An irresistible double drop takes us out of Club Renaissance and into the countryside
February 12, 2024 | 1:44 pm ET
Beyonce has been part of our collective cultural consciousness in such a prominent way, and for so long now, that it can be tempting to take her greatness for granted. (Not me — you all stay safe, though!) Over the past decade, we’ve seen Beyoncé introduce the idea of visual albums to the general public with her self-titled project, embracing righteous anger and self-recovery. Lemonadeshatter and reinvent expectations for Beychella festival headliners and send a love letter to the origins of house music to REBIRTH. Now, after announcing her second act REBIRTH project during the Super Bowl, the first two songs are here – and when I say yes, you better say haw.
At first glance, it may seem like a sharp pivot to switch from elements of disco and club to country, but keeping both projects under REBIRTH umbrella — with country being the second act of three — Beyoncé is providing a gentle reminder that both genres are deeply rooted in the creativity of black artists in America. Country music is inextricably linked to blues and Southern spirituals; despite the direction of much mainstream, modern country music, the foundation of the sound will always be there.
Country music is defined by personal stories, with an emphasis on connection, two things that haven’t always been hallmarks of Beyoncé’s catalog. Conversely, Texas, in all its glory, has always been a part of Beyoncé’s musical identity — but she’s never embraced this part of her Southern roots in such a big way. Lemonade cut “Daddy Lessons,” which she revamped with The Chicks, dipped a toe into this space, but she’s now diving.
“TEXAS HOLD’EM” and “16 CARIAGES” offer two distinct paths from the Club and Country Revival, one fun and bouncy, the other introspective and sweeping. “TEXAS HOLD ‘EM” rests on an undeniable truth, which is that sometimes people just long for clapping music. It’s only February, but it might just be the song of the summer for me here in Nashville once the seasons officially change; the bloated, mature joy of the track begs to be played in the kind of dive bar she sings about with love. Music Row doesn’t always make the right choices collectively, but this song deserves a happy home at country radio. It’s Beyonce’s inimitable vocals that take her from good to great.
Meanwhile, “16 TARRIAGES” is a heavier mid-tempo cut that offers a somewhat rare look inside one of our most private celebrities. Here, she plays with the balance of sadness and hope—deeply characteristic of the country genre—as she reflects on the path she’s taken since signing to Columbia Records at age 15. I saw my mother praying, I saw my father grinding,” she sings. “Sixteen bucks, working all day/ I’ve got no time to waste, I’ve got art to make/ I’ve got love to create on this holy night.”
Emphasizing organ and choir harmonies, she is drawing on elements of Gospel more characteristic of black country artists. “16 GRAVES” invokes some of the autobiographical weaving of Johnny Cash and his contemporaries, but the larger vocal moments and dramatic air recall Barbara Mandrell’s more soulful style. The scale here seems more to be expected from a Beyoncé single, but the contrast between the two is exciting – what will Act II sound like a whole if we already have so much range to enjoy here?
Of course, Beyoncé has nothing to prove to anyone, but it seems she’s thinking about the mosaic of art she’s woven throughout her career with this next step. Again, in “16 BURIALS”, she says: “I had to sacrifice and leave my fear behind/ Legacy, if it’s the last thing I do/ You’ll remember me.” I believe you, Beyonce.