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Beyoncé’s New Country Songs Are Plain Ol’ Fun

We knew about Beyoncé’s three-act plan for Renaissance before the first installment landed, when she shared a message revealing her intention to release a triple album and Varietypublished a whisper from a source who said one segment would focus on country music. This isn’t our first rodeo; the Hive relished the folksy murder ballad “Daddy Lessons” back in 2016 and supported Solange’s yeehaw initiative when the visuals for When I Get Homedropped. But with the announcement of Act II and the subsequent release of “Texas Hold ’Em” and “16 Carriages,” which appear to be the forthcoming record’s first and last songs, we’ve got a first glance at the larger story Renaissance seems to want to tell.

Understanding Renaissance to be a pandemic-era endeavor, it’s a trip to scan the lyrics to “16 Carriages” and find a timestamp: “It’s been 38 summers, and I’m not in my bed / On the back of the bus and a bunk with the band / Going so hard now I miss my kids / Overworked and overwhelmed.” Bey turned 38 in late 2019, giving the song’s wistful reflections on past traumas (“I saw Mama crying / I saw Daddy lying”) and present-day stresses an air of classic 2020 overthinking. It’s a brief crisis of self-doubt dressed in a stagecoach metaphor. It also repeats the trick “Break My Soul” managed last cycle: The multimedia mogul is pitching one to her working-class following — “Sixteen dollars, working all day / Ain’t got time to waste, I got art to make” — and rendering her gilded circumstances relatable. You imagine her glancing over at On the Run IItour trucks rolling out after the couple’s concert trek wrapped in late 2018, dreaming of horses.

“16 Carriages” and the zestier “Texas Hold ’Em” are almost painstakingly aware of mainstream country and folk-pop conventions. The bustling horns, banjos, whoops, and whistles suggest familiarity with the scrappy sort of heartland rock of Zach Bryan’s “Overtime,” the cloying earnestness of equally beloved and reviled acts like the Lumineers, and the bluegrass retrenchments artists like Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley embark on to get back in touch with their roots. “Hold ’Em” plays dealer with a stack of country clichés like wisdom earned in card games and dive bars but pumps them full of lyrics that would make a Grand Ole Opry audience sweat: “And I’ll be damned if I cannot dance with you / Come and pour some liquor on me, honey, too / It’s a real life boogie and a real life hoedown / Don’t be a bitch, come take it to the floor now.” You wish she could maintain this commitment to thorniness all year round, not just when she is teaching musicology lessons about how it shouldn’t be surprising when Black creativity spills out across genres but also when asked to respond to queries about where her organization stands on the destruction of Gaza. She’s picking her battles, though, serving introspection in a hearty Grammy-voter pâté.

This all feels like a continuation of Bey’s careful terrorizing of the CMAs in 2016, when she caused a stir dancing in a sheer, skin-colored dress alongside the Chicks, who were all but blacklisted since objecting to George W. Bush’s Iraq War. The horny hoedown is bound to rankle the bean counters in country who keep women struggling to claim only a sliver of the available radio airtime and who didn’t see Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” fitting the description of a mainstream country smash. (The speed at which Apple Music changed the genre tags on the Act II singles from pop to country suggests fierce fights for gatekeepers on the horizon.) Fuck their feelings, though. The opportunity for new listeners to be enriched by folk, country, and bluegrass — and for talented Black artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Robert Randolph, and Raphael Saadiq to shepherd a powerhouse vocalist through joyful applications of rap and R&B cadences to the oldest American music forms — is more valuable than whatever gasket a conservative Establishment claiming Morgan “Apology Tour” Wallen as king may blow. There is a chance to have fun.


  • The Silence Is the Loudest Part of Renaissance: A Film

Craig Jenkins , 2024-02-12 20:11:37

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