PopOff! Commentary: Know When To Fold’em

So I was working on another edition of my “Playing Favorites” series, specifically regarding country music. Yes the whole genre. And in the process of touching up the first part I was alerted that Beyoncé released a country song- well… two country songs. And she put on a cowboy hat.

Country music is my 2nd favorite genre of all time. So let’s get the biggest debate out of the way right up front. “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages” are country songs. Period. Terrible, terrible country songs. Songs that sound like what somebody who doesn’t listen to country or hasn’t been a part of the genre most of their career thinks country music is.

As I said in a social media post, “Well I never thought I’d see the day Beyoncé released a checklist bro-country song.” It is just awful, in that late 90s Shania Twain yee-haw faux pop-country way. And I say pop-country because it is more pop than country.

I already have defended them as country songs and that doesn’t even matter because Beyoncé  doesn’t need my defense she has the beyhive and really she’s doing just fine despite the critiques and praise.  Even though her songs were not released by Beyoncé or he label as country songs (the metadata originally said “pop”) and did not release them to country radio she has now had a country radio chart #1.

Still, many people are not having it with boring takes are saying they aren’t country songs. And for the mainstream masses defending them as country songs the most reoccurring comments (aside from the lazy racism angle) I have seen are:

1. Beyoncé is from Houston
2. “Texas Hold ‘em” has Rhiannon Giddens on clawhammer banjo (only in the intro mind you).
3. This is no less country that was has been on country radio over the past ten years.

These comments make it glaringly obvious most people making these defensive remarks while likely music fans, (specifically Beyoncé fans) have very little knowledge of country music. And are in the debate solely to enter these songs and the wealthy Beyoncé herself into the Oppression Olympics. So let me address these two points.

1. The Pointer Sisters had one of the biggest country hits of the 70s and one of their first big hits with “Fairytale” and they are from Oakland, California. Oh and country LEGEND Merle Haggard was also from CA and even the Jon Pardi who is breaking the mainstream bro-country hold by getting traditional sounds back on radio is from Dixon.

Also, Mary Chapin Carpenter, one of the most respected country music songwriters of her generation is from New Jersey. And I don’t think I need to remind you Shania Twain was from Canada.

Lastly, Houston as a city is as “country” as San Diego. So it’s not the location that matters.

2. Saying the song has Rhiannon Giddens on clawhammer banjo (only in the intro mind you), is the music equivalent of people making racial jokes and saying, “I have black friends.” Banjo doesn’t make a song country. If it did Irish traditional and Irish-Punk would be all over country radio and the country charts. Also before we get t here- mandolin doesn’t make it country music either…

Saying that SHE is reclaiming country music for the black community (Rhiannon Giddens would like a word) because she is from Houston and the song has banjo (only the intro mind you) and the banjo is an African instrument ignores the fact that country music has pedal steel (Hawaiian invention) and mandolin (European invention) violin/fiddle (European invention) along with steel guitar and even saxophone. And whittling down the genre to these two things, one a stereotype of the music and the other a stereotype of the people who make this music has been country music’s problem for a while but from the outsiders looking in. And I can’t fault people for praising these songs so much if all the know or were raised on is bro-country and other mainstream sugar of the last ten + years.

3. I want to state again that these Beyoncé songs are country songs and these songs, while terrible, are no worse than Sam Hunt or Kane Brown or whatever Brantley Gilbert has been pissing off as country his whole career. In fact I argue they are better, simply because it is Beyoncé. But they are terrible Beyoncé songs too, considering her catalog. “Texas Hold’em” is basically a bro-country song with less EDM added.

Also I will say, here the beyhive IS NOT listening to country radio (who is really). And most of the hive doesn’t care about country radio (or country music) outside of bragging rights for their queen. And again this song is not being played on country radio because it was not released by her or her label to country radio it was sent to top 40 radio. I believe because top 40 is having a real moment with country music over the last few years and this a move to capitalize on that from a business standpoint.

Now let’s get to these awful lyrics.

It’s a real life boogie and a real life hoedown
Don’t be a bitch, come take it to the floor now

Nobody in country music has used the word hoedown since probably the days of Hee-haw. And she paired it up with boogie. Then she name drops whiskey and red solo cups.

Rugged whiskey (rugged whiskey) ’cause we survivin’ (’cause we survivin’)
Off red cup kisses, sweet redemption, passin’ time, yeah

She just needed mention mama, jail, and “Ol’ Hank” and she’ll have the perfect country song.

This ain’t Texas (woo), ain’t no hold ’em (hey)
So lay your cards down, down, down, down
So park your Lexus (woo) and throw your keys up (hey)
Stick around, ’round, ’round, ’round, ’round (stick around)
And I’ll be damned if I can’t slow dance with you
Come pour some sugar on me, honey too
It’s a real life boogie and a real life hoedown
Don’t be a bitch, come take it to the floor now (woo)

Here she she is telling us this ain’t country. Well she isn’t wrong in that, it is more a Beyoncé song doing country as I said above. But the Lexus ad… and then “pour some sugar on me”. I like that she chose Lexus over Cadillac but it is still a checklist song. And swiping from British glam metal act Def Leppard is hilarious.

“But Bear it’s a fun song and lots of country songs have stupid lyrics!”

Yes they do. And, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” is a terrible song too. “Way donwn yonder on the Chattahoochie it gets hotter than a hootchie-cootchie” is also stupid. That doesn’t excuse Beyoncé’s lazy lyrics, especially since she is lauded as this music icon beyond reproach if her intent is to “reclaim country music”. They are awful. And she could be called out on these awful lyrics.

“texas Hold’em” is the party “hoedown” and but t he other song she released seems like her attempt to prove she can also write a serious country song. But “16 Carriages” is equally empty with a rhyme scheme that feels like it just entered high school.


16 carriages drivin’ away
While I watch them ride with my dreams away
To the summer sunset on a holy night
On a long black road, all the tears I fight

And then there is this wholly inauthentic bit of country cliché coming from one of the wealthiest musicians going.

Underpaid and overwhelmed
I might cook, clean, but still won’t fold

Gurl, please you are not underpaid, even you feel like it. And I doubt you do much cooking and you are definitely not riding THAT bus anymore.

There is no need for me to go on about this. Because there isn’t much to go on about. I’ll be curious to see how country her whole album is or if it is more Beyoncé than country. I do wish in her country move she would be shouting out artists who started and stayed country and didn’t use the genre as their next whim or like Swift as a stepping stone to pop. Because it doesn’t come off and genuine or serious, certainly not while we have had Rhiannon Giddens doing Pulitzer prize winning work exploring black roots in the country music world. But all my opinions on the matter won’t matter to the Beyhive or the masses who dine solely on soundbites and hyperbolic absolutes.

And since I don’t foresee her using her platform to highlight the great talent going in the genre and I don’t foresee most of the masses who come across her songs going deeper than her songs. I decided to provide an easy to access mix that I think showcases why these Beyoncé songs are terrible country songs.

This will give you something from full honky-tonk to more rock leanings depending on what level on twang you can hang with complete with 3/4 time.

And since mainstream country music still has a problem with women on country radio, promotion, and just in general I will give you mostly female artists making dynamite country music that outclasses what Beyoncé has done on these two songs by a country mile.

Also with specific regards to her reclaiming country and basically erasing the history of black artists who have been working in country for some time beyond Ray Charles 7 country albums, Tina Turner’s solo debut country album, The Pointer Sisters and of course Charley Pride I recommend the 2 disc compilation, From Where I Stand: The Black Experience in Country Music as a starting place.

 

 

 

 

 

And the compilations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which explore the the cross-pollination of country and soul in the 1960s (strted by Ray Charles who introduced many soul artists to great country songwriters).   This exchange was going on at the heights of race tension despite what  the media narratives were pushing about each group.

I also recommend my own set of music I did for Black History Month all about country music from when I was doing a regular country music stream.

Now as to modern country music… Here are just a few country artists putting out some of the best song-writing and production for my money in recent years. Be prepared to dance!

1. Brandy Clarke – Broke
2. Charley Crockett – Music City U.S.A.
3. Charlie Marie – Lime and Tequila
4. Lainey Wilson – Smell Like Smoke
5. Juliet McConkey – Hung The Moon
6. Chapel Hart – Welcome To Fist City
7. Kaitlin Butts – Jackson
8. Summer Dean – Blue Jean Country Queen
9. Brennen Leigh – Ain’t Through Honky Tonkin’ Yet
10. The War and Treaty – Yesterday’s Burn
11. Ashley McBryde – Gospel Night At The Strip Club (Acoustic Version)

FAVORITES OF SET:
Juliet McConkey – Hung The Moon
Ashley McBryde – Gospel Night At The Strip Club (Acoustic Version)

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