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8 Takeaways from Beyonce’s Cowboy Carter

More than a country album, Beyonce’s latest is the kind of statement only she can make as she asks listeners to re-evaluate their relationship with the genre itself. 

by Ben Boddez

We all know that Beyonce no longer has anything to prove. After changing the way music is released and promoted with her surprise-dropped self-titled effort, reinventing the visual album with her stunning Lemonade, then making the six-year wait in between solo albums worth it with the first act of her Renaissance trilogy, a house-inflected dance album that paid tribute to decades of the genre’s deeply Black and LGBTQIA2S+ history, she’s proven time and time again that she’s a spellbinding creative who will never settle for anything less than surprising and spectacular. Despite all of this, she’s done it again.

Beyonce herself has said that her latest, Cowboy Carter, heralded as her first country album, “isn’t a country album, it’s a Beyonce album.” She’s right in the sense that her forays into the country music that coloured her Texas upbringing contains elements of the vocal run-filled and personality-driven pop, hip-hop and soul that she’s known for, but it flirts with zydeco, bluegrass and southern rock at the same time. Billed as “Act II” of the Renaissance trilogy (we can only hope the third will be a rock album), she continues to reclaim genres that – perhaps unbeknownst to many of her listeners – have deep Black roots. With Cowboy Carter, Beyonce is doing important work with style.

Here are eight takeaways from Queen B’s latest: 

Surging Streams

Black country pioneer Linda Martell, now 82 years old, acts as a guiding figure on Cowboy Carter, offering a couple speeches about the idea of genre confining creatives. But at the same time Beyonce pays tribute to the history of Black country music, she also makes sure to spotlight its present and future. Inviting some of the genre’s most promising Black creatives onto the album – Shaboozey and Willie Jones appear in duets, while Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts back her up on a cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” that highlights the track’s lesser-known meaning stemming from the Black Power movement – the album’s release saw each of their streaming numbers for their solo work increase by more than 100 per cent. Not only that, other Black country singers like Rissi Palmer, Mickey Guyton and K. Michelle saw the same bump. 


Dolly Drama

Another legendary figure who serves a major role on Cowboy Carter is none other than Dolly Parton, who offers her own take on the infidelity drama that sparked Lemonade’s creation in her first appearance on the project. Previewing a topical cover of “Jolene,” she makes reference to a “hussy with the good hair” and compares Beyonce’s foe – who also gets addressed on album highlight “TYRANT” – to the original Jolene herself. Elsewhere, Beyonce pays tribute to Parton by using her fingernails as percussion on “RIIVERDANCE,” just as Parton did on “9 to 5,” and performs a duet with her famous goddaughter Miley Cyrus on “II MOST WANTED.” 



One of the most fascinating stories about the album’s genesis came when fans were initially confused about an alternate album art that saw Beyonce wearing a sash that read “BEYINCE.” It prompted a resurgence of an interview that Beyonce’s mother, Tina, gave four years ago where she explained that her original name was actually Celestine Beyonce, though the spelling we’re all familiar with today only exists because of a typo made on her birth certificate printed during a highly segregated time in U.S. history. Instead of an approval when Beyonce’s grandparents asked them to change the certificate back to the original “Beyince,” they heard “be happy that you’re getting a birth certificate.” On the song “YA YA,” Beyonce pays homage to her family’s history by repeatedly spelling out their original surname. 


Lot of Talking Going On

Beyonce recently revealed that if it weren’t for the pandemic, Cowboy Carter would have been the first act of the Renaissance trilogy, but she dropped the dance album first because she felt the state of the world needed it. The opening track “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” seems to reveal why Beyonce was inspired to create the entire series. Drawing reference to a time where her first country-inflected track, Lemonade’s “Daddy Lessons,” was performed with The Chicks at the 2016 Country Music Awards and met with backlash from those who felt she didn’t belong, Beyonce addresses it with the lines “a lot of talking going on while I sing my song” in the chorus and asking “if that ain’t country, then tell me what is?” after describing her family’s roots. Willie Nelson anticipates what’s coming on an interlude, saying “Sometimes you don’t know what you like until someone you trust turns you on to some real good shit. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m here.”


Classic Cowboys

Another reason behind Beyonce’s tackling of country is a lot more historical than personal. She has also spoken about being surprised to learn about the historical origins of the word “cowboy,” the “boy” part of which being included as a way to continue belittling former slaves who took up the profession. In actuality, despite its now whitewashed image presented in the media, 50 per cent of cowboys were Black. Wanting to reclaim the connotation of the term along with the music that these people created and listened to, Cowboy Carter also celebrates what she calls “the strength and resiliency of these men who were the true definition of Western fortitude.” 


Rumi Joins the Party

You just have to look at 12-year-old Blue Ivy Carter’s domination of the stage on her mother’s Renaissance Tour to understand just how much of a super-mom Beyonce is. With Blue already a Grammy-winner due to her mom’s spotlighting of her talents with feature credits, Beyonce continues the tradition of paying tribute to her children with full songs on Cowboy Carter with the tracks “PROTECTOR” and “MY ROSE.” One half of a set of twins, six-year-old Rumi Carter finally receives her own feature credit on the former. While she doesn’t sing – yet – her voice is heard asking her mother to sing her a lullaby. Who knows, maybe she’ll pick up a Grammy before she reaches her teen years as well.  


Cowboys in Clovis

The track “YA YA” also sees Beyonce dropping the poignant lyric “whole lotta red in that white and blue,” something that she draws reference to best on the song “JUST FOR FUN.” Continuing to speak on the problematic history of the American West, she draws reference to “cowboys in Clovis” while singing with featured artist Willie Jones. A city in California with a historical annual rodeo that draws over 50 thousand guests per year, the city is also named for the Clovis peoples, often recognized as one of the first ever groups of Indigenous North Americans and the ancestors of many First Nations peoples today. The dichotomy of a rodeo, full of romanticized distortions of the realities of Western life, taking place on such important First Nations lands is not lost on an album that scrutinizes America’s relationship with country music. 


World Stop…Carry On

Beyonce has frequently lyrically toasted her ability to halt the world in its tracks whenever she’s gearing up to make career moves, and she continued to prove that inadvertently with the release of Cowboy Carter. While the gains in people searching for the important topics, artists and histories that she nods to on the album are incredible to see, the funniest effect of one of Earth’s biggest megastars going country has to be reports of Google searches for “bolo tie,” “cowboy hat” and “cowboy boots” surging mere hours after the concept of the album was announced. If you thought the oft-reported “yeehaw era” was coming to a close anytime soon, think again.