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No, Beyoncé’s New Album Is Not Country Music

Beyonce in a cowboy hat
Image CreditBeyonce/YouTube

The labeling of an album, and thus the restraining of an artist’s musical freedom, was the exact idea Beyoncé wanted to fight.

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Since its release on April 1, Beyoncé’s newest album, “Cowboy Carter,” has ignited debates, questions, and skepticism about the country music genre and its future. In this 27-track album, Beyoncé explores her Texas roots, delighting fans with blends of country, folk, Americana, and hip-hop styles.

This cavalier approach to sound and style has performed well on the Billboard charts, with Beyoncé topping 18 different lists, including Top Country Album and Hot Country Song. Yet the discussion surrounding the album has mainly centered on its genre. Is “Cowboy Carter” — and Beyoncé, for that matter — considered country music?

For that answer, we need to understand the context surrounding the album’s release and examine the content within.

‘Born Out of an Experience’

Beyoncé’s fifth studio album was first announced on a Verizon commercial aired during the 2024 Super Bowl. In an attempt to “break the internet,” Beyoncé announced her new country album, complete with billboards of her wearing a cowboy hat and boots.

The album’s first single, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” is a song meant for line dancing in sticky-floored bars. Complete with whistles, hand claps, and talks of tornadoes and liquor, this single immediately topped the country charts and paved the way for a true country album.

In an Instagram post announcing the larger work, Beyoncé revealed the album’s origin was from a poor and unwelcoming experience she had with country music and its fans.

“It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed,” Beyoncé wrote. “The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me.”

Fans and critics speculate the unwelcoming experience refers to Beyoncé’s performance at the Country Music Awards in 2016 with The Chicks. “Daddy Lessons,” found on her album “Lemonade,” is considered Beyoncé’s first country song. Her performance was met with lots of criticism on social media, specifically Twitter, where some country music fans spouted off opinions about why she didn’t fit in with their ideals or their music.

Due to Beyoncé’s rocky history with country music, this work could be considered a revenge album, or proof that she can belong in any and all spheres as a true artist. Just as Taylor Swift has spoiled NFL broadcastings, so has Beyoncé permeated into a genre no one expected.

Something Other than Country

Putting the history aside, “Cowboy Carter” as a larger work did not meet the expectations of a country album. In fact, it strays far from the traditional and modern styles of country music — from Shania Twain to Morgan Wallen, this album simply seems mislabeled.

But the labeling of an album, and thus the restraining of an artist’s musical freedom, was the exact idea Beyoncé wanted to fight. This is stated quite clearly in the introduction to “Spaghettii,” a country-rap fusion song featuring Linda Martell and Shaboozy.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” Linda Martell asks. “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

The combatting of genres, as well as the lack of African-American representation in the country music sphere, is one of the main purposes of this album. And with that lens, this work does its duty remarkably well.

Not only does “Cowboy Carter” carry the weight of Beyoncé’s name and influence, but it also features country legends such as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Linda Martell. Boasting this impressive lineup, Beyoncé was almost urging the audience, especially country music lovers, to say her album wasn’t good or country enough. And while some country enthusiasts might have tuned in for the sake of pessimism about the state of country music today, these heavyweights gave most people pause before writing off the album as another work of pop music.

Beyoncé took her own influence, and that of the country powerhouses on the album, to highlight a group she believes to be underrepresented: black country artists. On her rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” ​​Beyoncé partnered with four other female black country artists: Tanner Addell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. She shared her platform with up-and-coming male country performers like Shaboozey and Willie Jones.

According to Spotify, these artists’ streams increased thousands of times over since “Cowboy Carter” was released, with Kennedy’s catalog streams rising over 40,000 percent.

While featuring new country talent, this album still stayed true to Beyoncé’s gospel and blues roots, with the majority of songs on “Country Carter” applying country elements — banjos, vulnerable lyrics, and simple production — to the choir-like harmonies and strong, rhythmic beats. One of the reasons it’s hard to label Beyoncé or this album as country is because of its complex layering of styles and influences that go far beyond the sounds of mainstream country.

Pushing the Boundaries of Popular Music

“YA YA” is one of the best examples of this inventive style of song. Sampling “These Boots Are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra and “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys in the same song is already a feat of its own, but the seamless combination of country, rock, and rap rhythms and styles created a listening experience unlike any other.

The song opens with dialogue between Beyoncé and her backup singers, reminiscent of the show “American Bandstand” with its snapping and staticky sound. Yet as the song begins, the synthesized horns and strong drum line collide with the 1950s style with combative lyrics about the United States’ history.

“Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh. History can’t be erased,” Beyoncé sings.

Using “Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys as a transition into a breakdown, Beyoncé then switches from American history to the suggestive, seductive lyrics that have defined her music for decades.

The song plays with delicate harmonies and impressive vocal runs showcasing Beyoncé’s talent. Ending with a strong electric guitar, “YA YA” immediately leads into a sampling of “Oh Louisiana” by rock and roll pioneer Chuck Berry.

This transition is a small snapshot of the intricacies and intentionality that went into every introduction, outro, and melding of sounds. This attention to detail has defined Beyoncé’s previous albums and performances, usually in the form of lyricism and production, but was used on “Cowboy Carter” to push the boundaries of popular music.

Finding its roots in blues and hip-hop, “Cowboy Carter” is not a country album, and the majority of its contents are not country songs. Adding a shaker or an acoustic guitar to hip-hop beats does not make something country. While there are moments or melodies that feel authentically country, they are immediately replaced by pop, R&B, and gospel inspirations, leaving no song to fit perfectly into one genre — or one Billboard chart.

So while the album, and most of its individual songs, cannot be labeled as country music, neither can they quite fit into pop or hip-hop spheres either. When describing this album, Beyoncé said it best herself.

“This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album,” she wrote on her Instagram.  

Beyoncé found the similarities in sounds among a collection of genres and created an album with a playful, inventive sound that stands out from the crowd. Beyoncé’s work on “Cowboy Carter” revealed her roots, influences, and inspirations in a way that inspired discussion and disagreement. But regardless of one’s opinion on what the album is and isn’t, her creativity led to a thoughtful consumption of a work of music, which is rare.


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