Beyoncé

7 Things You Need to Know About Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’

Author: Editors Desk Source: Complex
March 30, 2024 at 18:03
BLAIR CALDWELL
BLAIR CALDWELL

Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ is more than a country album, she still has smoke for “Becky with the good hair,” and five other things you need to know about the project

The curtain has finally risen for Beyoncé’s next act. 

Cowboy Carter is an album that pays respects to the country, blues, and gospel legends of old, while also shining a spotlight on a new generation of artists in the space. Across the 27-song tracklist, there are appearances from country legends like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, as well as newer country stars like Shaboozy, Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, and Willie Jones.

"This album took over five years," Beyoncé explains in her press release. "It's been really great to have the time and the grace to be able to take my time with it. I was initially going to put Cowboy Carter out first, but with the pandemic, there was too much heaviness in the world. We wanted to dance. We deserved to dance. But I had to trust God's timing." 

As the name implies, Cowboy Carter leans heavily into the sounds of country music, but there are also shades of R&B, pop, house, and even Jersey club layered throughout the album. Songs like “My Rose,” and “Protector” sound like they could have lived on a Destiny’s Child album, and the Shaboozey-assisted “Spaghettii” is essentially a rap song with country inflections. Beyoncé does all of that and still leaves space to pay homage to country classics like Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” 

These choices help make Cowboy Carter feel accessible to people who don’t often listen to country music, while also welcoming longtime fans of the genre who have an affinity for oldies. 

With Beyoncé’s new era finally underway, here are seven takeaways from Cowboy Carter, including why I believe Cowboy Carter it’s the perfect way to get more people into country music (myself included).

 

Beyoncé pays homage to Black artists who never received their proper flowers

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The beginning of “Smoke Hour Willie Nelson” flicks through old songs from Black artists like Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Roy Hamilton, and more in a way that feels like you’re listening to a Texas radio station. These were all prominent gospel, blues, rock, and country singers in the ’40s and ’50s who influenced popular artists like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but never received proper recognition for their contributions to the country or rock genres. Beyoncé pays them respect here, while showing where some of her influences come from.

 

Each song is a reimagined Western film

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Beyoncé took inspiration from Western films while making Cowboy Carter, including Five Fingers For Marseilles, Urban Cowboy, The Hateful Eight, Space Cowboys, The Harder They Fall and Killers of the Flower Moon. She played these movies in the background as she crafted the album, and an official press release says that “each song is its own version of a reimagined Western film.” In the Beyoncé cinematic universe, the titular “Cowboy Carter” character was created as a way to pay homage to the Black cowboys of the late 19th century in the American West. 

 

She still has smoke for “Becky with the good hair”

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It seems Beyoncé still has smoke for “Becky with the good hair,” which many believe is a reference to the woman who Jay-Z allegedly cheated on her with. On Cowboy Carter, Dolly Parton explained that the title of the original “Jolene” was inspired by a young fan who wanted a song named after her, but Beyoncé flips the fictional tale that Parton crafted in the OG version and uses it to her advantage to send more shots at the “Becky” she was talking about on Lemonade’s “Sorry.” 

“Hey, Ms. Honey Bee, It’s Dolly P,” Parton says on the “Dolly Parton” interlude that comes right before the “Jolene” cover: “You know that hussy with the good hair you sang about? It reminded me of someone I knew back when, except she has flaming locks of auburn hair, bless her heart. Just a hair of a different color, but it hurts all the same.”

Beyoncé then unloads her country clip in a clever and unique reimagining of the classic “Jolene,” singing with authority, “There’s a thousand girls in every room that act as desperate as you do/ You a bird, go on and sing your tune, Jolene/I had to have this talk with you, ‘cause I’d hate to have to act a fool/Your peace depends on how you move, Jolene.” 

The song is so good because of the way Beyoncé is able to rework such a recognizable hook and make it relevant to herself, as she sings, “Jolene, I know that I’m a Queen, Jolene,” while still paying proper homage to the original song. This moment highlights just how far their relationship with Jay-Z has come when she sings lyrics like, “We been deep in love for 20 years/ I raised that man, I raised his kids/ I know my man better than he knows himself/ I can easily understand why you’re attracted to my man/ But you don’t want this smoke, so shoot your shot with someone else.”

 

It’s more than a country album

BLAIR CALDWELL
BLAIR CALDWELL

 

Before the album dropped, Beyoncé said, “This ain’t a country album. It’s a ‘Beyoncé’ album,” and she flexes her mastery of a lot of the sounds she’s touched throughout her career on Cowboy Carter, in addition to country. Black music—from hip-hop to jazz to blues to gospel to R&B—is intertwined throughout the album, and country music lives inexplicably in this knot. Sometimes the diverse production choices are jarring, like the shift from the soft “Daughter” to bass-heavy “Spaghettii,” but most of these detours allow for Cowboy Carter to cover more ground and feel all-inclusive of the various forms of country music. 

“Spaghettii” opens with Linda Martell discussing how confining genres can be, before Beyoncé straight-up raps on the track. Then there’s a song like “II Hands II Heaven,” which has flecks of R&B and house music influences. It almost sounds like it shouldn’t be on an album like Cowboy Carter at all, from a sonic perspective, but the lyrics are still consistent with the project’s country themes, including references to coyotes and whiskey. There are also songs like “Bodyguard” that sound like a pop-infused country song that an artist like Lana Del Ray would’ve made in the early 2010s (and I mean that in the best way possible). 

Before the album dropped, Beyoncé said, “This ain’t a country album. It’s a ‘Beyoncé’ album,” and she flexes her mastery of a lot of the sounds she’s touched throughout her career on Cowboy Carter, in addition to country. Black music—from hip-hop to jazz to blues to gospel to R&B—is intertwined throughout the album, and country music lives inexplicably in this knot. Sometimes the diverse production choices are jarring, like the shift from the soft “Daughter” to bass-heavy “Spaghettii,” but most of these detours allow for Cowboy Carter to cover more ground and feel all-inclusive of the various forms of country music. 

“Spaghettii” opens with Linda Martell discussing how confining genres can be, before Beyoncé straight-up raps on the track. Then there’s a song like “II Hands II Heaven,” which has flecks of R&B and house music influences. It almost sounds like it shouldn’t be on an album like Cowboy Carter at all, from a sonic perspective, but the lyrics are still consistent with the project’s country themes, including references to coyotes and whiskey. There are also songs like “Bodyguard” that sound like a pop-infused country song that an artist like Lana Del Ray would’ve made in the early 2010s (and I mean that in the best way possible). 

 

Beyoncé found a way to make country club bangers

Before Cowboy Carter dropped, I was having a difficult time imagining how a Beyoncé country album would play in bars and clubs—that is until I went to a dive bar in midtown Manhattan and saw people’s unified excitement when “Texas Hold ‘Em” came on. One of Beyoncé’s superpowers is her ability to make anthems in any genre and get people to dance, and Cowboy Carter is packed with songs I could see ringing off in clubs across the country. “Spaghettii” could pass as both a country and rap song, “Ya Ya” will get the club moving with that call-and-response hook, and “Sweet Honey Buckin” mixes a contagious six-beat pattern of Jersey Club with country acoustics for a Jersey Country hybrid that will undoubtedly have clubs on both sides of the Mason Dixon line turnt. 

 

Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus are perfect country dance partners

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A Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus country collab was not on my 2024 bingo board, but the two riff off each other amazingly on “II Most Wanted.” Miley has more experience in the country space than Beyoncé (and Beyoncé is a stronger vocalist than Miley) but they each fill in where the other lacks to create a very balanced track. Miley Cyrus has been on a run lately, including a Grammy win for “Flowers,” and now this proves that she can hang on the same track as Beyoncé, which is an impressive feat to add to an already lengthy resume.

 

Beyoncé used “very old” instruments (including her nails)

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This is a Beyoncé album we’re talking about, so of course it’s going to be mixed and mastered to perfection, but I’m blown away by how great it sounds. The project is full of accordions, harmonicas, washboards, acoustic guitars, bass ukuleles, pedal steel guitars, a Vibra-Slap, mandolins, and Beyoncé even pays homage to Dolly Parton by using her nails as an instrument on “Riiverdance.”

“With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments, and I used very old ones,” Beyoncé explained in a press release. “I didn't want some layers of instruments like strings, especially guitars, and organs perfectly in tune. I kept some songs raw and leaned into folk. All the sounds were so organic and human, everyday things like the wind, snaps and even the sound of birds and chickens, the sounds of nature.”

Her cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” sounds even better than the remastered version that was released in 2009, in my opinion, and the strums of acoustic guitar on “Protector” come through so clear that, if you close your eyes, you might just see Beyoncé flicking the strings in a hushed saloon somewhere in Houston.

 

'Cowboy Carter' will be a gateway for R&B and rap heads to get into country music

BLAIR CALDWELL

 

The current country music landscape is filled with vibrant and diverse voices and Cowboy Carter has the potential to be a gateway for rap and R&B heads (like myself) to begin exploring the expansive scene. Storytelling is at the root of both rap and country, and the way that Beyoncé is able to flesh out vivid worlds within each song on Cowboy Carter shows how the genre doesn’t have to be as one-note as the stereotypes might try to make it seem. Artists like Shaboozey, Tanner Adell, and Willie Jones are all young country acts who have been gaining motion on their own terms, and they make the genre feel more accessible to new fans exploring the space. Cowboy Carter is an album that puts several genres on display, but country takes the main stage, and the genre will be better off for it.

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