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Critics say Beyoncé's new album 'Cowboy Carter' is a virtuosic riff on the country genre — but it could have used some editing

beyonce cowboy carter press photo
Blair Caldwell/Parkwood
  • Beyoncé released her eighth studio album "Cowboy Carter" on Friday.

  • She described the country-inspired project as a "continuation of 'Renaissance'" and "an experience."

  • Critics are raving about the album's ambitious scope, especially on "Ya Ya" and "II Most Wanted."

Beyoncé has once again changed the game with a digital drop, unveiling her eighth studio album, "Cowboy Carter," on Friday to overwhelming praise.

The second installment in a three-act series that launched with "Renaissance" in 2022 draws heavily from Southern iconography, folk, blues, soul, and Americana influences. The tracklist boasts features from Nashville legends like Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Linda Martell.

"I hope that you can hear my heart and soul, and all the love and passion that I poured into every detail and every sound," Beyoncé wrote on Instagram. "I hope this music is an experience, creating another journey where you can close your eyes, start from the beginning and never stop."

Reviews for "Cowboy Carter" are rolling in. Here's what critics are saying so far.

The sonic palette of "Cowboy Carter" is more diverse than its title may suggest.

beyonce cowboy carter act ii teaser
Beyoncé/YouTube

"Country, gospel, soul, blues, R&B, pop, psychedelic rock, and more all find themselves as key members of Beyoncé's country. Her country is more dimensional and multifaceted than Nashville could ever dream of, because Black folks in the country had to imagine and conjure worlds that did not even exist during enslavement and sharecropping in the heavily segregated Jim Crow South." — Taylor Crumpton, The Daily Beast

"Across 27 tracks, almost all with compellingly muscular melodies, she whips and neigh-neighs through every conceivable form of classic and modern country, roping in elements of opera, rock and hip-hop at her commanding, virtuosic whim." — Helen Brown, The Independent

"It's a deep stylistic smorgasbord that gets scattershot in the final third of the album's 27 tracks (several of them interludes) with trap beats and fiddles vying for the front row." — Melissa Ruggieri, USA Today

"With this endlessly entertaining project, she gets to be a warrior of female and Black pride and a sweetheart of the radio. Because being Beyoncé means never having to pretend to be just one thing." — Chris Willman, Variety

"So what kind of album is it? It's a journey." — Shane O'Neill, The Washington Post

The album's length works against it, though it doesn't ruin the overall effect.

beyonce cowboy carter press photo
Blair Caldwell/Parkwood

"It could have used some editing. For its five-year gestation, nearly 80-minute runtime, and history-making ambitions, 'Cowboy Carter' still feels somewhat undercooked." — Chris Kelly, The Washington Post

"At 1 hour 18 minutes long, it's a lot to take in one sitting and being in the saddle does start to chafe, but there's enough gold here to keep the stars and stripes aloft." — Alan Pedder, The Line of Best Fit

"There are moments when it starts to feel less like a coherent statement than one of those long 21st-century albums that offers listeners a selection box of tracks to pick and choose playlist additions from. Or perhaps its wild lurches into eclecticism are the point. Unwieldy as it is, it displays its author's ability to bend musical styles to her will." — Alexis Petridis, The Guardian

"Some of the time — not most, but some — 'Cowboy Carter' is boring. It's too long. There are too many ballads. There are too many sketched-out acoustic lullabies that almost function as skits.

"But even when it's boring, 'Cowboy Carter' is nowhere near bad. The whole thing is put together so meticulously." — Tom Breihan, Stereogum

Despite its ambitious scope, the album still feels intimate. "Cowboy Carter" doubles as a political statement and a personal ode to Beyoncé's roots.

beyonce cowboy carter press photo
Mason Poole/Parkwood

"Hitting her stride immediately with powerful curtain raiser 'Ameriican Requiem,' Beyoncé wastes no time in laying out her country credentials and pain at having them so coldly dismissed. But it's not sympathy she's after; if mainstream country can't stand her, she'll leave it choking in the sawdust as she hoedowns on regardless." — Alan Pedder, The Line of Best Fit

"Throughout it all, Beyoncé's hands are confidently and charismatically on the reins. The righteous zeal of her mission, and the giddy range of sonic adventuring, repeatedly gave me chills I haven't felt since the release of 'Lemonade.' Back then she was fighting for her marriage. Now she's fighting for a major culture shift." — Helen Brown, The Independent

"Legacies — musical ones, family ones — have been a theme of Beyoncé's music. Sometimes she's correcting artistic history and blending genres. Sometimes she's inserting her children into her art. One way or another, she's always tugging at roots." — Helena Andrews-Dyer, The Washington Post

"Beyoncé leans into the art of storytelling that is so central to country music, reflecting on authenticity, roots, legacy, and purpose—and offering a sharp contrast to the unassailable pop star veneer we typically see from the singer." — André-Naquian Wheeler, Vogue

"'Cowboy Carter' is such a grand statement of intent that it feels like it could be her ultimate say on identity and purpose. The fact that it's coming from outside her usual wheelhouse makes it even more impressive." — Neil Z. Yeung, AllMusic

"Ya Ya" is an eclectic highlight, blending Beyoncé's soulful voice with nods to Nancy Sinatra and The Beach Boys.

beyonce ya ya lyric video
Beyoncé/YouTube

"What do you get if you take a sample of Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots Are Made for Walkin,' mix it with an interpolation of the Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations' and douse the whole concoction in the essence of Tina Turner?

"Well, you get 'Ya Ya,' of course, the best song on 'Cowboy Carter.'" — Kyle Denis, Billboard

"On the bonkers 'Ya Ya,' she tells us she's above 'petty' prejudice because she's 'a clever girl.' A boast she then backs up by spinning a sample of Nancy Sinatra's 'These Boots are Made for Walkin' into quotes from The Beach Boys' 'Good Vibrations,' staking her family's claim to life in America and calling on her ladies to 'pop it, jerk it, let loose' to a funky country soul groove." — Helen Brown, The Independent

"The best song on 'Cowboy Carter' is 'Ya Ya.' Following another snappy introduction from Martell, Beyoncé basks in an echo effect on her girlish vocals as she finger snaps and calls for a beat. You can picture the video of her high-stepping and hair-flinging as she slinks and slides around the retro groove." — Melissa Ruggieri, USA Today

"The song is sure to be a showstopper when she gets her ya-yas out on tour." — Mankaprr Conteh and Joseph Hudak, Rolling Stone

"II Most Wanted," a duet with Miley Cyrus, is another critical favorite.

miley cyrus grammys
Miley Cyrus performs at the 2024 Grammys.John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

"'II Most Wanted,' on the other hand, feels effortlessly top-drawer country. Miley Cyrus was born with this kind of song in her mouth, and Beyoncé more than holds her own." — Alan Pedder, The Line of Best Fit

"Beyoncé magnanimously offers Cyrus the opening verse, and the twosome trade lines, not sparring, but complementing. Sometimes they sound like a modern-day Thelma and Louise ('I'll be your shotgun rider 'til the day I die'), steeped in limitless loyalty as they reflect on aging and love. The skipping acoustic guitar is a mere backdrop to these vocal powerhouses, with Cyrus' gravel the equilibrium to Beyoncé's honey." — Melissa Ruggieri, USA Today

"It's the reimagining of 'Landslide' as a Bonnie-and-Clyde anthem, 'II Most Wanted,' that most deftly melds the past and the present. Miley Cyrus and her whiskey rasp hold their own as two pop chameleons ponder a day when they won't be young." — Chris Kelly, The Washington Post

"As two of contemporary pop's most powerful voices, they could have easily tried to out-diva each other — but the resulting track is tastefully restrained." — Shaad D'Souza, Pitchfork

Business Insider's senior music reporter rates the album a 9.3/10.

beyonce cowboy carter album cover
"Cowboy Carter" was released on March 29, 2024.Parkwood

The sequel to "Renaissance" is yet another feat of vocal finesse, archival research, and most of all, sonic cohesion.

Considering Beyoncé's exceptional discography, this shouldn't be surprising. But her ability to reference her forebears, assemble a diverse team of collaborators, and still create a lucid, unified project — like a conductor leading an orchestra — will never fail to boggle my mind.

Even the interludes on "Cowboy Carter" aren't skippable. However brief, they're always essential to the album's narrative and pulse. Amid the free-flowing brilliance, standout tracks include "Bodyguard," "Jolene," "II Most Wanted," "Ya Ya," and "Tyrant."

Beyoncé's big-picture vision is also what allows her to thrive in so many musical styles. She sees connective tissue and subtle shapes where other artists do not. Beyoncé doesn't simply adapt to a genre; she unspools, analyzes, interprets, and refashions it in her own image.

There's a very good reason she declared, "This ain't a Country album. This is a 'Beyoncé' album."

"Cowboy Carter" is explicitly invested in subverting the very notion of genre, with all its constraints and contrived prestige. It argues that each artist's unique approach is more important than any label or wrapper.

It's a winning argument.

Worth listening to:

"Ameriican Requiem"

"Blackbiird"

"16 Carriages"

"Protector"

"My Rose"

"Texas Hold 'Em"

"Bodyguard"

"Jolene"

"Daughter"

"Spaghettii (feat. Shaboozey)"

"Alliigator Tears"

"Just For Fun"

"II Most Wanted (feat. Miley Cyrus)"

"Levii's Jeans (feat. Post Malone)"

"Flamenco"

"Ya Ya"

"Oh Louisiana"

"Desert Eagle"

"Riiverdance"

"II Hands II Heaven"

"Tyrant"

"Sweet Honey Buckin"

"Amen"

Background music:

"Smoke Hour with Willie Nelson"

"Dolly P"

"Smoke Hour II"

"The Linda Martell Show"

Press skip:

N/A

*Final album score based on songs per category (1 point for "Worth listening to," .5 for "Background music," 0 for "Press skip").

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