Giddyup! Beyoncé’s going country. In her nearly three-decade-long career as a member of girl group Destiny’s Child and a mega-pop star, nobody has ever been able to nail down the Houston-born singer.
As the singer embarks on releasing her eighth album on March 29, the powerhouse only reinforces that she will always be a million steps ahead of her musical peers and fans who theorize about her next strategic move. During Sunday night’s Super Bowl, the artist dropped a costly, self-referencing Verizon commercial, in which she announced, “OK, they ready — drop the new music. I told y’all the ‘Renaissance’ is not over.”
Both songs are starkly different from the reclamation of Black queer house-infused disco heard in “Renaissance.”
Soon after the commercial aired, a teaser trailer for a new album dropped on Beyoncé’s Instagram, in which she is seen in the Lone Star State, driving in a taxi with a license plate that reads “Texas Hold ‘Em,” revealing the album title “Renaissance Act II” and a late March release. However, that wasn’t the only gift the singer left for her fans. Two new songs, “16 Carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em,” also dropped minutes after the teaser was posted.
Both songs are starkly different from the reclamation of Black queer house-infused disco heard in “Renaissance.” People online began to theorize that “Renaissance,” will be told in three parts and Beyoncé’s “claiming all the music that was once created by Black artists. She’s reminding everyone, we did that s**t first.”
However, this isn’t the first time the singer has dipped her toe in the country music pond. Her innovative, genre-bending 2016 album “Lemonade” features the country song “Daddy Lessons.” The singer even performed the song with the progressive and controversial country band the Chicks at the CMA Awards. The performance was met with strong backlash from conservative country music fans to the point that the CMA’s social media accounts scrubbed the performance from all platforms.
She has become the first Black female artist to top the Apple Music U.S. Country charts.
Beyoncé is probably well aware of the implications and vitriol awaiting a Black pop star pivoting to country but that doesn’t hold her back from rightfully going back to her Southern roots. “Texas Hold ‘Em” is the most traditional country song out of the two singles and is a homage to the singer’s deep ties to Texas. The uptempo, banjo-heavy song is infectious, and it’s not difficult to imagine dancing a two-step to it. Beyoncé has never sounded more southern as she sings, “It’s a real-life boogie and a real-life hoedown.”
The song also features immaculate banjo and viola playing by Black country musician, Rhiannon Giddens, who has been credited for highlighting that the banjo was played by Black people before it was popularized by white country artists. In true country music fashion the song’s subtle whistles, woo-hoos, claps and general call-and-response production even further highlight the proud Texan in the singer.
There’s a tornado (There’s a tornado)
In my city (In my city)
Hit the basement (Hit the basement)
That s**t ain’t pretty (That s**t ain’t pretty)
Rugged whiskey (Rugged whiskey)
‘Cause we survivin’ (‘Cause we survivin’)
Off red-cup kisses, sweet redemption, passin’ time, yeah
In “16 Carriages,” the singer takes a more vulnerable and reflective approach to her venture into country music in an Americana-styled ballad. For a genre known for its appeal to working-class people and storytelling devices — Beyoncé nails it. She also features the 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 merge into the heavy country production backed by drums and banjos. She sounds angelic and pensive when she speaks about her experience as a teen star, leaving home at 15 and watching her parents’ marriage disintegrate.
Sixteen carriages drivin’ away
While I watch them ride with my dreams away
To the summer sunset on a holy night
On a long back road, all the tears I fight
At fifteen, the innocence was gone astray
Had to leave my home at an early age
I saw Mama prayin’, I saw Daddy grind
All my tender problems, had to leave behind
After the release of the two singles on Sunday, Beyoncé has already broken records. She has become the first Black female artist to top the Apple Music U.S. Country charts. As country music radio is historically difficult to break into due to white conservative gatekeepers in Nashville, her legion of fans are campaigning for Beyoncé’s new music to get fair airplay on the radio.
The 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 have written and performed songs that have racist dog whistles to lynching and police brutality, appealing to the larger tense political climate fueling our culture wars.
This establishment has been unable to accept the influx of progressive Black country artists dominating the predominantly white and conservative genre. Even when Black musicians like T-Pain are behind the scenes songwriting, country’s exclusionary and racist atmosphere has driven them away. Even popular white country artists like Maren Morris have decided to altogether leave the genre behind because the music has turned into a “toxic weapon in culture wars.”
Despite the constant battle, Black artists are still reclaiming what has been historically tied to their ancestral roots. There has been an influx of popular artists ranging from the likes of Kane Brown, Allison Russell, Lil Nas X, Brittany Spencer, Joy Oladokun and Giddens, who are redefining what country music looks and sounds like. Even Black queer folk artist Tracy Chapman is receiving her flowers for “Fast Car,” receiving her first No. 1 hit, 35 years after its release because a white country singer, Luke Combs covered the iconic song.
While Beyoncé cannot fix what’s irretrievably broken in country music — nor should it be her or any other Black artists’ responsibility to do so — what her exploration in the genre can do is give us all a new appreciation for music Black people have long been told doesn’t love us back.
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