Why Beyoncé’s #1 in Country Doesn’t Really Matter

Beyoncé currently has the #1 song in country music according to Billboard. On the latest update to the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” is at #1, while the other song she released recently called “16 Carriages” sits at #9. This makes Beyoncé the first ever Black solo woman to ever top the country charts.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” also currently sits at #54 on the Billboard Airplay chart, though the song wasn’t initially serviced to country radio after its release. It’s official add date at radio was February 20th, and according to chart expert Chris Owen, “Texas Hold ‘Em” was the most added song on Mediabase that day with 75 adds.

As you can imagine, the news of the #1 has been met with with praise for Beyoncé breaking down barriers and shattering glass ceilings in country. And though it is heartening to those who wish country music had greater representation from Black and Brown artists for Beyoncé to achieve this feat, this #1 is more about the global megastar worth $800 million cutting in line in front of artist native to country to earn this achievement instead of breaking down barriers, including cutting in front of Black and Brown performers and Black women already in the country genre.

Billboard has made the decision that “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” are country songs. This is divergent from the decision than Billboard made when Beyoncé released her 2016 track “Daddy Lessons” that some also claimed to be country. Billboard also came to this decision despite the original metadata on the tracks being marked as “pop” by Beyoncé’s label. In the Billboard article officially announcing Beyoncé’s #1, the publication even starts off by describing her as a “Pop and R&B/hip-hop superstar.”

Sure, if a Black woman either native to country music or coming up through the country music ranks would have achieved a similar goal, it would speak to the opening up of the genre to women of color. But that’s not what’s happened here at all. Instead, Beyoncé is leveraging her global superstar status earned in the pop and R&B/hip-hop world, the enthusiasm of her Stan army the Beyhive, and the coercion of country music’s institutions to ensconce herself atop the genre.

Beyoncé isn’t the first to do this of course. When Bebe Rexha collaborated with Florida Georgia Line on the track “Meant To Be” in 2017, the song spent a history-making 50 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. At the time, some characterized this as an achievement for the women of country, who’ve had similar struggles achieving representation on country’s charts. But Bebe Rexha wasn’t a country woman, and has since done nothing in the genre. She hadn’t even met Florida Georgia Line at the time the track was released.

Bebe Rexha’s “Meant To Be” dethroned Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” as the longest charting #1 in country history. Hunt had spent 34 weeks at #1 earlier in 2017. What “Body Like a Backroad,” “Meant To Be,” and “Texas Hold ‘Em” all having in common is they were put at #1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart through benefiting of cross genre radio spins and appeal.

Most country music fans aren’t listening, streaming, or downloading Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em.” In fact, most country fans don’t even consider it a country song. In a poll conducted by the major country music Instagram account and publication Country Central, out of 7,496 respondents, 6,299 agreed with the statement “Beyoncé shouldn’t be considered a country artist.” That is 84% of country fans who do not believe Beyoncé’s songs shouldn’t be considered country.

Though “Texas Hold ‘Em” is at #54 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, it’s at #38 on the Pop Airplay chart, which pulls from a much bigger audience and data set than country. The fact that “Texas Hold ‘Em” is performing significantly better on the pop radio format than country could be yet another sign that the greater masses consider it a pop song, even if Billboard does not.

But most important to note is that in 2012, Billboard changed its chart rules for genre-based charts to allow radio spins on other formats to count towards a single’s chart performance on its native genre. In other words, all the radio spins “Texas Hold ‘Em” is receiving in pop to place it at #38 are counting in the ranking on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Of course, even if “Texas Hold ‘Em” wasn’t being played on the radio at all, it would still be at #1 on whatever chart Billboard placed it on. This is due in part to members of Beyoncé’s Beyhive downloading the track en masse and spinning it in a purposeful manner to rack up points. Ironically, this is similar to what Jason Aldean fans and conservative influencers did to get his song “Try That in a Small Town” to #1 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100, and also factored into Oliver Anthony’s #1 for “Rich Men North of Richmond.”

This has nothing to do with country music embracing Beyoncé. This has everything to do with Beyoncé’s established army of pop and R&B/hip-hop fans driving the song to #1, as well as pop radio playing a song that Billboard has chosen to designate as country. Not only is Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” an aberration on the country charts, since most country fans don’t consider it country, Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart is not representing the country music community.

Billboard has a right to designate “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” as whatever genre they wish. But the question is, did they truly have any choice? If Billboard had decided otherwise like they did for Beyoncé “Daddy Lessons” in 2016 and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” it would have been chaos. There would have been boycotts, social media swarming campaigns, attacks on advertisers and revenue streams, and other coercive tactics against the publication.

The same goes for country radio stations. They must add “Texas Hold ‘Em,” even if their listeners do not want it or think it’s country. This precedent was set when Oklahoma radio station 100.1 KYKC in Ada was attacked and became a national news headline after they initially said they would not play “Texas Hold ‘Em” because the track had not been serviced to country radio, and was designated in the metadata as pop. No other radio station wants to be on the national news being called racist for not adding the song.

As some have pointed out though, when listening to “Texas Hold ‘Em,” and then listening to other songs previously released as country such as songs from Sam Hunt or Florida Georgia Line, or the song “Fancy Like” from Walker Hayes, it would be comparable to “Texas Hold ‘Em” in how they’re pop songs, but with a country flavor.

But what theese arguments don’t take into consideration is the dramatic move in the last few years by the country format to more country sounding songs. In 2016 when “Daddy Lessons” was released, perhaps this case could be made. In 2024, Florida Georgia Line is no longer around. They officially broke up in 2022. “Fancy Like” was topping the charts in 2021. The last two singles from Sam Hunt have failed to reach the Top 10 and he’s considered semi-retired by the country industry.

Meanwhile, it is more country-sounding performers like Luke Combs and Zach Bryan that are defining the mainstream country genre, while Lainey Wilson is the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, and won Album of the Year at the ACMs, CMAs, and Grammy Awards for the more traditional-sounding Bell Bottom Country. Even Morgan Wallen comes with a host of traditional-sounding country songs to go with his pop country tracks. Unequivocably, country is sounding more country at the moment that it has in the past 15-20 years.

Along with composition of the song and the intention of the artist, Billboard also claims to take into consideration “the musical history of the artist, airplay the song receives and how the song is platformed on streaming services” when deciding which genre to slot it in. In this case, by Billboard’s own proclimation, Beyoncé is a “Pop and R&B/hip-hop superstar.” She is also receving significantly more airplay in pop than in country at the moment with “Texas Hold ‘Em.”

But Billboard has made its decision, and it would be suicide to reverse it now. And it is fair to point out that over the last 10-12, you can find comparable tracks to “Texas Hold ‘Em” that Billboard allowed on chart in country as well.

Still, there is nothing organic about the appeal and support for “Texas Hold ‘Em” in country. Saving Country Music was accosted by Beyhive trolls simply for not reporting her country #1 revealed earlier this week in a timely manner. This same kind of coercive-based compliance regime is being enacted across country music, with Program Directors at radio, chart managers, and everyone else being forced to accept the song as country to avoid being called out and ridiculed publicly like 100.1 KYKC was.

Meanwhile, the biggest concern for many actual country fans is that all the attention going to Beyoncé will take important attention away from country artists native to the country genre, including if not especially women, along with Black and Brown artists who already face an uphill battle in the genre.

This is what country and roots artist Rhiannon Giddens expressed concern about when Beyoncé appeared on the 2016 CMA Awards. Giddens felt like Beyoncé’s moment singing “Daddy Lessons” took away from the one she shared with Eric Church through the song “Kill A Word,” which was a #6 hit on country radio, and #9 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

The top comment on Country Central‘s Instagram poll of country fans reads, “I’ll say it again. I really hope Beyoncés ‘country song’ doesn’t get nominated for anything at the CMAs, because there’s a lot of country artists that are TRYING and actually deserve to be nominated.”

Rhiannon Giddens appears on “Texas Hold ‘Em” playing banjo and viola, and roots music steel guitarist Robert Randolph appears on “16 Carriages.” But these aren’t direct collaborations with these artists like we saw when Zach Bryan took songs with Kacey Musgraves, Black country soul duo The War & Treaty, and independent roots artist Sierra Ferrell, and made them to their best chart placement respectively with the release of Bryan’s 2023 self-titled album.

We will have to see if Beyoncé’s upcoming album has any direct collaborations with Black, Brown, or women country artists on it, or if her entrance in the genre in any way materially helps country music’s native Black or Brown performers, or ultimately hurts them as many are concerned it will. We’ll also have to see if anything on the new Beyoncé album more resembles country music.

And of course, if you do anything other that shower Beyoncé with adulation in this moment, you are subject to claims of racism as the nuance and complexity of your perspective is drained out of any discussion. But Saving Country Music made the same exact case that Bebe Rexha’s #1 in country with “Meant To Be” was meaningless in 2018 due to Billboard’s chart rules, and her status as an established pop star.

Ultimately, what Beyoncé debuting at #1 in country with “Texas Hold ‘Em” means is an established pop/hip-hop star worth $800 million has pushed every single other artist in the entirety of the country genre down a notch on that chart, including women and Black women who have devoted their lives to making country, and are fighting for every opportunity to find any sort of mainstream traction.

The country industry is complicit in how it is so difficult for women to find the support they need to launch sustainable careers, let alone successful ones. But since the beginning of the genre, this issue has been exacerbated when stars from other genres come in with established name recognition, release music that is questionable if it’s truly country, and take large sums of attention, radio spins, and awards away from country’s homegrown performers.

This is why Beyoncé’s immediate #1 with “Texas Hold ‘Em” feels virtually meaningless. Only when a Black woman who started in country can achive a similar goal through her own voilition should we really celebrate such an achievement. For now, Beyoncé is just another global superstar superseeding artists who’ve been working for years for this recognition.

READ: Beyoncé Songs Spur False Claims Country Music Erased its Black History

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