Beyoncé featuring The Chicks
Written by Kevin Cossom, Alex Delicata, Diana Gordon, and Beyoncé Knowles
When The Chicks made their return to the CMA stage after fifteen years away, they did so alongside Beyoncé, an R&B superstar that is at her creative peak joining one of the most talented bands to ever be associated with country music. It was a collaboration that fits neatly in the country music tradition, and was clearly designed to also be a water cooler moment like last year’s pairing between Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton.
But Chris Stapleton wasn’t exiled from the genre for speaking out against the president and Justin Timberlake gets people dancing and romancing, but not in formation. The political implications of this particular pairing are enormous, and I’ll get to them, but first, let’s talk about “Daddy Lessons.”
So what happens when you get Beyoncé and the Chicks together? It sounds like they passed through New Orleans en route from their home state of Texas to that Nashville stage, and all of the disparate musical elements come together flawlessly, a tribute to the talent and strength of the four ladies upfront. Natalie Maines and Beyoncé Knowles trade off verses effortlessly, and the song sounds as much as a personal anthem for Maines as it does for the woman who wrote it and is performing it with her.
It’s one of the highlights of Beyoncé’s stunning Lemonade collection, and her choice to use a country arrangement on her album was both a tribute to her Texas roots and a subversive embrace of the Second Amendment rights that seem to only apply to Americans that do not look like Beyoncé. The Chicks added it to their set list during their reunion tour this year, and their performance of it was quite powerful as well, zeroing in on the misogyny that they have challenged in their rejection of Southern hospitality in favor of speaking their minds, fully aware of the consequences that come with women who do so. Their expulsion coincided with the erasure of nearly all of the genre’s top-selling women, many of them banished for impurity of production instead of politics, but gone just the same.
There’s a lot of talk about saving country music these days, and it’s usually in the context of bringing back traditional sounds and instrumentation. Listening to the Chicks on record again, I’m reminded of the time when country music truly needed saving: When authoritarianism disguised as patriotism and misogyny dressed up as righteousness expelled from the genre the one act that was doing its best to preserve the traditions of country music while at the same time leading it forward.
To anyone who talks of saving country music today, you’re thirteen years too late, as Natalie Maines reminds us when she and Beyoncé slip into “Long Time Gone” just long enough to deliver its indictment: “They sound tired, but they don’t sound Haggard. They’ve got money, but they don’t have Cash. They got Junior, but they don’t have Hank. I think. I think. I think -“
That verse was on stage in front of the entire industry that rejected them and sullied itself in the process, as the Chicks returned not as country music’s prodigal daughters, but as its prophets so foolishly ignored, and they walked away victorious, and unlikely to return to country music again.
And what is country music left with with them gone?
Well, they’ve got Dixie, but they don’t have the Chicks.