Please welcome… Cowboy Carter
Please welcome… Cowboy Carter

Pop CultureApril 3, 2024

Aotearoa was first in the world to hear Cowboy Carter – here’s what we thought

Please welcome… Cowboy Carter
Please welcome… Cowboy Carter

The Spinoff writers (and friends) gather their thoughts and feelings about the new Beyonce album. 

Everyone from Azealia Banks to Vice President Kamala Harris had already weighed in on Beyonce’s new album Cowboy Carter when two blokes by the names of Christopher Luxon and Mike Hosking joined the Beyhive on Newstalk ZB yesterday morning. “Have you heard Beyonce’s new album?” Hosking asked Luxon. “I quite like it,” the prime minister replied, “I think she’s done something quite provocative and quite good.” 

Hosking then revealed himself to be a “massive country fan”, picking his favorite track on the album as ‘II Most Wanted’, which features Miley Cyrus. Given that Aotearoa had the luxury of being the first in the world to immerse ourselves in Cowboy Carter, and then soaking in it over a long Easter weekend, we thought we would join experts such as Luxon and Hosking and share our reckons on Beyonce’s eighth studio album. 

Madeleine Chapman (Editor)

What an opener. ‘Ameriican Requiem’ is just a perfect little Beyonce package, all bound tight (though not exactly the most country beginning to a country album) and exactly what I as a somewhat fairweather Beyonce fan was hoping for – a gentle banger that builds to full force and is inimitably Beyonce. So much so that the shift to song two – a soft cover of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ – was a little jarring on first listen. After a few more listens of the full album it starts to make sense and is easily the best of the album’s covers. 

‘Jolene’, a rewriting of Dolly Parton’s classic, just didn’t hit. 1) Jolene’s hook was its vulnerability and flipping it to come from a place of confident anger just reminded me of when men cover women’s songs and feel the need to change the pronouns in the lyrics. 2) I would’ve loved to hear Beyonce, a billionaire seemingly above reproach, inexplicably singing from a place of insecurity like everyone else. Instead, she inexplicably sang about “raising” her much-older husband and in the next breath suggested that others would be attracted to him. Sir! Please.

As always, my favourites are changing with each listen but right now the listening-on-loop flow from ‘Amen’ to ‘Ameriican Requiem’ to ‘Blackbiird’ is very good.

Eli Rivera (Head of commercial)

It was a Good Friday indeed: Bey Day was upon us. Waking up to approximately 50 text messages from two different groups chatting about the release of Cowboy Carter set the tone for my day. The texts varied widely, ranging between hectic excitement to complaints about the album not being country enough and lacking in bangers. With my curiosity piqued, I decided to dive in. We truly were so lucky to be among the first in the world to receive this musical gift!

In one of my text groups, live recordings and reactions were shared via FaceTime with our friends in the United States who sadly had to wait another day before they could indulge in Queen Carter. I was immediately taken by the ‘Blackbiird’ cover, and found myself bopping to everything from ‘Texas Hold Em’ to ‘Jolene.’ The tracks ‘Spaghettii’ and ‘Most Wanted’ stood out for their raw edge and stunning beauty. From the guest appearances, to the visuals, it’s simply breathtaking. Beyoncé’s latest masterpiece not only raises black country voices but does so with such incredible artistry and intelligence.

Alex Casey (Senior writer)

Cowboy Carter gave me the strength I needed over Easter to saddle up and weed an enormous patch of garden I’ve been putting off for weeks, but rest assured it was not without extended periods of time sitting on the ground staring at the sky while listening to this staggering, sprawling, monumental and unbelievably intertextual album. Where to even begin? The soaring gospel of ‘Ameriican Requiem’ stripping right back to ‘Blackbiird’? The softness of Beyonce-as-mother in ‘Protector’ contrasted with the full operatic scariness of Beyonce-as-murderer in ‘Daughter’? Me suddenly developing a frankly illegal crush on Post Malone via ‘Levii’s Jeans’? The “oooooo–weeeeee–oooooo” of ‘Bodyguard’?!?!?

Every day brings a new set of favourites, but at the moment I can’t stop returning to the crazed duo of ascendant, light as a feather ‘II Hands II Heaven’, which then grape vines straight into Dolly Parton exclaiming “Time to strike a match and light up this juke joint!” for the violin loops and big beat of ‘Tyrant’. Because of course when Beyonce takes the biggest swing of her career since Austin Powers in Goldmember, she has all the legends of the game standing at the plate with her. She needs nobody, of course, but having Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Miley Cyrus onboard is surely cause for some reflection within those who said she wasn’t country enough. “If that ain’t country,” she says in the opening track, “tell me what is”.

Mike Puru (Southern Cross Country Radio)

Cowboy Carter is a triumph. As an avid country music fan, I love the fact Beyonce has managed to blend so many genres into one album – it keeps you guessing. ‘Texas Hold Em’, with its classic country twang, perhaps gave people the impression the whole album was going to be country, but country music isn’t strictly straw hats and banjos anymore. Post Malone next to a Beatles song, next to a reinterpreted Jolene, all under a Beyonce umbrella – that’s country enough for me. Cowboy Carter expands the perimeters of country music and I love it, my favourite track is ‘Levii’s Jeans’ and the one I skip is’ Sweet Honey Buckiin’. Anyway, loosen up NZ, the banjos ain’t taking over yet – perhaps country is, though.

Jin Fellet (Hex Work producer)

I was sure that we would be getting Cowboy Carter when it was released in the American timezone so it came as a surprise when we basically got the first listen. My partner and I were getting ready to get on the road for Easter weekend and he suggested that we listen to the album together. I had to quickly decline – this experience was strictly for me, myself, and my noise-cancelling headphones, and interruptions or commentary in between were not welcomed for the first listen. 

The moment I pressed play, I immediately felt chills when she sang “AMERICAAAAANNNN REEEEQUIEEEMMMM”. God, the harmonies. And then the transition to ‘Blackbird’? This woman had me in tears, but the next moment I was dancing, and then I was back to crying again when the album finished. Based on the first listen, the (long list of) standouts were: ‘My Rose’, ‘Bodyguard’, ‘Daughter’, ‘Ya Ya’, ‘Desert Eagle’, ‘II Hands II Heaven’ and ‘Tyrant’. The transition from ‘Desert Eagle’ through to ‘Sweet Honey Buckiin’ is a true masterpiece.

Not only is this album a musical journey; it’s a history lesson of Black music and her family heritage (B-E-Y-I-N-C-E), seamlessly interwoven with her unique take on country music. Every beat, reference, interpolation, and collaborator has been intentionally chosen, reminiscent of her approach in ACT I. It has come to the point where I don’t want or need to explain why Beyonce is so amazing at what she does. If you don’t get it, you never will. 

Stewart Sowman-Lund (News reporter)

Oh my God, this album is so much. Is it too much? Maybe a little, but the highs outweigh the lows. I’ll admit to being a more recent convert to Beyonce. I’ve always liked the pop bangers, but have had little time for the deep cuts. With 2022’s Renaissance, that changed. An album that should only be digested in full, each song seamlessly flowing into the next, crafting a world far bigger than the music itself. Cowboy Carter is a sublime follow-up, though it feels less cohesive and succinct than its predecessor. 

On hearing the opening tune ‘Ameriican Requiem’ – possibly the highlight for me – I thought that was going to be the “sound” of the whole album, but then suddenly there’s a Beatles cover, later a furious rap-heavy anthem, and a bizarre “cover” of Jolene that entirely changes the tone and meaning of that song. So yes, I think some trimming around the edges may have helped Cowboy Carter. But beyond Ameriican Requiem, clear standouts include the Miley Cyrus duet ‘II Most Wanted’ and the pop-heavy ‘Ya Ya’ that interpolates, astonishingly, both ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys and Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walkin’. 

I’ll admit to being a bit worried when Beyonce teased a full blown country album. But she was right – this isn’t a country album, it’s a Beyonce album. It’s as grandiose and, at times, excessive as you’d expect.

Alice Webb-Liddall (Partnerships editor)

The coincidental timing of Cowboy Carter’s release and my Easter pilgrimage to the West Coast provided the blessing of a bunch of time to take down the full album, uninterrupted except for a short pie break in Sheffield. About four bars into track four, ‘Protector’ I turned to my husband and said “this one is quite good”. Three minutes of listening later, I turned to him again, tears in my eyes, to see him also crying. 

I’m a Beyonce tragic, and have more recently dragged my husband into the heaving fandom too, by giving him a play-by-play of the entire Renaissance film after I watched it with a friend in an otherwise empty cinema. While this album isn’t necessarily the hoedown I thought it would be, and doesn’t contain the same through line and polish of Renaissance, it is a middle finger to the country music ‘purists’ that continue to try lock out artists like her

But like the lyric in closing track ‘Amen’: Them old ideas are buried here. There are a number of big bops and a number of tear jerkers, and a few that fall into both categories. Cowboy Carter is definitely going to get a few spins in my house.

Claire Mabey (Books editor)

On the first blast of Bey’s cover of ‘Jolene’ my partner (a musician) said, “she’s obviously listened to the Darcy Clay cover because that echo bit at the start is familiar”. Enter: the Easter where we played all the Jolene covers, ever (that we could find). As a hardcore fan of Dolly’s version I didn’t love this one mainly because of the lyric changes which totally shift the meaning of the song (if you want to do a deep dive, this podcast is real good); but I did love the horsey trot sound for the beat. I was immediately in love, however, with the ‘Blackbird’ cover which is sublime with the backing vocals and lifts the whole sweet vibe into another dimension. But my fave, on repeat, can’t stop listening is ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ with the legendary Rhiannon Giddens on banjo. What an absolute banger for the age.

Courtney Mayhew (friend of The Spinoff)

Since August 2022, it had got to the point that, when I was about to put music on, my partner would say “OK babe, but maybe not Renaissance front to back again?” I was lucky enough to see the Renaissance tour in Paris last year and have often “joked” that I was a changed person after that experience. It is everything that I love. An album that was made to make you dance, that took its cues from queer culture and paired it with the hallmarks of Queen Bee at her best: exceptional lyricism, inspired collaborations, and boundary pushing.

Cowboy Carter has all those hallmarks. In a world of TikTok sounds, Beyonce continues to present full works of art. She could easily give us a continuous flow of pop ear worms that would catapult to top of the charts. Instead, she innovates. Cowboy Carter, like Renaissance, plays homage to the past and reimagines it for the present.

Just like Renaissance, I know that my favourite tracks will ebb and flow based on what I’m feeling and needing in the moment. Pregame warm up for a night out? Here’s looking at you ‘Riiverdance.’ Feeling dramatically vengeful? Sup ‘Daughter.’ Want to pretend Miley Cyrus and Beyonce are in a not so platonic relationship? Hello ‘II Most Wanted.’ But for now, it is front to back, front to back, front to back…

Kerryanne Nelson (former GM of The Spinoff)

I once had a moment with Beyonce. I was at the Mrs Carter tour at the O2 in London in 2013 and she handed me her mic to sing the chorus to ‘Irreplaceable’. I screamed “To the left, to the left” into the mic like a tone deaf four year-old and felt high for about four days. Put your Creme Eggs in the bin, this album was the ultimate Easter egg for us all (especially my fellow Aries’ out there). As expected, there are many highlights. In no particular order, here are some of mine:

  • The first strum on ‘Ameriican Requiem’, reminding you who this artist is and what she’s here to do. 
  • ‘Bodyguard’ changes pace and decides it’s time for us all to dance. 
  • “I raised that man, I raised his kids” on ‘Jolene’. Yes, you did. No notes. 
  • The Italian opera verse on ‘Daughter’.
  • ‘II Most Wanted’ reminds us why we love Miley. I am predicting that this song will be played at a lot of weddings. 
  • Her voice when she sings “I ain’t in no gang but I got shooters and I bang bang” on ‘Spaghettii’ (co-produced by The Dream), giving us big Renaissance energy.
  • ‘Levii’s Jeans’ is the sexiest song of 2024. The Levi’s brand and marketing department are taking the rest of the year off imo.
  • The piano and string loop on ‘Riiverdance’, co-written by Raye. Bounce on that shit, dance dance.
  • Willie Jones’ smoky voice in ‘Just For Fun’. When the beat comes in at the two and a half minute mark, you feel like everything is going to be ok in the world. 
  • The seamless transition into ‘II Hands II Heaven’. We all need to go to Marfa and hold our whiskeys up high. 
  • ‘Tyrant’, produced by d.a. got that dope and feat Dolly, is my current fave. The bass and string overlay, are insane. Giddy up.

There’s just so much here. It’s so rich and will take months to appreciate the detail of it all. Track down a really good stereo and listen to it loudly without any interruptions, or grab your earphones and walk up a mountain during golden hour, pretending you’re in Texas. It needs your full attention. What is a genre anyway? Album of the year.

Keep going!