Music

Rhiannon Giddens Slams ‘Problematic’ Backlash to Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’: ‘That’s Just Racism’

Beyoncé‘s forthcoming Cowboy Carter LP is already much talked about — and it’s not even out yet. Slated to hit digital streaming platforms at midnight on March 29, the superstar’s new set marks the culmination of her foray into country music. Ahead of the album’s release, “Texas Hold ‘Em” banjo player Rhiannon Giddens joined IMPACT x Nightline to talk about racism in country music, pop crossovers in the genre and the backlash against Cowboy Carter in the episode airing March 28, and Billboard has an exclusive sneak peek.

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Giddens — a singer and scholar who has dedicated her life to extolling the Black history of the banjo and country music — believes Cowboy Carter is a massive step toward genuine mainstream recognition of the genre’s roots.

“It’s been really interesting,” Giddens tells IMPACT x Nightline‘s Janai Norman of the resounding success of catchy country-pop track “Texas Hold ‘Em,” which Beyonce dropped during the 2024 Super Bowl alongside the rousing, reflective ballad “16 Carriages.” “I have been on … a slight roller-coaster ride of … exposure of my music, TikToks being danced to my banjo sound– that’s been really, really, really amazing. It feels like a real pure moment of discovery.”

“Texas” has experienced notable commercial success: It not only topped the Billboard Hot 100, but has appeared on nine different Billboard airplay charts and earned Beyoncé the distinction of being the first Black woman to top Hot Country Songs and the first Black woman to summit the Hot 100 with a country song. Despite that, the superstar faced considerable backlash for her hard pivot into country music. One Oklahoma radio station initially refused to play “Texas” (it later reversed its decision), and, upon revealing the Cowboy Carter album cover, Beyoncé was immediately embroiled in discourse surrounding the intricacies of the dynamic between Black Southern identities and Americana imagery.

In Giddens’ conversation with IMPACT x Nightline, the musician — who is a time-time Grammy winner — stresses that Cowboy Carter is more about Beyoncé exploring her family’s roots than crossing over for the sake of crossing over. “People can do what they wanna do,” she points out. “They wanna make a country record? Make a country record. Nobody’s askin’ Lana Del Rey, ‘What right do you have to make a country record?’ You know what I’m sayin’? Everybody has the opportunity to explore their roots, to go back there, like, ‘This is my life too. I wanna … I wanna do this.’”

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“The ‘Stay in your lane,’ the, ‘Well, that’s not real country,’ that’s just racism,” argues Giddens. “People don’t wanna say it’s because she Black. You know? But they use these … these coded terms, you know? And that’s problematic.”

The March 28 episode of Impact x Nightline will examine Beyoncé’s Hoston roots, and features interviews with Giddens and fellow Houstonian and previous collaborator Bun B. The show will also hear from rising Black country artists within the Nashville machine, such as Adell, for their thoughts and enthusiasm on Beyoncé’s impact on contemporary country music.

Watch Billboard’s exclusive clip of the Cowboy Carter-centric IMPACT x Nightline episode above. Stream the full episode when it arrives on Hulu March 28.

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