Embrace country music’s authentic “renaissance”


By Brianna Mack
April 29, 2024

Following the release of her latest country singles, “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages,” Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter” dropped on March 29. While “Renaissance” danced through love and life, “Cowboy Carter’s” lead singles swing inward.

With tight harmonies, strings and plain-spoken storytelling, the Houston-born vocalist celebrates her roots on “Texas Hold ‘Em,” and on “16 Carriages” painfully recalls the strife her 30-year career caused her family.

Candid narratives separate country music from other forms. Western country music melded 1920s bluesy emotion, bluegrass’ improvisation, and folk dance for community flair. Voicing collective suffering in the Great Depression braided country music into America’s fabric. 

Country music’s sonics progressed from hillbilly to rockabilly to pop throughout the 20th century, but loyal country fans listened for hard-working, relatable tales of love and hurt. Stories from Charley Pride, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris represented social change, resistance, and fairness, respectively. 

Beyoncé’s sentiment on “16 Carriages” (“Goin’ so hard, now I miss my kids/Overworked and overwhelmed”) doubles as her personal narrative and the struggle everyday people feel. Purposefully choosing the steel guitar to represent her burnout connects deeper than other sonics because country’s roots are in honest storytelling.

Redefining popular music

Honesty is hard to come by in popular music, but it’s craved. Fans and critics also like to pick the package it comes in. When “Dime Store Cowgirl” Kacey Musgraves was rejected from competing in the country categories at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, she reminded the Recording Academy of her lyric, “You can take me out of the country/But you can’t take the country out of me.”

Since honest storytelling supposedly drives country music, the reaction from artists like Musgraves was odd. Sonically, “star-crossed” does lean more toward pop, but the songwriting follows country conventions. Musgraves is known for her straightforward statements; most famously, encouraging people to live how they please on 2013’s “Follow Your Arrow”: “Kiss lots of boys/or kiss lots of girls/if that’s something you’re into.” 

Musgraves’s new album, “Deeper Well” released on March 15. She lets go of negative energy over a guitar loop and the chorus echoes, “I’ve found a deeper well.” Blending acoustic and electronic sounds broadens country’s horizons. 

Musgraves draws musical inspiration from Loretta Lynn to Mindy Smith. Like Beyoncé, Musgraves relies on her country roots to tell her truest story.

The patriotism contemporary country music associates itself with today leads back to 9/11. As the Great Depression united country artists for the working person, the events on 9/11 turned outlaws into nationalists.

The tension between conservative country folk and Musgraves stems from early in her career after she brought her openly gay co-writers on the Country Music Awards stage in 2013 to be awarded Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow.” Consequently, Musgraves became a symbol for change in country music by promoting self-acceptance and breaking away from the popular narrative.

Grab your cowboy boots

Cowboy fashions are popular because people are choosing what they want to wear. The era no longer dictates what’s popular or mainstream. People feel empowered to do what’s authentic to them. Country rhythms and sounds inspire confidence in the mundane.

For instance, Mitski, an indie-realist, chose to perform her first love songs as country ballads on her latest project. “Heaven” and “My Love Mine All Mine” are complete tonal shifts in the artist’s discography. On the same album, she details the heaviness of carrying her soul and how she would trade it with the Devil just to be relieved of the burden. Mitski represents honest country ideals on this album.

Mitski’s confessions, Lil Nas X’s controversy, and Beyoncé’s truth show country music returning to its unrefined roots on a grander scale. Beyoncé preferred untuned instruments to digital filters on “Cowboy Carter,” demonstrating how country music’s imperfections are its strength.

Beyonce wrote “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking. A place to scream, release, feel freedom” in her open letter to introduce her next album trilogy.

The second installment, “Cowboy Carter” may exist in a judgment-free zone due to her artistic status, but also because country music prides itself on constructive creative freedom.

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Brianna Mack

Brianna Mack is a communications/music industry and business major. Her love of reading, writing, and music blossomed in middle school by writing short stories for class and joining the choir. She started writing for news and was one of the first participants in the choir during her freshman year of high school. In her junior year, she took a course that inspired her to learn intense research methods. These methods apply to the ways she prepares every article and essay that she writes. She enjoys her work in the Writing Center as a peer tutor because she has always loved writing. She is the president of the XMusica Society, which is the presenting organization on campus. Brianna has two younger siblings. She commutes an hour to school every day, is an active member in her church, and helps facilitate a bible discussion group at Swarthmore College.

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