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Princess Aurora

Pitchfork: Cowboy Carter 8.4 BNM

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If Lemonade taught us anything, it’s that you do not fuck with Beyoncé. Her 2016 opus was her seething response to being wronged, giving us the indelible image of a smiling woman in a yellow dress carrying a baseball bat and the enduring specter of Becky and her good hair. We already know what happens when something meddles with her peace—she puts her whole being into righting the wrongs, enacting her revenge with a twinkle in her eye, extra gumption in her voice, and ice in her veins. There’s a particular edge when one of the world’s biggest music superstars has a chip on her shoulder. This doesn’t often occur—of late, Beyoncé has been acting as a beatific Mother in every way—but when it does, boy howdy, look out.


Lemonade, as it happened, may have helped plant the seed for Cowboy Carter, which was “born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed… and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” It seems she is referring to her 2016 appearance at the Country Music Association Awards, in which she performed Lemonade’s Texas country triumph “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks, who were also once exiled by the entire country music apparatus. As they played the song and after it ended, Beyoncé was met with reactions that ranged from cool sneers to racist vitriol, both in the crowd and online.

At that moment, it was clear that even Beyoncé’s Texas bona fides wouldn’t protect her from the longstanding racism and sexism that still existed in the country mainstream, despite Black musicians creating the spark of country music and Black Americans creating the foundations of the country itself. “Because of that experience,” she wrote, “I did a deeper dive into the history of country music and studied our rich musical archive… the criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me.” The country music establishment got Beyoncé doing homework. The guns they are a-blazin’.

But, as Beyoncé has clarified, Cowboy Carter—or Act II, the follow-up to the 2022 dance album Renaissance—is not a country album. Rather, Beyoncé has ventured into Louisiana Cajun country, the rivers of Alabama, the streets of Memphis, the great Oklahoma plains, and within her memories of multiracial Texas rodeos to create yet another world in her image. It’s partly rooted in Western tropes but with a pointed look toward the America that’s often erased on the CMAs stage—and in the public school history books. The album’s press release reminds us that the etymology of the word “cowboy,” which comes from the Spanish “vaquero,” derives in part from white ranchers calling their white employees “cowhands,” and their Black employees the diminutive “cowboy.” By using country as a starting point for experimentation and recalling genre-porous artists like Ray Charles, Candi Staton, Charley Pride, and the Pointer Sisters, Cowboy Carter asserts Beyoncé’s place in this long legacy while showcasing the ever-expanding reaches of her vocal prowess.

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