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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

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Anticipating ‘Cowboy Carter’: Country music and exclusion

When superstars like Beyoncé announce an album, the world stops. But ahead of her eighth solo studio album, “Cowboy Carter,” even as the hitmaker has alluded to collaborations with icons like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, the country genre has at large seemed to tune her out. 

This isn’t because country music neglects to acknowledge newer artists, or because the genre isn’t dynamic. Artists like Taylor Swift and Jelly Roll find themselves welcomed into these spaces and encouraged to reimagine themselves and their sounds within the bounds of the genre. This reality, where square dancing is romanticized whilst the legacy and traditions of American freedom are preached, exists to box out Black artists and shift groans of frustration into the beats of one of our country’s most distinct sounds.

Issues regarding inclusion for genres they founded aren’t just an issue for Black artists generally, but especially for Black women and their goals of entering the country scene. Aware of this reality, Beyoncé has made an explicit effort to be seen in the traditional Americana imagery of the genre’s roots. She isn’t just assimiliating, however; she maintains a critical lens of the genre, assuring country loyalists that they need not worry about what will happen to their genre: “This isn’t a country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.” The album, according to Beyoncé, was born out of a negative experience she had multiple years ago where she knew she was unwelcome in country. Speculators have taken this as referencing her blacklisted 2016 CMA’s performance of “Daddy Lessons” with The Chicks, which elicited uproar from the country world, causing the video to be taken down from the award show’s YouTube channel and online platforms, despite it being the highest viewed performance and segment in the show’s history.

In response to this, Beyoncé went to learn the origins of country music, especially in relation to Black Americans, and the uphill battle that has existed ever since to recognize them on the roads they’ve paved. Seemingly ready for this journey, we are reintroduced to Beyoncé on the album cover of “Cowboy Carter” as she rides a Lipizzan horse into battle. This horse breed was unknown to most outside of the equestrian world, but it is recognizable for its coat, which is dark at birth, but continually gets lighter as the horse ages and gets closer to death.

Whether Beyoncé is signifying that the genre is dying, this album will certainly signify a rebirth for herself while creating an opportunity for country artists and listeners alike to embark on an evolution. Past wrongs can be corrected and the sound of country can foster a home for all Americans, regardless of skin color or racial background, which Beyoncé says is a major goal of the forthcoming project.

Whatever lies ahead on your journey, Cowboy Carter, we tip our hats to you and raise our ears to hear your message.