Country Music

Country Music Would Be Stupid to Ignore Beyoncé’s Gift to the Genre

At the end of 2015, one thing was abundantly clear – country music is and has been undergoing a seismic shift in terms of what listeners want and the mainstream has to offer. The unsigned, unpromoted successes of artists like Aaron Watson, Turnpike Troubadours and a host of country newcomers like Cody Johnson have officially proven that the country-music machine has long been broken.

And then came Beyoncé. The release of Lemonade brought with it a great deal of incredible music paired with an overwhelming cultural discussion about its significance. To be sure, Lemonade is and most likely will continue to be the biggest album of the year. It also happens to be the origin of one of country music’s best songs of the year.

“Daddy Lessons,” a track about the often complicated relationships between fathers and daughters, has a deep country twang that is impossible to ignore. Horns, fiddles, jangly guitar riffs and Beyoncé’s flawless voice combine to create a track that is both immensely listenable and undeniably country. The elements of a good country tune — the rich storytelling, the harmonies, the sound — are all there.

The point was further driven home when the Dixie Chicks, arguably the torchbearers of classic authenticity in modern country, played the song at a show in the United Kingdom. Now, this song isn’t any more country in the hands of the Dixie Chicks than it is in Beyoncé’s, but the fact that the Chicks immediately recognized its country appeal does raise the question: Why exactly has the industry refused to pay it any attention?

Alison Bonaguro, a writer for Country Music Television, claimed that “Daddy Lessons” couldn’t be a country song because it wasn’t written in Nashville or by a group of country songwriters. If that narrow definition were in fact true, then plenty of “traditional” country music wouldn’t be considered as such. Country records have been cut in Bakersfield, Memphis, Muscle Shoals, Texas, even fucking Europe. Adding insult to injury, Bonaguro’s bio at CMT clearly indicates that she doesn’t even live in Nashville, further proving exactly how inane that point really is.

At Salon, Sam Adams writes that Orlando country station K92.3 gave the track a “trial spin” on the airwaves, only to be met with an incredible amount of pushback. “She has no place on country radio. Her music is a disgrace to music,” wrote one listener who clearly didn’t even listen to the damn song. “It isn't even music! It's trash!” In an epic show of thinly (and not so thinly) veiled racism, country fans have shown that they’re perhaps not quite ready to bring diversity to country that has been desperately needed for so long.

And as much as country fans forget the contributions of black artists to country music all the time — the idea that, sure, they love Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music, because even an ignorant, petulant racist can’t deny the appeal of Ray Charles — they immediately push back against artists of color attempting to break into the genre with country tunes.  The same could be said for Nelly, whose foray into country didn’t bring the same quality and authenticity as Beyoncé thrust onto the table, but it certainly wasn’t any worse than Sam Hunt’s pseudo-rapping or the infiltration of techno beats.

It would be one thing if this track were some kind of calculated pander to an audience that has no doubt proven themselves willing to fawn at the altar of celebrity. Instead, it’s an organically country track in the vein of Kacey Musgraves or even Dolly Parton. “Daddy Lessons” is personal storytelling at its best, woven with vivid imagery and sonic elements that have always characterized what it means to be a good country song.

As indulgent and boring as the debate over what “real country” is may be, it’s certainly worse to exclude an artist from that definition simply because her previous albums didn’t at all fit that definition. Beyoncé doesn’t have to prove her country bona fides because they’re right up front in the verse. She needs little more than a refrain of “Texas, Texas” followed by a killer fiddle intro to make her point.  

Beyoncé is a whole ‘nother story. On "Formation," among messages of black and feminine empowerment, Beyoncé makes it clear that though she’s “earned all this money,” you’ll never take the country out of her. She’s from Houston, for God’s sake, which gives her infinitely more insight into country music than some random artist plucked out of the Midwest who just added a little twang to pop tunes. Beyoncé has always and consistently repped her “country” upbringing, so why shouldn’t she have the same crack at the genre as, say, Pennsylvania-born Taylor Swift?

Whether or not the country establishment wants to pay any attention to Beyoncé, they’re real idiots to ignore what could be a game-changer for the genre. Beyoncé is literally the biggest star on the planet – good luck scoring tickets to this weekend’s show in Houston, or any other Beyoncé performance – and has demonstrated an artistic range that makes her one of the most iconic artists of her generation. At a time when country music barely moves the critical needle, and when it does it often refuses to be called country, that’s a mistake the genre can’t afford.

In the same way that country was desperately in need of a sonic and aesthetic revolution in the early 2000s, don’t be surprised if you see it fall back into its status as a niche genre. As much as the critics and the traditionalists hate this current incarnation of country music, it undoubtedly is more commercially successful than any of the music that you’d see end up on a mainstream critic’s “best of” list.

The problem has been, though, that the music that sold was garbage. But that isn’t true for “Daddy Lessons” in all its (likely) multiplatinum glory. Whether or not you like Beyoncé or like R&B or think that she’s part of the Illuminati, it’s going to be difficult to find a better-charting country song this year. Unfortunately, “Buy Me a Boat” ain’t going to cut it.

However unintentionally, Beyoncé has given an incredible gift to country music, and ignoring that contribution has consequences that could affect the artists that the genre actually does want around. Even Blake Shelton, who possesses the insight and depth of a puddle, recognizes just how inane it is to exclude Beyoncé from a genre that could use her help. If that doesn’t tell you how blatantly obvious the country establishment’s stupidity has been in this instance, nothing will. 

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Amy McCarthy is a food writer and country music critic who splits time between Dallas and Houston. Her music writing is regularly featured in the Houston Press and has also appeared in Texas Monthly, Salon, VICE, Playboy, and Pitchfork.