BEYond Country: How Beyoncé Made Space for Black Country Artists with COWBOY CARTER

Beyoncé is back with COWBOY CARTER, taking her rightful place in country music as she continues to achieve multi-genre domination.

BEYond Country: How Beyoncé Made Space for Black Country Artists with COWBOY CARTER
Jaelani Turner-Williams
Jaelani Turner-Williams
April 16, 20246 min read
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Written by Jaelani Turner-Williams, a Third Bridge Creative contributor.

Beyoncé’s CMA Awards takeover in 2016 appeared to be a power move, but behind the scenes, the 32-time Grammy winner didn’t exactly receive a warm welcome. Bey’s 2016 Lemonade track “Daddy Lessons” (110 million Spotify streams) tipped its hat to country, but its performance at the awards ceremony with The Chicks that year proved controversial. After an influx of racist comments, CMA later removed promotional posts at Bey’s request. Despite the moment being of cultural importance, a recent Vulture oral history of the event and its aftermath recounts how some attendees weren’t a fan of the performance, with a few guests walking out. 

Even Beyoncé’s decision to perform alongside The Chicks — who were blacklisted from the industry for their anti-war stance in 2003 — was deemed much too radical for viewers to handle. But eight years later, the singer decided to give the country market another swing. “My hope is that years from now, the mention of an artist’s race, as it relates to releasing genres of music, will be irrelevant,” she wrote in an Instagram caption announcing her latest album, COWBOY CARTER. 

Beyoncé rode in with COWBOY CARTER and rounded up some first-time collaborators for country fun. When the album’s lead singles were released shortly after a surprise Verizon commercial aired during the Super Bowl LVIII, it was unbeknownst to much of the Beyhive that Beyoncé’s post-RENAISSANCE era would be tied to country music. Fans always knew there would be three acts, as revealed in a statement in 2022, but there were no clues about Act II until the R&B icon gave a cowboy tease during the 2024 Grammys.

Pre-COWBOY, Bey broke the mold on her aforementioned concept album Lemonade, where she masterfully channeled multiple genres from rock to reggae and chronicled the heartbreak of infidelity. But, the real motion came once Queen Bey prepped fans for her most revolutionary act yet by releasing two singles, “TEXAS HOLD 'EM” (292 million Spotify streams) and “16 CARRIAGES” (48 million Spotify streams) that defied most of her past musical standards. Beyoncé has excelled in the confines of what the industry has “allowed” her to dominate, and on COWBOY CARTER, she's decided to enter every sound she chooses: not just the musical spaces that she’s occupied before.

Released on March 29, COWBOY CARTER earned the feat of the most-streamed Spotify album in a single day so far in 2024. It seems that the country music world will have no choice but to share space with Black artists disrupting the genre. The 27-track album includes six contemporary country artists (Tanner Adell, Reyna Roberts, Tiera Kennedy, Brittney Spencer, Shaboozey, and Willie Jones), while genre pioneer Linda Martell provides commentary on two songs, “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” and “SPAGHETTII.” A Beyoncé co-sign, and a collaboration no less, is difficult to get. So, how did this group of emerging artists capture Beyoncé’s attention, and what impact is it having on their careers? 

Adell manifested the opportunity to collaborate with Bey six months after the release of her debut album BUCKLE BUNNY, and her Spotify monthly listeners have grown by 8 million since COWBOY’s release. As fans have discovered Roberts via Beyoncé — despite her debut album Bad Girl Bible, Vol. 1 being released last September — she’s experienced a 28% increase in Instagram followers in the past month. While Spencer also released an introductory LP, My Stupid Life, in January, new fans are flocking to her YouTube channel, where she’s received 155k new views since March 29. Unlike the aforementioned acts, Jones and Shaboozey have two respective albums under their belts, and Kennedy, who’s shared a series of EPs since 2021, hosts Apple Music Country’s program, The Tiera Show. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Shaboozey and Kennedy both saw an increase in first-time listeners, with a 70% and 110% increase respectively. Rhiannon Giddens, whose banjo was prominently featured on “TEXAS,” K. Michelle, and Rissi Palmer were also beneficiaries of the "Beyoncé bump."

Don’t consider COWBOY CARTER to be just a reclamation of country music: the album makes way for the genre’s future while honoring artists whose legacies have been unsung.


“TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” had a meteoric rise on social media, partly thanks to the Beyhive for protesting an Oklahoma radio station KYKC-FM that initially refused to champion the song. “We do not play Beyoncé at KYKC as we are a country music station,” the station manager wrote in an email. Fans were outraged that the single, which has an acoustic sound and Texas two-step danceability, (appropriate to the genre’s elements of twangy instrumentation and simple lyricism accompaniment) was denied. Two days later, KYKC added “TEXAS” to their airplay rotation. They aren’t the only ones featuring the song: it’s been played over 206k times on the ~3k radio stations tracked by Chartmetric.

Even Beyoncé isn’t too big to benefit from the exposure of TikTok. TikTok creators, who created viral clips of originally choreographed line dances sent “TEXAS” atop the Billboard charts on both the Hot 100 and Hot Country Singles, making Beyoncé the first Black woman to reach number one on the country charts. The achievement was a breakthrough, as from 2002 to 2020, only .6% of artists played on country radio stations were Black while 98% were white, according to a SongData report.

Country Music Has Long Been Rooted in Blackness

With COWBOY CARTER, Beyoncé not only touted modern acts but championed a legendary artist whose narrative had gotten lost through time. Linda Martell, who only released one studio album in her lifetime, her 1970 debut Color Me Country on the offensively named former record label Plantation Records, received a COWBOY nod from Bey that resulted in a surge in streams.

Martell left the industry shortly after Color Me Country, citing racism and mistreatment, notably from Plantation Records, which threatened Martell with a lawsuit when she began recording with another label. Since the album’s release, Martell’s Spotify monthly listeners have increased a hundredfold, going from 66k to over 6.7 million. Martell, also the first Black woman to perform at famed Nashville venue Grand Ole Opry, gave Bey her stamp of approval for being involved with COWBOY CARTER, expressing her gratitude for the LP on Instagram.

Perhaps no introduction to Martell was needed for devoted country fans, but “SPAGHETTII” and “THE LINDA MARTELL SHOW” saluted a woman whose presence defined the canon of Blackness in the genre.  Regardless of marginalized country pioneers introducing the fiddle and banjo as notable musical tools, along with being staple acts in blues, Appalachian folk, and work songs, country music’s roots were largely whitewashed through commercialism as “race records,” which intentionally caused segregation in the music industry. But on COWBOY CARTER, Martell’s legacy isn’t lost, and she’s given the respect that was deserved decades ago. 

Playlists on digital streaming platforms have also seen a transformation since the release of COWBOY CARTER. On Spotify, Queen Bey covers the “Hot Country” playlist, which begins with “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” whereas on Apple Music, she’s seen on “Today’s Country,” which lists “JOLENE,” her saucy reinterpretation of Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” and the Miley Cyrus-assisted “II MOST WANTED.” Both playlists show Beyoncé in the company with artists who are considered country music “traditionalists,” like Luke Combs, Jelly Roll, and Kacey Musgraves. But, it’s generous to say that Apple Music and Spotify are doing Beyoncé justice, as year-end country playlists featured fewer Black artists or only featured popular acts, like Kane Brown.

During a year when Black creativity is making a watershed return to the Western phenomenon, it’s Bey who reigns while giving credit to those who’ve paved the way for her to helm her most polarizing era. Shortly after COWBOY CARTER became the topic of internet discourse, Bey had another momentous achievement, accepting the Innovator Award at the 2024 iHeartRadio Awards. In her speech, she not only thanked musical changemakers like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Tracy Chapman, and Tina Turner – leading some to believe that Act III will be rock-oriented – but shouted out other innovators, who know the journey of aiming for “what everyone believes is impossible.” Having broken new ground for Black country artists to set their sights on mainstream popularity, Beyoncé didn’t have to compromise her vision to rightfully conquer a genre that tried to count her out.

Visualizations by Nicki Camberg and graphics/cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of April 16, 2024.