Will Country Welcome Beyoncé? That’s the Wrong Question.

With the release of “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé’s eighth solo album and the one that finds her exploring — and testing — the boundaries of country music, much of the early conversation has centered on whether the country music industry would rally around her. Beyoncé is one of the most commercially successful and creatively vibrant pop stars of the 21st century — certainly her arrival would be greeted with hurrahs, no?

Not quite.

Rather than being feted with a welcome party, Beyoncé has been met largely with shrugs. “Texas Hold ’Em” — one of the two singles she released in advance of the album — is a savvy blend of old and new. It displays a familiarity with the sonic principles of old-fashioned country, while maintaining the infectiousness of current pop. Nevertheless, it has received extremely modest attention at country radio. Beyoncé is Black, and a woman, two groups that contemporary Nashville has consistently marginalized and shortchanged. And no amount of built-in celebrity appears to be able to undo that.

Contemporary mainstream country music often feels like a closed loop of white male storytelling. Which is why whether or not Beyoncé and Nashville can find common cause is, in every way, a red herring. Neither is particularly interested in the other — the tradition-shaped country music business will accept certain kinds of outsiders but isn’t set up to accommodate a Black female star of Beyoncé’s stature, and she is focusing on country as art and inspiration and sociopolitical plaything, not industry. The spurn is mutual.

On Instagram last week, Beyoncé spelled it out plainly: “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.” It was a statement that preemptively denied the country music industry the opportunity to stake a claim on her work while also indicating that she had found a creative path around the genre’s confines.

Beyoncé and the Chicks at the C.M.A. Awards in 2016.Credit…Image Group LA/ABC, via Getty Images

This is as close as she’s come to leveraging the expectation of the genre’s racism and exclusion as a means of promotion. Beyoncé instead made it personal, adding that her exploration of these musical themes was “born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed … and it was very clear that I wasn’t.” This is likely a reference to her appearance at the Country Music Association Awards in 2016, where she performed her song “Daddy Lessons” alongside the Dixie Chicks (now the Chicks), another act who intimately understand the experience of being held at arm’s length by the Nashville oligarchy.

Back to top button