Country Music Wants To Be Inclusive, The Same Ol’ Gatekeepers Don’t Want It To Be

Beyoncé released two new country music influenced songs and the debate about who is or what is or isn’t country music has, like the flu virus, returned.

The collective music world lost their minds this week when Beyoncé, the biggest music star in the world not named Taylor Swift, released two new tracks during the Super Bowl. One of them, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” is an outright country song in sound and structure and it has people who work within country music at odds with how to approach the song. The artist community, generally, is behind her creative endeavors and while that song and “16 Carriages” don’t necessarily suggest her forthcoming album Renaissance II will be a complete country album, we are now back in the debates of what is or isn’t country music and who should be those “allowed” to make it.

A lot of what’s being discussed with Beyoncé’s fine new songs has nothing to really to the content of the songs themselves but who is releasing the songs and, as we’ve seen throughout the years, the gender of the artist releasing the songs. If these songs were released by a male artist, they’d be more accepted (see Post Malone) and, it sucks to say this but if she wasn’t also a black female to make the music. Beyoncé will be the first black female artist to appear as a solo artist on the Billboard Country Airplay chart since Mickey Guyton did so 8 years ago with “Heartbreak Song.” And, before Mickey Guyton? It had been years.

This problem of not accepting female artists within mainstream country music has been around for a long time as well. The long-held belief by some gatekeepers that female artists should only be played once or twice per hour compared to the male artists was well-founded and bristled at in what’s now known as “Tomatogate” from 2015 where those gatekeepers’ long-held belief became public and showcased why female artists were seemingly only allowed one or two to become popular at any certain point in time (Carrie vs. Miranda, Miranda vs. Taylor, Kelsea vs. Carly, etc.) Add in female-featured groups (Little Big Town; Lady A) and that’s all that were allowed at any given time. All of this seemed to blow over and signs in 2023/2024 were pointing to the streaming boom for the fact that several female artists were not only getting played back to back on radio playlists but that the genre is in a hugely democratizing era and those gatekeepers are now feeling pressure from outside forces (streaming) to play songs they’d NEVER play otherwise.

Beyoncé coming into country music (be it for a few months in 2024 or for a whole album cycle) should be celebrated as the genre is bigger and more popular than ever with stars like Lainey Wilson and (a recent genre convert) Jelly Roll seemingly everywhere during the Super Bowl week. Beyoncé will bring the genre even more fans but I suppose those gatekeepers seem to be backwoods views with deeply disturbing views on who should make the music and who it is actually for.

But here’s the thing. Country music has ALWAYS BEEN for and about everyone who related to the stores and melodies.

It’s not just about rural white folks. That was mostly a marketing ploy of “us vs them” nonsense that continues more in political circles than the actual music and who actually listens to country music. Some want country music to retain the perception that the genre is only for “white conservative straight men and the women who love them.”

But it’s NEVER ever been the exclusive domain for a narrow demographic.

Country music is the music of the middle class, the music with real stories about real life and real situations and made with mostly real instruments and real bands. As long as it retains these core identities then Beyoncé joining the fold should be widely celebrated and accepted.