Saddle Up For Beyoncé’s ‘COWBOY CARTER’

Deputy Arts Editor Xavier Barrios said the album cements Beyoncés genre-bending success.

Beyoncé has left the “RENAISSANCE” dance floor and taken a trip to the chitlin circuit of “COWBOY CARTER.”

Serving as “act ii” of the singer’s trilogy of albums, “COWBOY CARTER” blends genres to create something entirely new. Splitting the album into segments by genre, Beyoncé’s March 29 release catches listeners with a lasso and doesn’t loosen its hold. 

Opening the album with an organ-heavy introduction, “AMERIICAN REQUIEM” is cinematic, building upon itself as the 5-minute song progresses. Using the requiem, a Catholic mass for the dead, the singer reflects on her previous experiences in the country music genre, specifically her 2016 Country Music Awards performance of “Daddy Lessons.” 

“They don’t, don’t know how hard I had to fight for this / When I sang my song,” Beyoncé sings. 

Crickets transition from the gospel-like opener into “BLACKBIIRD” — a cover of The Beatles’ eponymous song, featuring up-and-coming Black artists Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy and Reyna Roberts. 

Although angelic, individual voices get lost in a melange of vocals and string instruments. The synthesized voices mimic a chorus of birds with Beyoncé as the lead, an ode to Black women of the civil rights movement — the original inspiration for the song, according to American Songwriter.  

By the third track “16 CARRIAGES,” it’s clear Beyoncé has a story to tell. Immersed in the R&B genre from a young age, Beyoncé is on the path to reclaiming genres of music created by Black people, according to the Associated Press

“PROTECTOR” is Beyoncé at her most vulnerable. The song opens with her daughter Rumi asking for a lullaby and ends with joyous children giggling. Sensitive in lyricism and stripped back in instrumentation, the song immaculately portrays a mother’s love for her children. 

“And even though I know, someday, you’re gonna shine on your own / I will be your protector, born to be a protector,” Beyoncé sings. 

A 53-second “MY ROSE” is layered with unsynchronized vocals. Despite the track’s nearly-perfect production, alongside “FLAMENCO” later in the track list, the song quickly becomes an inessential addition to the 27-track album.  

Changing the radio station — literally — “SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON” uses the fictional KNTRY Radio to usher in a series of interludes from country music legends. With Nelson instructing critics to find other music if they don’t like Beyoncé’s, the following two tracks set up the genre-bending subsection of the album. 

The 90-year-old Nelson introduces “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM,” which was released as a single February 11 and is the first song by a Black woman to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Country Charts. The track is a cookie-cutter country song, overdone with background shouts of “Hey” and “Ho.” Besides the infectious, foot-tapping beat, the song is one of the album’s weakest, lacking Beyoncé-grade lyricism and vocals. 

The album’s underwhelming opening songs are immediately remedied by the eighth track “BODYGUARD.” Thrusting piano keys, light drums and strummed guitar make it the album’s strongest. Unlike the monotonous vocals of the previous track, Beyoncé’s smooth, enchanting voice guards the song.

Singer-songwriter Dolly Parton queues part three — the collection of experimental country sounds — of “COWBOY CARTER” in “DOLLY P.” 

Rageful vengeance ensues in “JOLENE,” potentially a sequel to “Sorry” from her 2016 “Lemonade.” With rewritten lyrics by Parton, the choral voices as the track concludes keep the prayer-like desperation of Parton’s original, warning others against stealing her lover. 

“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,” Beyoncé sings. 

Displaying the lengths she would go to for her lover, the next tracks “DAUGHTER,” “SPAGETTII” and “ALLIIGATOR TEARS” tell the tale of a classic Western saloon fight.

The Latin-style guitar playing of “DAUGHTER” juxtaposes foot-thumping fury of “ALLIIGATOR TEARS,” while the rap song “SPAGETTII” evenly breaks up the guitar-heavy songs.  

Back at the KNTRY Radio Texas station, Nelson welcomes a feature-heavy, classic country duet segment in “SMOKE HOUR II.” 

“JUST FOR FUN” featuring Willie Jones is the first of three consecutive duets. Although Jones’ voice isn’t heavily included, his deep vocals add texture to the track.

Miley Cyrus begins the second duet “II MOST WANTED.” Beyoncé’s velvety voice synthesized with Cyrus’ croak creates an unexpectedly powerful-yet-somber duet. 

“We’re gettin’ high ’til we don’t realize / Time is passin’ by / Yeah, I’ll be your backseat baby, I’m drivin’ you crazy / Anytime you like, oh, oh,” Beyoncé and Cyrus sing in unison. 

“LEVII’S JEANS” could have fit the album like the perfect pair of denim, but Post Malone’s high, gravely vocals were a loose stitch fraying its seams. 

With applause from the rodeo audience, Linda Martell — one of the first major Black country singers — starts the final, climactic series of songs in “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW.” 

The style of “YA YA” can’t be categorized. The song is an infectious, fast-paced mosaic of genres, worthy of being Beyoncé’s seminal work. “YA YA” acknowledges the non-white members of the United States with her take on the patriotic nature of the post-9/11 country genre. 

“My family live and died in America, hm / Good ol’ USA, shit (Good ol’ USA) / Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh / History can’t be erased, ooh,” Beyoncé sings. 

The following two tracks “OH LOUISIANA” and “DESERT EAGLE” dragged out the ending of the album despite being shorter in runtime. 

Using acrylic nails as an instrument and subtle electronic beats, “RIIVERDANCE” quickly becomes irresistible. The track flows directly into “II HAND II HEAVEN,” following a variation of the previous song’s composition, diving fully into the electronic aspect. Although back-to-back, the songs rear on their own hind legs through distinct lyricism and content. 

“Ten thousand steps towards the time of your life / Two hands to Heaven, my whiskey up high, oh (Oh) / God only, God only knows why, though,” Beyoncé sings in “II HANDS II HEAVEN.” 

The instrumentation of “TYRANT” cooperates with Beyoncé’s seductive voice, which opens with Parton telling Cowboy Carter to “strike a match and light up this juke joint.” 

The introduction to the song is fast-paced, just before the unpredictable beat-drop bringing sultry vocals and production. The lyrics of “TYRANT” suggest a much darker commentary on Black people’s experience in the southern United States. 

“When the sun goes down (It’s night-night, hey) / Can hear her body howl (In the moonlight, hey) / I feel her eyein’ me like owls (It’s on sight, hey) / Hide your man when the hangman come in town (Ooh, yikes),” Beyoncé sings, referencing both lynchings of Black people in the South and sundown towns

The penultimate track “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’” features Shaboozey, whose vocals supersede Beyoncé’s at the beginning. Split into three sections — a Shaboozey and Beyoncé duet in “SWEET” transitions into smooth, velvety vocals in “HONEY” and ends with the viscous boot-and-spur spoken-sung “BUCKIIN’” — Beyoncé ties the loose ends of her chaotic cowboy album into a neat braid. 

Endcapping “COWBOY CARTER” with another gospel-like track, Beyoncé concludes the album through a prayer in “AMEN.” The song’s final few seconds include a building beat reminiscent of the singer’s 2023 single “MY HOUSE.” 

Originally written and intended for release before “act i: RENAISSANCE,” the buffer single “MY HOUSE” connects “COWBOY CARTER” to its predecessor. 

Unrestrictive to genre, “COWBOY CARTER” makes clear the music industry is Beyoncé’s country — leaving listeners anxiously awaiting “act iii.” 

“COWBOY CARTER” is now available on all major streaming platforms

Featured image courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment 

Xavier Barrios is a deputy arts editor for The Loyola Phoenix 

Xavier Barrios

Xavier Barrios