What to Know About Beyonce’s Country Album, ‘Cowboy Carter’

What to Know About Beyonce’s Country Album, ‘Cowboy Carter’

It started with a western-style Grammys outfit, complete with a cream-colored cowboy hat, studded string tie and matching Louis Vuitton jacket and skirt.

After a year and a half of Beyoncé’s “Renaissance,” the lauded dance music spectacular that included a world tour and a concert film, the awards show outfit signaled to fans that a new era was beginning. From the start, Beyoncé had described “Renaissance” as the first part of a three-act project, and fans wondered if the second act was on its way.

One week later, the pop star made herself abundantly clear, this time in a Verizon ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

“Drop the new music,” she said at the end of the intricately produced commercial, which featured the comic actor Tony Hale, a robot Beyoncé and the real version, who showed off 10 outfit changes.

She had our attention.

At her command, her team released a minute-long teaser video that culminated with a small crowd staring at a roadside billboard displaying another cowboy hat-wearing Beyoncé. Then came two new singles, “Texas Hold ’Em” and “16 Carriages,” filled with the kind of Southern twang and country instrumentation seldom heard in her catalog.

Confirmation of the new album, Beyoncé’s eighth solo release, came via an Instagram post last week. “Cowboy Carter,” due on March 29, is her first full-length foray into country music. It is expected to tap into her Houston upbringing and reclaim the Black origins of the genre while challenging the largely white country music establishment.

With the trail of promotional breadcrumbs — a succession of interviews with collaborators, billboard advertisements placed around the world, a chart-topping single — Beyoncé has returned to the more traditional album release rollout, dropping teases and revelations before the big release.

Here’s what we know about the new album.

When Beyoncé first announced “Renaissance,” the singer called it the first installment of a three-part project recorded over three years during the pandemic, a period she described as being creatively fertile.

Fans began wondering about the genesis of “Cowboy Carter” when Beyoncé’s mother, Tina Knowles, commented on one of her daughter’s Instagram posts promoting the new singles, saying, “I have loved this record for years, now so happy that you guys get to hear.”

“Years?” some asked in response.

The theory that the music has been filed away for some time was supported by a line from “16 Carriages,” the swelling, cinematic ballad in which Beyoncé sings, “It’s been 38 summers and I’m not in my bed.” (Beyoncé is 42, so you do the math.)

Less than two weeks after its release “Texas Hold ’Em,” topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, making Beyoncé the first Black woman to do so.

A foot-stomping track that has inspired a dance trend on TikTok, “Texas Hold ’Em” evokes a hoedown animated by red cups, whiskey and boots with spurs, with Beyoncé singing, “I’ll be damned if I cannot dance with you/Come pour some liquor on me honey, too.”

The single’s success drew applause from some segments of country music — including from its queen, Dolly Parton — but also added fuel to a long-running debate over who is considered “country,” after a small country music station in Oklahoma initially refused a listener’s request to play the track.

In an interview with The Knoxville News-Sentinel this month, Parton dropped a less-than-certain hint that Beyoncé covered her 1973 hit “Jolene” on “Cowboy Carter,” telling the newspaper, “I think she’s recorded ‘Jolene’ and I think it’s probably gonna be on her country album, which I’m very excited about that.”

An unauthorized slip of the tongue? Or another well-placed hint?

Parton added that the artists have “sent messages back and forth through the years,” saying that she had been “touched” to learn that Beyoncé and her mother were fans.

The album’s two singles credit Raphael Saadiq, the producer and writer who collaborated with Beyoncé on “Renaissance” and who is known for his work with R&B royalty, but the songs also list several musicians who are fixtures in the country-rock genre.

“16 Carriages” features the steel guitarist Robert Randolph, who is known for expanding the reach of a style of Black gospel called Sacred Steel through collaborations with Carlos Santana and Ozzy Osbourne, as well as while opening for the Dave Matthews Band.

Speaking with Rolling Stone last month, Randolph said that when he arrived in Los Angeles to record, he was told that he had been “handpicked” for the job.

“Beyoncé already had an idea of what she wanted to do,” Randolph said. “She wanted to do something with some playing, with some country fire. She said she liked the way I make my instrument sound like a singer.”

On “Texas Hold ’Em” the musician behind the banjo and viola is Rhiannon Giddens, a Grammy-winning performer who often uses her platform to educate fans about American music history, particularly the foundational influence of Black musicians.

In addition to artists well-known in Nashville, there are collaborations from well outside traditional country circles. Beyoncé and five other writers are credited with penning “Texas Hold ’Em,” including the Canadian alt-pop performers Nathan Ferraro, Megan Bülow, who performs as Bülow, and Elizabeth Lowell Boland. In a video dancing to the song, posted and since deleted to TikTok, Boland, who performs as Lowell, included the caption, “Grew up in Calgary the country capital of Canada…. Rodeo’d my way to Hollywood!”

Dave Hamelin, a producer and a member of the defunct indie rock band the Stills, is credited as a writer, producer, organist, guitarist and engineer on “16 Carriages.”

The pedal steel guitarist Justin Schipper called his involvement in the album “a bucket list moment for sure” in a post to Instagram.

Giddens’s knowledge made her well positioned to respond when Beyoncé’s music release led naysayers to publicly question whether the singles should be counted on country charts.

“Whenever a Black artist puts out a country song the judgment, comments, and opinions come thick and fast,” Giddens wrote in a column for The Guardian. “‘That’s not real country!’ ‘That’s cultural appropriation.’ ‘She needs to stay in her lane.’”

Giddens responded by tracing Black musicians’ contributions to the creation of the genre, discussing the advent of the banjo by enslaved Black people in the Caribbean in the 1600s and the history of Black string band musicians.

“Let’s stop pretending that the outrage surrounding this latest single is about anything other than people trying to protect their nostalgia for a pure ethnically white tradition that never was,” she wrote.

There has been a history of gate-keeping what should be deemed country, including a backlash among musicians in the 1970s when Olivia Newton-John (who was from Australia) was named female vocalist of the year by the Country Music Association, and a furor that led to the 2019 removal of the hip-hop artist Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from Billboard’s country chart.

Beyoncé has been on the receiving end of this strain of criticism already: When the singer performed “Daddy Lessons,” an earlier foray into country from her 2016 album “Lemonade,” alongside the Chicks at the Country Music Association Awards, a vocal segment of the country fandom questioned whether the performance belonged.

Now, with other Black performers like Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer gaining popularity and visibility within country music, “Cowboy Carter” may be positioned to light the match on the debate, said Francesca Royster, the author of “Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions.”

“We’re in the midst of Black country artists, especially Black women, really looking backwards, trying to get us to change the historical narrative of who belongs in country music, who’s allowed to cross over and the racial dynamics of that,” Royster said.

Royster added that she is looking forward to seeing how Beyoncé’s legion of fans, known as the BeyHive, respond to challenges to the singer’s country authenticity.

Already, fans have organized on online system to request that country music stations play the album’s first two singles, helping to ensure they take their place in the country canon.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *