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At the time of writing, Beyoncé has just dropped one of the biggest albums of 2024, ‘Cowboy Carter’. You can’t scroll Instagram without seeing a post about it, or open up Spotify without being offered to stream it. Without doubt, the album is one of the biggest talking points in music for a while. Why? Because Beyoncé has officially ‘gone country’…

‘Cowboy Carter’ – led by the hit single ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ – appears as the second act in what we’re promised will be a trilogy of albums that started with 2022’s exploration of house music, ‘Renaissance’. I’m the first to admit that I was incredibly excited for the new album.
Since breaking through with Destiny’s Child and subsequently breaking out into a wildly successful solo career, Beyoncé has always done interesting things with pop music.

In ‘Crazy In Love’ she gave us one of the noughties’ defining tracks. Then came her alter-ego, Sasha Fierce, solidifying her pop-star status with three hit singles, including ‘Halo’, ‘If I Were a Boy’ and the idiosyncratic ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ – no doubt still the soundtrack to countless hen dos and girls’ nights out. Then, following her critically acclaimed self-titled 2013 album, came what may still go down as her magnum opus: ‘Lemonade’ (in 2016).

On the surface, ‘Lemonade’ was all about the infidelity of her husband Jay-Z. But it was also a politically charged album, exploring the role of black women in American history and causing controversy with its lead single ‘Formation’ and a Black Panther-inspired show at the Super Bowl.

However, a different, country-tinged track from the album, ‘Daddy Lessons’, would give the singer a rare opportunity to get her music in front of a mainstream country audience.

Despite being deemed ‘ineligible’ for any country awards by the Grammys, the Country Music Awards – the mouthpiece for Nashville’s conservative establishment – unexpectedly embraced ‘Daddy Lessons’. It was an undeniably great country song, and they invited Beyoncé to perform it at the 2016 CMAs. Backed by a New Orleans brass band, she took to the stage alongside country-trio The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), who had been ousted from Nashville years earlier for being ‘unpatriotic’ and critical of the Bush administration. The performance caused a polarised reaction from the crowd. Uber-traditionalist Alan Jackson – a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame – walked out. Meanwhile, the stadium-filling hit-machine Garth Brooks was quoted as saying, “I love that it was all feminine raw power.” Talk about dividing the room.

As music writer Marissa R. Moss points out in the book ‘Her Country’, “It wasn’t just that the Chicks were back, and it wasn’t just that there was a massive star present from outside the genre, not to mention one who was a Black woman – it also illuminated everything that can be good about country music and everything it tries to keep repressed all at once.”

When The Chicks launched into the song and Beyoncé – who let’s not forget grew up in Houston, attended rodeos as a child, and has a rich Creole heritage – shouted “Texas!”, it was not just an artistic statement but a political one. And at a time when Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign was at its height, the mostly white Nashville establishment simply wasn’t ready for a black, female popstar telling them what was or wasn’t country.

The barrage of abuse that Beyoncé received online, much of it racially motivated, showed just how backward-looking some country fans can be. As Lil Nas X also found out in 2019, you can’t just combine elements of hip-hop, R&B and country and expect to be accepted in Nashville – perhaps especially not if you’re black and gay. Even white women have grappled with the expectations and limitations of the genre. Talented but politically outspoken songwriters like Maren Morris, Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves have found mixed success, turning to more pop-adjacent audiences instead.

To understand why the likes of Beyoncé, Lil Nas X and Musgraves have all struggled to find approval, you only need to look at the state of country music in 2024. Although the CMAs has featured a more diverse range of performances since 2016, the genre (and the award-winning) is still very much dominated by stereotypical Stetson-wearing, truck-driving, beer-drinking white men.

Spearheaded by poster boy Morgan Wallen, it’s this sub-strain of country – dubbed ‘bro country’ by some – that’s driving the popularity of the genre amongst younger fans, partly via Tik Tok. A glance...

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