Beyoncé’s Excellent ‘Cowboy Carter’ Is A Win In A Fight That Should Have Never Existed

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Beyoncé dreams of a world where everyone and everything can exist as they choose to. Where gatekeepers are without agenda beside guarding the integrity of the structure they earned the position and respect to protect. “Texas Hold ‘Em” lives in this utopia where patrons at your local dive bar dance in jolly unison and throw back shots of liquor.

When Beyoncé sings about laying your cards and throwing your keys up, it’s without a care in the world for what exists outside. Renaissance resides here too as its 16 songs are a safe space for Black, brown, and queer bodies who are not only in love with dance and ballroom but created a home for themselves there. In this utopia, there’s nothing to prove, there’s nothing to overcome, and there’s no one to fight. The sanctity of human autonomy is preserved and protected. You can be country today and dance under the disco ball tomorrow.

Cowboy Carter should’ve been born into this utopia. Instead, we have an album born out of disregard for Beyoncé’s country roots as well as her right to create as she pleases. When Beyoncé unveiled the cover for Cowboy Carter, she alluded to the criticism she faced after performing “Daddy Lessons” at the 50th CMA Awards. Beyoncé – born in Texas to parents with roots in Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana – had everything from her true intentions for the song to her country roots questioned. Ironic for the singer who was once considered “too country.”

As Beyoncé sings of dive bars, hoedowns, and tornadoes sweeping through the Lone Star State on “Texas Hold ’Em,” leads a “Riiverdance” with fingernails as her percussion, and cocks her weapon with promises to be “your shotgun ride ’til the day I die” on “II Most Wanted” with Miley Cyrus, it’s clear that questions about her country background are less about “preserving” the genre, and more about excluding stories that tell the truth about country. To bill Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter as an album built to prove these critics wrong would be to shortchange it. Instead, it finds Beyoncé using the sound and environment she was born into to expand the possibilities of genre — and leave them behind.

Eight years after “Daddy Lessons,” Beyoncé returns to her “old friend” which she greets with chippy sarcasm on the opening track to Cowboy Carter. “Ameriican Requiem,” as much as it is a requiem, is a reckoning Beyoncé seeks. Between grand, orchestral vocal runs and twangy and croaking verses, Beyoncé speaks to her critics directly: “Can you hear me? / “Or do you fear me?” The exclusion of Black and brown people in certain spaces, especially ones they occupied in abundance for as long or longer than so-called gatekeepers, is an attempt to eliminate stories of strife and struggle caused by the same group who wants to whitewash those faults in hindsight.

However, these stories will constantly resurface in the art Black and brown people create, making it hard for these antagonists to brush them off with claims that things weren’t that bad or that they’re a lot better now, a contradiction that melts the brain if you think about it too hard. They fear the reminder, but the constant presence of these stories that track our progress and celebrate those from the past who opened the doors for today are too valuable to be erased.

Cowboy Carter resurrects stories of Beyoncé’s past as well as those from Black artists in the South. “16 Carriages” mourns the innocent life she once had as a child in the land of milk & honey with a future she naively hoped would be just as sweet and nourishing. Though her music dreams came true, the price at which they were granted produced an “undеrpaid and overwhelmed” child, a mother “goin’ so hard, now I miss my kids,” a battered relationship between her parents that ended in their separation after her father’s infidelity. The record, just like Cowboy Carter, thrives in the face of unfortunate circumstances.

“Ya Ya,” a blood-pumping, foot-stomping, and hand-clapping chant, salutes the legacy of the Chitlin Circuit, a string of venues in the South that was home to Black artists who wanted to perform their music as they were denied the opportunity to do so in white venues. Undeniable legends like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Little Richard, the Jackson 5, and Tina Turner all performed throughout the Chitlin Circuit. The Chitlin Circuit and Cowboy Carter are both born from the attempted exhalation by their respective distractors and oppressors. Their greatness won’t be questioned, but they should’ve been able to exist with better circumstances at their foundation.

Cowboy Carter doesn’t exist in the world that country is “supposed” to be in. Instead, it blends genres that go against tradition and brings us the brash “Spaghettii,” the bass-knocking “Tyrant,” the pop-leaning “Levii Jeans,” and the funky “Desert Eagle.” Things are much different in Beyoncé’s country, just as they were in her ballroom. With the inclusion of talented burgeoning artists like Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, and Shaboozey, she uncovers a side of country that deserves more time in the spotlight. It proves that country, just like other genres, is simply what you make of your roots and experiences that sprout from it. Everyone should be able to tell their story how they please. Cowboy Carter protects and advocates for the undisturbed existence of art from Black and brown creatives, and through 27 songs, Beyoncé stands as a winner in a fight that should’ve never existed.

Cowboy Carter is out now via Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records. Find out more information here.