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The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

Beyoncé Asserts Herself as the Ultimate Musical Chameleon With Her Foray Into Country in New Album, “COWBOY CARTER”

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An Introduction to “COWBOY CARTER” from Anastasia

I have been a huge Beyoncé fan since middle school. Her sixth studio album “Lemonade” (2016) was a revelation for my 7th-grade self. An anthem of finding the light after infidelity, the album showcased the power of music; “Lemonade” itself breathes, cries, and screams in a meditation on betrayal. From her fiery fury on “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to the sexy rekindling of a fractured marriage on “All Night,” Beyoncé exhibited every emotion in the wake of Jay-Z’s infidelity. A case study of her relationship, “Lemonade” truly embraced the complexity of love (“seen your scars and kissed your crime”).

My favorite on the album, Beyoncé’s first Americana-country music record called “Daddy Lessons,” hinted at a shift towards country. The song’s pastiche of a Nashville tradition–dedicating songs to mamas and papas–sent shockwaves and broadened the scope of contemporary R&B records. Beyoncé collaborated with the Chicks (formally known as the Dixie Chicks) to remix the song. In a glorious performance, Beyoncé and the Chicks performed the song at the 2016 Country Music Awards (I happily admit that I rewatch this performance almost every week). Yet, the song’s inclusion at the awards ceremony garnered significant backlash from conservative country fans and artists alike. As Alex Abad-Santos of Vox explained, “Some of their sentiment was due to Beyoncé’s liberal-leaning politics, some of it was rooted in her perceived lack of country cred, and some of it was downright racist.” 

Eight years later, we have “COWBOY CARTER.” Released on March 29, the album abandons the case study blueprint. It raises the stakes from “Lemonade” to deliver a full-scale, generation-transcending country epic. Already breaking records, Beyoncé has become the first Black woman to debut at the top spot on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. Through experimental genre-fusion and innovative samples of both country hits and hidden gems, Beyoncé reminds us of her musical supremacy.

Amanda, Moriah, and I share our thoughts on some of the songs on the 27-track album:


With the term requiem meaning a token for remembrance, “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” is a more than appropriate prologue to set the tone for “COWBOY CARTER.” As Beyoncé sings, “Can we stand for something? / Now ain’t the time to play pretend. / Now is the time to let love in,” I believe this chorus throughout the song is a testament to the stigma around country music as a white genre, and how its true roots and history stems from Black culture in the south. Most importantly, we must remember this history. 

Throughout the song, I can’t help but notice how the song seems to have some Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” album 1970s folk rock influence with blaring overtones in the background. The rock influences do not stop here. We see some inspiration from Aerosmith singer, Steven Tyler, in Beyoncé’s nonmodal, vocal fry high notes in true “Dream On” fashion.

Accompanied by beautiful choral harmonies and an organ, “AMERICAN REQUIEM” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Beyoncé sings “the big ideas are buried here” with demanding emotion in the intro and outro verses of the song. In the context of the album, I interpret these lyrics as Beyoncé emphasizing that the biggest and greatest ideas are from those who are silenced and/or forgotten in American culture. 

“BLACKBIIRD”- Amanda’s Take

One of my two top tracks on the album, I was super excited about “BLACKBIIRD” upon the announcement it was a Beatles cover. Paul McCartney dedicated “Blackbird” to the Civil Rights movement. In particular, Little Rock Nine, the first group of Black students who integrated Arkansas schools in the 1950s, inspired the song’s message of resilience. This truly touched my heart. Covering this historic song was an AMAZING choice for the album for several reasons–let’s start with the title. 

The symbol of the blackbird has deep roots in the Black community dating back to slavery. Flight has historically been a beacon of hope for Black Americans, as enslaved Black Americans used to cling to the hope of learning to fly to free themselves from their situations. The blackbird has also been an important tool in Black storytelling, art, and music. Commonly used as a symbol for Black women, the blackbird has found itself referenced in many blues and jazz tunes, from Lonnie Johnson, to Florence Mills, to Nina Simone, the blackbird has become a symbol of the isolation felt by Black women. 

Secondly, the layered voices of Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Reyna Roberts, and Brittney Spencer–four Black female country musicians–make this song immediately even more special. Part of the power of this album is how Bey reclaims the space of country music despite the attempts of white artists to make her feel unwelcome.. The presence of five powerful Black female country singers on this track makes the symbol of the blackbird ever more relevant. 

Shifting from the symbolism, musically, this track absolutely does not disappoint. In keeping the acoustic guitar (I LOVE an acoustic guitar any day) and foot taping from McCartney’s original version, she keeps our focus on the beautiful lyrics brought to life by Beyoncé and the other fabulous contributors to the song. 

Overall, in listening to this song I picture Norman Rockwell’s painting of Ruby Bridges, and I consider how special it would have been for her to have been able to listen to “BLACKBIIRD” on her way to school that day, and to know that she was not alone, and would have felt empowered to take those broken wings, and learn to fly. Or even to my eight-year-old self seeing that painting for the first time, who, listening to this song would know that she “was only waiting for this moment to arise.”

“PROTECTOR” – Anastasia’s take

Both a heartbreaker and a heart-fixer, “PROTECTOR” is an emotional rollercoaster. Beginning with a snippet of special guest Rumi Carter (her daughter), she adorably asks, “Mom, can I hear the lullaby?” The product is a delicate, expertly crafted ode to motherhood. The song envelopes us in a gorgeous guitar melody and stripped-down vocals. Beyoncé reassures, “Even though I know someday I know you’re going to shine on your own / I will be your projector.” The imagery of the “marigold” in “a golden evening” and “an apricot picked right off a giving tree” amalgamates with the ethereal background vocals in a beautiful process of photosynthesis. As she shines a light on little Rumi, she extends a wider spotlight on the beauty of motherhood: the terrifying push-and-pull of wanting to shield your children from harm while also encouraging their independence and strength. 

I tend to be very picky about vocal runs–sometimes they distract from the meaning and cohesion of a song. However, Beyoncé’s runs in “PROTECTOR” serve an important purpose: her descending vocal riff on “hmm” is so soothing, as if her words simply cannot articulate the powerful and insurmountable love she feels for her children.

Beyond a simple meditation on her relationship with her daughters, “PROTECTOR” sees Beyoncé using the motif of genealogy with a different lens from her Lion King concept album. Titled, “The Lion King: The Gift” (2019), the album paid homage to African and Black musical traditions. In “PROTECTOR,” Beyoncé brilliantly uses the medium of country with nostalgic guitar strums to convey this same motif of ancestral collectivity. She reminds her daughters that none of them are ever alone with “a long line of hands carrying your name, lifting you up so you will be raised.” The intricate harmonies lend a hand to Beyoncé’s reassurance to compose a symphony of collectivity. 


“BODYGUARD” – Moriah’s Take

Personally, this song is going to be my Short Term anthem. It makes me want to roll my windows down in the car on the way to Range Pond. Its steady 4/4 tempo makes it easy to dance and keep a rhythm to. I greatly appreciate the instrumentation on this track, too. It starts off with a groovy guitar strumming pattern, simple piano chords, and a drumming pattern with a rattlesnake-like sound to keep the tempo, maybe a vibraslap or a güiro. At the end of the song, an electric guitar, a tambourine, as well as a fun bass line join the other instruments in euphony. “BODYGUARD” is fun, seductive, and fierce.

“JOLENE”Moriah’s Take

When I saw that this song was covered on the album, I was beyond excited. The Queen of Pop covering Jolene by the infamous Queen of Country Dolly Parton. In Beyoncé’s rendition of Jolene, her take is more assertive and full of warning telling Jolene to find another man to take, “I’m warning you don’t come for my man,” in contrast to Dolly’s original version begging Jolene to not take her man in admiration of her, “I’m begging of you please don’t take my man.” Dolly Parton introduces the song “DOLLY P” by saying, “You know that hussy with the good hair you sing about? Reminded me of someone I knew back when / Except she has flamin’ locks of auburn hair,” alluding to Beyoncé’s line “Becky with the good hair” in her 2016 hit “Sorry” from “Lemonade”.

To match her more warnful take on the song, Beyoncé sings Jolene in a lower key as well as incorporates vocal growls, and at the end of the song a male choir sings rather than a female choir. I appreciate that Beyoncé didn’t do anything crazy to alter her version of Jolene, since it truly is iconic and monumental, same thing with “BLACKBIIRD”. Depending on the situation, you now have two versions of Jolene to either cry to or strut to.

“DAUGHTER” – Moriah’s Take

This track explores the power and parallels of being the daughter of a father. Historically, there has been the assumption that daughters will be like their mothers, aka stereotypically kind, caring, maternal, etc. In “DAUGHTER”, Beyoncé disproves this narrative, asserting that daughters are entirely capable of being like their fathers, “If you cross me I’m just like my father, I am colder than titanic water.” 

The song is written in A minor, giving the tune a siren-like sound, as well as a beautiful and intricate guitar fingerpicking pattern that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the song. Beyoncé samples and sings herself an opera titled “Caro Mio Ben.”  In English, the lyrics translate to “My dear beloved / believe me at least / without you / my heart languishes / your faithful one/ always sighs / cease, cruel one / a lot of rigor.” We can now check the opera box off of the list of things Beyoncé can do.

“SPAGHETTI” – Moriah’s Take

What’s a Beyoncé album without a hip-hop hit? With an invigorating beat and insane bars and flow, Beyoncé gifts us an iconic and memorable track. In the intro, we have Linda Martell, the first successful black female country artist from the ’60s, opening the song by saying, “Genres are a funny little concept aren’t they?” I love how this is a stab at the assumption that genres should be compartmentalized and never integrated, that they are a concept and not written in stone. 

Halfway through the song, to the end, the pace slows down and we are met with American singer-songwriter, filmmaker, and producer Shaboozey. He sings, “Keep the code, break the rules / We gon ride for every member that we lose.” I see this as a tribute to black artists who worked hard to insert themselves into white-dominated practices but were denied or unsuccessful, or whose career ended too soon, like Linda Martell’s. Her career was cut short due to blacklisting and racism in an industry that was run by corrupt white men. 

“SPAGHETTI” comes at a perfect time throughout the album, especially after “DAUGHTER” contrasting its more mellow melody. This track is definitely a staple and should be added to your hype-up playlist if you haven’t already.

“ALLIGATOR TEARS” – Amanda’s Take

Another top track on the album for me, “ALLIGATOR TEARS,” tells the story of a loving, romantic relationship. The language used in the lyrics is beautifully layered, explaining feelings of love, adoration, worship, and religion. In the chorus, she sings: “You say move a mountain/ and I’ll throw on my boots”. Here, the biblical reference of moving a mountain is tied to the hypnotic devotion of the partner she references, who she would move a mountain for at the drop of a hat. She goes on to say: “You say change religion/now, I spend Sundays with you”. Here, it’s almost as though he is becoming a religion for her. The outro, a polyphony of Beyoncé singing “I adore you”, beautifully encapsulates these ideas of love and worship, intertwining them into adoration. The “alligator tears” in question here, are the tears that keep her bound to the man she adores, as every time he cries, she knows she will drop anything for him. 

RIIVERDANCE” – Anastasia’s Take

Co-written by Raye (“Escapism”), “RIIVERDANCE” wields the power to make you line dance AND twerk. This groovy track perfectly executes the combination of country and house. A swinging guitar (or an open-backed banjo, I can’t tell the difference) riff captivates throughout the song as a pulsing bass drum hypnotizes you into dancing. Alongside these elements is an ode to Dolly Parton, who is featured several times throughout “Cowboy Carter” in her musical introduction, “DOLLY P” and on the track, “TYRANT.” “RIIVERDANCE” uses the feminized beat of Parton’s percussion technique (acrylic nails) to pay homage to her influence on country music and beyond. 

This song stands out as the track most closely resembling the 1970s Black dance music styles of disco and house on “Renaissance.” It is the nexus between Act I and Act II, creating cohesion in Beyoncé’s discography, while also nodding to Riverdance, a form of Irish dance and song. Riverdance debuted in 1994 at the Eurovision Song Contest and introduced global audiences to Irish dance and music. In likening this album to the massive exposure of Irish dance in the 1990s, Beyoncé makes her agenda as clear as water: Black country music deserves recognition and respect. Ultimately, “RIIVERDANCE” celebrates dancing and moving as freely as a river flows. It’s impossible to resist, so “bounce on that shit, damn!”

“II HANDS II HEAVEN” – Anastasia’s Take

The transition from “RIIVERDANCE” to “II HANDS II HEAVEN” is heavenly. In the last few seconds of “RIIVERDANCE,” synths replace the bass drum before shifting to subtle electronica–almost like a tamed Postal Service song–and beautiful lyricism. The result is an out-of-body experience. Beyoncé’s musicality is on full display here in a jarring duality of vulnerability and power. First, she humbly pleads to God for forgiveness, and next she is “a stallion runnin’, no candle in the wind.” We see a tension emerge between what Beyoncé preaches in her singing, “Singing I will carry on” to completely living out this concept of “carrying on.” She sings, “I will carry,” pauses, and then firmly states, “On,” which fuels a goosebump-inducing beat drop. 

The tension of Beyoncé’s duality resolves in the final two minutes in a true divine intervention. Suddenly, she says, “Swirl,” and the tempo and melody change. In true R&B style, the layering of the vocals becomes more accented, and the lyrics become less poetic and more diaristic. The music ascends in a celebratory, self-assured declaration of love: “I’m gonna give you the best years of your life.” It is the perfect sequel to “All Night” on “Lemonade” in the vein of country. 

“TYRANT” – Moriah’s Take

“TYRANT” is another absolutely musically genius hip-hop song on the album. I am obsessed with the combination of western violin riffs with a trap beat, and her “giddy ups” throughout the song. Genres should be experimental and integrated, and this song does an amazing job of doing just that. 

“AMEN” – Anastasia’s Take

“AMEN” is the final song on “COWBOY CARTER” with a bare-boned introduction of just Beyoncé and a gospel choir. Despite charting the lowest on the Hot 100, “AMEN” is as crucial to the album as it is transcendent. It emphatically resolves the invisibility of blackness in American country music. Thus, “AMEN” is the epilogue to “AMERICAN REQUIEM”’s prologue by reinforcing the cyclic nature of Beyoncé’s collection; the prologue begins with “Nothing really ends” and the epilogue calls back, “Say a prayer for what has been / We’ll be the ones to purify our Fathers’ sins / American Requiem / Them old ideas (Yeah) are buried here (Yeah) / Amen (Amen).” 

The harmonies on the song continue to emphasize Beyoncé’s profound message of ancestral collectivity transcending time. “This house” she sings, “And it crumbled, yes, it crumbled,” references the line in “AMERICAN REQUIEM”: “Goodbye to what has been / A pretty house that we never settled in was built with blood and bone.” An unsubtle metaphor for the United States which enslaved and appropriated Black folks, the house is home to a collective of voices championing the visibility of Black greatness. With a gospel choir to audibly and metaphorically echo this sentiment, “AMEN” concludes Beyoncé’s prayer for mercy and visibility while adverbially saying with firm reliability, “so it be.”

Closing Thoughts from Moriah:

Beyoncé’s “COWBOY CARTER” is what the music industry needed. I appreciate and admire this step she took to insert herself into the country genre, probably knowing and expecting the backlash she was going to receive. Not only that, but I appreciate how experimental and diverse this album is. I feel as though lots of the popular music recently has been monotonous, so it’s refreshing to hear radical music. The album itself is a form of resistance against the claim that country is a white genre, and is an inspiration and testament to Black country artists who are trying to navigate their way through the genre. “COWBOY CARTER” is a reminder that black country artists were there first and that they never left.

Iconic lines on the album (Ana, Amanda, Moriah):

  • “Look that that horse, look at that horse, look at that horse” (“SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’”)
  • “Feel like you partied in Venus and we woke up in Mars (Baby)” (“II HANDS II HEAVEN”)
  • “I’m ’bout to lose it, turn around and John Wayne that ass” (“BODYGUARD”)
  • “I am colder than Titanic water” (“DAUGHTER”)

To hear Amanda’s thoughts on “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” and “16 CARRIAGES,” click here.

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About the Contributor
Anastasia Fowler
Anastasia Fowler, Managing Arts & Leisure Editor
Ana is a senior from Westfield, NJ double-majoring in English and Politics. In her free time, Ana enjoys singing with her a cappella group, photosynthesizing in the quad or at the beach, kicking the soccer ball around with buddies, and seeing live music. Previously, Ana served as a Contributing Writer for The Student.

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