Who Is Beyoncé’s ‘Jolene’ — and Other Cowboy Carter Queries, Answered


Happy Cowboy Carter day to all who celebrate! Beyoncé’s eighth studio album is deeply rooted in country music — a genre that both is deeply rooted in Blackness and has rarely given credit to the Black artists who helped create it. As the musician wrote in an Instagram post last week, “This ain’t a Country album. This is a ‘Beyoncé’ album.” And like all Beyoncé albums, its lyrics are being endlessly analyzed on social media. Below, we’ve rounded up some standout lines that we can’t get out of our heads.


Right up top, Beyoncé is establishing her southern roots:

The grandbaby of a moonshine man

Gadsden, Alabama

Got folk down in Galveston, rooted in Louisiana

She then goes straight into referencing the criticism she faced early in her career for the way she spoke — and the rejection she received from the country Establishment after performing with the Chicks at the CMAs:

Used to say I spoke “Too country”

And the rejection came, said, “I wasn’t country ’nough”

She makes it clear right away that in Cowboy Carter, she’s reclaiming something that was always hers.


Now that Blue Ivy has a Grammy, Rumi obviously needs one too! And as this tweet points out, the switch from “protector” to “projector” is a fun little self-own:

Born to be a protector, mm-hmm

Even though I know someday you’re gonna shine on your own

I will be your projector, mm, mm-hmm

The theme of motherhood is present throughout the album. In one sense, Beyoncé is paying homage to the country’s Black parentage, and lyrically, there are several references to her actual mother, Tina Knowles. One theory even suggests that the “Jolene” cover (which we will be discussing, hold your horses) is actually told from Ms. Tina’s perspective, and that in the same way Renaissance was a tribute to Beyoncé’s Uncle Johnny, Cowboy Carter is a tribute to her mother.


Of course Beyoncé wouldn’t give us a straightforward cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” She switched up all the lyrics, and if I didn’t know this album was created in 2019, I would think she’d been reading the Cut’s viral age-gap essay:

I raised that man, I raised his kids

I know my man better than he knows himself 

She doesn’t stop there, and basically every line of this cover is a warning to Jolene. But I particularly love this part:

There’s a thousand girls in every room

That act as desperate as you do

You a bird, go on and sing your tune, Jolene

While Parton’s Jolene was a redheaded bank teller who once flirted with her husband, theories about who Beyoncé’s Jolene could be are swirling. The most obvious culprit is, of course, “Becky with the good hair,” whom Bey called out on Lemonade’s “Sorry” (at the time, both Rita Ora and Rachel Roy released statements clearing their names). But “sing your tune, Jolene” makes me wonder if perhaps Beyoncé is talking about someone in the music industry. And, of course, it’s possible that this “Jolene” cover is told from Tina’s perspective, since she had her own experiences with infidelity. But then again, the conclusion — “​​’Cause you can’t dig up our planted seeds / I know my man’s gon’ stand by me, breathin’ in my gentle breeze” — implying the couple stays together is giving “Sandcastles.” Whomever this version of “Jolene” is or is not about, they are clearly making an impact:


In “SPAGHETTII,” Beyoncé makes the country-rap connection as explicit as it’s ever been:

I ain’t in no gang, but I got shooters and I bang-bang (goddamn)

At the snap of my fingers, I’m Thanos, damn it, damn it (oh)

And I’m still on your head, cornrows, damn it, damn it


Am I delusional, or is this very slightly giving “Why Did You Do That?” from A Star Is Born? A little assurance that “Telephone” Part II will eventually happen? A girl can dream:

Boy, I’ll let you be my Levi’s jeans

So you can hug that ass all day long


When the Cowboy Carter album art dropped, the presence of the American flag and the red, white, and blue aesthetics prompted a lot of discourse — on one hand, a reminder that there have always been Black cowboys, that Americana owes much to Black rodeo riders and Black banjo players and Black hymnals; on the other, it rubbed a lot of people the wrong way to see a visual that, at least on the surface, looks very Team USA at a time when the imperial violence the U.S. has always carried out globally is especially stark. Many were hoping to see some subversion in the album itself, and these lines from “YA YA” feel like the most explicit attempt at that:

Good ole USA, shit (Good ole USA)

Whole lotta red in that white and blue, huh

History can’t be erased, oh-oh

Are you lookin’ for a new America? (America)

Are you tired, workin’ time and a half for half the pay? Ya-ya

It feels intentional that those lyrics are placed in what might be the most fun, sing-along-able song on the album — it literally has a Beach Boys interpolation! And can you not imagine hearing these lyrics  screamed in a stadium?

Got these slugs in my mouth, when I’m done, I’ll take ’em out

Baby, if you ain’t got no grits, get the fuck up out the South


“DESERT EAGLE” is “Blow”’s more experienced older sister; this woman does not shy away from the horny, and I am so grateful. Do-Si-Dos are the worst Girl Scout cookie (don’t @ me), but suddenly I would like five boxes, please:

Do-si-do and it get creamy in the middle, yeah

One bite and the box is yours

Sugar high, you gon’ want some more


Okay, this isn’t technically a lyric, but it is a key sonic detail that speaks to the deeply studied and referential nature of the album. As the album press release confirms, the percussion that sounds suspiciously similar to acrylic nails being click-clacked is Beyoncè playing her own nails in what is almost certainly a reference to this iconic video of Patti LaBelle and Dolly Parton using their acrylics as the instrumental while they sang a snippet of “Short’nin’ Bread.”

The Cowboy Carter Lyrics I Can’t Get Out of My Head