Beyonce ‘Cowboy Carter’ Takeaways: ‘Jolene,’ Tina Turner Tribute


Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is finally here and fans of both country and pop are poring over the album. While the artist behind it made a point to say, “This ain’t a country album. This is a Beyoncé album,” the record has its share of country songs, sounds, and signifiers. But as with nearly everything she does, Beyoncé makes the genre her own — with captivating results.

There are cameos by country legends, features by genre-flouting pop stars, and introductions to hot new talent. But at the core, Beyoncé is the star of this radio show (more on that below). Here’s six takeaways from one of the most anticipated albums of her career.

Cowboy Carter is loosely based around a Beyoncé radio show.

When Beyoncé dropped the track list to Cowboy Carter via an old-timey show poster, the names of Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and Linda Martell had everyone speculating the roles they’d play. Turns out that each icon takes on the part of an ad-hoc deejay, teeing up tracks on the album to drive home the LP’s radio-show theme. Nelson sparks up during “The Smoke Hour…on KNTRY Radio Texas,” imploring listeners to, “Sit back, inhale, and go to that good place your mind likes to wander off to” before “Texas Hold ‘Em.” Parton has a personal message to “Miss Honey B” about that “hussy with the good hair” prefacing “Jolene.” And Martell brushes aside the silly notion of genres before the propulsive “Ya Ya.” We’ll be adding KNTRY to our cars’ presets.

The track “Ya Ya” nods to Tina Turner, Nancy Sinatra, and the Beach Boys.

The album’s high-energy peak comes in the home stretch with the hyperkinetic “Ya Ya.” As introduced by Black country music pioneer Linda Martell, the song “stretches across a range of genres and that’s what makes it a unique listening experience.” Martell ain’t lying. “Ya Ya” opens with a nod to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” interpolates a section of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” and has a whole lotta Tina Turner “Proud Mary” vibes. It also evokes Beyoncé’s own “Why Don’t You Love Me,” off 2008’s I Am…Sasha Fierce. The song is sure to be a showstopper when she gets her ya-yas out on tour: “I just wanna shake my ass!” she sings.

On “Jolene” (Beyoncé’s Version), a would-be homewrecker better head for the hills.

As soon as “16 Carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em” made it clear that Beyoncé was recording country music, there were questions about how she might engage with two other women: Namely, Dolly Parton and “Jolene.” Parton added fuel to the fire when she teased that Beyoncé covered her signature song in an interview. That turned out to be mostly true — Her take on “Jolene” is less of a cover than an entire reimagining. 

Whereas Parton’s “Jolene” is a plea to the titular siren to keep her hands off her man, Beyoncé’s is a warning. Flipping Parton’s original desperation on its head, Bey issues cool threats like, “I had to have this talk with you, ’cause I’d hate to have to act the fool/ Your peace depends on how you move, Jolene.” After Lemonade, largely molded by her experience with her husband Jay-Z’s infidelity, this rendition is especially electric. “We been deep in love for twenty years/ I raised that man, I raised his kids/ I know my man better than he knows himself,” she proclaims stirringly. Reaching back even further, Beyoncé’s “Jolene” brings to mind the 2002, über-judgmental Destiny’s Child song “Nasty Girl,” which Beyoncé co-wrote — though this time, her target deserves her (far more mature) ire. 

Beyoncé’s become a big fan of a Nigerian-American country-bender from Virginia.

Shaboozey, a 28-year-old multi-hyphenate, is the one bringing cool charisma to Beyoncé’s ferocity on “Spaghetti” and “Sweet Honey Buckin’” with his memorable rap verses. Born Collins Chibueze to Nigerian parents and raised in Virginia, he took on the moniker “Shaboozey” as a play on his Igbo last name. He’s a rapper, singer, producer, and filmmaker, with world-building through video being extremely important to him — not unlike Beyoncé. 

Over the course of his decade-long career, Shaboozey has blended country, Americana, rock, and hip-hop, like on his 2022 album Cowboys Live Forever, Outlaws Never Die. “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they?” a narrator fittingly comments at the start of “Spaghetti.” “In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand, but in practice, well, some may feel confined.” When Shaboozey recently stopped by the Rolling Stone office, he played it coy when asked about Beyoncé’s forays into country. At that point, he had no idea his tracks had made the final cut. However, the day before the album’s U.S. release (after it had already been available in other parts of the world), he tweeted, “Woke up this morning feeling like I could lift a truck.”

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After nearly 16 years, Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus sing together again.

Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Miley Cyrus have two of modern pop’s most unique voices and on “II Most Wanted,” they come together magically. Though both are vocal powerhouses, they sing sweetly and softly together on a track whose gentle guitar is immediately reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” Last year, in a TikTok, Cyrus recalled their first time performing together — a 2008 concert benefiting cancer research where the pair were part of a supergroup of Carrie Underwood, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, and more stars. Cyrus was placed between Beyoncé and Rihanna. “They treated me like a little sister the entire time,” she recalled. “They’re really sweet.” Cyrus’ and Beyoncé’s worlds haven’t met much since, save a falsified diss and claim that “Wrecking Ball” originated from a session for the elder star, making this duet extra special. 

Beyoncé addresses her Grammy losses in a wicked verse.

“Sweet Honey Buckin’” is a riotous celebration of the cowboy culture that made Beyoncé, and much of what she’s made for herself, including a name that transcends ordinary accolades. She seemingly calls out the Grammys directly, after her last three albums failed to win the Album of the Year awards they were nominated for, despite each being a cultural reset. “A-O-T-Y, I ain’t win,” she says plainly toward the end of the song, adding, “Take that shit on the chin/ Come back and fuck up the pen/ Say the things that I know’ll offend/ Wear that shit that I know start a new trend.” Sounds more like their loss. 



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