Country music and how Beyonce broke the mold

By Gus Creter, Copy Editor

“Genres are a funny little concept… In theory they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand but in practice, well, come may feel confined,” Linda Martell at the end of “Daughter” sings.  Remember this.

Beyoncé has spent the last three decades as one of the most recognizable, era-defining musicians of her time. From gaining her star-status in the R&B supergroup Destiny’s Child to her own stellar solo catalog, Beyoncé has spent most of her adult life being one of the most famous humans alive.

In 2021, Beyoncé released her career-defining record “RENAISSANCE,” the first album in a new trilogy and a reclamation of the sounds of house and dance music, a genre deeply rooted in black culture. The second record “COWBOY CARTER,” released March 29, follows the same ideology.

Modern country charts may convince you that “country music” is a white man’s genre, but this could not be farther from the truth. Country music, originally dubbed “hillbilly music” was first based around the banjo, an instrument adapted from the West-African instrument called the Akonting.

When enslaved individuals from Africa were forced to America, the instrument came with. For 400 years, enslaved people would make music, using the Akonting and eventually the banjo.

Banjos were introduced to a white audience in the 1850s through offensive minstrel shows, with white “performers” wearing blackface and portraying the black people they are playing as lazy or stupid. This racist, deplorable form of performance led to white audiences loving the sound, hence the term “hillbilly music.”

By World War I, country music had been sold as the “white man’s” genre, once again revising the genre’s history. In fact, only three black musicians have been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame: Charley Pride, Deford Bailey and Ray Charles.

Now some may ask why this matters in a discussion about Beyoncé, and it is because Beyoncé, despite being known for her pop and R&B bops, has never allowed herself to be confined by race, gender or genre.

“COWBOY CARTER,” while framed as a country album of sorts, is above all else a Beyoncé album, and in line with “RENAISSANCE,” the quality is through the roof.

There is not too much to say about this album, personally. I loved both “16 CARRIAGES” and “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” as singles for the personality and excellent vocal performances, and they both fit into the album beautifully – the latter being led into by country legend, Willie Nelson.

Nelson is not the only recognizable voice on the album, with additional interludes from Dolly Parton and Linda Martell, the first commercially successful black woman in the field of country   music. Beyoncé also teams up with Miley Cyrus, showing incredible harmonic chemistry on “II MOST WANTED,” as well as singing a surprisingly well-done butt-ballad alongside Post Malone on “LEVII’S JEANS.”

My favorite moments on the album are when Beyoncé eloquently fuses country stylings with other genres. The opener “AMERICAN REQUIEM” is an epic multi-phased intro to the album’s concept, while tracks like “YA YA” and “II HANDS II HEAVEN” are amongst my favorite tracks Beyoncé has ever made, showing a lack of regard for traditional sound or song structure and just performing with all her might.

The most true-blue country tracks like “JUST FOR FUN” and “DAUGHTER” are all-around beautiful, with the occasional rap track such as “SPAGHETTII” and “TYRANT,” while a little jarring on first listen, have some of the most potent energy in the whole tracklist.

Not every album requires an understanding of its context to be enjoyable, but when an album releases that does challenge the societal norm of popular music, it can be an important stepping stone for listeners – Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” is one of those important albums.