Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

COWBOY CARTER: Beyoncé’s country masterpiece

By JAY TAYLOR | April 10, 2024

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WALT DISNEY TELEVISION / CC BY-ND 2.0

A native Texan, Beyoncé first entered the world of country music at the 50th Country Music Awards, where she performed her song “Daddy’s Lessons” with The Chicks.

From becoming the first Black woman to reach number one on the Hot Country Singles Billboard Chart to having 2024’s most streamed album on Spotify in one day, Beyoncé’s COWBOY CARTER has had nothing short of a fiery debut. Her reintroduction to the country genre in the second of her three-act album project came from a long, thoughtful journey — but the effort was well worth the wait. 

A native to Houston, Beyoncé’s introduction to country music after achieving stardom was hallmarked by her 2016 performance of “Daddy’s Lessons” with The Chicks at the Country Music Awards (CMAs). This controversial performance received plenty of backlash — despite Beyoncé’s Houston roots and the deep, intertwined history that Black culture has with the country genre, many were upset with her presence at the CMAs, feeling she wasn’t country enough. 

However, it was this unwelcoming debut that sparked her inspiration to delve deeper into the genre — in an Instagram post 10 days before the album’s release date, Beyoncé stated, “This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed.” After spending years researching the genre, collaborating with various country icons (like Dolly Parton, Linda Martell and Willie Nelson) and writing, COWBOY CARTER was born. However, in true Beyoncé fashion, she continued in the same post: “This ain't a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.”

Following her house and ballroom-inspired 2022 album RENAISSANCE, COWBOY CARTER continues Beyoncé’s common style of genre-blending and storytelling within her albums. The album’s soundscape establishes its southern country roots early on with its use of layered guitars and choir-like layered harmonies immediately in the opening track.

However, it would be inaccurate to call this a strictly country album. With features from cross-genre artists like Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, to incorporating rap elements in songs like “SWEET * HONEY * BUCKIIN',“ Beyoncé’s critique of the restrictive concepts of genres is a prominent theme throughout the album. This criticism extends beyond just rap verses and artist features. “SPAGHETTII” and “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” both explicitly reinforce the genre-bending nature of the album and the suffocation that strict categorization of music can bring through the lyrics of both songs. 

Genre commentary and blending aside, however, COWBOY CARTER is an incredibly vulnerable album that calls to Beyoncé’s Texan roots while discussing themes like motherhood, love and the grueling work and pressure of growing up in the music industry.

“16 CARRIAGES” and “DAUGHTER” are soul-bearing ballads with lyrics about Beyoncé’s loss of innocence during her time in the spotlight from a young age, the complex relationship she has with her father, and the anger and turmoil that followed suit in her adulthood. “PROTECTOR,” “MY ROSE” and “II MOST WANTED” are deep, loving ballads to her family, from her children to her husband — even featuring her daughter Rumi on the album. 

Along with Beyoncé’s vulnerability throughout the album, COWBOY CARTER also has its fair share of upbeat dance anthems — “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM,“ “YA YA” and “RIIVERDANCE” are fun, line-dance-esque songs that even sparked new dance trends on TikTok. Beyoncé adds her own spin on classics with her covers “BLACKBIIRD” and “JOLENE,” where she pays homage to legends like The Beatles and Parton while featuring up-and-coming Black female country artists Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts. 

COWBOY CARTER doesn’t just include songs, however — spoken intros and inter-song transitions in “SMOKE HOUR * WILLIE NELSON,” “DOLLY P,“ “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” and “SMOKE HOUR II” create a story-like feel, smoothly transitioning throughout the album while including the voices and stories of country icons. The album even almost ends with a closing prayer in “AMEN.” These transitions, combined with the classic country soundscape of the album, create a unique and iconic feel that gives the listener a cinematic auditory experience. 

COWBOY CARTER has already received critical acclaim since its release on March 29 and even before, with singles “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” reaching viral usage levels on social media apps like TikTok and topping Billboard charts. The success of Beyoncé’s debut album in the country genre not only reflects on her legacy as an artist but also the creativity, cohesiveness and captivating nature of the album. Yet again, Beyoncé continues to prove her merit and talent as one of the greatest artists of our lifetime. 


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