Dispelling the Myth that Country Radio Rejected Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s new album Cowboy Carter will be released on March 29th, and accompanying the release you can expect to see a rash of reporting about the album that involves country music and race. One of the regular refrains in the reporting so far has been how country radio rejected Beyoncé’s song “Texas Hold ‘Em,” or at least rejected it initially. This is an important linchpin to much of the reporting on Beyoncé’s supposed entry into country music because it is cited as evidence of racism in the country genre.

But just like many of the other details in the reporting on Beyoncé and country music, the proclamations that country radio initially rejected Beyoncé’s singles are verifiably false. On the contrary, country radio embraced “Texas Hold “Em” in a manner many country artists don’t enjoy.

Both a timeline of the events (see bottom), as well as a basic knowledge of how mainstream country radio works is important to understanding how all of this transpired.

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Beyoncé’s songs “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” were released right after a Super Bowl commercial aired featuring Beyoncé on February 11th, 2024. Though many rushed to characterize the songs as country, there was no specific indication from Beyoncé or her label that the songs were indeed country songs. In fact, there was initial indication that they weren’t.

When “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” were sent to streaming services such as Spotify, Apple, Amazon, etc., the metadata for the songs labeled them as “pop.”

What is “metadata”? It’s basic information that is embedded in a musical track so streaming services and everybody else knows key details about the song. This includes an ISRC, or International Standard Recording Code, which is like the fingerprint of a song. The metadata also includes songwriter and producer data, whether the song has explicit lyrics in it, as well as the genre.

In the case of “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the genre originally described in the metadata was “pop.” Many streaming services do not publicly display genre information for tracks. They simply use it behind-the-scenes for playlist consideration, etc. However, Apple does list genre information, and “Texas Hold ‘Em” and the other Beyoncé track “19 Carriages” were both listed as “pop.”

Also note that “Texas Hold ‘Em” comes with an “E” beside it. This indicates that the song contains explicit lyrics. This would also play a role in how country radio initially handled the song.

Before most were even thinking about if country radio would play “Texas Hold ‘Em,” this initial slotting of the Beyoncé songs as pop came with its own backlash, controversy, and claims of racism and gatekeeping against both Apple Music, and Beyoncé’s own label. Apple was immediately swarmed by members of Beyoncé’s notorious Stan army, the Beyhive, for saying the songs were pop.

But as this was happening, others stepped into clarify that it was Beyoncé’s own label—Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia Records—that had marked the songs as pop. So then the ire turned to the label, which also began to receive pressure.

Eventually, the metadata was changed to “country,” and appeared to propagate to Apple by February 12th, though it may have taken longer for other networks or services.

But even after the initial release of “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the song was not available for radio play to country stations, and for a host of reasons. First, the version of the song released to the public was marked “explicit,” meaning that it would be against the law to play it on public airwaves. Any radio station who played “Texas Hold ‘Em” uncensored could face fines or the loss of their license by the FCC.

For a track to be played on country radio, it has to be serviced to country radio, meaning the track has to be sent to radio stations through a distribution service such as Play MPE. These companies are important because they distribute clean versions of explicit tracks, along with helping both the radio stations and charting organizations such as Billboard to keep track of who is adding and playing songs on their station.

Similarly to how Beyoncé’s own label Parkwood Entertainment were the ones that initially marked “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” as pop, they also initially serviced the tracks to pop radio, but did not service them to country radio, as confirmed by Billboard. Not only is this the second indication that perhaps Beyoncé and her camp did not consider “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” country songs, it also put country radio a step behind adding the songs compared to pop.

As Billboard went on to report, not until pressure was mounting on country radio stations to play Beyoncé’s songs did Parkwood Entertainment work to get “Texas Hold ‘Em” to country stations. This happened on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 13th. But even with servicing the song to country radio, this doesn’t mean it will be automatically added by country radio stations, or even considered for play.

As Melinda Newman writing for Billboard explained at the time, “Country radio has traditionally been reluctant to play songs that aren’t serviced to them or then actively promoted by the label.”

Beyond the date that a song is actually serviced to a radio station, you also have the official “adds” date. The adds date is when the label formally requests for radio stations to add a particular song. In the case of Beyoncé and “Texas Hold ‘Em,” it was announced on Wednesday, February 14th that the official adds date would be February 20th.

See a full timeline for the release of “Texas Hold ‘Em” at the bottom of the article.

Radio stations do not have to wait for the official “adds” date to add a track to their playlist, but the point of setting and adhering to an adds date is multi-fold.

First, the top-added tracks on country radio for a given week get aggregated into their own chart showing who has the most-added tracks. Going #1 on this chart or even getting in the Top 5 is usually considered a good sign for a song. This accolade is then often advertised in radio trade publications such as Country Aircheck to highlight that a song is receiving high consideration and traction on the format.

Another reason for adhering to an “adds” date is this allows an artist and/or their label to plan promotion around the track, and also gives radio station program directors and DJs an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the track and choose how and when they want to play it. It also gives the track time to prove its worth via streaming/download consumption before programmers decide how light or heavy to add it to their rotations.

Long story short, Beyoncé’s own label was asking country radio stations to not start playing “Texas Hold ‘Em” until February 20th.

But well before that official adds date, country radio was being attacked as racist for not playing the track. Yet ironically, there actually were some radio stations that added “Texas Hold ‘Em” almost immediately, even before the track had been officially serviced to them, let alone before the official adds date.

According to Billboard, “In the first 24-plus hours of release (from Sunday night through the end of Monday), eight reporters to Billboard’s Country Airplay chart played ‘Texas Hold ‘Em,’ … according to Mediabase.”

Nonetheless, there was already a full-throated revolt happening upon country radio for refusing to play the song, including accusations of racism and gatekeeping. On February 14th, Forbes posted an article titled “Beyoncé’s New Songs Aren’t Getting Played On Country Radio — Despite Streaming Success.” The article specifically cites Billboard‘s statistics that only eight of the radio stations that report to Mediabase had added the song, characterizing it as a shocking statistic that spoke to country radio’s refusal to play the song.

But as explained previously, the adds date for “Texas Hold “Em” wasn’t until February 20th—six days after the Forbes article was published. Nonetheless, this “only 8 country radio stations” stat became a rallying cry for country radio’s supposed refusal of Beyoncé, with scores of other outlets going on to cite this statistic.

Also confusing the issue was the very viral, yet very anecdotal story of a lone country radio station in Oklahoma initially claiming that they wouldn’t play “Texas Hold “Em”—before reversing course almost immediately. A X/Twitter user named Justin reached out to KYKC in Oklahoma on February 13th to request they play “Texas Hold ‘Em.” The user got back the response, “We do not play Beyoncé on KYKC as we are a country music station.”

This response sent off a social media firestorm that reached all the way to national news, with hundreds of articles and news stories published about it. But as we know now, on the morning of February 13th with the email exchange between the X/Twitter user and KYKC happened, “Texas Hold ‘Em” had not been serviced to country radio yet, only pop radio. It was also nearly a week away from officially going for “adds” on the country radio format.

“We initially refused to play it in the same manner if someone requested us to play the Rolling Stones on our country station,” general manager Roger Harris said in a statement on February 14th. “Fact is we play Beyonce’ on TWO of our other stations and love her…she is an icon. We just didn’t know about the song….then when we found out about it, we tried to get the song….which we did and we have already played it 3 times on YKC, our country station. We also play her on 105.5, KXFC-FM and KADA-FM 0n 99.3.”

In other words, the primary country radio station at the heart of the controversy played “Texas Hold “Em” before the song had even been officially serviced to country radio, facilitated by the fact that the station already had it in their system due to pop sister stations already playing the song. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to play it at all, because it hadn’t been serviced to them yet.

Nonetheless, the media firestorm that ensued characterized the entirety of country music rejecting Beyoncé. It also created an environment of fear throughout country radio that if the song was not added, any country radio station could be the next one on the national news being accused of racism for not playing the track. This made adding Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” on country radio a compulsory action throughout the format, irrespective if a program director or DJ believed it was country, or what their listeners wanted to hear.

On February 19th—a day before the official “adds” date for “Texas Hold ‘Em,”—MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin once again cited Beyoncé’s original country radio stat of “only eight country stations” from Billboard aggregated seven days previous and said, “Let’s be very clear here. This is just the latest flash point of the long and ugly history of racism within the country music establishment.”

What happened when “Texas Hold ‘Em” officially went for “adds” on country radio in February 20th? It became the most added track on the format, with 75 of the 157 reporting stations adding the song according to Mediabase. Lo and behold, just like is hoped whenever you set an adds date, “Texas Hold ‘Em” did so well, Beyoncé’s label used the moment to promote the track.

Ad in Country Aircheck (names 79 adds, though only 75 report to Mediabase)

But even with Beyoncé getting the coveted “#1 Most Added” crown and continued adds since February 20th, that has not stopped the misrepresentation that country music is gatekeeping Beyoncé due to racism, and that she is still not being played on country radio.

On February 28th—eight days after “Texas Hold ‘Em” became the “most added” song on country radio—a petition was started on MoveOn.org by Jensine Gomez titled, “Stop the racism and gatekeeping! Play Beyoncé’s new country songs on your radio stations NOW!” The petition was then picked up as a news story by The Hill and other media outlets.

On March 8th, The Hill once again cited the original “only 8 country radio stations” statistic of Beyoncé’s radio play right after the song had been released instead of updated numbers. Meanwhile, the petition that now has over 28,000 signatures and counting states in its grievances, “First, Apple Music categorized the songs in the ‘Pop music’ category when the songs are clearly country,” once again giving into the falsehood that it was Apple calling the tracks pop, not Beyoncé’s label.

The petition and the reporting surrounding it underscore that even as Beyoncé is being supported at country radio more than many country artists, the falsehood that she isn’t being supported at radio at all persists.

As of March 25th, “Texas Hold ‘Em” was at #29 on the Mediabase country airplay chart, up six spots from the previous week, speaking to the top-level traction for the song. It often takes months for a single to crack the Top 30 on country radio unless it is from a top-level performer such as Luke Combs or Morgan Wallen.

Meanwhile, in the midst of claims of racism at country radio, Black country artist Kane Brown also scored his 11th #1 song at country radio on March 11th with “I Can Feel It.” Though it’s fair to highlight how Black and Brown artists have historically struggled at country radio, eleven #1 singles by Kane Brown underscores that Black performers are not going entirely unrepresented, and characterizing it as such is an element of Black erasure.

The next stop on the Beyoncé timeline was March 19th. This was the day that Beyoncé released a statement for the first time about the album Cowboy Carter, and revealed the cover art. In the statement, Beyoncé states categorically, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.” She also goes on to say that she took the time to “bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.”

Overwhelmingly, country fans have been saying that they do not believe that Beyoncé’s songs are country. Now, Beyoncé is claiming they are not country, and that they “bend and blend genres together” at the most.

When you combine this with the knowledge that the two initial tracks were labeled as pop by Beyoncé’s own label, then were serviced to pop radio exclusively instead of country, it legitimately poses the question on if the whole “Beyoncé goes country” narrative isn’t a myth that has been pushed forward by Beyoncé Stans, and facilitated by the media not properly vetting and scrutinizing the prevailing narrative.

Heading into the Super Bowl, speculation was already swirling that Beyoncé’s new album would be country. But it was just that: speculation. It is Beyoncé who is claiming this “ain’t a Country album,” and it’s an insult to Beyoncé’s artistry and artistic intent to insinuate that it is, and to try and compartmentalize her music in a country box. This is very likely why Beyoncé took the time to clarify these matters, and on the point of genre specifically in her March 19th statement.

At this point, the curse is cast. The idea that Beyoncé’s new songs and new album are country is so widespread and pervasive, you’d be considered crazy to say otherwise, even though that is exactly what Beyoncé has said herself. There is no arguing this point in popular culture or media. But it is entirely possible that the whole “Beyoncé goes country” story is one giant canard.

Either way, idea that country radio did not support Beyoncé—either initially or right now—most certainly is false.

A Beyoncé / Country Radio Timeline

  • February 11th – Beyoncé releases “Texas Hold “Em” and “16 Carriages” labeled as pop.
  • February 12th – Tracks labeled as pop are serviced to pop radio exclusively.
  • February 12th – Tracks metadata switched from “pop” to “country.”
  • February 13th – MORNING – Oklahoma radio station KYKC called racist for not playing Beyoncé tracks.
  • February 13th – AFTERNOON – KYKC begins to play Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
  • February 14th – AFTERNOON – Beyoncé’s label services “Texas Hold ‘Em” to country radio.
  • February 14th – AFTERNOON – Beyoncé’s label announces Feb. 20th as “Texas Hold ‘Em” official adds date on country radio.
  • February 19th – Country music called racist by MSNBC for not adding “Texas Hold ‘Em.”
  • February 20th – “Texas Hold ‘Em” officially added to country radio, becomes #1 most added song.
  • February 28th – Petition launched to demand country radio play Beyoncé songs.
  • March 19th – In first statement about new album, Beyoncé says, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album.

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