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How Beyoncé's Cowboy Carter advances equality

How Beyoncé's Cowboy Carter advances equality

Beyonce Knowles honored Innovator 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards
Michael Buckner/Billboard via Getty Images

The hit album is much more than simply a genre detour for the superstar.

As I type, I am joining millions of Americans, country music fans, and all Beyoncé followers everywhere in listening to the recently dropped Cowboy Carter, her latest stroke of brilliance. Genius is a severe underestimation of the talent housed in Beyoncé, a global treasure and one of the world’s most influential voices for love, equality, and unity.

Cowboy Carter will do much more than shatter glass ceilings and music records from a woman of color making a bold stab at the country genre — Beyoncé is going to advance equality in America and worldwide. While I am no music critic, I am an achingly devoted country music fan, as well as a gay man, equality advocate, humanitarian, and writer. Here's my own requiem, if you will, for the racial and gender barriers Beyoncé will break down with this epic contribution to the storied country genre.

The first and greatest impact of Carter will be an extension of Beyoncé's ability to reach millions of people. Cowboy Carter will bring together a traditionally divided and largely white American country music fan base with the R&B, hip-hop, and pop fans who already follow Bey's every move. For the first time since their lists began in 1958, Billboard announced shortly after the drop of the Carter that Beyoncé became the first woman and first Black woman to have topped both the Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at same time; she also tops the album charts this week. On March 29, Spotify announced on Instagram that Cowboy Carter holds the record for the most-streamed album in a single day so far in 2024.

This means that millions of fans who never listened to the country genre and conversely, millions of country fans who’ve ignored or never heard Beyoncé’s music, have come together in unexpected unity. Eyes will be opened on every side. New fans will be made. Hearts that may not have heard or experienced a Black woman singing country will accept her because they are not bigoted or racist — just not exposed. And those fans of historically opposing genres of music who flat-out refuse to listen to Cowboy Carter for whatever reason will have no escape as the sources they trust most — radio stations and streaming channels, bars, dance floors, friends and loved ones — will frequently play parts or all of Beyonce’s album in their presence, naturally softening their stances and beliefs.

Speaking of the most trusted voices in country music, Beyoncé anoints Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson, and Miley Cyrus, among many others, to perform on Carter, bringing credibility with most country music fans and humanity of all types. Willie Nelson says it best as he performs on “Smokehour II” with these words: “Sometimes you don’t know what you like until someone you trust turns you on to some real good shit. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m here.” If you can’t trust Willie, who can you trust?

Dolly builds on the trust as a "country fairy” godmother of sorts by performing on the album and lovingly endorsing Beyoncé’s remake of her classic, "Jolene." Hearing Bey's fresh take on the would-be homewrecker tale made me smile, thinking how it likely made Dolly smile when she first heard it.

The album’s launch is the beginning of the beginning. Beyoncé and others on her album will generate billions and billions of media impressions as she and Cowboy Carter rack up the nominations and wins across all music awards, especially the coveted CMAs and Grammys in multiple categories, along with the red carpet appearances and related media, which will be a watershed for expanding greater acceptance and equality. And just as I converted my own children to country music fans, I have no doubt current generations will play Cowboy Carter for future ones, making Beyoncé one of the first, but certainly not last, performer ushering in diversity for country music.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, billions will listen multiple times to the loving and accepting words throughout the album, starting with those contained in the album’s opening song and instant classic, “American Requiem." Beyoncé’s musical accomplishment is akin to Jackie Robinson's in baseball or Halle Berry winning an Oscar. Cowboy Carter will reverberate in ways seen and unseen, and humanity will be better for it.

Michael Dru Kelley is a cofounder and a principal LGBTQ+ shareholder of equalpride, publisher of The Advocate. His opinion pieces represent his own viewpoints and not necessarily those of equalpride or its affiliates, partners, or management.

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Michael Dru Kelley