'Cowboy Carter': Country crossover artists laud second act of Beyoncé's album trilogy

Beyoncé has been crowned rodeo queen.

The Houston-born superstar on Friday released her eighth studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” the second act in an album trilogy conceived during the COVID-19 lockdown. The first act, 2022’s “Renaissance,” explored the forgotten Black and queer roots of house music but was not supposed to precede her genre-busting foray into country music.

For the record:

7:37 a.m. March 30, 2024An earlier version of this article included a quote that was misattributed to Dolly Parton. It has been removed.

Originally, the 42-year-old singer intended to release “Cowboy Carter” before “Renaissance.” But she switched the order because “there was too much heaviness in the world,” she said in a press release. “We wanted to dance. We deserved to dance.”

With the arrival of “Cowboy Carter,” billed as a “multi-genre nod to Americana country culture,” came a chorus of praise from traditional country and country crossover artists — including several featured on the album.

Miley Cyrus, who served as a collaborator on the guitar ballad “II Most Wanted,” expressed her admiration for the 32-time Grammy winner in an Instagram post Friday.

“I’ve loved Beyoncé since long before I had the opportunity to meet & work with her,” Cyrus wrote. “My admiration runs so much deeper now that I’ve created along side of her. Thank you Beyoncé. You’re everything & more.”

Cyrus’ Tennessee roots are most apparent in her covers of iconic country songs — including her take on her godmother Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene,” which Parton told Big Issue in 2020 had been recorded more than 400 times worldwide.

Beyoncé added one more to the mix Friday with her rendition on “Cowboy Carter,” which swaps Parton’s original lyrics pleading with Jolene for more pointed bars cautioning her: “I’m warning you, don’t come for my man,” Bey sings.

Parton, who is also featured on the album in an audio clip titled “Dolly P,” shared her reaction to the cover Friday in an Instagram post. (She hinted at Beyoncé’s potential cover in February.)

“Wow, I just heard Jolene. Beyoncé is giving that girl some trouble and she deserves it!” she wrote, signing off as “Dolly P.”

Post Malone, who appears on the flirty duet “Levii’s Jeans,” also expressed his gratitude to the singer, writing on his Instagram story, “thank you @beyonce congrats this album is beautiful!”

Malone’s debut country album is on the way, he confirmed during a Twitch livestream in November, but he has yet to announce a release date.

Beyoncé also featured several Black country artists on her emotional cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” Brittney Spencer, Tanner Adell and Tiera Kennedy were among them. Spencer — a Nashville-based musician who first garnered national attention with her viral cover of supergroup Highwomen’s “Crowded Table” in 2020 — also reflected on her part in the project in an Instagram post.

“i’ve typed and deleted at least 10 captions. i don’t hv anything clever or curated to say. i’m on a beyonce record. the album is a masterpiece. ily @beyonce,” she wrote.

Spencer’s sentiment was echoed by Reyna Roberts, another early-career country singer featured on “Blackbiird.”

“This is literally a dream come true. I will remember this day,” wrote Roberts, who also provides backing vocals on “Tyrant,” in an Instagram post.

“I am forever in AWE of you,” she added, addressing Beyoncé. “You have always been my greatest inspiration. My voice, my music, and art has all been shaped by you. Thank you for your greatness.”

Shaboozey, a Virginia-born singer and rapper best known for weaving hip-hop beats and Southern twang, paid homage to the pioneering Black country artist Linda Martell in his Instagram post about the album.

“Honored to be in the company of two historically significant black voices🖤. Love you Linda Martell, Love you Beyoncé!” he wrote. Shaboozey accompanies Martell on the song “Spaghettii” and raps on the album’s penultimate track “Sweet Honey Buckin.’”

He also thanked Beyoncé “for always being the one to step up and kick in a door when others are afraid to. Texas born & raised, worked hard for yours. You are country.”

Although Beyoncé’s list of collaborators on “Cowboy Carter” is long, former country turned pop superstar Taylor Swift is not on it. Despite widespread speculation, The Times confirmed on Friday that Swift had no part in either the song “Bodyguard” or on “Cowboy Carter” as a whole.

Beyoncé first announced the 27-track album in a Feb. 11 social media teaser, which was timed to a Super Bowl commercial featuring the singer.

After several failed attempts to break the Verizon network in the commercial, she concedes at the ad’s conclusion, “OK, they ready. Drop the new music.”

That night, she released her singles “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” confirming that “act ii” would be country-inspired. The former song made her the first Black woman to top Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart and the latter followed close behind at No. 9.

But the dual release ignited a debate among country-music connoisseurs, many of whom refused to cosign the artist’s genre pivot. Others weren’t aware she had pivoted at all. One country radio station in Oklahoma that came under fire after denying requests to play Beyoncé’s music later explained it “just didn’t know about her foray in this genre.”

Rissi Palmer, who broke a 20-year drought for a Black woman to appear on the country charts with her 2007 single “Country Girl,” came rushing to the “Texas Hold ‘Em” singer’s defense. (Dona Mason snagged a spot on the chart in 1987.)

“She’s a Houston girl. She’s just as Southern as anybody else that makes country music,” Palmer told BBC.

Beyoncé’s father Matthew Knowles, who inspired Beyoncé’s 2016 track “Daddy Lessons,” also testified to his daughter’s Southern roots, telling the BBC Asian Network that she spent many summers with her country music-loving grandparents in Alabama.

“Her grandfather — my father — loved country music, and he used to sing to her. At an early age, she heard this music,” Knowles said. “And when you’re 2, 3 years old, subconsciously music stays in your head.”

Knowles, who managed his daughter until 2011, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if those memories had inspired her new sound.

Although her rodeo getup and Americana album motifs suggest Beyoncé is carving out room for herself in the country space, lyrics from “Cowboy Carter” question the construct of genres in general.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” Martell asks in “Spaghettii,” a track Beyoncé seemingly alluded to in a March 28 Instagram post.

Martell continued: “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

Beyoncé also expressed this sentiment in a March 19 Instagram post, writing, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé album.”

In the same post, she revealed the origins of “Cowboy Carter.”

“This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t. But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive,” she said.

Given the timeline provided, fans have speculated that said “experience” refers to the rejection of her bluegrass-inspired track “Daddy Lessons” by the Recording Academy’s country music committee in 2016. The reasons for the decision were not disclosed.

Beyoncé also drew criticism for performing “Daddy Lessons” alongside the Chicks — who had previously covered the song — at the 50th Country Music Assn. Awards in 2016.

Seemingly alluding to said events, Beyoncé continued in her Instagram post, “The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me. act ii is a result of challenging myself, and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.”

The post’s comment section sees many offering emphatic support.

“They didn’t give her a seat so she built her own table!!!” one comment said.

“I think people are going to be surprised because I don’t think this music is what everyone expects,” Beyoncé said in her rare Friday press release, “but it’s the best music I’ve ever made.”

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