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Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ is here and it’s much more than country

Beyoncé has gone country, sure… but it turns out that’s only half of it.

For months, the superstar, who made a name for herself in R&B and pop, has been telegraphing her take on country music and style. She wore the “disco” cowboy hat at her Renaissance World Tour last year, and her “western” look at the Grammys in February, complete with a white Stetson hat and a studded black jacket. Then, on Super Bowl night, he released two new songs and sent one of them, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” featuring plucked banjos and lines about Texas and hoedowns, to country radio stations, sparking an industry-wide debate. about the defensive moat that has long surrounded Nashville’s musical institutions.

At midnight on Friday, Beyoncé finally released her new album, “Cowboy Carter,” and the country bona fides were certainly there. Dolly Parton offers an introductory cameo to Beyoncé’s version of “Jolene,” Parton’s 1972 classic about a woman confronting a romantic rival. Willie Nelson appears twice as a grizzled DJ, who says that he “turns you on with some really good (expletive),” including snippets of Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and blues singer Son House.

However, “Cowboy Carter” is much broader than simply a country album. Beyoncé covers “Blackbird” by the Beatles and, on the song “Ya Ya,” she draws inspiration from “Good Vibrations” by Nancy Sinatra and the Beach Boys. “Desert Eagle” is shimmering funk, and the upbeat “Bodyguard” wouldn’t be out of place on a modern rock radio station. The album’s range suggests a broad essay on contemporary pop music and on the nature of the genre itself.

That theory is made clear in the partially spoken-word song “Spaghettii,” which features the pioneering but absent black country singer Linda Martell, who in 1970 released an album called “Color Me Country.”

“Gender is a fun little concept, right? Yes, they are,” says Martell, 82. “In theory, they have a simple and easy to understand definition. But in practice, well, some may feel limited.”

Of course, Beyoncé herself indicated as much a week ago when she posted a note on Instagram saying, “This is not a country album. “This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.”

Still, the theme of simultaneously celebrating and transforming country music extends to the album cover, which shows Beyoncé sitting sideways on a white horse, dressed in red, white and blue rodeo gear and hoisting an American flag.

Guests on the album include Miley Cyrus on the song “II Most Wanted” and Post Malone on “Levii’s Jeans.” (The extra I’s underscore that “Cowboy Carter” is officially “Act II” of what Beyoncé has said will be a three-album cycle, starting with “Renaissance” in 2022. That motif is repeated throughout the list of songs from 27 songs on the album. The Beatles’ version, in which he is joined by a quartet of young black country singers (Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts and Tiera Kennedy) is billed as “Blackbiird”). Halfway through the song “Daughter,” Beyoncé even does some push-ups. she opera skills, singing a bit of “Caro Mio Ben,” a popular 18th-century Italian aria. (More on that here.)

In a statement, Beyoncé described the album’s sonic texture, differentiating it from the synthesized process behind most contemporary pop albums (including her own).

“With artificial intelligence and digital filters and programming, I wanted to go back to real instruments and I used very old instruments,” he said. “I didn’t want some layers of instruments like strings, especially guitars, and organs to be perfectly tuned. I kept some songs raw and leaned towards folk.”

As with “Renaissance,” audio for “Cowboy Carter” leaked online shortly before its planned release, with some fans urging others not to listen to it sooner.

When Beyoncé released her self-titled “visual album” without warning in 2013, establishing the “surprise drop” as an industry trope, it was partly to protect the album from leaks, which had become a threat to sales figures. first week sales. . For these last two albums, Beyoncé has adopted a more conventional marketing plan, announcing her album weeks in advance and preparing deluxe physical editions. (There are plenty for “Cowboy Carter,” including LPs on, yes, red, white and blue vinyl.)

In the end, the leaks meant little for “Renaissance,” which went straight to No. 1. And regardless of the new album’s fate at country radio, where so far “Texas Hold ‘Em” has only reached No. 1. 33: The commercial potential of “Cowboy Carter” seems enormous, given Beyoncé’s recent success.

Last year he won his 32nd Grammy Award, more than any artist in history. Her Renaissance tour sold $580 million in tickets, second only to Taylor Swift. A related concert film, “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” offered a rare behind-the-scenes look at her creative process and was a hit in theaters.

Last week, as the release of “Cowboy Carter” approached, Beyoncé wrote on Instagram that the album was “over five years in the making” and that it was “born out of an experience I had years ago where I didn’t feel like happy”. welcome… and it was very clear that it was not.” Her fans focused on her appearance at the Country Music Association Awards in 2016, where she performed her song “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks, and sparked backlash online.

“The criticism I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to overcome the limitations that were placed on me,” Beyoncé said. The new album, she added, “is the result of challenging myself and taking my time to mix and match genres to create this body of work.”