How Beyoncé is redefining country music on 'Cowboy Carter'

For the last decade, Beyoncé has rejected the rigid and constricting pathways of pop stardom. While artists can get lost within the idea of themselves decades into a performing career, Beyoncé has managed to maintain intrigue and culture-shifting relevance. More importantly, she's continued to keep her detractors on their toes. It's quite possibly her strongest superpower.

Cowboy Carter, the singer's eighth studio album and part two of a three-part project that began with 2022's Renaissance, is her latest effort at maintaining her musical enigma. Her most loyal fans have predicted a country album for quite some time, since she first experimented with the genre with 'Daddy Lessons' on her 2016 album, Lemonade.

She later performed the track alongside country's own controversial queens, The Chicks, at the Country Music Awards that year – a moment that earned the awards show its highest rated 15-minute broadcast ever, while simultaneously enraging what felt like all of middle America (and Kenny Chesney, who looked particularly perturbed during the performance). Ten days before Cowboy Carter was released into the world, Beyoncé alluded to that moment – the experience of the biggest star in the world feeling unwelcome and unwanted – as the ultimate inspiration for pursuing a larger country project.

"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… and it was very clear that I wasn’t," the singer shared on Instagram. "But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of country music and studied our rich musical archive. It feels good to see how music can unite so many people around the world, while also amplifying the voices of some of the people who have dedicated so much of their lives educating on our musical history."

She continued, "The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me. Act II is a result of challenging myself, and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work."

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It's a moment that feels long overdue. There have been Black women in country far before Beyoncé, of course, and they shouldn't be forgotten; performers like Linda Martell (who is featured on the album), and more modern acts like Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer. (It's also worth noting that Beyoncé's sister and fellow artist, Solange, experimented with Western aesthetics for her fourth album When I Get Home, and paid homage to Texan rodeo culture as well as the often erased history of Black cowboys).

As she continues in her career, Beyoncé is creating a legacy as a performer unrestrained by any genre. She mentioned most recently in her Renaissance concert film that as she's got older, she's realised her voice is her ultimate instrument; so why not stretch it to its limits and explore genres that were invented for and by Black people?

Cowboy Carter proves the infinite musical ability of Beyoncé, and more specifically, that if you have a voice worth listening to, fans will flock regardless of genre. The whopping 27-track album opens up with 'American Requiium', maybe one of the singer's most stunning tracks to showcase the meticulous vocal stacking and harmonising she's perfected over the years. As the album continues – with breezy Sheryl Crowe-esqe tracks like 'Bodyguard' and 'Alligator Tears – it's clear that a 20-year-old Beyoncé, freshly into her solo career, could not have made this album.

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Cowboy Carter is a feat that comes with creative maturity and self-assurance in one's artistry. While she utilises core elements of country throughout the project – a twangy banjo, call-and-response, and sweeping storytelling – there are still pieces of the project that are inherently Beyoncé, such as trap beats, operatic vocals, and hilarious one-liners. "This is c*nty country," she says on the track, 'Spaghetii', an early fan favourite.

The collaborations are also worthy of all the breathless fanfare they've received across social media. Dolly Parton recorded an introduction to the singer's long-rumoured cover of 'Jolene', fellow Texan Willie Nelson also made an appearance as well. Black country performers Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts all appear on a cover of The Beatles' 'Blackbird', while pop acts Miley Cyrus and Post Malone weave effortlessly into the project on 'Levii's Jeans' and 'II Most Wanted'.

Ahead of the album's release, Beyoncé described the album as "Not a country album [but] a Beyoncé album", a simple statement that no doubt rings true. Cowboy Carter is maybe the purest representation of the essence of Beyoncé; a woman who hails from Houston, Texas with maternal lineage from Louisiana; two states with deep, deep musical and Black history that the world often wants us to forget. There are few artists of her caliber today who are creating work with such meticulous intention as to remind society of where so much of our favorite music comes from.

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Critics are often afraid to give Beyoncé too much credit—just take a look at the Recording Academy and their repeated snubs. But mere hours after its initial release it's clear that Cowboy Carter has caused a shift. Country music for so long has represented a depiction of America where Blackness was at the outskirts, not the centre. Beyoncé too, throughout her career, has been pigeonholed through pop parameters and racial limitations that have invited society to criticise the extent of her influence.

"My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist’s race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant," the singer wrote last week leading up to the project's release. Longtime Beyoncé fans have known for quite some time that the star can do, well, anything. Cowboy Carter, and the masterful musical feat that it is, should convince everyone else.

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