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“COWBOY CARTER” is proof that Beyoncé really can do anything

The album is a tour de force of blended genres and flawless lyricism

<p>Though the album is clearly based most strongly in country music, she flawlessly transitions from country to pop to rock to opera and beyond, showing a distinct versatility.&nbsp;</p>

Though the album is clearly based most strongly in country music, she flawlessly transitions from country to pop to rock to opera and beyond, showing a distinct versatility. 

Following the release of lead hit singles “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES,” the world was awaiting the release of “COWBOY CARTER” — Beyoncé’s eighth studio album — with bated breath. It seemed that the album would mark a distinct shift to country music, breaking from much of Beyoncé’s previous discography, which has included genres such as R&B, pop and house music. 

A 27 track, multi-genre album, “COWBOY CARTER” is a fully fleshed-out masterpiece from beginning to end. With star-studded features, flawless harmonies, perfectly placed samples and — as always — incredibly impressive vocals from “Queen B” herself. The second act of the three-album series that began with 2022’s “Renaissance,” this album pulled no punches.

The mantra for this album is made clear on the album’s twelfth track, “SPAGHETTII” — a rap-country blend featuring Shaboozey. During this song, country artist Linda Martell can be heard expressing that “some may feel confined” by the concept of genres, and that confinement is exactly what Beyoncé breaks free from within this album. 

Though the album is clearly based most strongly in country music, Beyoncé flawlessly transitions from country in “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM,” to pop in “BODYGUARD,” to rock in “YA YA” and then to opera in “DAUGHTER,” showing a distinct versatility. Her use of genre to break barriers expresses Beyonce’s refusal to be limited to what society may think she should be doing. The singer declared this idea herself in a March 19 Instagram post, writing to fans, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.”

“COWBOY CARTER” begins on an incredibly compelling note with “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” a song full of beautiful harmonies and religious references with lyrics like “They don’t, don’t know how hard I had to fight for this / When I sang my song / When I sang the song of Abraham.” The song possesses an ethereal quality that shifts between genres, hooking listeners from the start by giving a clear taste of the genre-blending beauty of what is to come.

“BLACKBIIRD” and “JOLENE” — two covers on the album — are songs that gained significant buzz after the reveal of the tracklist a few days prior to the album’s release. The buzz was well justified, as both songs acted as perfect additions to “COWBOY CARTER.” Beyoncé found a way to transform the beloved originals into songs that sound like she wrote them while simultaneously staying true to the aspects of the songs that made them so famous to begin with.

There is no way to describe “BLACKBIIRD” other than simply beautiful. A comparatively more stripped-back song on this album, the acoustic guitar and pitch-perfect harmonies are a gorgeous addition to the timeless classic. Joined by four Black female country singers Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts, the song was an ode to Black women in country music, who have often been silenced in the industry. After the release of the album, Kennedy took to Instagram to write about her feature. In the post, she wrote that the album would “not only change the future of country music but music as a whole,” expressing the revolutionary aspects of not only this specific track, but “COWBOY CARTER” in its entirety.

Like “BLACKBIIRD,” Beyoncé’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” also did not disappoint. Preceded by an interlude entitled “DOLLY P” — where Parton herself addresses the similarities between the titular Jolene and the infamous “Becky with the good hair” that Beyoncé references on her 2016 smash hit album “Lemonade” — the lyrical changes in Beyoncé’s rendition of “Jolene” shifts the energy of the song a great deal. While the original song has a pleading undertone, with Parton begging Jolene not to steal her man, Beyoncé is not asking for anything here. Rather, she is telling Jolene not to test her patience.

As Beyoncé sings, “I can easily understand / Why you’re attracted to my man / But you don’t want this smoke, so shoot your shot with someone else,” fans will recognize that Beyoncé is speaking about the infamous scandal in which Jay-Z cheated on her in 2013, prior to the release of “Lemonade” in 2016. Each new lyric in Beyoncé’s version is infused with so much power that it changes the emotion of the song completely, though it stays true to the ever-so-iconic rhythm of the original track.

Similarly to “JOLENE,” the album’s eleventh track entitled “DAUGHTER” also harkens back to one of the subjects explored on “Lemonade” – Beyoncé’s relationship with her estranged father. One of the most notable aspects of the song is the complete switch-up in the bridge, where Beyoncé flawlessly transitions into a cut from an Italian opera entitled “Caro Mio Ben.” The juxtaposition of the flowing operatic tones with the soul-baring lyrics creates an emotional country ballad that is sure to stun listeners.

“II MOST WANTED” is another standout from the album. This duet with Miley Cyrus — who grew up around the influence of country music — is all about finding true love and not wanting to wait too long to experience every aspect of it. As the duo belts out “I’ll be your shotgun rider til’ the day I die,”  their distinctly different voices and tones blend together so seamlessly.

On the more upbeat end of the spectrum, “BODYGUARD” and “RIIVERDANCE” are some more exceptional facets of this album that balance out the slower, more emotional and tender ballads — such as “PROTECTOR” and “MY ROSE” — quite well.

In “BODYGUARD,” Beyoncé sings about a deep and passionate love and her desire to protect her partner with all she has. Sonically, it is more of a divergence from some of the more country-sounding songs on the album, but it certainly doesn’t feel out of place with the strumming of an acoustic guitar underscoring the sentimental lyrics.

“RIVERDANCE” is another genre-blending piece about passion. Co-written by Beyoncé and RAYE — singer of the hit song “Escapism” — the track has a quick beat with catchy lyrics. As Beyoncé sings “I plan to steal your heart again / On Saturday and Sunday nights,” listeners can’t help but sing along. With a title referencing a classic Irish dance and lyrics where Beyoncé is literally telling listeners to move along with her, the song acts as a break from the more complex songs on the album in which listeners can take a moment to enjoy the beat and think about what they have heard thus far.

While other songs on the album can be grouped together into the categories of ballads or covers, there are a few that completely stand alone. “YA YA” is one of those songs, with samples from Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations.” Featuring snaps, drum beats and some very exciting call-and-response, “YA YA” is a crowd pleaser.

Beyond its sonically exciting qualities, “YA YA” can be understood as much more than just a fun song to listen to. From the beginning of the first verse of the song, Beyoncé makes it clear that the lyrics are conveying an incredibly important message about the wrongdoings of the American government and people. As she belts out, “Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh / History can’t be erased,” she is calling out the history of violence and bigotry that plagues the United States and ensuring that this fact will not be glossed over throughout the duration of the album. 

Throughout the song, she continues to sing about the topic of the failure of the “American Dream,” expressing that it has let people down left and right, which cannot be ignored. From referencing economic failures with lines like “Hard workin’ man ain’t got no money in the bank” to referencing the racial and gender wage gaps in lines like “Are you tired, workin’ time and a half for half the pay,” “YA YA” acts as a critique of American culture that adds to the message of the entire album.

While it would take too long to dive into every single track on this album, it would not be unfounded to say that each and every song brings something compelling to the table. “COWBOY CARTER” acts as a revolutionary take on the concept of “genre” that — in combination with Beyoncé’s stellar lyricism and incredible vocals — both surpassed expectations and broke barriers in the music industry, further distinguishing Beyoncé as an artist in a league of her own. 

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