What Do The 2016 CMAs Have To Do With Beyonce’s ‘Cowboy Carter’?

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Beyoncé recently cited an experience in which she “did not feel welcomed” as the genesis of her new album, “Cowboy Carter.”

“This album has been over five years in the making. It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t,” she wrote in a March 19 Instagram post.

“The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me,” she added. “Act ii is a result of challenging myself, and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.”

Since she immediately segued into the country music genre and said the incident happened “years ago,” fans immediately began to speculate that she was referring to her 2016 performance at the Country Music Association Awards with The Dixie Chicks, now known as The Chicks.

The she joined the group to perform Beyoncé’s country song “Daddy Lessons” from her 2016 album “Lemonade.” It was Beyoncé’s first time performing at the CMAs.

“Beyoncé felt unwelcome at the CMAs and they thought it would be the last time they saw her there. Not only has she claimed the top of the country charts, she’s making an album with country influences. 5 years in the making!” one fan celebrated on X.

“I’d like to actually thank the CMAs for pissing her off,” another fan tweeted, connecting the performance to the new album.

Beyoncé has not confirmed the CMAs led to “Cowboy Carter.” But for more background on what exactly happened with Beyoncé at the CMAs in 2016, keep reading.

What happened during 2016 CMAs performance, and why was it controversial?

It’s not uncommon for artists who are primarily known to perform in other genres to perform a country song at the awards show.

When Justin Timberlake joined Chris Stapleton for “Tennessee Whiskey” in 2015, for instance, the crowd loudly cheered. Pink’s performance of “Love Me Anyway” with Stapleton was also well received in 2019.

Beyoncé’s first, and so far only, performance at the CMAs in 2016 was different, however — and immediately divisive.

Following rumors, co-host Brad Paisley confirmed she would be performing in a tweet several hours before the awards show began.

“Frequently, country crosses over. But every now & then a major pop superstar wants to be a part of this too. Welcome, Beyoncé,” he wrote.

Discourse from the tweet hinted at what was to come. Some responses were enthusiastic; others skeptical, with additional users questioning the phrasing Paisley chose. “How can you welcome her into something our race started?” one person wrote on X.

Beyoncé performed “Daddy Lessons,” a twangy song off her 2016 album “Lemonade,” with The Chicks. (Over the years, the Chicks, it should be noted, also fell out with members of the country music community for speaking out against then president George W. Bush and the Iraq War and a public feud with the late Toby Keith.)

During the performance, some members in the audience loudly booed Beyoncé, Tanner Davenport, co-director of country outlet Black Opry, recalled in an essay for MSNBC.com that came out in 2024 timed to “Cowboy Carter.”

“The woman in front of me yelling at Beyoncé had so much rage in her voice,” Davenport wrote. “Months later, I was still replaying that moment in my head. I’d ask myself: Do people feel this way about me when I enter the country music space?”

Online, the performance was met with both praise and outright racism. The day after the performance, on Nov. 3, The Chicks tweeted about the backlash: “If we all turn this up really loud, together we can drown out the hate,” they wrote with a link to “Daddy Lessons.

Further controversy ensued when the CMAs did not post the performance on their platforms and deleted the promotional post it had shared, The New York Times reported. Screenshots taken by Elle in 2016 showed that The Chicks and Beyoncé had been removed from the CMAs website.

The CMAs told The New York Times in 2016 that the post was deleted, and it didn’t post the performance anywhere at Beyoncé’s request.

How might ‘Cowboy Carter’ be a response to the CMAs?

After her appearance at the Grammys in a cowboy hat, fans started to speculate Beyoncé would be exploring the country genre in her next album.

“Renaissance” explored the Black and queer roots of house music; her second album, they speculated, would do the same for country.

After the release of two singles during the Super Bowl, fans’ guesses were right. Though “Cowboy Carter” isn’t a straightforward country album.

Instead, the album draws from “country, original Rhythm & Blues, Blues, Zydeco, and Black Folk” in an effort to “(redefine) and (rebuild) what is Country and Americana, and who gets to be included,” according to a statement from Parkwood Entertainment.

The album is “deeply rooted in country,” the statement read, featuring instruments like the mandolin, fiddle and “handclaps, horseshoe steps, boot stomps on hardwood floors” — plus, “Beyoncé’s nails as percussion.”

Country music legends like Dolly Parton, Linda Martell and Willy Nelson also introduce songs, and Miley Cyrus joins as a guest.

I think people are going to be surprised because I don’t think this music is what everyone expects,” Beyoncé said, “but it’s the best music I’ve ever made.”



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