Beyoncé Going Country Is Already Causing All This Conversation

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images/The Recording Academy.
In the lead-up to her highly anticipated Act II album, Cowboy Carter (out on March 29) —a countrified continuation of her culture-shifting three-act project, which began with 2022’s Renaissance— Beyoncé reflected on her formal country debut via a lengthy Instagram caption, part of which seemingly nodded to the icy reception she infamously received at the 2016 Country Music Awards. “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,” wrote the Grammy-winning legend. Along with her statement, Beyoncé dropped the Cowboy Carter cover art, a polarizing image that finds her sitting atop a white stallion in full red, white, and blue western gear while holding up a cutoff American flag, the Texas native’s way of honoring rodeo queen tradition and her Southern roots. Both announcements immediately set the internet ablaze (for different reasons). However, the singer’s harrowing CMAs revelation echoed a sentiment Black country artists have been vocal about for years now, especially as of late. The feeling of being unwanted in their domain, one built with their ancestors' musical innovation and traditions born from popular music of the South. 
“This is a common occurrence for a lot of Black people who try to exist/participate in the country music space,” Tanner Davenport, co-director of Black Opry, a music collective for Black artists, fans, and industry professionals working in country, Americana, blues, and folk music, tells Unbothered. “I think we all can look back at 2016 and know what event Beyoncé may be referencing in not being welcomed,” adds the longtime country music fan. “These are the same limitations that she references in her post, not being felt welcomed in the spaces, finding very little to no support from the mainstream world, and finding little to zero Black acts/artists added to country music festivals.”
Nearly eight years ago, on November 2, 2016, Beyoncé exposed the country music industry’s true colors. At the 50th annual Country Music Awards in Nashville, TN, she and The Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks) tore the house down with a foot-stomping performance of the icon’s twangy Lemonade cut “Daddy Lessons.” Some of the crowd at the Bridgestone Arena couldn’t help but clap their hands and rise to their feet as the legendary acts onstage made an electrifying spectacle of the country track. However, others in attendance, and even some disgruntled conservative viewers at home, argued that Beyoncé, a Houston-bred, traditionally viewed Black R&B/pop artist, had no place at the country music ceremony (Country artist Alan Jackson reportedly walked out on the performance mid-way because he allegedly said he didn’t support pop singers being highlighted in the genre). 
Photo: Image Group LA/Disney General Entertainment Content/Getty Images.
Beyonce performing with The Chicks at the 2016 CMAs
Hours before the CMAs broadcast, an impromptu announcement said Beyoncé would be performing, igniting a wave of racist #BoycottCMA tweets on X (formerly Twitter) from those in opposition. Davenport, a Nashville native who attended the show that night, recalled on X, “I’ll never forget when a woman in front of me yelled ‘Get that Black bi**h off the stage!’” After grumbling remarks during the awards, a flood of reports noted that the Country Music Association appeared to have taken down any references to Beyoncé and the Chicks’ performance on their social media accounts and website, with some viewers complaining that they couldn’t find a video of it anywhere online, despite it being the most talked-about moment of the night. At the time, some believed the organization bent to the will of those upset by Beyoncé’s presence at the awards (since an official video still can’t be found on their website or YouTube). However, it later released a statement denying such claims. Still, that didn’t quiet the territorial comments from white self-proclaimed country fans who questioned why the singer would dare intrude on their culture— a culture that she and past and present Black artists have contributed to.
The negative uproar made a loud statement about the lack of amplification of Black artists in country music. More than that, it uncovered the cruel side of the genre that’s continuously snubbed its Black origins in banjo-playing enslaved Africans. Rather than celebrate the diversity of such a stellar moment during “Country’s Biggest Night,” Beyoncé’s official introduction into the space was ultimately soiled by racists and close-minded people who couldn’t fathom seeing a Southern Black woman from Texas take up space where they thought she didn’t belong. Perhaps because she tainted the whitewashed image of the “good ol’ boys’ club.” Unfortunately for them, it’s a moment she never forgot.
The resistance to Beyoncé’s country music foray has revived an age-old narrative in which some people seem to have forgotten that the genre, dubbed “hillbilly music,” actually has very Black roots tracing back to 17th-century slave ships. Much credit is also given to Black 20th-century pioneers like guitarists Lesley Riddle and Rufus “Tee Tot” Payne, whose influences helped country acts like The Carter Family and Hank Williams, respectively, shape the genre. However, for far too long, gatekeepers of the music industry have tried to convince the world otherwise, yet still exploiting the styles, sounds, and stories coined by Black creators. “I think it’s more than just an image of country music — it’s been sold as the story of country music,” singer-songwriter Yola told Rolling Stone in 2020. “This myth that won’t die of it being ‘the white man’s blues’ is both a good origin story and kind of erases a lot of what else went into making that origin.”

What Beyoncé is telling through her album cover art is a story as old as time, as old as this country... what better platform to tell that story through than country music?

Taylor Crumpton
That fable briefly resurfaced in February, shortly after Beyoncé surprise dropped her country singles “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” on Super Bowl Sunday. Initially, Oklahoma country station KYKC refused a fan’s request to play one of the singer’s songs with an email that boldly stated, “We do not play Beyonce' [sic] on KYKC as we are a country music station.” One user quote-tweeted a screenshot of the statement on X, simply writing, “It begins,” of Beyoncé’s expected exclusion from country— both a callback to her CMAs appearance and the long history of Black country artists being ostracized from certain spaces. Her music joined the rotation not long after fans' outcry. However, the viral controversy harkens to every other instance when Black artists aren’t first recognized without some pushback, a tale as old as time. But Beyoncé thrives in the face of adversity. She didn’t let her perceived lack of connection to country discourage her from staking a claim in it. Instead, she turned condemnation into motivation to plot her vengeance, Cowboy Carter— a courageous declaration that says she has every right to make and dominate country music.
“The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me,” Beyoncé proclaimed in her Instagram post. Her No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, “Texas Hold ‘Em”—a historic first for a Black woman artist— proves she strives to barrel past any obstacles amid her country era. That resolve also illuminated the reasoning behind her striking album cover, which divided social media over its controversial use of the American flag.
“How in the fuck do you ‘reclaim the American flag,’” one X user wrote to those arguing that Bey’s symbolism signals Black America’s reclamation of country music (and in response to those who claim Queen Bey purposely cut the flag’s famous stars off to symbolize an implied critique of its meaning). Understandably, any Black artist hoisting a flag that historically represents injustice and brutality — especially for an imperialist country with a flawed national identity that is currently participating in multiple wars in the name of said flag — sparks heavy debate. In the case of Beyoncé, the American iconography seems antithetical to her step to reclaim history and her motif of radical Blackness. Yet, the singer’s complete reference to Black Southern culture also serves as a powerful homage to the ancestors who built this country and this culture but were never truly honored for it. We can hold multiple truths at the same time. 
"What Beyoncé is telling through her album cover art is a story as old as time, as old as this country,” says Dallas music, pop culture, and politics journalist Taylor Crumpton. “Despite being the workforce, the reason why the United States was able to become an economic success, the descendants of those who are responsible for its wealth and momentum impact are denied or exempt from any type of participation in the culture that they built. It is the complexity of being an African-American. And what better platform to tell that story through than country music?" 
Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images/Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Mickey Guyton
Years of researching the genre’s history, studying its musical archive, and teaming up with a band of respected country collaborators —coupled with her Houston upbringing— has culminated in Beyoncé’s latest creation, her acting as a catalyst for change to help push Black artists to the forefront of the Yeehaw agenda they’ve made strides in for years. In activating her calculated vision (sweet revenge against those who rejected her), the superstar continued the work of Black women country leaders like Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer, who have consistently represented the folks taking back their rightful place in the genre. “This release and [Beyoncé’s] statement have [shown], first and foremost, how important it is to be given space, but also take up space in this genre even when those in charge have decided you are not deserving,” says Stephanie Jacques, a Nashville-based indie country singer-songwriter. “If Beyoncé felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in this space, imagine how so many of us Black and minority country artists and fans have been feeling. What this does is bring awareness and a light to the genre that wasn’t made for one type of person, but [a place] where our stories should be equally welcomed.” 
Thanks to the Beyoncé effect, the country music industry is experiencing an awakening of Black artists’ collective contributions to it. So far, the pinnacle moment has increased listenership for country music, boosting the streams of several other Black female artists, like Guyton, Tanner Adell, and Reyna Roberts. Next, the hope is that her new album will eliminate the limitations and racist structure of mainstream country radio and finally give all Black country artists the platform they’re owed. “Although these are the ongoing realities of our community,” says Davenport, “we are hopeful that with the recent increase in visibility on various Black country artists (like The Kentucky Gentlemen, Denitia, Julie Williams, Aaron Vance, Roberta Lea, Tylar Bryant, [etc.]) that expectations will finally begin to be met by many institutions that have claimed to be celebrating this moment that Beyoncé is giving the world right now.” 
The daring act of turning a discrediting experience into a watershed moment for country music exemplifies Beyoncé’s role as a ruthless cultural innovator. Pushing creative boundaries in the face of naysayers is what she does best, proving time and time again that she’s no one to play with. Beyoncé’s CMAs critics may have thought they shut her down, but her fearless response years later will carry forth for generations to come. She was served lemons, but she made country-ass lemonade.

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