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Home Culture Beyoncé, ‘Cowboy Carter’: it is not a country album, it is a demonstration of risk and power | Culture

Beyoncé, ‘Cowboy Carter’: it is not a country album, it is a demonstration of risk and power | Culture

by News Room
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At the opening of the album, American Requiem that’s all. Beyoncé sings, explains and vents: “They used to say she spoke ‘too country.’ / Then the Kings of Rejection said she wasn’t ‘country enough.’ / I said I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself, but if that’s not country, tell me what is. / I stepped my bare feet on dry land for years. / They don’t, they don’t know how hard I had to fight for this.” The singer exposes how unfair and reactionary some sectors of her country have been by questioning that a black woman performs country, a genre that they crookedly believe belongs exclusively to white people. But as the singer said a few days ago: “This is not a country album, it’s a Beyoncé album.”

The eighth solo work of Beyoncé (Houston, Texas, 42 years old), Cowboy Carter, was just released and contains chicha to ignite pop culture debates for weeks to come. An album to teach a lesson, with 27 songs (although seven are interludes of a handful of seconds), with a duration of 80 minutes and where the singer reviews popular music since the Beatles (version of Blackbird) or the Beach Boys (a melodic wink), to rescuing black pioneers of country (tribute to Linda Martell), giving voice to white veterans of the genre still active (Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, only in interludes) or performing duets with artists from generations after her such as the always vindictive Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, Shaboozey or Brittney Spencer. Everything, to complete an album that imitates epic narratives dylanianas, that is not just country and that fundamentally leaves a feeling of being a complex, powerful, ambitious artist committed to artistic risk.

Beyoncé, wearing a cowboy hat, with her partner, the musician Jay-Z, at the last Grammy Awards gala, on February 4 in Los Angeles. Kevin Mazur (Getty Images for The Recording A)

To find the background of this work, we must go back to the pandemic, when Beyoncé proposed a three-act project to explore how black culture has nourished popular music. The first, published in 2022 and called Renaissance, He dedicated it to the influence of the black community (especially LGTBI) on disco music. This Cowboy Carter turns to country, and a third is missing, which will arrive in a few years. This is how the singer justified this Act II: “This album was born from an experience I had a few years ago in which I did not feel welcome, and it was very clear that I was not. But through this experience I delved into the history of country music and studied our rich musical archive. The criticism I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to overcome the limitations placed on me. My hope is that within a few years the mention of an artist’s race, when it comes to the release of musical genres, will be irrelevant.” The negative experience that he mentions occurred in 2016 when he sang the song with the Dixie Chicks Daddy Lessons at the Country Music Association Awards. Indeed, the fact that a black woman ventured into country shook the racist foundations still very present in the Nashville country industry. Historians consider it proven that black people helped create country, starting with the creation of the banjo in the 17th century, attributed to slaves from the African diaspora. Recommended in this sense is the article signed by Riannon Giddens, a black musician with several Grammys who plays the banjo and viola in the advance song of this album, Texas Hold ‘Em, in the newspaper The Guardian and where he digs into history to determine that country has an important black base.

With these premises it is exciting to enter the world of Cowboy Carter, where few things are causal. As the inclusion of Blackbird, a song that Paul McCartney wrote for the Beatles in 1968, weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King and in an atmosphere of unbearable racial tension in the United States. Beyoncé begins with a vulnerable voice and ends with proud tension, while a delicious chorus elevates McCartney’s constructed images of “broken wings and sunken eyes” yearning for freedom. There is a country tone in part of the album, with banjos, country guitar arpeggios, violins and vocal turns typical of the genre. But everything is original, with a sifted pop and the exquisite presence of gospel choirs. For some fans, the use of orchestrated voices will remind them of Queen, and they will not grope: it is possible that it comes to Beyoncé unconsciously, but the trail of Freddie Mercury and his can be followed in songs like American Requiem o My Rose.

The path takes us through stimulating experiments. Ya Ya It sounds like psychedelic fuck like Bootsy Collins with Beyoncé screaming (this song is where she introduces the verses and melodies of Good Vibrations, of the Beach Boys, and of These Boots Were Made for Walkin’, the song of Lee Hazlewood popularized by Nancy Sinatra); Riverdance it’s a kind of country-dance mesmerizing; Sweet, Honey, Buckiin’ It does not belong to any genre, an exciting riddle; Bobyguard emerges as a pop candy that a group would sign indie; There are songs where genres are crushed, that start as a ballad (Daughter) or in hip hop key (Spaghetti) and then become anything, always interesting; the song with Miley Cyrus (II Most Wanted) It will surely sweep commercial country stations: a song with such a successful architecture that if Aerosmith gets its hands on it, it would also sweep classic rock stations. And it all ends with Amen, a spiritual plea that links with the first song, American Requiem where Beyoncé warns: “We will be the ones to purify the sins of our fathers. / American Requiem. / The ideas of men (yes) are buried here (yes). / Amen”.

Does the album get long? Of course: it is a commonplace of extensive jobs to think that they would be better if we pruned here and there and left it in 45 minutes. But then we wouldn’t be talking about risk, about art in capital letters, about experimentation and, ultimately, we wouldn’t be understanding what Beyoncé has done in Cowboy Carter: take country music out of the industrial context and tell that musical tradition must always be above segregation and commercial interests. Or as Linda Martell says in one of the interludes: “Genres are a fun little concept, right?”

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