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Junior outfielder Dan Tauken hits the ball.
PHOTOS: Baseball drops midweek game to SEMO
Rebeca Mertins Chiodini, Photo Editor • April 18, 2024

After coming off a winning weekend away, the Murray State Baseball team lost in what started as a close battle in their midweek match up...

Beyoncés newest studio album Cowboy Carter brings discussions on what should be deemed country.
The News Reviews: 'Cowboy Carter' by Beyoncé
Ben Overby, Staff Writer • April 18, 2024

Beyoncé’s divisive new album “Cowboy Carter” is an uneven yet satisfying odyssey through the scope of American music. I wrote a previous...

Review: Beyoncé’s Gone Country

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Beyoncé releases singles with country influence. Photo by Jen Keys.

Beyoncé, one of the most iconic modern pop stars, has announced that her next project is an album incorporating elements of country music and has released two new singles. Unsurprisingly, disparate reactions of both overwhelming enthusiasm and mass hysteria have followed.

The less interesting half of this dichotomy is the enthusiasm led by Beyoncé’s notoriously loyal fanbase, the BeyHive. Of course, a great many people are excited at the news of a new album from one of the most popular artists in the world. It would be silly to begrudge them this, and I’ve seen a lot of fans who are specifically excited to hear her take on a new genre. Many are already trying to become more familiar with the country genre after the announcement.

The more fascinating side is those deeply offended at the concept of a Beyoncé country album. I should start by saying that I’m as grumpy and opinionated about country music as anyone. I completely understand the knee-jerk reaction to take issue with a pop artist encroaching on the country genre. However, I think it’s important to judge these initial releases, “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” AND “16 CARRIAGES,” as what they are: pop country.

Most country fans have their own personal definition of what “real country” is. Generation after generation, the genre has been supposedly “ruined” by new artists straying from its roots. The outlaw artists who are often touted as the gold standard of the genre today certainly weren’t sticking to tradition by infusing their music with rock ’n’ roll. 

This isn’t to say you have to approve of the country music currently filling the charts. I certainly don’t. However, it’s important to recognize that the genre is always evolving, and any attempt to define “real country” is futile.

Country radio is already filled with songs incorporating elements of pop and hip-hop music. Though not exactly my taste, one of the better and most popular pop country artists, Jelly Roll, spent years as a rapper before transitioning to country music. The idea that an artist with a background in pop, R&B and hip-hop music is somehow a step too far is absurd. Not to mention Beyoncé is from Texas, the birthplace of many, if not most, of the best country songwriters and artists.

The songs themselves are fine. “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” is an undeniably catchy dance song that has been stuck in my head all week. It has been the candidate for possible country radio play so far, and therefore, the greatest recipient of “that’s not country” backlash. The track features banjo played by the supremely talented Rhiannon Giddens, a woman who knows a thing or two about country music. There’s not a lot going on in terms of lyrical depth, but I don’t feel that the song is aiming for it. 

So is it country? I can only say it sounds as country as most of the songs played on country radio. That’s not a high bar, but with some of the reactions I’ve witnessed online, you’d think the song had no resemblance to the genre. Sure, the song has heavy elements of pop and R&B as well, but I can’t help but compare it to the #4 song on the country charts as of last week, Morgan Wallen’s “Thinkin’ About Me.” The entire song is backed by an 808 drum beat, a staple of hip-hop music. While I have no way of proving it, I doubt that everyone who takes issue with Beyoncé’s song feels the same way about Wallen’s.

As for the second song, “16 CARRIAGES,” there is much more going on lyrically. One of the key components of country music is storytelling, which many people have pointed out is not a strong suit of the previous track. This song fills that role much better, with Beyoncé essentially relaying the story of her life as a performer and the sacrifices that go along with it. 

Is it country? I’ll admit I’m more reluctant to say so with this song. If I were to categorize its genre, I would be more inclined to call it R&B based on both instrumentation and delivery. The most country element seems to be the imagery of carriages. As far as I know, no country station has played the song yet, and I’m unsure if Beyoncé is even wanting to classify “16 CARRIAGES” as a country song. It’s important to remember that the conversation about how country these songs are has been the speculation of music fans so far, not the artist herself.

Unfortunately, undertones of racism and political resentment come into play as well. While it’s perfectly reasonable to dislike these songs, there is a level of vitriol behind some of the pushback that goes beyond a rational reaction to music that’s not your taste. 

Neither of these songs are my ideal country music, but they’re far from the worst examples of it I’ve heard. I simply can’t get behind the idea that this album is going to push country music any further toward pop and hip-hop than it has already been pushed in recent years. Anyone who wants country music without those influences should have little investment in what gets played on country radio.

Beyoncé’s (possibly) country album, currently untitled but referred to as “Act II,” will be released on March 29.

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Ben Overby, Staff Writer

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