With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now clear why Beyoncé showed up to the Grammys in a Stetson. Exactly one week later, Houston’s favorite daughter chose to one-up the Super Bowl with the surprise announcement of Act II, her follow-up album to Act I: Renaissance, and immediately dropped two singles. The first, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” had the Texas Monthly staff sprinting straight to Slack. With the second, “16 Carriages,” which comes with visuals of Bey luxuriating in the act of putting on a rhinestone cowboy hat, it became clear that come March 29, we’re going to get the long-awaited Beyoncé country album.
Staffers Doyin Oyeniyi, Emily McCullar, and Dan Solomon convened to discuss the singles, their hopes and predictions for the album, and the singular joy of being Texan at the moment when Beyoncé announces her most Texan album yet.
Emily McCullar: Where to begin? I guess I’ll say congratulations to us all? A Bey drop is such a blessed moment, so let’s just revel in her glory for a beat.
Doyin Oyeniyi: Exactly! Congrats to us! I was just thinking earlier, “Who even won the Super Bowl?” But who cares? WE won!
Dan Solomon: I can’t believe she literally called one of them “Texas Hold ’Em.” Like, everybody won, but we really won.
EM: I started tearing up when she referenced Paris, Texas in the drop video. I have been wanting something like this for so long (since at least “Daddy Lessons”) that I almost couldn’t believe it was actually happening.
DO: In retrospect, it all feels so obvious now. Just last week, fans on Twitter were making threads about her hinting at dropping a country album, a theory that has been out there since Renaissance and its three acts were announced. But it’s been so long since we’ve heard about the three acts and haven’t gotten much detail that I started to just think it was a fantasy, even when she showed up at the Grammys looking like a glam cowgirl. I just thought she was repping Texas!
EM: Same, same. What is extra exciting is that she’s not just planting her flag in country music with this drop. I mean, the first single is called “Texas Hold ’Em,” for goodness’ sake. Bey is about to represent us, and I cannot wait.
DS: I’m super curious: what do y’all think of the pair of songs she decided to start with? Like, do they give you a strong sense of where she’s going with Act II? What do you think of the breadth and range of what she’s got going on here?
DO: I like “Texas Hold ’Em,” but I love “16 Carriages.” There’s something about the themes of a girlhood that ended too soon, leaving home young, and the start of a hero’s journey that really gets at me. I think it’s what I like the most about country music, when I like it: songs that are full of ache and longing. Not to get ahead of myself, but it made me think of the argument that has been made about country music being immigrant music, how it speaks to a certain pain of leaving the only home you knew and being forced to grow and change before you were ready. As for what to expect in Act II, I have no idea. And I’m fine with that. With Beyoncé, guessing and anticipating is fun, but her surprises always surpass expectations. I wonder if the songs she teased in the drop are hinting at some of the sounds she wants to explore and reimagine, but at this point, I’m content with letting Beyoncé give me what she wants when she’s ready to.
EM: I am so glad she dropped two singles. It would have been hard for me to conceptualize what a Beyoncé country album would sound like without the pair. One song, sure, we’ve had that. But a whole album? Will it be repetitive? Will it feel too costume-y? Will it be cohesive with the rest of her body of work? “Daddy Lessons” stood out from the rest of Lemonade but Lemonade was also an album of genre-switching. By giving us two singles and showing us range, we get a better picture of what to expect. We’ve got the line dancing ditty with “Texas Hold ’Em,” then we’ve got something heavier and more emotional that sticks in “16 Carriages.” I also like that she’s letting us know in the lyrics that she wrote the latter when she was 38, hinting that she has been working on this album for years. But in true Bey fashion, she wasn’t going to give it to us until it was ready.
DO: I doubt the album will be repetitive. Like you said, Emily, she’s been working at this for a long time, and the three country songs we have from her now all sound different. On Act I, all the songs are pretty different, but so cohesive; they sound amazing as one long set, but as individual songs as well. I expect a similar vibe for Act II. Costume-y, though? I wonder, but I also trust her with this genre, that she’s done the research and she knows what she’s doing. But also, it’s part of her culture. Beyoncé once said, “Earned all this money, but they never take the country out me!” She grew up in Houston with the rodeo, zydeco, and trail rides, and while the country side of her musical upbringing hasn’t been so prominent, it’s always been there.
DS: I think you’re both absolutely right, and it gets at something that I find really fascinating about both of these songs (and the way that putting two out allows us to sort of triangulate where this might be going)—because they’re definitely both engaged with country music, but it’s never as simple as just “Beyoncé goes country” or feeling like a genre exercise the way that, say, Dolly Parton making a rock record did (charming as it was). It feels more like Beyoncé is making Beyoncé’s music, and this time, she’s pulling country music into her vernacular. I don’t know if folks who don’t like country music at all will connect with what she’s doing on these songs, but it feels much more like she’s deploying banjos and fiddles in the pursuit of making a Beyoncé record, rather than trying to fit anyone’s conception of what country music is supposed to be. I think that ability is really the thing that sets her apart from—well, from pretty much everyone else in pop music right now. There are a lot of artists whose talent is being a chameleon who can jump from genre to genre—Beyoncé is doing something different here, where the through line is her vision and voice, and all the genre trappings are what she is using to express those things.
EM: Dan and Doyin, you make incredible points. Country isn’t a sound or a persona Bey is putting on; it’s always been there. In revealing it, she asks us to come on an artistic and sonic journey with her. And it will be educational! Her collaborators are starting to be identified, and the banjo player on “Texas Hold ’Em” is Rhiannon Giddens, a Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize–winning artist who got a MacArthur “genius” grant for her work on African American contributions to country music. Beyoncé’s pop music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The subtext of everything she puts out is the volume of people who are going to pay attention to it. As Doyin said, she does her research, so she is constantly pulling things from the semi-obscure to the masses, where they belong. To listen to her album is to engage in a text, but the layers are all cultural commentary, and not just Easter eggs referencing herself like cough cough another pop star who may or may not have been at the game last night. I am a nerd, but I can’t wait for Beyoncé to teach me (things I should already know) about the Black origins of country music. I also look forward to unpacking the Texas-specific stuff!
DO: Yes, exactly. I know I just said earlier that I didn’t want to guess, but I see another through line in this three-part project she’s releasing. As she’s using different genres of music to expand her vision and voice, she’s specifically going for genres that aren’t typically associated with her and that aren’t typically associated with Black people—even though they helped originate and shape those genres! I had no idea how much Black and queer artists defined house music until Act I and I imagine a lot of people are going to be getting a similar education about Black people and country music with Act II. And with that, I’ll make one guess: Act III will be a rock album! I’ve heard whispers of gospel or rap, but I’m really setting my heart on more of the rock sound that “Don’t Hurt Yourself” gave us.
DS: I was just about to ask what y’all thought Act III might be! As a Rock Dude, I hope you’re right; I would be thrilled to hear her expound on what she showed on Lemonade. In some ways, I think what I’m taking away from this is that Lemonade feels like an even bigger statement than it seemed at the time—I always read it as Beyoncé saying, “I can play in every sandbox, I can do whatever I want,” and while it’s still very much that, it seems like it was also a way for her to signpost that none of the sounds she played with there were larks or exercises. With where she seems to be going now, it feels more like Lemonade was the start of the Beyoncé Cinematic Universe, where all of these ideas get folded into something that’s both expansive and cohesive, all very much belonging to her, but going much broader than what anyone’s preconceptions of what Beyoncé’s music was supposed to sound like.
EM: This whole time I’ve thought (hoped) Acts II and III would be country and rap, because “Daddy Lessons” and “APESHIT” are two of my fav Beyoncé songs, but Doyin, I think you are right about rock. And I hope you’re right! And I can’t wait! Though I’ll take whatever Bey wants to give us, even if it’s an album of children’s songs.
DO: I’m sure she’s got an album of children’s songs in her secret stash of music that she and her husband dance around to in their home! But now that I fully understand that the acts really are happening, I understand why we didn’t get the visuals. This three-act project is such a complicated piece of work that is already taking years to plan and to roll out. But do you think Act II will have a full tour (and tour film) like Renaissance did? Also, will it be called Renaissance Act II or have a different name entirely? Okay, well, suddenly, I am in the mood to guess.
DS: I guess we’re all operating on the assumption that Act II is a full album, or something close to it—given that Act I was a full album, that seems like a safe bet. And since what she’s doing here is a pretty strong flag planted in new territory, it seems like it would make sense for her to give it the same treatment as she did Renaissance, with a tour and a full-on production behind it. I know, at the very least, that I would really like to be able to hear her play “Texas Hold ’Em” live, with a full band backing her up! And the way that she revealed the album and released these two songs makes me think that she’s very aware that releasing new Beyoncé music is an event, the kind that shapes culture in a way that really no one else’s music—not even the unnamed pop star Emily referenced—can.
When the Verizon ad with Beyoncé came on, I was watching the game with my wife, and she was initially baffled—why is Beyoncé, of all people, doing an ad for a phone company? But when the trick of the ad was clear—that she was actually using Verizon to announce new music in the middle of the Super Bowl, the power she wields became clear. An ordinary superstar might buy an ad during a big event to announce their album; a savvy one might be a presence at that event and use the attention it draws to announce a new album for free; but only Beyoncé can get paid to show up in an ad, get the company paying her to spend however many millions it costs to air it during the Super Bowl, and make them understand that it’s an honor to be able to orient that ad around the fact that Beyoncé is making an announcement. That is a lot of creative effort, and a lot of people’s money, to invest—which makes me think she is going to be going big with Act II, because even the way she told us that it was coming shows that she’s already gone bigger than any other artist in the world can.