Review: Beyonce’s Roots Are on Full Display on Cowboy Carter

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Beyonce has made it clear: Cowboy Carter is not a country album.

When Act II of the presumed trilogy of albums was announced during Super Bowl LVIII, the internet shared in a collective meltdown over Beyonce saying “drop the new music” at the end of her Verizon commercial (kudos to Verizon for being able to somehow get Beyonce to star in their ad). The two singles, “16 Carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em” contrasted in both style and swagger. “16 Carriages” was slower and methodical while “Texas Hold ‘Em” was upbeat and brighter. Yet, the two singles were nestled deeply in country tropes. So, why distinguish from the genre altogether? Because it’s a Beyonce album. 

Over the course of an hour and 18 minutes, Beyonce denounces any and all doubt on her position in country music and not only establishes herself but other Black voices. On “American Requiem”, she sings of when she found herself in a conundrum of speaking too country while also being rejected for not being country enough. She reckons with criticism and racism that she faced for performing at the Country Music Awards in 2016 with the Chicks. Yet, her roots in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas provide a deep cultural understanding of not only country music but the Black experience in the south through her family. 

Following this is a cover of the Beatles’ song 1968 “Blackbird” featuring vocals by up and coming artists Tanner Adell, Brittany Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts. Paul McCartney has expressed his praise for Beyonce’s cover, calling it a “magnificent version” of the song. Given the inspiration of the song being the Little Rock Nine, it is fitting that Beyonce includes this cover, and it being the second song on the album. Within the context of the album, “Blackbiird” plays into the theme of reclamation of a genre while acknowledging the history of the civil rights movement. 

The many guests on Cowboy Carter is a testament to country music’s history through well-known figures and deeper cuts that deserve praise. Willie Nelson appears as a DJ on the interlude “Smoke Hour” that leads into “Texas Hold ‘Em”. Even though he does not formally introduce himself, it is clear whose voice listeners are hearing, considering the track title. Dolly Parton introduces Beyonce’s cover of “Jolene” as a passing of the torch. Although, Beyonce’s cover contains a bit more bite. No matter if it is Jolene from Dolly’s rendition or Beyonce’s she better watch out. Beyonce and Dolly P collaborate later on in “Tyrant” as the match is struck on a hip-hop/country fusion with plenty of bounce. 

The inclusion of Linda Martell is worth noting as she is widely considered an unsung hero of country music as she was the first Black artist to play the Grand Ole Opry in 1970. She speaks on the song “Spaghetti” and ponders “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined.” Her introduction perfectly leads into a hard-hitting rap collaboration with Shaboozey, an artist who sits at the crossroads of hip-hop and country. Two notable features include Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, both of whom had at point ventured into the country genre. Miley, of course, began her career in country while Post Malone more recently ventured in the genre. “II Most Wanted” is an anthem for the ride-or-dies who will stick with you no matter what. “Levii’s Jeans” is sweet, romantic and maybe a little cheesy, but who said Beyonce can’t be a little tongue in cheek? 

“Cowboy Carter” could be seen as Beyonce’s dissertation, demonstrating that she has done her homework of where country music has been, earning the respect and admiration of those who came before her as she reciprocates that respect and gives flowers to important figures like Linda Martell while they are still here. Not that she needs the validation, as Beyonce sounds as confident as ever, rendering any doubters and gatekeepers as irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if there’s a lot of talking going on, Beyonce has staked her place in country, haters be damned. 

While Beyonce’s first act, “Renaissance”, was a tribute to the sweaty dance floor and the house music scene pioneered by queer artists, “Cowboy Carter” pays equal homage to her country predecessors and acknowledges just how much Black voices have a place in today’s country music landscape. Speculation has already begun for what Act III will sound like, but one thing is for certain: Beyonce is not riding off into the sunset just yet.