Fandom and Genre Reclamation: Beyoncé Takes on Country Music

Thought Leadership

In this blog, Vanessa Tafi (Senior R&I Analyst) and Shannon Stocker (Senior Cultural Analyst) delve into how Beyoncé’s latest album release is igniting much-needed changes within Country music.

Last month, Beyoncé broke new ground by becoming the first Black woman to top the Country charts. Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages signalled her first return to country music since 2016 single Daddy Lessons. Their release generated over 144K mentions.

On 29th March, Beyoncé released her album in full – act ii COWBOY CARTER is her eighth studio album, and the second in a planned trilogy that began with her 2022 record Renaissance. More than a country music album, it’s an exploration of the history of the genre, its archive, and the American South.  

Announcing its release to the world, Beyoncé explained that COWBOY CARTER was born out of an ‘experience where I [Beyoncé] did not feel welcomed… and where it was very clear I wasn’t’. Many believe this alludes to her 2016 Country Music Awards performance, and the ensuing backlash. Since releasing her latest singles the same story has played out, from country stations refusing her airplay to public criticisms from conservative pundits. 

Unfortunately this backlash isn’t surprising. Black artists have long faced resistance in Country music. Similar treatment befell Lil Nas X when his hit single Old Town Road was disqualified from the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 2018. Mickey Guyton, the only Black woman to ever be nominated for a country Grammy as a solo act, has been vocal about her experience of abuse and harassment – including from people who say her race means she doesn’t belong in country music. 

Since 2016 this exclusion has become increasingly politicised; but the roots of Country music tell a different story — one deeply intertwined with Black culture. From hymnals and spirituals to jazz and the blues, Black contributions have been integral to shaping the genre’s identity.

But as Beyoncé herself proclaimed, ‘This isn’t a country album. This is a “Beyoncé” album’. Her power and influence extends beyond the power of the Nashville establishment; and she’s not alone – audience-led changes are fostering new ways of creating and experiencing country music that exist outside of the gatekeepers of the genre. 

Image credit: NYT

Power of Streaming

Country’s historic reliance on radio airplay has dictated an artist’s success – and failure. Artists like Beyoncé and Lil Nas X have faced institutional rejection and unequal airtime for not fitting the mould. 

However, Spotify reported a 60% surge in country music streaming between 2019 and 2022. This is a significant rise, and indicates a shift whereby streaming is bringing new audiences to the genre.

The release of COWBOY CARTER will only accelerate this –  we have already seen country singer Reyna Roberts experience a 250% jump in streams days after Beyoncé’s singles dropped. As streaming continues to become more important, expect Country music to change with radio and physical album sales not as important to an artist’s success. 

Image credit: Instagram @beyonce

BeyHive Uprising

In a bid to navigate the current system, the stars’ fandom – the BeyHive – have started a campaign to secure airplay on Country radio stations. Their efforts underscore the power and influence of fan organisation, with the song being added to major station playlists. We’ve seen this phenomenon before with Swifties taking Ticketmaster to court and BTS’ Army disrupting a Trump Rally. Fans are now wielding unprecedented influence over the direction of the industry.

This power shift is poised to echo throughout the Country music landscape, particularly as Black Country music gains momentum alongside Cowboy Carter’s release. With Beyoncé’s 320 million Instagram followers descending upon country music, the genre’s fanbase is set to evolve, enriched by new ideals and values that promise greater diversity and inclusion.

Image credit: Billboard

Genre Reclamation

Cowboy Carter is the second act of a three part release, with each album highlighting the significant role of Black creativity in shaping popular music. Act I, Renaissance, paid homage to Black and Black queer pioneers of dance music, particularly within genres like house and disco.

This mirrors a shift happening on social, explored in this year’s Think Forward, with movements like #altpoc and #blackalt making space for more complex identities in music culture, from POCs to female, trans, and disabled fans. The former has garnered a staggering 303.3M views, evidencing the huge demand for more diversity within classic music genres. Similarly, hashtags like #blackcountry and #blackcountrygirl are gaining momentum, with 14.4K TikTok videos and 102.5M views, indicating a bigger surge in interest following the release of Beyoncé’s country singles.

Across social, creators are challenging narrow ideas of who can participate in music communities, particularly when it comes to gender and ethnicity. These perspectives are changing the music scene, making it more inclusive and promising new sounds and identities that reframe white-dominated genres.

Image credit: YouTube

While the music industry at large is changing, Country music hasn’t caught up yet. Eventually, it will have to adapt to fans of the music – and Beyoncé’s move into the genre could make this happen faster.

Watch social media in the next few weeks; as people reconsider their connection to music, COWBOY CARTER might inspire them to advocate for more changes. This presents an opportunity for brands within the music industry to reconsider how they present and discuss the history and legacy of music – and how they widen the aperture of who can participate. Likewise, for brands outside the music realm, it’s imperative to go beyond superficial representation and examine the systems that may inadvertently exclude diverse perspectives from the narratives we shape.

*Data sourced from Brandwatch, Chartmetric, and Google Analytics

Main image credit: Stereogum