The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

The Decaturian is Millikin's student-run newspaper. The opinions reflected may not be those of Millikin as an institution.

The Decaturian

Beyoncé Makes Country Great Again with “Cowboy Carter”

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Where do I even start with the queen herself?

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter has been at the helm of pop music for as long as I can remember. From her earliest hits like “Crazy in Love” and “Irreplaceable” to her more recent smashes like “Cuff It” and “America Has a Problem,” Beyoncé has maintained her pop royalty for over 20 years now. 

She’s dabbled in other genres here and there but has more-or-less remained in the pop and R&B lanes she became known for. The furthest she’s strayed from this would have to be her 2022 album “Renaissance,” which brought in a lot more house, dance and electro-pop influences. Now with “Act II” of her trilogy project, “Cowboy Carter” sees Beyoncé fully embrace her country roots, which I’d say resulted in flying colors.

It’s not like country is an unknown genre to Beyoncé. Born and raised in Texas, she was always surrounded by the genre and even on her 2016 album “Lemonade,” her song “Daddy Lessons” is primarily country and bluegrass inspired. So really if any of the biggest pop stars of today were to try their hand at a country centric album, Beyoncé surely makes the most sense.

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I will say I was a bit worried when I saw the tracklist. 27 songs and just about 80 minutes, the odds usually aren’t in anyone’s favor. I don’t know why I ever doubted her, as each track feels essential to the overall narrative and expression of the album. The shorter interlude style tracks like “Flamenco” and “My Rose” serve as great transitional moments for the listener and the more spoken-word intermissions from legends like Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson make the album feel almost like a short film or radio show. Similar to The Weeknd’s 2022 album “Dawn FM,” where Jim Carrey acted as a radio host over the course of the record.

While this record is of course full of southern-tinged bangers about love, revenge and self-worth, the underlying socio-political themes across the whole album may be the most important. 

Ever since this album was announced, Beyoncé has been bombarded with criticism and hate for simply branching out and not “staying in her lane,” a remark that really seems to be rooted in racism more than anything else. Even though Beyoncé’s roots are in country music, she’s still known as a pop and R&B artist, so how could she make a country song? Let alone a whole album? 

Luckily, she was able to grab a number 1 hit on the country charts for “Texas Hold ‘Em” and country stations continue to play the track. Though, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t work to do when it comes to the overall identity of country music. If a black woman as prominent as Beyoncé has this hard of a time being recognized by a genre she grew up with, while a white man who was caught on tape saying racial slurs, Morgan Wallen, is able to sell out stadiums and earn one of the biggest country albums in history, what does that say about the current status of this genre and, honestly, a big portion of America?

I’m just hoping this album will shed some light on these underlying issues and is able to break down more of these rather forced and irrelevant genre and racial barriers. And Beyoncé makes this message very clear on the opening track “Ameriican Requiem.” This sprawling five-minute track is full of twangy guitars, angelic choir vocals and personal lyrics of reclamation and grit. Almost giving me Creedence Clearwater Revival vibes, I could see this going down as my favorite opening track of 2024. 

“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?” These few lines alone told me she’d be going all in on this album, and that she did. Flowing seamlessly into her cover of the Beatles’ signature “Blackbird,” this seems like another very smart and direct choice for the record. The acoustic guitar sounding nearly identical to the beloved Paul McCartney tune, the original sentiment of the song being in support of the Civil Rights movement is still just as important today and brings a keen sense of hope and community in Beyoncé’s rendition. A truly tender and beautiful moment on the record.

Along with “Texas Hold ‘Em,” “16 Carriages” was released alongside it back in February and I still can’t decide which one I like more. 

The latter is definitely the more slow-burning of the two, with Beyoncé’s gorgeous, introspective vocal melody and its booming, brash guitar chords. “Protector” is another tear-jerking moment with Beyoncé’s own daughter Rumi introducing the track as a lullaby, making this a touching track about being there for someone as long as you can. A song of a similar sentiment but different situation, “Bodyguard” might be my favorite track on the entire album. Its driving piano riff, Beyoncé’s commanding performance and the never-ending groove is enough to make anyone dance or at least nod their head.

One of the most talked about tracks so far has to be her cover of Dolly Parton’s classic “Jolene.” Beyoncé walks the line perfectly of making the song her own while also paying homage to Parton’s flawless original. I never even thought of the parallels between Jolene and Becky with the Good Hair, huh. All I know is that they both need to watch their backs. “Daughter” is another very personal track and could even be seen as the spiritual successor to “Daddy Lessons.” Beyoncé chronicles more of her upbringing and how that’s made her the person she is today. She really lets her voice run free in this song as well, interpolating the popular aria “Caro Mio Ben” for the bridge. I never thought I’d want to hear Beyoncé sing in an opera, but here we are.

“Spaghettii” is an interesting amalgamation. It starts out almost like a hardcore hip-hop song, with Beyoncé even claiming that she’s Thanos at one point. The track then transitions to a calmer, melodic tone with guest Shaboozey. The introduction to this track works as well, as country legend Linda Martell speaks on the definition of genre and how it isn’t such a simple thing in practice. She also has a similar interlude later on the record that further embellishes this point.

Getting into the second half of the album we get a few more guest appearances too, all of which seem to be very well orchestrated. 

While each of them complement Beyoncé very well, they all also have at least dabbled in country adjacent sounds in the past and they’re all from the south as well. “Just for Fun” is a soothing duet with up-and-comer Willie Jones, though either of the next two tracks could easily be the next big hit off this record. 

First is “II Most Wanted” with Miley Cyrus whose voice I’d never thought would sound as good when put next to Beyoncé’s, but the harmonies they produce on this song will never not give me goosebumps. 

“Levii’s Jeans” with Post Malone just brings a smile to my face, especially when I hear Malone sing, “need you all night long, you’re my renaissance.” An absolute jam.

Widening the album’s genre lens, “Ya Ya” plays out like a feature length film in song form. From call-and-response, high-tempo blues rock and even a Beach Boys interpolation, this is easily the most invigorating track on the entire record.

“Riiverdance” and “Tyrant” don’t let up on the gas either. The former sounds like the perfect mix of “Renaissance” Beyoncé and the “Cowboy Carter” persona, while the only way I could describe the latter is if Dolly Parton made a trap song, in the best way possible I might add. Both absolute bangers in their own right.

The final few tracks leave a little room for introspection while still being danceable bops. 

“II Hands II Heaven” definitely acts as the calm before the storm, with a gorgeous down-tempo, synth-heavy beat. 

“Sweet ★ Honey ★ Buckiin’” then goes in every direction imaginable for this stark penultimate moment. Structured in 3 parts, this track remains unpredictable going from gospel, dance and, I don’t even know, electro-rap? Whatever it is, I can’t help but love it. 

“Amen” then does a beautiful job as a closer and wrap-up for this beast of an album. Calling back to the hook on “Ameriican Requiem,” this track reinforces the themes of the album in a subtle yet fulfilling way, making you want to listen to the entire record over again, which I have, many times.

While “Cowboy Carter” was marketed mainly as a country album, it’s also so much more than that. Beyoncé brings everything from rock, hip-hop, gospel and folk into the mix of this record, while all still being signature Beyoncé songs. Everything from the flow, messaging and just sheer brilliance all over this album is nothing short of a monumental moment in her career, but also in the world of music as a whole. To quote Beyoncé herself, “this ain’t a country album, this is a “Beyoncé” album.” And I believe she fully delivered on that promise.

My rating: 9.3/10

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Eli Bland, Arts Editor

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