Arts and Entertainment

Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to KNTRY Radio

Beyoncé builds upon her journey of reclamation with act ii, Cowboy Carter, an album which has a range of genres as vast as the Texas deserts the album takes place in.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

“Beyoncé” was never supposed to exist. Her mother, Tina Knowles, revealed the frustrating tale behind her botched family name in an interview on an episode of In My Heart With Heather Thompson. Growing up, Tina Knowles’ name wasn’t Tina—it was Celestine Beyoncé, a unique name that not only made her “uncool” to her peers, but also different from her siblings, as they all had the middle name Beyincé. Tina’s mother revealed that the misspelling of her name was due to hospital negligence. When her mother tried correcting the spelling, she was told that since Black people historically couldn’t receive birth certificates, she should be grateful to even have one. The Beyoncé that we know and love was born 27 years later in 1981, and she carried the misspelling to global pop stardom. Two decades into her solo career, she’s reclaiming the name that was denied to her with music uprooted from its origins in Black culture. 

In the heat of July 2022, Beyoncé released her ode to club and ballroom music, Renaissance. Its hour-long length becomes irrelevant as Beyoncé transforms listeners’ living rooms into dark and sweaty clubs; the dance odyssey delivers track after track of intoxicating disco and unrelenting grooves to vogue to. Its sequel, Cowboy Carter (2024), is a completely different beast. While Renaissance takes place in one night of excess and ecstasy, Cowboy Carter spans a time as vast as the Texas deserts she hails from, as she’s now truly unfettered by “genre” (whatever that word means). The result is a whopping 27-track album that is slightly bloated but has more than enough highlights to keep the listener’s attention.

The opener “Ameriican Requiem” mourns the buried Black trailblazers of music with the lyrics “American Requiem / Them big ideas (Yeah), are buried here (Yeah).” The solemn eulogy becomes grandiose yet wrathful. The first minute is a pensive funeral dirge, but it metamorphoses into swells of ringing sitar and crashing drums. Beyoncé wails at her naysayers “Looka there, looka there / (Can you stand me? Can you stand me? Can you stand me?).” Her aggravation is linked to the nasty outrage kindled by her performance with the Dixie Chicks at the Country Music Association Awards in 2016—despite her strong performance, a quick pan to the audience revealed a sea of unamused white music executives, only a snippet of the bigotry she would later receive online. Not even Beyoncé’s superstar armor is impervious to the deep-rooted racism in country music. 

As a result, Beyoncé devotes Cowboy Carter to the original Black voices of country music, drowned out by White musicians who currently dominate the genre without acknowledging its pioneers. However, for as sonorous as her voice is, she’s no preacher. Her reclamation comes simply in creating country music as a Black artist with a colossal platform; if country music refuses her now, then it’d be a forthright acknowledgment of their prejudice. Still, Beyoncé isn’t restrained by genre; her deliberate range of influences, interpolations, and covers, alongside features from a variety of country legends (Dolly Parton’s appearance on “Tyrant” and Willie Nelson on “Smoke Hour”) and newcomers (the feature-heavy cover of “Blackbiird”), culminates in her most genre-bending and ambitious project to date. The album’s 20th track, “Ya Ya,” exemplifies Beyoncé’s eclecticism. In the preceding interlude “The Linda Martell Show,” Black country legend Linda Martell introduces “Ya Ya” as “stretch[ing] across a range of genres.” The next 4 minutes and 34 seconds are a whirlwind; Beyoncé ushers listeners through her own Chitlin Circuit (nightclubs that cater to and are performed in by African-Americans, primarily in the South) performance. Beyoncé commands listeners to get “clappin’,” “drummin’,” and “ya-ya-ya-ya”-ing. It’s a wild mechanical bull ride; there’s call and response, deep, rattling vibrato, and a Beach Boys interpolation, leaving listeners dizzy when stepping off. 

As per her opinion on genre, Bey doesn’t care if you only speak English; she transcends language barriers. “Daughter” is the album’s most deeply reflective track, one where listeners finally get a glimpse at the complex and human Beyoncé. She’s portrayed as her father’s daughter, violent and vengeful, and fantasizes about killing her husband’s mistress with “Your body laid out on these filthy floors / Your bloodstains on my custom coutures.” The track culminates in a cover of “Caro mio ben,” an 18th-century Italian aria, where, alongside switching tongues, Beyoncé also gets to further flex her range with operatic vocals. 

There are some sleepy moments that could’ve been trimmed. For the thrilling ride that Cowboy Carter is, “Alliigator Tears,” “Smoke Hour” and “Flamenco” are sadly those sleepy stretches of empty land between the listener’s next stop. Their tedious pace and nondescript production create a black hole at the midpoint that Beyoncé thankfully manages to amend with the album’s strong final songs, most notably the closer “Amen.” Singing “American Requiem / Them old ideas (Yeah) are buried here (Yeah) / Amen,” she reprises the motifs of “Ameriican Requiem,” but in lieu of mourning, Beyoncé is hopeful for the acceptance of Black musicianship in primarily white genres. 

Cowboy Carter has been nearly ten years in the making, yet is still incredibly relevant today—whether the listener wants to attribute this to the foresight of Beyoncé’s artistry or the bleak and unchanging biases of the music industry will depend on their own faith in people. Beyoncé understands that her music is not the change, but a conduit for it; she makes an album that doesn’t trip on its own messaging and instead focuses on the more lasting goal of just being great.