How Beyoncé went country – and caused a storm

Beyoncé has said her new album 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”. 

“But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of country music and studied our rich musical archive.”

Randall recalls an era in Nashville when racism was rife. “When I came here I had people call me the n-word at times,” she says. “I had some man – a man whose writing I had loved before I met him – and the first time I met him, he stood four feet away but spoke so I could hear it and said to our mutual friends, I have been at this too long if I have to compete with n-word girls from Harvard.” 

It’s no coincidence, she says, that Beyoncé is making a country album at this stage of her career, when she has already created “art that [is] undeniable”. It’s only now, says Randall, that she can make the transition to country “as a fully realised artist in multiple musical genres”. 

It’s a moment, she says, which could open the doors for young black female country artists, and amplify those voices already making waves. New fans are “following Beyoncé into country”, she says. “Black people who say they’ve never liked country but are now entering into their country summer. I’ve seen people who identify as white who have suggested they didn’t think they were going to like the song, didn’t want to love the song – they love the song.” 

Harris points to the rich and often overlooked history of country music which Beyoncé appears to be exploring with this album. “The settlers moving across from the eastern seaboard, meeting the black people who were travelling up from the southern states, that soup that then began to establish itself and really did include elements of blues, country, bluegrass, soul, gospel. […] There’s the soup, and Beyoncé is exploring that.” 

If the music wasn’t enough to convince you this is country, the artwork – which sees Beyoncé clad in chaps and a cowboy hat, on a white horse, holding the American flag – should. For her part, Beyoncé sounds far less interested in the label than the people who want her to own it or those who say she has no claim to it. “This ain’t a country album,” she said. “This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.” 

Cowboy Carter is released on March 29

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