Let’s rewind back to 2016. 

On the heels of releasing her genre-bending masterpiece Lemonade, Beyoncé — alongside iconic country group The Chicks — took the stage for a surprise performance at the Country Music Awards. Backed by a string and horn ensemble, the singer performed a brassy, bombastic rendition of her track “Daddy Lessons.”

While Beyoncé, The Chicks and accompanying musicians delivered their energetic performance, it was evident that many attendees weren’t enthralled. Camera pans showed various audience members — including prominent country music stars — with deadpan expressions, clapping along just as unenthusiastically.

Their icy demeanors made it clear: Beyoncé’s presence wasn’t welcome, despite the singer performing a song that couldn’t be more explicitly country. It’s this moment that many believe inspired her to create her newest country LP, Cowboy Carter.

With Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé deconstructs the seemingly formulaic genre to the sum of its parts, crafting a work that honors the genre’s Black roots while envisioning its future. As the singer said, it’s first and foremost a “Beyoncé album.”

The album calls back to country music’s pioneers, with multiple features from icons such as Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Linda Martell. Martell points out how the idea of genres is confining in “SPAGHETTII,” a sentiment at the core of Cowboy Carter. 

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Mid-tempo acoustics flourish in the first half of the hour and 18-minute album. Following the cinematic opening track “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” the album dives into a cover of the Beatles’ classic “BLACKBIIRD” — featuring multiple Black female country artists in what feels like an homage to the Black women of the Civil Rights Movement who inspired the original track.

Later in the album, she shows off her flirtier side on the more casual “BODYGUARD,” featuring a saucy electric guitar riff carrying the bridge. A dynamic cover of Dolly Parton’s classic “JOLENE” segways into a haunting, cautionary tale of testing the superstar on “DAUGHTER.”

The subdued guitar melodies allow for her surreal vocals and exceptional layered harmonies to be at the forefront of each story, most evident on the soaring “II MOST WANTED” featuring Miley Cyrus. The two powerhouses blend their vocals seamlessly against breezy strumming, evoking an image of the two singing together at their local bar. 

Although known more for her instantly recognizable production, Beyoncé shines as a lyrical storyteller in this album.

On “II HANDS II HEAVEN,” the singer seems to pray for peace of mind amid woes in a relationship: “Lovely daggers pierced my heart many moons ago / Toxic roses chased by wolves and carnivores.” Between “AMERIICAN REQUIEM’s” operatic bluesy production, Beyoncé lyrically stands confident in her southern heritage.

“Used to say I spoke too country / And the rejection came, said I wasn’t country ’nough / Said I wouldn’t saddle up / If that ain’t country tell me what is?” The energy picks up as the project continues. We first get a taste of Cowboy Carter’s experimentalism with the boisterous “SPAGHETTII” — a traplaced track infused with sonic emblems of western movies. She expands this sound against a fiddle on the sleek club track “TYRANT” and with Pharrell’s stuttered production on “SWEET HONEY BUCKIIN.”

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But the album’s standout song is the exuberant “YA YA” — a likely tribute to the legacy of rodeo chitlin circuits, where many pioneering Black artists could perform safely in the early 20th century.

Stemming from a smooth sample of Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” Beyoncé embodies the fierce spirit of her idol, Tina Turner, for a ‘60s rock-and-roll spectacle on “YA YA” — sliding up and down her vocal range with touches of lyrics from The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry weaved into the song.

While the igniting moment for Cowboy Carter might’ve been the CMA’s drama, the final project is so much more than just a response.

The album is a deep dive into Beyoncé’s heritage, thoughts on life and a dedication to a perspective of American history that is often buried. The star doesn’t just carve out space for herself in the genre, she’s come to dominate — from Texas, to Gary, all the way down to New York City.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled Pharrell Williams’ name. This story has been updated.