New Music Monday – Cowboy Carter

By: Rachel Mattingly

Beyoncé surprised many with the release of “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” given her sudden genre-shift to country music. After releasing the entire album Cowboy Carter this weekend, the shift doesn’t seem so jarring to me. It differs greatly from Renaissance, but still features some electronic instruments and dance songs. Her covers were the most surprising part of the album to me and how she adapted them while paying homage to the original. And genre-bending seemed to be part of her mission with this release. “Spaghetii” begins with a questioning of genres themselves, and then outright states that “in practice, well, some may feel confined.” And truly, the genre seems like the least important aspect of such a tremendous piece of art.

The album consists of a staggering 27 tracks. Although some of these are transition songs, lasting 30 to 50 seconds, the entire album is a 79-minute listen. The number of different and unique songs contributes to the theme of genre defiance. It feels like she included all the ideas she wanted to despite the fact that they might not fall in the same category of a country, R&B, or pop song. And the album’s cohesion is proof of the fact that it didn’t matter. In addition to adding a range of different sounds and emotions, she also worked with many other artists to create Cowboy Carter. Notably, she worked with four other black female artists for her rendition of “Blackbird,” Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, both famous country icons, are also featured on the album. Some others are Miley Cyrus, Shaboozey, and Post Malone. Each artist brings something different to the album, and they blend wonderfully alongside the beauty of Beyoncé’s voice. It could easily feel eclectic and chaotic with this mixture of styles and ideas, but each song fits into the album without feeling forced. 

I don’t think talent alone would be enough to accomplish this feat. As with all her music, Beyoncé’s confidence and musical persona is owed the majority of credit for the album’s success. The best example of this in the album is her adaptation of Dolly Parton’s 1973 hit, “Jolene.” Whereas the original features beseeching lyrics from Dolly, begging Jolene not to steal her man, Beyoncé’s version takes a different tact. She asserts herself over Jolene, daring her to try. I thought this was an interesting take, but my favorite part of the song is where it deviates even further from the original, with a choric verse at the end. It is a necessary part of the song, because it expands on the beauty of the original in a new way. If the song were only a self-assured re-imagining of the original, it might have come off as a bit condescending. But with the addition of the choric verse it transitions far enough away from Dolly’s song to avoid this. And if Beyoncé were a less confident artist she might not have added a completely different part like this at the end of such an iconic song, and the music would have suffered. 

There are so many beautiful songs on this album, but my favorite by far is “Daughter.” It’s melancholic, vulnerable, and gives the listener a sense of self-doubt that, while present in Beyoncé’s music, is sometimes harder to find. Something that shocked me was her transition into an operatic voice halfway through the song. It was a beautiful addition to an already aching song and showed me an aspect of her voice I hadn’t seen before. 

Cowboy Carter is a triumph. As opposed to a blend of musical styles it is a mosaic, with common threads to follow. I saw many people online saying that it’s not a country album, but a Beyoncé album and I couldn’t agree more. She truly has a unique sound and personality that makes her music recognizable, regardless of the medium. I could not recommend it more.