Is Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” Album Country?

by Mar 31, 2024Featured, Music, Reviews

Beyoncé just released a new album, and the country world is having a fit.

Why does the country music industry have their panties all in a bunch over Beyoncé’s new album Cowboy Carter?

Is it because Beyoncé’s new album begs the question: How do you actually define “country” music?

In fact, what elements differentiate any genre of music? Is it the Instrumentation? Lyrics? Rhythms? Target audience?

Can you simply use phrases like “giddy up”, “everything is bigger in Texas”, and “bang-bang” – and call it a country album? Or ride a horse side-saddled while waving a flag on your album cover?

Probably. (It certainly doesn’t hurt.)

Decades ago, we thought all country songs were about losing your wife, losing your dog, and losing your truck. More recently, it seems country music is all about red solo cups, drinking in a field in the Summer, pounding Budweisers and whiskey, and God Bless America.

I mean, if lyrics count, I think Beyoncé wins country with “Look at that horse – buck it.”.

I checked out Zach Bryan‘s album American Heartbreak for comparison. (With 34 songs, I figured there’s enough on there to define country for the masses).

The album references the Good Ol’ USA in the title, and the very first song mentions the Lord, family, home, praying, love, down the road, and hard times. (If you need more generic country lyrics, listen to “The Outskirts”. It sounds like Zach got “magnetic poetry for country songs” for Christmas, and this song was the result.)

Both Beyoncé and Bryan manage to include Levi jeans in their lyrics – so, I’m pretty sure Beyoncé is catching on.

Both albums also include some sweet covers (Beyoncé’s “Blackbird” and Bryan’s “You Are My Sunshine”). Both include a song that’s a nod to our parents’ “oldies” music. So, maybe there’s a pattern.

Just to be clear – I enjoy a fair amount of Zach Bryan’s American Heartbreak album. I think it defines the more modern direction of country music, which seems to be steering away from the god-awful pop country that has taken over for the last 10+ years. (Goodbye, Shania!). But one can take only so many songs about whiskey, field parties, Uncle Sam, and the good ol’ boys.

And did I mention that there are 34 songs on this album?

The rest of Bryan’s album is a mix of slow songs and danceable songs. Heck, there’s even a little good old rock ‘n roll.

I tried to imagine his voice – a bit husky with a defined southern accent – replaced by a strong female voice with an operatic range of oohs and aahs. That was actually pretty easy.

You can see how Beyoncé found the nerve to think she could produce a country album.

What seemed to be some main differences in the two albums are:

1) Beyoncé’s Vocals. There’s not a twang of country in her voice. Is that necessary?
I’ve always found it odd that seemingly every country singer happens to sound like they are from the deep South.

2) The Instruments.
Some songs are slightly acoustic. Some songs are more synthesized. Some songs lean heavier on the drums and keys.
But there isn’t the stereotypical country acoustic sound present throughout the album.

(And, we must ask ourselves, haven’t the country music standards veered away from this over the years, too?)

3) The Lyrics. Sure, Beyoncé works in her fair share of typical country references, especially boots and even a Dosey-Doe. But it’s not like she just said “All I have to do is change my lyrics to praise God, family, and America and I’ve got a country album”. That is not what she did. (Thank the good Lord.)

4) And then there’s Spaghetti. Here’s where Shaboozey comes in. I would most definitely say this song isn’t Country. But seeing as the song begins by saying “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? Yes, they are. In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined” – I think that was kind of the point.

I keep coming back to why the country music fans and radio stations (and apparently the CMAs) are making such a stink.

After all, (bad) country pop has been endorsed by them for many years now. It’s why Sturgill Simpson busked outside of the CMA Awards in 2017.  Because he thought the Country Music Association had lost their Country heart. (Has anyone asked Sturgill what he thinks about Beyoncé’s country album? Maybe we can get an interview.)

Beyoncé Isn’t the First Singer to Jump Genres

Was there the same stink when Post Malone sang country? How about when Miley Cyrus crosses over?
I mean, Darrius Rucker went 100% country and the pop world wasn’t like “You traitor!!!”

Why didn’t we care as much when Taylor Swift went from country to pop as we did when Beyoncé went from pop to country? Did Taylor change her music – or just her marketing? Did her agents tell her “Money is in the mainstream, Tay Tay”? (Smart.)

It seems some standards aren’t always enforced within the (un)defined music genres.

The bottom line: I don’t know if this album is country. I don’t think it actually matters. And I don’t actually care.

But, I will say, it is a damn good album. Each song has its own style that flows seamlessly into the next.
She invites Dolly Parton, Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, Willie Nelson,  and whoever the hell Shaboozey is to be a part of her first country venture. (Smart.)
She sings a version of “Jolene” that I don’t hate. Her harmonies and vocals are elegant. Her lyrics are powerful.

So, would I call this album country? It’s a little country, a little pop, a little dance club hits. It’s all Beyoncé.

I guess at the end of the day, I respect people who ruffle the feathers of people who seem to think they can tell people they don’t belong somewhere.
Life’s too short to try to fit into someone else’s mold.

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