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Hike up your skirt and hoedown to Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER”

Beyoncés COWBOY CARTER album cover.
Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” album cover.

In a time where Billboard’s Top 100 is dominated by singers lamenting over dead-end relationships and substance abuse, Beyoncé’s 2024 release of “COWBOY CARTER,” an artistic sequel to her 2022 album “RENAISSANCE,” is a refreshingly culturally relevant piece with a unique and powerful spin on country music.

“COWBOY CARTER” is based in the aesthetics of the West: hoedowns, rodeos and, of course, an American Flag about the size of a horse. Beyoncé proudly embraces her Western roots, singing tunes ranging from murder ballads to odes to her hometown.

Though “COWBOY CARTER” could be construed as another classic country album—filed away with the likes of Dolly Parton and Billy Ray Cyrus—there is something that keeps this album distinct and incredibly pertinent to our time. Beyoncé’s Blackness is inherent to the contents of “COWBOY CARTER,” lyrically, sonically and conceptually. Though, historically, the majority of people in the West doing manual labor such as riding horses and tedious farm work were Black, white people have been intent on keeping them out of Western spaces. The cultural perception of a cowboy will typically instill the mental picture of a white man with chaps and a lasso, though the term ‘cowboy’ itself was initially a means of degradation towards Black men working with cows, their white counterparts often called ‘cowhands.’

America’s vision of the West is firmly rooted in racist ideology, and Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” takes a firm stand against the values on which the vision was built. By placing herself on a horse, singing of hoedowns in “TEXAS HOLDEM’” and shootouts in “RIIVERDANCE,” Beyoncé lets her existence in a historically white supremacist space act as a political statement.

Beyoncé is sure to pay homage to her predecessors throughout the album. She features Linda Martell, the first Black female artist to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, on her song “SPAGHETTI,” which echoes themes of empowerment and persistence through hardships. The nature of the song, with a more eclectic beat and Beyoncé rapping, deviates from a “normal” country song. However, the lyrics such as “In the kitchen cookin’ up them chickens / Extra leg, but I ain’t even tryna kick it” and “Outlaws with me, they gon’ shoot / Keep the code, break the rules” resonate with the theme of the album, blending the past and present of American music in synergy.

A particularly haunting song is “DAUGHTER,” telling the story of betrayal that features Beyoncé singing an Italian opera piece that translates to “ My darling dear / at least believe me, / without you / my heart languishes.” The addition of Beyoncé’s piercing Italian vocals to a classic country tune of adultery creates an evocative and visceral auditory experience that truly makes the listener feel what Beyoncé is feeling—heartbreak, despair, and fury. The story Beyoncé is telling in the song of her strength and vengefulness in the face of infidelity with lyrics stating she is the “furthest thing from choir boys and alters,” and that she is “colder than Titanic water,” juxtaposes the inclusion of opera, especially her choice of song. “Caro Mio Ben,” the song Beyonce sings, tells the story of a vulnerable woman wallowing in sorrow without her lover. Though Beyoncé’s strength is evident in the lyrics of the song, her incorporation of “Caro Mio Ben” conveys the multi-faceted nature of being cheated on, her anguish floating lightly above her anger. Beyoncé blends genres to communicate to her listeners that feelings that appear polar opposites can coexist.

The album features a vast array of instruments, from bodily percussion to the use of the fiddle, which I particularly enjoyed. In “TYRANT,” Beyoncé utilizes the fiddle playing softly underneath her singing, a beautiful mesh of bluegrass instrumentals and her R&B vocal style. The fiddle has been used in country music primarily as a companion to vocal storytelling, whether it is singing or spoken word. In “TYRANT,” Beyoncé’s use of storytelling and the light noise of the fiddle in the background coalesce to create a magnetic and melodic beat that draws the listener in.

In “YA YA,” Beyoncé employs clapping and boot stompin’, some signature instruments in country music. She sings “In a rodeo chitlin circuit, we gon’ / make you do what they do, ya-ya,” and you truly feel as if you are in a hay-clad barn that reeks of horse manure listening to her perform. She consistently sings with an upbeat tempo, as is common in bluegrass music, remaining true to the themes of the album as well as to her audience, who always loves a danceable tune.

A song that elicited numerous Tiktok and X debates was Beyoncé’s cover of Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.” Parton’s original song is an earnest plea to a woman not to steal Parton’s boyfriend. Beyoncé’s cover has instigated controversy for changing lyrics to make them more fitting to her character, and the narrative the album is trying to convey. From Parton’s ardent question “I’m begging of you please don’t take my man,” Beyoncé proudly sings “I’m warnin’ you, woman, find you your own man.” Though Beyoncé’s changes are understandable within the greater context of the album, she has irrevocably altered the nature of the song. Beyoncé takes a song that is laudatory of a fellow woman and spins it on its head, vaguely threatening a woman for the sake of her man (straying away from the sisterhood shown in “Formation,” in my opinion.) Beyoncé’s intent to highlight her empowerment in the lyric change is understandable, but not necessary when considering how many of the songs in the album serve that very purpose. I am usually a fan of modern spins on classic songs, but Beyoncé’s attempt with “JOLENE” falls short of what I was hoping for.

Despite its few shortcomings, “COWBOY CARTER” is an album that is extremely important to listen to. Beyoncé spins the tale of the American West on its head, uncovering its true past and making a more diverse future possible. Few mainstream artists on Beyoncé’s level attempt to tackle relevant political dialogue in their albums, and even fewer succeed. Beyoncé’s success with “COWBOY CARTER” is an impressive feat that leaves audiences ravenous for more.

Beyoncé has frequently alluded to the album completing the “RENAISSANCE” and “COWBOY CARTER” trilogy, and if she continues down the path of promoting the work of Black artists that paved the way for her and putting her signature Beyoncé-spin on them, I will be the first to listen.

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    Shirleen ScottMay 3, 2024 at 5:35 pm

    Beyonce really put together good work, songs on cowboy carter. Whether you are a Beyonce fan or not this album is worth listening to.

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