At the end of a Verizon commercial during the Super Bowl on February 11th, Beyoncé announced that the world was ready for her new music to drop (thanks, of course, to the strong internet network that only Verizon can provide). And while some might have hoped that Renaissance Act II might be a continuation of the house flavor she repurposed from artists like Robin S. and, yes, even Madonna, on Renaissance, it is instead slated to be a country album. This declared on the heels of Lana Del Rey making a similar announcement about “going country” for her next record, titled, what else, Lasso. Because, yeah, what the U.S. needs now is more people confirming it’s a place for shitkickers.
Many might have speculated Beyoncé was going to keep running with this cowgirl shtick for Act II, but perhaps thought said shtick might also maintain the house stylings present on Act I. Those with a more perspicacious eye, however, could have detected a genre shift based on Yoncé’s “color shift” in recent months. And what with frequently citing Michael Jackson as an influence, it can come as no surprise that Bey has also taken apparent inspiration from his propensity for skin lightening. As a woman who, like Jackson, has forged her empire on Blackness and what it means to be Black, the increased and not so gradual bleaching of her skin feels particularly traitorous. After all, this is the same woman who has a song called “Brown Skinned Girl.”
These days, though, she’s looking light taupe at best and “tan for a white person” at worst. But now, with the confirmation of her transition to country (because everyone must presently copy the “old Taylor” for some reason), her whitening suddenly makes all the sense in the world. After all, country is still the whitest genre you know, no matter how much Beyoncé tries to “funk-ify” it (to use a white person’s euphemism), or how much she might later bill it as “reclaiming the Black origins of the genre” (as was her intention with “taking back” house music for Renaissance). Doing her best to show us that she can with the first two offerings she’s revealed from the record, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages.” It is the former that many are attempting to bill as a “Daddy Lessons” redux. But no, it’s so much less listenable than that. And “Daddy Lessons” (a recent appropriate favorite of Britney Spears to dance in her living room to) is, obviously, more tolerable because it serves as an irreverent sonic divergence from the rest of Lemonade, which, to be frank, is the most country-sounding Beyoncé should ever allow herself to get (complete with Jack White helping her out on “Don’t Hurt Yourself”).
As for “16 Carriages,” it is a slowed-down “ballad”—or, more accurately, Beyoncé finding a way to play up her “rough” childhood spent seeking fame and essentially being pimped out (after being “invested in”) by her parents in a manner similar to the abovementioned Spears. With regard to the lyrics, “Sixteen carriages driving away/While I watch them ride with my fears away/To the summer sunset on a holy night/On a long back road, all the tears I fight,” that word, “carriage,” can refer both to the tour buses she rode while still in the germinal days of Destiny’s Child as well as the “country-centric” type of carriage that refers to the frame of a gun supporting its barrel. And yes, needless to say, Beyoncé already packs a pistol, of sorts, for her “Texas Hold ‘Em” visualizer, featuring three minutes and fifty-seven seconds of the whitest version of Yoncé yet forming her thumb, index and middle finger into a gun as sparks shoot out of it. All while wearing tights with black underwear over them and little else up top. A pair of reflective sunglasses with a winding snake over one of the lenses rounds out the look with a “Swiftian flair” (since everyone knows snakes have been “her thing” since Reputation…even if they were Britney Spears’ first by sheer virtue of the “I’m A Slave 4 U” performance at the 2001 VMAs).
The trailer for the album itself is a nod to Texas, displaying an overt homage to Paris, Texas (again, more Lana Del Rey shit on Beyoncé’s part) not only via the desolate desert landscape with its many electrical towers, but also the Harry Dean Stanton-esque man in the red baseball hat (though some conspiracy theorists might interpret its presence as some kind of subliminal “support” for Trump). So again, some super white references. The opening to the trailer itself harkens back to the vibe of Beyoncé driving away in the Pussy Wagon with Lady Gaga in the video for 2010’s “Telephone,” with Beyoncé capitulating to playing sidekick at a time of “Gaga supremacy.” But Bey doesn’t seem intent on staying in the Lone Star State by any means, slamming on the gas pedal as she approaches a billboard of herself waving what appears to be goodbye, rather than hello. The “hoedown” tone of the song commences with the lines, “This ain’t Texas, ain’t no hold ‘em” in a manner that smacks, in its own way, of Elton John declaring, “You know you can’t hold me forever.” Beyoncé certainly seemed to feel that way about her home state, jumping at the chance to ascend the ladder of fame as she drifted further and further from whence she came (no rhyme intended). Physically and emotionally.
And yet, once a person like her reaches such a stature, there’s nothing left to do but “look back.” Reflect on the roots that one abandoned in order to mine “fresh” material. Even though, as usual, Beyoncé is incapable of writing a song entirely on her own. Just as, of late, she seems to be incapable of coming up with an original idea, “persona-wise.” For it’s only too familiar, this “disco-fied cowgirl” thing she has going on. Or, let’s say, “ghetto fabulous” (though it’s probably no longer allowed). This also being the aesthetic Madonna already gave us in 2000 with Music. Indeed, even Madonna has moved beyond the look she herself cultivated by stripping it down to a more conventional cowboy appearance (minus the massive, cartoonish cowboy hats she and Bob the Drag Queen sport) for Act III of The Celebration Tour, which hinges thematically on “Don’t Tell Me,” her most cowboy-oriented visual of Music. And, as a Midwestern gal, returning to this aspect of herself makes sense. Some might say it does for Beyoncé, too. As a “Texan gal.” But we all know she wasn’t exactly vibing (least of all in 80s-era America) with the hoedown life or “hick culture” (an oxymoron, to be sure) until now, when it served her “musical inspiration” purpose.
Funnily enough, in 2016, as Beyoncé was starting to fully embrace her Blackness as a “brand” with the release of “Formation,” there was an SNL sketch that made fun of how white people were finally starting to realize she was Black. Now, it seems the tables have turned again, and Bey has gone back to her pandering-to-whites roots. Not only by releasing a country record, but by literally becoming white. And, to quote another lyric from “Texas Hold ‘Em,” “That shit ain’t pretty.”