a cover of the Beatles’ song from 1967. On my first listen, I naturally fell in love with it. Besides “Blackbird” being one of my favorite songs of all time, from my favorite Beatles album, The Beatles (1968), I thought Beyoncé’s vocals, as well as the additional vocals of black country artists Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts, complemented the song beautifully. The day after the album was released, I found out from Instagram that Paul McCartney of the Beatles was actually inspired by the Little Rock Nine and the ongoing Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in writing “Blackbird.” He imagined a black woman taking her “broken wings and learning to fly” rather than a bird. Discovering this has given me even more reason to respect Beyoncé and Paul McCartney.


Credit: Rolling Stone


The other song covered by Beyoncé on the album was the iconic Dolly Parton song, “Jolene.” Putting her spin on the classic, Beyoncé establishes herself as a woman who knows that her bond with her man is too strong to be broken by another woman. The original song pleads with this other woman not to take the singer’s man, but Beyoncé’s version warns this other woman directly. Whatever you think about this rendition of “Jolene,” no one can deny Beyoncé of her incredibly phenomenal vocals on the track.


Even before the album’s release, Beyoncé made history, yet again, with her single “Texas Hold ‘Em” reaching #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, making her the first black woman to do so. While it would be remiss of us to ignore her status as an international pop star playing a part in her chart success, we must still acknowledge this as a very historic moment. And perhaps, her success in exploring the genre will now allow more black female stars to rise in country music.


I know that many of us in this generation, unless we grew up with it, tend to veer away from country, partly due to assumptions that ultra-conservative, misogynistic white men make most country music. And while this can be true to an extent, as country has long had a sizable conservative fanbase, a lot of those biases stem from the fact that so many of us grew up in the era of bro-country, the type of country pop that focuses on picking up women, drinking, and trucks. 


The reality is that’s not the only country that exists, and Beyoncé is certainly not the first black artist to dabble in the genre. The origins of country, like rock ‘n’ roll, actually lie in both white and black musical styles, with black artists such as Lesley Riddle influencing the Carter Family of the early 20th century, no relation to Beyoncé or Jay-Z, who is known as the “First Family of Country Music.”


Beyoncé's inclusion of and tribute to Linda Martell, a black female country artist whose career in the music industry has long been ignored by historians and the country music community, is definitely something to applaud. Martell was the first black female solo artist to play the Grand Ole Opry and experienced plenty of racism during her short-lived country career.


Credit: Rolling Stone


"Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, some may feel confined.”, says Linda Martell on the track “Spaghettii”. On Cowboy Carter, the tracks “Spaghettii” and “The Linda Martell Show” pay tribute to Martell and include direct statements about the confinements of music genres and how they don’t really matter at the end of the day. 


Through this, and with the album’s existence itself, Beyoncé is helping to reconstruct the whitewashed history and legacy of country music. Beyoncé was also not afraid to call out the contradictory ideals of patriotism and freedom often found in country in “Yaya” with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the violent history of the US.


“My family live and died in America, hm

Good ol' USA, shit (Good ol' USA)

Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh

History can't be erased, ooh”


Here, Beyoncé is referring to the “blood spilled” in the name of America’s ideals of bravery, justice, and innocence—the ideals represented by red, white, and blue in the USA flag. The blood she refers to could be from fighting for the end of slavery in the Civil War, or even the US’ military involvement in other countries.


Like most of us, I'm still unpacking Cowboy Carter. Though I didn’t talk about all the songs on the album, hopefully, you all can see how important the ones I discussed are, and how they’ve already made their mark for years to come. I, for one, can’t wait to see what Queen Bey has in store for part III of this trilogy.

 

Hannah Barnes is a second-year Film and Television major and an online writer for Rowdy Magazine. When she’s not listening to dad rock and escaping to the 70s, she can be found scouring Pinterest for outfit ideas.

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