Beyoncé's covers are landing Boomer country artists in the ears of Gen Z

beyonce cowboy carter press photo
Mason Poole/Parkwood
  • Beyoncé's latest album, "Cowboy Carter," pays homage to country and other acts before her time.

  • She covered Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and The Beatles' "Blackbird" and added her own twists.

  • Chart data shows that the artists she spotlights are seeing a streaming boost.

Gen Z: Meet The Beatles.

Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter," the superstar's first venture into country music since her 2016 song "Daddy Lessons," is a love letter to a musical genre that has pushed her — and so many other Black artists — out. It's also a deeply researched compendium of music's past.

Track after track, Queen Bey shows audiences she's done her history homework. She weaves in samples and references to Black artists, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, and Roy Hamilton. Between tracks, the voices of country legends like Willie Nelson and Linda Martell emerge in interludes.

Bey also breathes new life into two uber-famous songs, the 1973 country classic "Jolene" by Dolly Parton and The Beatles' 1968 ballad "Blackbird."

Following the Gospel-tinged protest tune "Ameriican Requiem" — featuring an interpolation of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" — she leaps into "Blackbird." The song Paul McCartney previously said took inspiration from Black women during the civil rights era and is now spotlighting emerging Black female country artists Tanner Adell, Brittney Spencer, Tiera Kennedy, and Reyna Roberts.

And she reimagines Parton's character in "Jolene" as a fierce woman — perhaps Beyoncé's own mother Tina Knowles, as some have speculated —who fights for her man rather than one intimidated by the prettiest girl in the room.

Gabriel Solis, an ethnomusicologist and music historian at the University of Washington, also pointed BI to a third, inconspicuous, cover in "Sweet Honey Buckiin'" — a nod to Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces."

"I fall to pieces/ Each time I see you there/ And I miss all our secrets/ So tell me how you been," Beyoncé croons at the top of the tune.

A cover song isn't just a copy

There's a long history of non-country artists doing country covers. For example, famous genre hopper Bing Crosby released "Bing Crosby Sings the Great Country Hits" in 1965.

And while covers can be controversial — with some music purists painting cover versions as inauthentic — they have multiple functions in art, experts told BI.

For artists, cover songs "are like a stepping stone. They let you stick your foot in the water but not jump in all the way," Don Cusic, a music historian and inductee into the Western Music Hall of Fame, told BI.

Covers also provide some legitimacy in a particular genre for the artist doing the cover. Beyoncé has spent years extolling her Southern roots and country upbringing, but having Dolly Parton personally approve of her rendition of "Jolene" sends a message to country music — Bey is on the same level as the greats.

Covers also help bridge the gaps between different genres and audiences. Bey's younger fans are discovering the older tunes she's paying homage to, while older rock and country fans are discovering Bey's music. Everyone wins.

And on Bey's album, covers are a powerful storytelling technique.

Solis, the ethnomusicologist, pointed out that country music has grown out of a history of people playing other artists' songs, particularly Black artists. As Beyoncé confronts the past and present of American music traditions, the covers help shape her message.

"I think the whole album is Beyoncé putting herself in relation to nothing less than the history of popular music in America," Solis said.

Changing the game with that country drop

It will take time to determine how high Bey's star power will elevate the original works. Perhaps the original "Jolene" will once again hit the Hot 100 à la Tracy Chapman's 1988 classic, "Fast Car," which reemerged on the Billboard charts thanks to country artist Luke Combs' rendition of the tune.

Data on Spotify Charts shows Martell, Nelson, and Parton are benefiting from Beyoncé, as all three artists re-entered the Top 200 most streamed artists on Spotify in the US in the first weekend of the album's release.

Beyoncé's "Jolene" cover is #3 on Apple Music Charts, while "Blackbird" is #12. On YouTube, the lyric videos land at #2 and #14 on the platform's top 100 trending music videos.

And on social media, the Beyhive has indicated it's already checking out the lengthy discography of these other artists. And although it's unclear if they'll all become fans, "knowing what you hate is as good as knowing what you love," Solis said.

Cusic said Beyoncé's true impact on the genre has yet to be felt.

"I think there are four, five, six-year-old girls, or even teenage girls, who will take another look at country because of Beyoncé," Cusic said. "I think her influence will come much further down the line when these girls start making their own music."

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