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The Many Stripes of Beyonce's COWBOY CARTER


Credit: Aiden Prince.


It’s finally here! 


For those living under solar system-sized rocks, the it I’m celebrating is the release of Beyoncé’s conversation-starting/shifting/shattering eighth solo studio album ACT II: COWBOY CARTER. The second instalment of the trilogy project birthed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it follows 2022’s house and dance-heavy ACT I: RENAISSANCE


From this joint’s two lead singles TEXAS HOLD ‘EM (the first country song by a Black woman to go No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Country Songs chart) and 16 CARRIAGES, we knew this era would be exploring country’s unsung but undeniably Black origins, challenging narratives that threaten to drown out the voices integral to the art form’s progression. 


But even with this clear ethos, COWBOY CARTER is full of surprises. 


Conceptually, COWBOY CARTER is presented as a broadcast by a fictional radio station (called KNTRY Radio) with country legends Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Linda Martell acting as radio DJs.


Through expertly crafted samples, interpolations, and innovative instrumentation, this LP seamlessly stitches elements of classic, contemporary, and future (?) country, Italian opera, flamenco, Jersey Club, classic rock, hip hop, blues, soul, R&B, and folk into its fabric. 


This album is intriguingly deep. Let’s dive!


The Title



















Credit: Blair Caldwell


There are many meanings to the alliterative title. The most obvious one: It’s a play on her married last name Knowles-Carter.



One of the group’s founding members, Maybelle Carter is credited with creating a unique guitar-picking style called the Carter Scratch. However, she derived inspiration from Black American musician Lesley Riddle who met A.P. Carter (Maybelle’s father) while traveling around the US searching for songs to cover.


Riddle taught her how to play the guitar the way he’d mastered, which birthed the Carter Scratch.


Later on, he traveled alongside A.P., collecting old songs from families. After listening to them, Riddle would commit the guitar chords, melodies, and harmonies to memory. They would bring this work home for Maybelle to record. Many of these songs became radio smashes, capitalizing off these black communities' natural innovation without providing any compensation.


Unfortunately, this cultural smudging isn’t relegated to a specific era, rearing its insidious head in the modern day. 


Artists like Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake adorned themselves in traditionally black hairstyles/aesthetics to signify a rebellious ‘coming-of-age’ in the early aughts before ditching them towards the latter half of the decade.






































The reckless yet immensely talented hands of Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, J.Y. Park and the K-Pop industry have continued this trifling lineage of appropriation. But Beyoncé reminds (for some: assures) us that country music (and popular music at large) wouldn’t exist without the Lesley Riddle’s of the world and it can be argued today’s music would be incomplete without Beyoncé’s piece (read: peace). 


Lyrics


With this album, we get to see Beyoncé at her most lyrically daring.


Nothin' really ends/ For things to stay the same they have to change again/ Hello, my old friend/ You change your name but not the ways you play pretend


Used to say I spoke, "Too country"/ And the rejection came, said "I wasn't country 'nough"/ Said I wouldn't saddle up, but/ If that ain't country, tell me what is? 


A-O-T-Y, I ain't win (That's cool)/ I ain't stuntin' 'bout them/ Take that s 🌟🌟🌟 on the chin/ Come back and f 🌟🌟🌟 up the pen


Help me, Lord, from these fantasies in my head/ They ain't ever been safe ones/ I don't fellowship with these fakе ones/ So let's travel to whitе chapels and sing hymns/ Hold rosaries, and sing in stained glass symphonies 


Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh/ History can't be erased, ooh / You lookin' for a new America? (America)/ Are you tired, workin' time and a half for half the pay? 


Covers, Interpolations and Samples





AMERIICAN REQUIEM 

This song contains excerpts of Jay-Z’s Heart Of The City (Ain’t No Love) and his MTV Unplugged performance of the song. The 2001 rap track is built around a sample of Bobby ‘Blue’ Band’s 1974 song Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City.


AMERIICAN REQUIEM also interpolates For What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield.



This hauntingly beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ song features the vocals of four Black female country musicians Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts. The 1968 original was inspired by Paul McCartney hearing the call of a blackbird in Rishikesh, India and pays homage to the Little Rock Nine- a group of Black students who were at the centre of the fight to desegregate public schools in the United States.


SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON


This interlude contains excerpts from Laughing Yodel by Charles Anderson, Grinnin’ in Your Face by Son House, Down by the River Side by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Maybellene by Chuck Berry and Don’t Let Go by Roy Hamilton


This cover puts a signature Beyoncé spin on the Dolly Parton classic. Whilst the original desperately pleads with Jolene Please don’t take my man’, acknowledging that she possesses ‘beauty that is beyond compare’, Baddie Bey drops the niceties and warns Jolene ‘don’t come for my man’.


Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ Please don't take him just because you can 

JOLENE (2024)

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ Don't take the chance because you think you can


Jolene (1974)

Your beauty is beyond compare/With flaming locks of auburn hair

JOLENE (2024)

You’re beautiful, beyond compare/ Takes more than beauty and seductive stares/ To come between a family and a happy man


Jolene (1974)

I had to have this talk with you/ My happiness depends on you/ And whatever you decide to do, Jolene

JOLENE (2024)

I had to have this talk with you/'Cause I hate to have to act a fool/ Your peace depends on how you move, Jolene


DAUGHTER

This song interpolates the Italian aria, Caro Mio Bien. The original Caro Mio Bien is in a major key, a happy song that greatly contrasts the haunting atmosphere of DAUGHTER, which finds her character struggling with violent thoughts in the face of infidelity. 


When Beyoncé gets to the lyrics ‘How long can he hold his breath before his death?’, she follows it by performing the lines ‘Caro mio ben/ Credimi almen/Senza di te/ Languisce il cor’ which means, ‘My dear beloved/ Believe me at least/ Without you/ The heart languishes’, in a minor key, embodying the baroque opera style.


SPAGHETTI with Shaboozey samples O Mandrake's song Aquecimento das Danadas and also features a spoken word introduction from the legendary Linda Martell. She was the first commercially successful Black female country artist and the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry.


This duet with Miley Cyrus interpolates Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide.


YA YA

This Tina Turner-esque barnburner contains a sample of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ and interpolates The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations in its refrain. 


This interlude samples the Chuck Berry song of the same name.


This 2-part song samples Born Slippy .NUXX by the British electronic group Underworld. While that song is about vocalist Karl Hyde’s alcoholism, Beyoncé's offering explores traveling/coming home to yourself and your culture as an antidote to inner turmoil. 


SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’

The intro of the album’s penultimate track interpolates the chorus of Patsy Cline’s I Fall To Pieces with a few minor lyrical changes. 


I fall to pieces/ Each time I see you again/I fall to pieces/ How can I be just your friend?


I fall to pieces/ Each time I see you there/ And I miss all our secrets/ So tell me how you've been


Her (Our) Impact 

This album has marked a cultural shift for country music, highlighting conversations about the inequities that exist within the industry. 


In the Country Music Hall of Fame’s 57-year history, they have inducted 152 artists, only three of them are African-Americans.





As Queen Bey demonstrates, we must use what we have to give back. Now more than ever!


UNICEF Gaza Emergency Appeal


Operation Olive Branch


How 'modern-day slavery' in the Congo powers the rechargeable battery economy


Congo Emergency Appeal



Can we stand for something?

Now is the time to face the wind (Now is the time to face the wind)

Now ain't the time to pretend

Now is the time to let love in (To let love in)

Together, can we stand? - Beyoncé, AMERICAN REQUIEM

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