Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” Slips on Charts, Disappears on Country Radio

It was supposed to be one of the biggest events in music in 2024, if not one of the biggest in music in the last many years. Most definitely it was going to be the defining moment in country music in 2024, if not in country music history, or music history, period.

Not only was the biggest superstar in the world releasing a supposed country record, it was a 27-song treatise that was sure to get stuck at the top of every major chart for the the majority of the year, and fundamentally reshape everything we knew about country music, especially the perception that the country is predominantly White. It was revolutionary, groundbreaking, and unquestionably, it would be a commercial blockbuster.

Two months after the release of Cowboy Carter, something remarkable is happening for sure. But it wasn’t what we expected. Though it would be categorically false and unfair to categorize the release as a failure, it most certainly is not the success Beyoncé or her surrogates must have expected or hoped for. In fact, Cowboy Carter has curiously gone almost forgotten as it continues to fall in the charts behind albums released months and even years ago, while it has completely disappeared on country radio.

The success of Cowboy Carter upon its debut is unquestionable. The lead single “Texas Hold ‘Em” shot up the charts and ended up at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 almost immediately. It also became the first song by a Black woman to top the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in history.

On Spotify alone, the album became one of the most-streamed albums in a single day in 2024 upon its March 29th release. It was the biggest debut of the year for a “country” album, and the biggest debut ever for any album by a Black woman, with over 76 million streams globally in its first day. Obviously, Cowboy Carter debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with 407,000 total units in album sales and equivalents.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” even did well on country radio, initially. There was a fake controversy about how country radio was not playing the song, facilitated by the fact that Beyoncé’s label didn’t service the song to country radio at the start, but did service it to pop, and initially labeled both “Texas Hold ‘Em,” and the other early single “16 Carriages” as “pop” tracks instead of country. But once the song was sent to country radio on February 20th, it became the “Most Added” song on the format, and quickly rose to #33.

But now, few if anyone is talking about Cowboy Carter, not even the media that was so breathless and behind it from the beginning. Sales have tapered off significantly, and the title has slid down the charts in a way that is uncustomary for a Beyoncé release. “Texas Hold ‘Em” has even disappeared completely from country radio due to the track not being promoted or supported on the format by Beyoncé’s label at all.

At the eight week mark, Cowboy Carter has slipped to #10 on the Billboard 200. We knew Taylor Swift’s new album The Tortured Poet’s Department was likely to knock Cowboy Carter off when it was released three weeks later. But we thought it would be these two albums fighting it out on the top of the charts for most of 2024. Yet while Tortured Poet’s Department remains at the top of the Billboard 200 this week, Cowboy Carter continues to slide.

Despite 27 tracks and Beyoncé’s megastar status, Cowboy Carter isn’t even the biggest album in country at the moment, whether it should have been slotted there in the first place after Beyoncé herself underscored “This ain’t a country album. It’s a Beyoncé album.” Zach Bryan’s self-titled album was released 31 weeks previous to Cowboy Carter and includes 11 less tracks. It’s now selling and streaming better than the Beyoncé release.

Morgan Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double album was released way back in January of 2021 and is currently beating Cowboy Carter too. So is Wallen’s 64-week-old One Thing at A Time. Though not considered “country” exactly, Noah Kahan’s Stick Season released in 2022 is also besting Cowboy Carter.

These days, top albums are either sticky at the top of the charts, or they fall after their release, often precipitously. The aforementioned albums from Morgan Wallen, Zach Bryan, Noah Kahan, and Taylor Swift all show signs of that stickiness. Cowboy Carter is showing signs of being a faller. It lost 14.1% in its consumption numbers just this week—more than any other title in the Top 20 of the Billboard 200.

Whereas Cowboy Carter sold 406,000 units on its first week, Taylor Swift’s album sold 1.6 million, including 700,000 vinyl LPs alone. Whereas Swift is expected to be firmly ensconced at #1 or #2 for months to come, Cowboy Carter is quickly giving up ground. Again, this is not to discount the initial sales and streams for the Beyoncé album, or to characterize it as a failure. Many artists would kill for the kind of traction Cowboy Carter has enjoyed. But this is Beyoncé we are talking about, and her landmark foray into country.

Meanwhile, Beyoncé’s single “Texas Hold ‘Em” has also shown little staying power either. It currently sits at #46 on the Hot 100, while Zach Bryan’s “I Remember Everything” with Kacey Musgraves is at #15 despite being 24 weeks older, for example. Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” is at #26, and was released in April of 2022.

Commercial performance, acceptance, or stickiness on the charts is not always synonymous with quality. In fact, they’re often diametrically opposed when talking about independent country or Americana artists. But again, this is Beyoncé, and the support she has received from the press has been significant to unprecedented. So why is Cowboy Carter struggling?

Don’t be surprised if some start claiming racism and Beyoncé’s lack of acceptance in the country genre as the culprit. But it’s important to understand that Beyoncé’s initial #1 success wasn’t built off of country fans in the first place. It was built from pop/hip-hop/R&B fans whose activity was measured on country charts by Billboard despite Beyoncé’s own proclamations that Cowboy Carter wasn’t country.

Also, at the same time Beyoncé struggles to maintain momentum, one of her collaborators on the Cowboy Carter album, Shaboozey, is soaring with his viral track “A Bar Song” that leverages Zach Bryan appeal, and which currently sits at #4 in all of music, and is in contention for being one of the “songs of the summer.”

But the real issue for Cowboy Carter is that we’ve seen little or no follow through with the release from the Beyoncé camp whatsoever. There has been no significant visual media accompanying the release of the album aside from lyric videos that don’t seem to be getting any serious traction. Beyoncé hasn’t been making any major public appearances. She hasn’t done any major interviews, and she hasn’t announced or launched a tour to coincide with Cowboy Carter.

Remember, one of the major criticisms towards Beyoncé’s camp after she released “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” is that they weren’t initially sent to country radio. Now we can see that in mid April, her label Parkwood Entertainment pulled all promotion from “Texas Hold ‘Em” entirely, and it fell off the country radio charts completely.

As any country radio expert will tell you, it can take many months for a country radio single to mature. In Beyoncé’s case, she had a head start with “Texas Hold “Em” since she received the coveted “Most Added” crown when it was finally released to the format on February 20th.

Many expected that once “Texas Hold ‘Em” reached #1 perhaps sometime this summer, they’d release Beyoncé’s version of “Jolene” to country radio too, and this may give Beyoncé a second shot at #1 on the format. Now it seems unlikely there will be any more country radio singles from Cowboy Carter at all. They’ve completely abandoned promoting Beyoncé at country radio entirely.

This is very significant since Beyoncé was supposed to open up country radio for Black country performers and Black women specifically. But there’s been absolutely no follow through, and strangely, no reporting from the media on this point. Country radio plays what it’s told to play by labels. Beyoncé was in the unique position to pressure country radio to play her singles in a way that could shatter glass ceilings and reset expectations. But Parkwood Entertainment stopped telling country radio to play “Texas Hold “Em,” and so none of this happened.

You certainly can’t blame the media for Cowboy Carter‘s lack of staying power, though coverage has significantly trailed off since there’s just nothing new to talk about. It appears since the days of Beyoncé’s surprise album drops, she has decided to do little or no promotion behind her albums. Ironically, one of the few promotional elements for the album was projecting unauthorized advertisements on the sides of buildings, which is where Beyoncé decided to emphasize her own quote, “This ain’t a country album, it’s a Beyoncé album.”

Projection on the side of the Guggenheim Museum in New York

Meanwhile, just as the sales and traction for Cowboy Carter have been disappointing, some Black country artists and advocates felt like the actual content of Cowboy Carter did not live up to the hype the album received ahead of the release as a Black reclamation project. Ultimately, only one song featured a banjo when the project was supposed to redefine country’s Black roots. Now that Beyoncé’s showing no follow through on the release, it leaves this anticipated transformational shift in country music in the lurch as well.

There also might need to be some reckoning that Cowboy Carter is just not a very good album. Beyoncé originally wanted to release the record in the 2019-2020 range, but decided to delay it due to the pandemic. At that time, this kind of pop/hip-hop/country hybrid may have taken off better. Today, it feels a bit dated and directionless. After the pandemic, listeners are looking for music that feels more organic and less produced.

Of course the media still praised Cowboy Carter to the hilt with a few exceptions. But the people are choosing to listen to other things in greater numbers. They got swept up in the rap battle between Drake and Kendrick Lamar. They’re distracted by things like the war in Gaza which is all over their Tik-Tok feeds, while many of Beyoncé’s songs were removed from the platform due to a fight between Tik-Tok and Universal that wasn’t resolved until early May.

And all of this feeds into the question of when it comes CMA Awards show time in November, or the Grammy Awards early next year, where will Cowboy Carter be?

There is still time for some sort of revitalization or righting of the ship with Cowboy Carter, and for it to somehow affect country music in the significant ways many hypothesized it would. But for now, the transformational moment many expected feels like something that was a more a narrative within the media, intellectual circles, and Beyoncé Stan armies, while the whole time Beyoncé herself didn’t even want the album to be considered country at all.

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