Beyoncé Fan’s Radio Request Reignites Country Music Debate


In Oklahoma, a small country music station that refused a listener’s request to play a new song by Beyoncé was forced to change its tune after an uproar from fans who say that Black artists are too often excluded from the genre.

On Tuesday morning, Justin McGowan requested that the D.J.s at KYKC, a country music radio station in Ada, play “Texas Hold ’Em,” one of two new songs Beyoncé released as announced in a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday.

Beyoncé, who grew up in Houston, sings about hoedowns, and the twangy song also features a fellow Black Grammy winner, Rhiannon Giddens, on banjo and viola.

The station manager, Roger Harris, emailed Mr. McGowan back with a concise rejection: “We do not play Beyoncé at KYKC as we are a country music station.” In sending the email, Mr. Harris unwittingly ignited a new flame in a long-simmering debate over how Black artists fit into a genre that has Black music at its roots.

In the Super Bowl ad, Beyoncé joked that her new release would “break the internet.” She wasn’t kidding.

Mr. McGowan put a screenshot of the rejection on social media, tagging a Beyoncé fan group in a post that drew 3.4 million views on X and sparked conversations on Reddit and TikTok.

“This is absolutely ridiculous and racist,” Mr. McGowan wrote, urging people to email the station and request the song.

Fans bombarded KYKC with hundreds of emails and phone calls, criticizing the station for not playing the song, according to Mr. Harris, the station manager for 48 years.

“I’ve never experienced anything in my career like the amount of communications that we received in support of the song,” he said in an interview.

In between fielding calls and emails from angry Beyoncé fans, Mr. Harris said the station scrambled to procure a high-quality version of “Texas Hold ’Em,” which D.J.s played three times in Tuesday night’s rotation.

Beyoncé’s new songs appear on an upcoming album that she referred to as “Act II,” part of a three-volume project that music critics have said is about reclaiming Black roots in popular music.

Mr. Harris said that he was not aware of that project. He said the radio network, which is owned by the Chickasaw Nation, regularly plays Beyoncé on its Top 40 and adult hit stations.

“We haven’t played her on our country station because she’s not a country artist,” he said. “Well, now I guess she wants to be, and we’re all for it.”

Mr. Harris said that their rotation is guided by where a song appears on the charts, and by what bigger stations play.

This was not the first time Beyoncé’s country music credentials have been called into question by arbiters of the genre.

When the star submitted her 2016 song “Daddy Lessons” from the album “Lemonade” for a Grammy in the country category, the Recording Academy’s country music committee rejected it, The Associated Press reported at the time. (Beyoncé brought rodeo chic to the Renaissance World Tour and to this year’s Grammys, wearing a white cowgirl hat and a leather Louis Vuitton suit.) Some fans responded to her live performance of “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks at the Country Music Awards with scorn, arguing that she did not belong at the ceremony.

The removal in 2019 by Billboard of the hip-hop artist Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from the country chart generated a debate over what constitutes country music, and over how race affects the conversation.

The Black Opry — a social media hub for Black artists and Black fans of country, blues, folk and Americana — used the radio station controversy involving Beyoncé to direct her fans online to its playlists on Spotify featuring other Black artists in country music.

Charles Hughes, the director of the Lynne and Henry Turley Memphis Center at Rhodes College, said that the Oklahoma radio station’s initial dismissal of Beyoncé symbolized how “country radio has systematically excluded artists of color,” particularly women.

But if anyone can break down the barriers in country, Dr. Hughes said, it’s Beyoncé and her fans, known as the BeyHive.

“Maybe that power will create an expanded space for all these great Black women making country music,” he said, “to make it more in line with the people who love country music and the country it’s supposed to represent.”





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