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Super Bowl 2024 announcement: Why Beyoncé is reclaiming country music

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By Clare ThorpFeatures correspondent

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Beyoncé's new album might be an act of defiance as well as a nod back to her roots in Texas.

She's the artist who mastered the surprise album drop back in 2013, and last night Beyoncé proved she can still catch us off-guard when, midway through the Super Bowl, she dropped two brand new tracks, announced details of her upcoming album, and revealed that she is heading in a whole new direction: country music.

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Exactly a week since Taylor Swift announced at the Grammys that her new album, The Tortured Poets Department, would be out in April, pop music's other hardest working woman gave us yet more new music to look forward to with the second act of the singer's Renaissance project - which began in 2022 with her dance and house music-inspired album.

The announcement came - in true Super Bowl style - via a big-budget commercial ad. The campaign, for Verizon, saw Beyoncé trying unsuccessfully to "break the internet" with various stunts, including announcing a Barbey movie and a presidential run (for Botus, not Potus) - then ended with the singer saying: "OK, they ready. Drop the new music." Cue two new tracks, Texas Hold 'Em and 16 Carriages, immediately appearing on streaming services, along with details of an album coming on 29 March.

In truth, the hardcore Beyhive have been suspecting a country album is on the way - thanks to several clues the singer has dropped. She turned up at the Grammys in a Western-inspired Louis Vuitton by Pharrell Williams look, complete with white cowboy hat. She also always said Renaissance was a three-act project - though never revealed exactly what each act would be.

It's also not Beyoncé's first foray into country music. She experimented with the genre on Daddy Lessons, a track from her 2016 album Lemonade. In many ways, her full-on cowgirl era has felt a long time coming - and now it's arrived, it feels like a welcome act of defiance, as she reclaims a genre some have suggested she doesn't belong in.

When Beyoncé submitted Daddy Lessons for the country category at the Grammys, the Academy's country music committee rejected the track. Likewise, there was a backlash from some quarters when she performed the song at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards with The Chicks. At a time when Beyoncé's music was becoming increasingly political - addressing subjects including police brutality - some conservative country music fans argued that she had no place at the ceremony.

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Beyoncé performed her 2016 song Daddy Lessons at the CMA Awards with The Chicks (Credit: Getty Images)

"For them to disrespect her that way was disgusting," said Natalie Maines of The Chicks, who themselves were cast out of the country music community for criticising George W Bush and the Iraq war in 2003.

But tell Beyoncé she can't - or shouldn't - do something, and she will only prove you wrong. On her 2019 single Black Parade, she signalled her desire to reclaim that part of her musical heritage: "I'm going back to the South… where my roots aren't watered down." Beyoncé's hometown is Houston, Texas, and the city's cowboy heritage loomed large in her upbringing. "I remember the trail ride, with people riding from all over to the Houston Rodeo," she told the Houston Chronicle.

Country music has a complicated history with race. Although it has its roots in blues music, and black musicians were early and important contributors to its sound (with guitarist Lesley Riddle's influence on The Carter family just one example), they've frequently been shut out from the genre or seen as outsiders. One exception is Ray Charles, whose Modern Sounds in Country and Western was a huge critical and commercial success, nominated for album of the year at the 1963 Grammys. In 2022, Charles became just the third black musician to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Post 9/11 especially, the genre became increasingly nationalistic, and confederate flags have been commonplace at country music events (the Country Music Festival banned them in 2022). But more recently, black artists have been incorporating country music into their sound - one of the biggest examples being Lil Nas X's mammoth 2019 hit Old Town Road ("Beyoncé finna make me put my cowboy hat back on" he posted on X after her latest announcement). Meanwhile, country star Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's 1988 folk song Fast Car resulted in Chapman becoming the first black songwriter to win song of the year at the Country Music Association Awards. "I never expected to find myself on the country charts, but I'm honoured to be there," she said.

It certainly feels like country music is having a moment within pop circles. Earlier this month, Lana Del Rey announced that she was going in a new direction for her next album, Lasso, due out in September. "We going country, it's happening," she said. Rapper Post Malone - who performed an acoustic rendition of America the Beautiful at the Super Bowl - has also confirmed he has a country album on the way. Malone has collaborated with Taylor Swift on a track on her upcoming album - though whether Swift will return to her own country roots is unknown, having seen her career go stratospheric when she made the move into pop.

With more contemporary pop artists experimenting with country music, the genre looks ripe to enter an interesting new era, and we can expect Beyoncé's take to be characteristically groundbreaking, immersive and thoughtful - taking in not just country music, but Western and cowboy culture as a whole. She's previously talked about her desire to celebrate "the oft-hidden history of black pioneers within cowboy and cowgirl culture."

Fans are speculating that Renaissance act ii could be the second in a three-part project to reclaim musical genres that have their roots in black music - first dance music, then country and next - potentially - rock 'n' roll. For now though, it's time to saddle up and get ready for the Beyoncé rodeo.

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