Stunned! Beyoncé is going country. During her nearly three-decade career as a member of the girl group Destiny’s Child and a pop megastar, no one has ever been able to pin down the Houston-born singer.
As the singer begins the release of her eighth album on March 29, the power only reinforces that she’ll always be a million ahead of her musical peers and fans theorizing about her next strategic move. During Sunday night’s Super Bowl, the artist aired an expensive, self-referencing commercial for Verizon, in which she announced, “OK, they’re ready, drop the new music. I told you ‘Renaissance’ was not finished.”
Both songs are radically different from the reclamation of Black queer house-infused disco heard in “Renaissance.”
Shortly after the commercial aired, a trailer for a new album was posted on Beyoncé’s Instagram, in which she is seen in the Lone Star State, driving in a taxi with a license plate stating “Texas Hold ‘Em”, revealing the album’s title. “Renaissance Act II” and released at the end of March. However, this is not the only gift that the singer left for her fans. Two new songs, “16 Carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em”, were also released within minutes of the teaser being released.
Both songs are radically different from the reclamation of Black queer house-infused disco heard in “Renaissance.” Netizens began theorizing that “Renaissance” would be told in three parts and that Beyoncé would “claim all the music once made by black artists. She reminds everyone that we did this first.”
However, this isn’t the first time the singer has dipped her toes into the country music pond. His innovative and groundbreaking 2016 album, “Lemonade,” features the country song “Daddy Lessons.” The singer even performed the song with the controversial progressive country group The Chicks at the CMA Awards. The performance sparked strong reactions from conservative country music fans, to the point that the CMA’s social media accounts removed the performance from all platforms.
She became the first black female artist to top the Apple Music US Country charts.
Beyoncé is probably well aware of the implications and vitriol that await a black pop star who moves into country, but that doesn’t stop her from legitimately returning to her Southern roots. “Texas Hold ‘Em” is the more traditional country song of the two singles and is a tribute to the singer’s deep ties to Texas. The fast-paced, banjo-heavy song is infectious, and it’s not hard to imagine dancing two steps to it. Beyoncé has never sounded so Southern when she sings, “It’s a real boogie and a real hoedown.”
The song also features a pristine banjo and viola played by black country musician Rhiannon Giddens, who was credited for pointing out that the banjo was played by black people before being popularized by white country artists. In true country music fashion, the song’s subtle whistles, woo-hoos, claps, and overall call-and-response production further highlight the proud Texan within the singer.
There’s a tornado (There’s a tornado)
In my town (In my town)
Hit the basement (Hit the basement)
This shit ain’t pretty (This shit ain’t pretty)
Robust Whiskey (Rough Whiskey)
Because we survive (Because we survive)
Red cup kisses, sweet redemption, time passing, yeah
In “16 Carriages,” the singer takes a more vulnerable and reflective approach to her journey into country music in an Americana-style ballad. For a genre known for its working-class appeal and storytelling devices, Beyoncé succeeds. It also features legendary Black Roots musician Robert Randolph on steel guitar.
The song builds and builds with an electric guitar that matches the singer’s mezzo-soprano and four-octave vocals that blend into the heavy country production backed by drums and banjos. She sounds angelic and pensive as she talks about her experience as a teenage star, leaving home at 15 and watching her parents’ marriage disintegrate.
Sixteen cars leave
While I watch them ride with my dreams away
At summer sunset on a holy night
On a long road, all the tears I fight
At fifteen, innocence was lost
I had to leave my home at a very young age
I saw mom pray, I saw dad grind
All my tender problems, I had to leave them behind
After the release of the two singles on Sunday, Beyoncé has already broken records. She became the first black female artist to top the Apple Music US Country charts. While country music radio has historically been difficult to break into due to white conservative gatekeepers in Nashville, her legions of fans are campaigning for Beyoncé’s new music to receive fair airplay on the radio.
Racial reckoning in country music has created a long-standing schism within its ecosystem. The old guard industry supports artists like the late Toby Keith and Jason Aldean who wrote and performed songs ranging from racism to lynching to police brutality, appealing to the tense political climate that fuels our culture wars.
This establishment could not accommodate the influx of progressive black country artists dominating the predominantly white and conservative genre. Even when black musicians like T-Pain wrote songs behind the scenes, the country’s atmosphere of exclusion and racism drove them away. Even popular white country artists like Maren Morris have decided to abandon the genre altogether because the music has become a “toxic weapon in the culture wars.”
Despite the constant battle, black artists continue to reclaim what is historically linked to their ancestral roots. There has been an influx of popular artists such as Kane Brown, Allison Russell, Lil Nas X, Brittany Spencer, Joy Oladokun and Giddens, who are redefining the look and sound of country music. Even black queer folk artist Tracy Chapman gets her flowers for “Fast Car,” receiving her first No. 1 hit 35 years after its release thanks to a white country singer, Luke Combs, who covered the iconic song.
Even if Beyoncé can’t fix what is irreparably broken in country music — nor should it be her or any other black artist’s responsibility to do so — what is her exploration of the genre? can to do is give us all a new appreciation for music. Black people have long been told that they don’t love us back.
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