Opinion Piece: Beyoncé Threw a Line, and Racists Took the Bait

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions of this piece are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or view of KXSU as a whole.

(Trigger warning for readers: Racism)


The morning of Wednesday, November 2, 2016 came with plenty of excitement across the country for many reasons, most of which extended out of the midwestern and southern states of the United States. The Cleveland Indians were about to walk into a wall as the Chicago Cubs would go on to defeat them in the seventh game of the World Series, ending a 100+ year streak of missing out on that Commissioner’s Trophy. The 2nd marked the less-than-a-week point until this nightmare of a Presidential election would be over. And, on top of all of that, it was the day of the 50th CMA Awards, an event that many music fans (myself included) looked forward to.

Then, it got a whole lot more interesting, as the CMAs announced mere hours before the show that megastar Beyoncé would be performing “Daddy Lessons” off of her album, Lemonade, alongside the Dixie Chicks. (How Beyoncé of the CMAs to drop this news out of nowhere.)

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Photo via Image Group LA/Getty Images

As if the internet wasn’t already busy enough, with Americans taking sides between the Cubs and the Indians, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and then throwing stones at the other side in attempt to make their points seem stronger. We were soon granted a third super-fight between two types of people: those who enjoyed the idea of Beyoncé performing on the CMAs, and those who didn’t. There were many reasons as to why people weren’t big on the 20-time GRAMMY Award-winner being at the Country Music Association Awards. Highlighting some of the more vocalized ones:

1. She isn’t a country artist.

2. It’s the 50th CMA A wards, the anniversary show is being heralded as an “homage to the history of country music,” and Beyoncé has no business being there. (Say that last part in a Donald Trump voice.)

3. Country music doesn’t need cross-genre participation to feel validated.

But how about the one that so many of these points seemed to cover up? How about that one point that was too much of a taboo for some of those complainers to flat-out say? Where did so much of this often circle back to?

1. Beyoncé is black.

I want to re-emphasize that last point: Beyoncé is black, and she was asked to be a guest performer at the CMA Awards alongside the Dixie Chicks, whose forays into the limelight prior to their 2015/2016 comeback tour included condemning former President George W. Bush, outwardly expressing frustrations against the at-the-time pending Iraq War, and their collective distaste for even being from the same state of Texas as him. We all know basic math, and we’re all aware of what’s happened throughout the last 200+ years in the south, ranging from the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s all the way back to the Civil War in the 1860s, as well as many events prior and after.

2+2=4. Putting a strong black woman on stage with an all-female band that outwardly spoke against the values of the conservative party (and even had their albums collected off of retailer shelves and obliterated by a 33,000-pound tractor), whom which occupy a healthy fraction of country fans and CMA-watchers, was going to be an inevitable one-way ticket for some heavy doses of racism to be ever-so-prevalent in the media. As if Trump hadn’t already provided us with enough…

Look, I get it: Beyoncé isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people don’t like her for her music, and others don’t like her for her social stances. Anyone who had access to the internet after this past February’s Super Bowl Halftime Show knew that she ruffled some major feathers with her contribution of “Formation,” complete with a message against police brutality. But, there are very few things more disgusting, aggravating, and petrifying than the incredibly embarrassing cop-outs and excuses people used to cover up their internal prejudices over their distaste for Beyoncé and her appearance on the CMAs.

“She isn’t a country artist.”

Please allow me to direct you to the 2015 CMA Awards. Let’s paint the picture together, y’all. Co-host Brad Paisley stands on the B-stage. He’s reading the teleprompter as capably as he has with each of the nine years that he’s hosted the show with Carrie Underwood. “Get on your feet, Nashville, for Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake!”

Justin Timberlake’s resume includes: Memphis-borne child actor on The Mickey Mouse Club, being a member of NSYNC, going solo in the 2000s to make some urban-pop albums. Look left, look right. Was he ever a country artist? No, and yet this collaboration has since been lauded as one of the greatest moments in CMA history. It also helped launch Chris Stapleton into superstardom.

Also performers that night? Fall Out Boy, who collaborated with Thomas Rhett.

Let’s redirect ourselves to the 2014 CMA Awards. The show opens in two parts: Kenny Chesney starts with “American Kids,” and then the camera pans to stage left where Miranda Lambert is joined by Meghan Trainor for a rousing rendition of “All About That Bass.”

Meghan Trainor’s resume includes: Nantucket-borne singer-songwriter who moved to Nashville to pursue a career in music, released both a doo-wop pop album and a dance-pop album. Not sure when she ever became a country artist, but there was no hoopla around this one that lasted longer than four hours after the show finished.

Another performer from that night? Ariana Grande, who joined Little Big Town for her co-hit (along with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj), “Bang Bang.” Ariana Grande, a Boca Raton-borne child actor who starred in Nickelodeon television shows, broke out into the music scene with a pop-urban debut, followed by two more pop album releases.

In 2013, the CMA Awards had Jason Mraz collaborate with Hunter Hayes, and Dave Grohl collaborate with Zac Brown Band.

One more thing to note about all of these performers: they are all white. Where was the uproar in all of these? Where was the nearly week-long backlash against the Country Music Association for booking these performers? Hint: the answer is nowhere, except for YouTube comments, and we’re all aware of how super-duper-valid those things are. And if the excuse is, “Well, this isn’t a race thing! Beyoncé hates police!” then why weren’t they slamming Timberlake for publicly expressing his support of gay marriage in 2011? Why weren’t people attacking Ariana Grande for publicly abandoning her Catholic religion in early 2014? Don’t those go against the traditional standards of conservative values? Why is it that Beyoncé has received so much negative press?

Travis Tritt, a successful ’90s country artist, had a lot to say on Twitter about Beyoncé’s CMA appearance.

Is that what you took of Beyoncé’s inclusion to the show, Travis Tritt? That she’s ratings fodder? Sure, it was likely on their mind, and probably even engrained in their hidden agenda, perhaps, that Beyoncé could bring in some big numbers for the show. But mind you a few things: A) The show was going up against the final game of the World Series; ratings are important. B) The Dixie Chicks have been covering “Daddy Lessons” on their tour all year-long. This collaboration could’ve been predicted ages ago. C) The ratings for their 2012 show, the last one without ‘one of those pop stars’ that you and so many have condemned, averaged 13.4 million viewers with a 3.8 in the key demo of viewers between the ages of 18-49. Their big 50th anniversary? It scored 12.8 million viewers with a 2.9 in that same demo. So no, I’m not sure that the CMAs think that the show is incapable of pulling strong viewers by only including country-identifying artists.

“Beyoncé has no business being at the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards.”

Why not? Not a single word was uttered when Elle King sang with Dierks Bentley on their recent #1 release, “Different for Girls.” King is a pop/rock artist whose two major releases, “Exes and Oh’s” and “America’s Sweetheart,” were heavily marketed to pop, alternative, and rock…and not country. Why is it that when Beyoncé comes to perform a song that is heavily influenced by her Texan roots, she’s slammed? Yeah, Elle King won a CMA Award that night for the duet, but why wasn’t a peep made that she was, at the end of the day, a pop star promoting her own collaboration with Bentley instead of the two of ‘em maybe covering a classic Dolly Parton & Porter Wagoner duet? Plenty of current country stars could’ve performed their current hits, but they opted for honoring past country artists. Examples include Kacey Musgraves covering “Here You Come Again” in honor of Dolly Parton, and Jason Aldean collaborating with Brooks & Dunn on their hit from a few decades ago, “Brand New Man.”

Crickets for Elle King. Sirens for Beyoncé.

(For what it’s worth, I absolutely adore Elle King, and absolutely abhor the misogynistic “Different for Girls.”)

Maybe if Carrie Underwood puts something out that warrants a nomination from the BET Awards, she’ll be asked to attend. Adele’s been nominated. So has Sam Smith. And as problematic as they may be, Robin Thicke performed last year, and Iggy Azalea performed the year before. Let’s not try and act like reverse racism is a thing, Mr. Tritt.

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Photo via Getty Images

“Country music doesn’t need validation by artists from other genres.”

Hey, Travis Tritt! Here’s your collaboration with mainstream rock icon and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee John Mellancamp! Did you forget about this one?

What makes your collaboration with Mellancamp more valid than the Dixie Chicks collaborating with Beyoncé? Was there not enough steel guitar in that “Daddy Lessons” cover for you?

A cross-genre collaboration between artists is not the equivalent to cross-validating each other. It’s simply what its name presents itself as: two artists who make two primarily different types of music coming together to create something. It’s an opportunity to make a statement, make a unique sound, and throw some originality into the mix of things. But heaven forbid 90s country music ever get tampered with so drastically that it comes across as more of a “validation” from one genre to another…

Oh, yeah. Remember that one time when Garth Brooks performed with KISS? That was fun, too. The 90s were great! Huh, Mr. Tritt?

Beyoncé is black.

All of those aforementioned excuses and then some could, and probably should, reinterpret themselves to this statement: “I didn’t enjoy Beyoncé being at the CMAs because of the color of her skin.” Tough pill to swallow? It should be. It’s tough writing it, too. Doing research for this has been draining, but by acknowledging my place and privilege in this world as a white man, I couldn’t even fathom the difficulties that people of color must grapple with on a daily basis as they either idly or actively watch such blatantly racist hatred exist so naturally in this world. The excuses covering up such racist implications are what’s even more disturbing.

There’ve been some who have actively condemned people who called them out on said racist remarks, claiming that those condemning “are the ones bringing race into it.”

Ah, the whole “I’m not racist, my friend is a person of color!” route. That’s a mighty bold path to walk down, bud. You’ve done pretty well for yourself, obviously, but please allow me to offer you a word of advice, Travis Tritt: don’t gloat about how your white self has helped “bridge more racial gaps” than anyone else in country music (“CM” in his tweet, for clarification). Charley Pride, a black man, hit #1 with 29 different singles, won 3 CMA Awards, and 3 GRAMMY Awards, and all just shy of twenty years before you even came onto the scene in the late 80s. Darius Rucker is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. A couple of years ago, newcomer Mickey Guyton set the record for the most adds to primary country radio station rotations in its first week of release with her debut single, “Better Than You Left Me.” Those people didn’t accomplish those things because you claim you helped break down racial divides in country music.

Once again, I am aware of Beyoncé’s social and political stances, and I’m aware that they conflict with the stereotypical values of an average southern country music fan. However, we need to be transparent and stop kidding ourselves: racism is not dead. It didn’t take Beyoncé singing with the Dixie Chicks at an awards show to tell us that. But, it showed that even stars like Ms. Knowles-Carter herself isn’t prone to prejudices. It’s ridiculous that a harmless (and phenomenal) awards show performance ended up being overshadowed by people who are too engulfed by their own sense of white superiority to recognize the performance as anything but that.

Beyoncé was born in Texas. “Daddy Lessons” is as traditionally country-sounding of a song as just about anything that’s been released to country radio in the last twenty years. She sang with the Dixie Chicks, a group that won the CMA’s top prize, Entertainer of the Year, back in 2000. It’s not like Beyoncé went to the show and sang “Drunk in Love” with Jay-Z; she went and celebrated the genre. So why did she get so much flak?

In light of this controversy, I encourage people (as well as myself) to do a few things.

  • Attack racism, classism, sexism, and any other form of hatred head-on. There is no time or place for any of that in this world. It’s almost 2017.
  • Watch Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks’ collaborative performance.
  • Listen to their newly-released studio version of “Daddy Lessons” below.

Huh. Beats me! Any guesses, anyone?


CRAIG JAFFE | Beyoncé is better than Travis Tritt. | KXSU Editor

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