Breaking Boundaries: Beyoncé Makes History on the Country Charts

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As Beyoncé becomes the first black woman to chart at the top of the Billboard Country Charts in the US, country music is gaining a whole new influx of fans through Beyoncé’s new singles. Country music has always seemed separated from other mainstream and alternative genres. Although country awards are given at the GRAMMYS to celebrate the best country song/songwriter, it is clear at the Grammys that country albums and artists are not the focus. Will Beyoncé’s influence change this and bring the country industry into the Hollywood fold?

Despite some country artists being very well known, such as Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, they wouldn’t be the first names that come to people’s minds without referencing the country genre. Unlike other genres that intertwine, such as R&B, hip hop, soul, pop, and alternative, country albums typically don’t contain other subgenres between songs such as The Weeknd’s album, Trilogy almost redefines the R&B genre to include more range and creative freedom to amalgamate genres. SZA’s album, SOS, also does this; though it’s listed as an R&B album, it contains a soft rock song, ‘F2F’ and an alternative song ‘Ghost In The Machine’, featuring Phoebe Bridgers. The crossovers between these genres are much simpler as artists typically don’t dramatically change their rhythm, as the change mainly comes from the instruments.   

Country music not only requires a lyrical shift and instrumental change, but the rhythm and melodies in most country songs are all similar. This could be due to southern accents and the slower pace of the songs, but they typically contain less variation. Beyoncé adheres to these shifts in her surprise release of singles ‘TEXAS HOLD ‘EM’ and ‘16 CARRIAGES’. ‘TEXAS HOLD ‘EM’ showcases her multi-genre capabilities to change her melody to fit different categories. Though Beyoncé successfully made yet another musical shift and implied that the second act of her Renaissance saga would be a country album, country fans have not taken kindly to her entering the country sphere. During an interview with One America News, American country singer and actor John Schneider expressed his dislike for Beyoncé and other artists’ sudden interest in country music. Schneider analogies other artists switching genres like dogs that have to “mark every tree”. However, he removes artists who originated in the country sphere who have switched out, such as Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. This shows a clear separation between country music and other genres, as artists aren’t welcome to expand their vocal and genre horizons into country music unless they begin in that genre. 

However, Beyoncé is no stranger to the country genre and sphere. Despite her R&B musical background, Texan upbringing, and Alabama and Louisiana heritage, she would have been exposed to the country scene as she entered the music sphere. However, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, it would have been more appropriate for Beyoncé to start as an R&B artist, not only as it is historically the category made for African American artists, it would have been an easier genre to excel in as there wouldn’t be as many hurdles to overcome, rather than attempting to be a black country singer. Now that Beyonce is established, it would make sense for her to explore the genre as it would be an easier transition due to her popularity and how critically acclaimed she is.

Although Beyoncé’s first official country song was ‘Daddy Lessons’, from the 2016 album Lemonade, containing a sample from country duo Dixie Chicks, this song wasn’t as successful on the charts as her other hits in the album, such as ‘Hold Up’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Formation’. The song did garner enough attention for her to be asked to perform at the Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. Beyoncé performed live at the award show with the Dixie Chicks, which was well received by the guests in the Bridgestone Arena. However, after the performance was uploaded online, the media expressed their dislike and outrage at the choice. Many complaints expressed their frustration over their political stances. The outrage it garnered and the subsequent removal of the performance from the CMA’s website shows the dislike for the possible Hollywoodization of the country genre.

Perhaps this fear of big stars being in the country genre would change the music and how things are done in Nashville, bringing them closer to the rest of the music fold in Los Angeles. This can be seen in the removal of Taylor Swift in the country legends mural in Nashville. They felt as though Taylor Swift was no longer a country star as she left the genre, switching from country to pop and, more recently, to alternative with her Folklore album. Although it was claimed that she needed to be celebrated differently as she is no longer a country legend, it feels as though the country music association and sphere in Nashville would rather glorify a current country singer than keep Swift there due to her country origin. 

Country music being separated from the other genres is not a problem within itself. However, it becomes problematic when artists want to cross the bridge and expand into the genre due to the hostility and backlash it breeds. If the country scene does not welcome new people and continues to distance itself from mainstream Hollywood genres, will the anticipated country album be met with the same animosity and hatred as her onstage performance of ‘Daddy Lessons’? The genre could become vaster and more popular if they adopted a more welcoming approach to artists extending into country music. Now that Beyoncé is at the top of the country charts, the big question is, will she be recognised and nominated for the Country Music Association Awards? Act II will undoubtedly rock the boat, with critics like John Schneider possibly remaining against her genre switch. ‘TEXAS HOLD ‘EM’ success shows that perhaps the country scene might be moving away from its separatist past as they accept Beyoncé in her country era.

Words by Amira Nur


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