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Beyoncé’s Country Is America: Every Bit of It

The first song on “Cowboy Carter,” Beyoncé’s not-exactly-country album, makes a pre-emptive strike. “It’s a lot of talking going on while I sing my song,” she observes in “Ameriican Requiem” over guitar strums and electric sitar, adding, “It’s a lot of chatter in here.”

That’s an acknowledgment that a pop superstar’s job now extends well beyond creating and performing songs. In the era of streaming and social media, Beyoncé knows that her every public appearance and utterance will be scrutinized, commented on, cross-referenced, circulated as clickbait and hot-taked in both good faith and bad. Every phrase and image are potential memes and hyperlinks.

It’s a challenge she has engaged head-on since she released her visual album “Beyoncé” in 2013. For the last decade, even as her tours have filled stadiums, she has set herself goals outside of generating hits. Beyoncé has deliberately made each of her recent albums not only a musical performance but also an argument: about power, style, history, family, ambition, sexuality, bending rules. They’re albums meant to be discussed and footnoted, not just listened to.

“Cowboy Carter” is an overstuffed album, 27 tracks maxing out the 79-minute capacity of a CD and stretching across two LPs. It flaunts spoken-word co-signs from Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton that interrupt its flow; it includes some fragmentary, minute-long songs. Its sprawl is its own statement of confidence: that even half-finished experiments are worth attention.

The “Cowboy Carter” album cover is an opening salvo, brandishing western and American symbols: Beyoncé holding an American flag while riding a white horse sidesaddle, with platinum-blond hair proudly streaming. In a red-white-and-blue outfit, high-heeled boots and a pageant sash that reads “Cowboy Carter,” she’s a beauty queen and a white-hatted heroine claiming her nation — her country, in both senses. The politics of her new songs are vague and glancing, but the music insists that every style is her American birthright. As a pop star it is: Pop has always breached stylistic boundaries, constantly exploiting subcultures to annex whatever might make a song catchier.

Beyoncé grew up in Texas, where country music has long mingled with styles from jazz to blues to hip-hop — and where, in fact, early cowboys were enslaved Black men. Beyoncé met a racial backlash when she performed “Daddy Lessons,” a country song from her 2016 album “Lemonade” about gun-toting self-defense, with the (then-Dixie) Chicks at the 2016 Country Music Association Awards. Presumably that’s what she alluded to when she wrote on Instagram that there was “an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed.”

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