“Cowboy Carter” is Not a Country Album. Saying It Is Insults Beyoncé’s Intent

Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is not a country album. It was never meant to be considered a country album.

As Beyoncé’s label planned the release of Cowboy Carter, they did not approach it as a country album, but as a pop album. When the first songs were released, they were not labeled as country songs, and were not sent to country radio. Instead, they were labeled as pop songs, and serviced to pop radio.

This was the first indication we had that the media narrative being forged around the album was being presumptuous at best, or was downright false at worst. Unfortunately though, due to hubristic notions, an unwillingness to admit mistakes, and in some instances the presence of ulterior motives, the media and Beyoncé Stans never reversed course from calling Cowboy Carter country.

On March 19th, Beyoncé herself said in a detailed statement, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album,” and said the album was an effort to, “bend and blend genres together.” She likely included these proclamations while revealing the cover art due to the misconceptions swirling in the media, and in an effort to clear them up. That effort failed.

Furthermore, now that we have the actual album to listen to and dissect, we can conclusively verify that Beyoncé’s concept was not a country one. Instead, she underwent an effort to purposely circumvent the concept of genre, and the genre of country music specifically.

To call Beyoncé’s new album “country” is to insult Beyoncé’s artistry, and to malign her intent. Calling her new album country works to confine and compartmentalize her creativity as opposed to honoring her stated objective to make a genre-defying work. It inadvertently denigrates the effort Beyoncé put forth through the album.

This is not the opinion of SavingCountryMusic.com. This is not an element of gatekeeping. Racism is in no way involved in this conclusion. This is simply the ultimate deduction that is landed upon when actually listening to what Beyoncé says, along with the Cowboy Carter album itself, which again, Beyoncé says she doesn’t consider a country album.

The same people who for many years have been saying that genre is a social construct and racist are the same people now insisting that you must consider Cowboy Carter country, or you’re racist.

Couching Beyoncé’s new album as country might be the biggest media blunder in the history of music. And due to the overwhelming prevalence of this false and misleading reporting, it is unlikely, if not impossible, that the false narrative sown around this album will ever be undone in our lifetimes, especially when most any intent to do so will be called racist.

This whole thing has been gaslighting on a global scale. The release of Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is just as much a media issue as it is a music one, if not even more so since the media played a critical role in perpetrating the canard that now persists throughout the zeitgeist. Heading into the release cycle of the album, the rumors were that Beyoncé’s next album would be country. But they were just that: rumors.

When the first two songs were released—“TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES”—there was a full court press, and a full-throated effort to get the world to recognize the songs as country. We saw this in the attacks on Apple Music for marking the songs country, even though it was Beyoncé’s own label who was responsible. So then they went after Beyoncé’s own label, before turning their ire on country radio, who hadn’t even been serviced the track yet.

The metadata of Beyoncé’s early singles were originally marked as pop

By the time Beyoncé released a statement on March 19th saying conclusively “This ain’t a country album,” there was no avenue to reverse course. If Beyoncé’s label did not change the metadata from “pop” to “country,” an outright revolt would have ensued. It was crowd control. The mob took over, and the truth was trampled. But along with creating an environment of compliance as opposed to acceptance, they were also sowing a canard that was against Beyoncé’s own wishes and artistic intent.

None of this is to say that Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter does not have some country elements to it, or even some country songs. Of course it does. This was an important part of Beyoncé’s concept.

For the sake of saving an argument, let’s just say that the first single from the album “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” is a country song. Traditionalists will still writhe at this characterization, and perhaps fairly so. But you can find comparable tracks to the song that have played on country radio recently. Beyoncé’s augmented cover of Dolly Parton’s “JOLENE” is probably more country than it is anything else. And though “BLACKBIIRD” is more folk in nature, sure, call it country too.

But the amount of country material on this album doesn’t come anywhere close to being 50% of the total music in a way that would qualify it as more country than pop. Three or four out of the 24 tracks (not counting interludes) does not justify calling this album country.

A lot of people have cited the presence of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton on the album as a confirmation that Cowboy Carter is country. Willie’s and Dolly’s participation was revealed about a week before the album, and the assumption was that they would appear in collaboration with Beyoncé. But that didn’t occur. Instead, they simply appear in autonomous spoken word interludes that sound like they were recorded on smartphones.

Beyoncé is also receiving high praise for including pioneering Black artist Linda Martell on the album. Unquestionably, Martell’s name recognition has skyrocketed through the release of this album, of which Beyoncé deserves credit for. But again, Martell’s participation is not in a collaborative role, but simply as a narrator in interludes.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? Yes they are,” Martell says at the start of the decidedly non-country track “SPAGHETTI.” Martell goes on to say, “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

This is a critically important moment in the album. Though the first 1/3rd of Cowboy Carter does include some country-ish songs and sounds, at “SPAGHETTI,” the album takes a decidedly pop/hip-hop turn.

But more importantly, Linda Martell saying “some may feel confined” by genres is yet again a signal from Beyoncé that she didn’t want this album to be confined by country. Then later in the album during the track, “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW,” Martell says, “Ladies and gentlemen, this particular tune stretches across a range of genres, and that’s what makes it a unique listening experience.”

“THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” track is the introduction to the song “YA YA,” whose introduction samples Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” but also “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys.

Both of Linda Martell’s appearances on the album speak to the dismissing of genres as opposed to the adherence to them. It is also interesting to note that on the physical copies of Cowboy Carter, five tracks are missing. Of those five tracks, three of them are the ones that involve Linda Martell: “SPAGHETTI,” “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW,” and “YA YA.”

In other words, on the physical copies of Cowboy Carter, Linda Martell’s contributions are erased entirely.

Who does Beyoncé actually collaborate with on Cowboy Carter via actual songs? Shaboozey, Post Malone, Miley Cyrus, and Willie Jones. She also collaborates with Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts, Tanner Adell, and Tiera Kennedy on The Beatles’ “BLACKBIRRD.” These are four Black women who release music in the country genre. This is in addition to Rhiannon Giddens who appears on “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM,” and Robert Randolph who appears on “16 CARRIAGES.”

But the fact that “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES” were the first two songs released from the album, and “BLACKBIIRD” is the second track on the album once again speaks to the front loaded nature of the country material on COWBOY CARTER that gives off the false impression that it’s more country than it actually is.

Furthermore, one of the major talking points about Beyoncé and Cowboy Carter was how the banjo is a Black instrument, and Beyoncé’s efforts would work to reclaim this legacy along with the legacy of Black performers in country. But out of the 27 tracks, only one actually features a banjo: “TEXAS HOLD “EM.” Incidentally, only one song features steel guitar, and that’s “16 CARRIAGES.”

Not only does the overall lack of country instrumentation on the album create another mark against calling it country, it also feels like a massive missed opportunity. In mainstream country music, one of the common criticisms is about pop songs that try to pass themselves off as country by employing what’s often referred to as the “token banjo”—meaning using a banjo to try and make a pop song country.

Cowboy Carter doesn’t even do this. Most of the songs are pop, and stay pop, and if anything, gravitate more towards hip-hop, and a curious amount of opera and classic rock sounds. Meanwhile, songs like “RIVERDANCE” and “SWEET * HONEY * BUCKIN'” seem to scream for banjo, and instead feature acoustic guitar playing what traditionally would be a banjo part, and in a banjo style.

Another issue with the album is just the lack of original material. Along with multiple covers songs creating the more country-sounding songs of the album, there are samples galore from across genres. “I Fall To Pieces” by Patsy Cline is interpolated into one of the final songs, but you also have parts of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene,” “Down by the Riverside” by Rosetta Tharpe,” among many others.

This prevalent use of sampling and borrowing of songs, beats, and riffs is very emblematic of hip-hop, and very rare in the country genre. Sampling is one of the foundations of hip-hop, going all the way back to the Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin, and Paul’s Boutique.

But please don’t misunderstand this article as a review of Cowboy Carter. Since it’s not a country album, Saving Country Music is unqualified to judge the material beyond commenting on genre. This would be just as presumptuous and irresponsible as pop and hip-hop critics proclaiming Beyoncé and Cowboy Carter as country as we have seen throughout this release cycle.

The most presumptuous and categorically false assumption is the now viral opinion shared by Taylor Crumpton in a TIME Magazine piece entitled, “Beyoncé Has Always Been Country,” that also went on to proclaim that all of country music has always been Black music, and was never White music.

Upon the release of Cowboy Carter and Beyoncé’s own proclamations, Crumpton’s assertions look especially presumptive and irresponsible.

The New York Post‘s entertainment arm Page Six recently made a similar ludicrous claim, headlining, “Beyoncé revives a dying genre on instantly timeless country album ‘Cowboy Carter’.”

Of course, Cowboy Carter isn’t country, and the country genre is more popular and financially lucrative that it has ever been in history. These kinds of hyperbolic proclamations are all over the place as popular media looks to get on the right side of Beyoncé’s Stan army that wholesale misunderstands this moment as well.

The craven media looking for clicks and to forward political agendas through this moment have made a mockery of Beyoncé’s music and intentions. Beyoncé herself in her March 19th statement said, “My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist’s race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant,” and “It feels good to see how music can unite so many people around the world.”

Meanwhile Taylor Crumpton—who has been the most lauded journalist covering Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter release, commenced her “review” of the album with:

It is a revival, not a reclamation, and Beyoncé is here to cleanse us of our sins. The Bible says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And hidden in the midst of Beyoncé’s new album Cowboy Carter, released on Friday, there is a spirit; that of God, but also of Beyoncé, who has appointed herself as music’s lord and savior.

There is no genre she cannot save, and no genre she cannot touch, because they all belong to her. She is their be-all and end-all. Music’s alpha and omega. And a few days before Resurrection Sunday, when practitioners all over the world, but especially in the deep bayous and marshes of the American South, will convene to celebrate the second coming of Christ, Beyoncé, too, has just cause for celebration. Because she has just rewritten the music game in her image.

This is not journalism. This is outright idolatry. It is also insanity.

It is because of moments like these that trust in the media has fallen to all-time record lows, with only 32% of Americans having a great deal or fair amount of trust in mass media. Coverage of Beyoncé and Cowboy Carter has been a catastrophe.

One glaring exception is Chris Richards at The Washington Post, who for years has been the pop writer who has shared divergent and critical takes on country music and the culture surrounding it. But when it comes to this “Beyoncé goes country” moment, he’s been one of the few voices of reason. In an article titled, “Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ isn’t a country album. It’s worse,” he declares,

“It’s an album about awards shows. That’s the only way I’ve been able to process the intrinsic corniness of this new Beyoncé album, ‘Cowboy Carter,’ which, very much like the most punishing of Grammy nights, runs way too long, yet still finds time to involve Post Malone. Rumored to be her big pivot into country music, Beyoncé has headfaked us all, opting instead for an omni-genre grandeur that still only manages to feel cosmetic at best.”

Part of the big lie has been presenting Beyoncé as one of the greatest victims of the American experience, despite her being worth $800 million before the release of Cowboy Carter, while she’s married to a billionaire. She’s also been presented as the person most disrespected by the Grammy awards in the institution’s history, while simultaneously being the most nominated and awarded artist in Grammy Awards history.

In the next to last track, Beyoncé grouses, “AOTY, I ain’t win,” about never winning the all-genre Grammy Album of the Year. 32 Grammy wins, but apparently, that’s not good enough for Queen Bey. Because nothing is.

Just like the canard of calling Beyoncé country, all of these narrative threads of victimhood have been allowed to thrive in a media environment where most journalists are disallowed or disincentivized from breaking from prevailing thought, and taking critical and adversarial positions.

One important element to the discussion of genre and Cowboy Carter is timing. As Beyoncé has explained, she’d been working on the album for five years and actually intended for Cowboy Carter to be the first act to her Renaissance project, not the second. But with the pandemic, Beyoncé decided to release the dance music-inspired installment first as opposed to Cowboy Carter.

If released a few years ago, Cowboy Carter would have coincided with what was called the “Yeehaw Agenda” that took place around 2018-2019 where pop and hip-hop performers wore cowboy hats and adopted other country imagery as a style trend. This was also around Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” moment.

If Cowboy Carter had come out during that time, perhaps it would have made more sense, and may have made a greater impact on the direction of the country genre. Instead, it feels dated. As country is actively moving in a more country direction, Cowboy Carter cuts against that grain.

On a more practical note, Billboard cannot allow Cowboy Carter to chart on the country charts. The Grammy Awards and CMAs cannot allow the album to compete in country categories. Not only is there not enough country material on the album, it would be categorically against Beyoncé’s stated creative concept.

The song “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” is another story. Sure, allow it to compete in country categories. But of course, all of these institutions will fall in line with calling Cowboy Carter country, because otherwise, they will be considered racist. This is the environment of coercion and compliance that has been created around this release.

Meanwhile, as for all the craven individuals who think the release of Cowboy Carter will cause some dramatic upheaval in the country genre, reclaim it from predominantly White performers and audiences to be handed over to Black ones, while also enacting a political transformation of the country genre, are in for a colossal letdown. This moment will come and pass, create some spicy discussions around awards show time, but generally will not have any fundamental effect on the country genre at large.

It’s become patently clear through the release of Cowboy Carter that it’s not White country listeners who need to be informed about the Black legacy in country music. They know who Ray Charles and Charley Pride are. They’re fans of Charley Crockett and Chapel Hart. It’s Black audiences who seem to just now be waking up to how the banjo is a Black instrument, and how blues and minstrel players were an integral part in forming the genre.

But that doesn’t mean that this Black legacy wasn’t ever there, or was erased. On the contrary, it’s been spelled out in detail in every major country music history book, is ever-present in the displays in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and has been chronicled categorically in film media like the Ken Burn’s 8-part, 16-hour Country Music documentary from 2019 that was seen by over 34.5 million unique people.

Yes, Black people had a role in the formation of country. But 70% of the American population probably has some agency and ownership in some type of music originating from America as well. And that music is country.

Why does genre even matter, especially in 2024? Because it’s the Dewey Decimal system for music. It makes it easier for listeners to discover music that might most appeal to them. Sure, artists should be allowed to explore influences outside of their native genre, or “bend and blend” genres if they wish, just like Beyoncé has done with Cowboy Carter. But there’s no reason to place a nonfiction history book in the fiction mystery section.

The other reason genre matters is because it’s also a fundamental element to the fabric of American culture. Whether anyone wants to consider Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter country or not, on Friday and Saturday nights, fans of country music will gather in dancehalls all across Texas to two-step, just like their parents and grandparents did, and just like their children will do in the future.

No matter if Beyoncé wins the Grammy Album of the Year, country fans will gather in honky tonks all across the United States to hear local and touring bands playing originals and country standards that have been around for 20 to 70 years, taking the opportunity to let their everyday cares slip away. When people are married, or when loved ones are laid in the ground, country songs will be played to mark the occasions.

And far away from the eyes and ears of the masses, folks will always gather on porches and around campfires with acoustic instruments, impressing fingers on wood and wire to re-awaken the ancient melodies that went to make up what we refer to as “country music” today.

From the tip of Florida, to the redwood forests of California, to the outback of Australia, to even Scandanavia in Europe, actual country music made by people from the country will continue to thrive while popular radio continues to churn out product, and Academia acts as if country fans are unwitting pawns in their intellectual game, with someone like Queen Bey holding dominion over their culture, able to affect it in transformational ways.

Country music is for the people and by the people, Black and White, young and old. It exists in the hearts of country fans. It’s in their hearts where it’s most ultimately defined. It tells the stories of their lives. It’s a long-standing continuum that despite the best efforts of the intellectual/elite class, interlopers from other genres, and corporate overlords controlling its commercial aspects, will always survive in it’s most important and elemental form of the era.

Because that what country music has always done, and that’s why country music always will be.

© 2023 Saving Country Music