Back to school…
Jonathan Bradley: When Beyoncé took the Country Music Association Awards stage like it was the Grand Ole Opry, seizing it with Nashville outlaws and fellow Texans the Dixie Chicks in the name of the Lone Star State, it felt concomitant with the ascension of a new America, the America that had been ascending in fits and ever-bolder starts in some ways ever since its birth, or as the mighty scourge of the Civil War passed into Reconstruction and in the slow and faltering civil rights struggles of the succeeding century and beyond. It was an America that more and more people seemed to be insisting represented the nation’s truest self, a place that knew its history and did not draw back from it, but could find a future from its struggles and the burdens it placed on its most marginalized citizens. The reworked opening of “Daddy Lessons,” of plucked folk banjo — an instrument introduced to American pop through minstrelsy — hillbilly harmonica, and hazy New Orleans jazz wails, rediscovers country music as black music as American music, as a site in which women can claim the center and make their voices as powerful as the fathers who lurk in their pasts. Together, these women subvert fixtures of patriarchal patriotism like Christianity and tradition and violence; their performance was gothic and celebratory and immediate and thrilling, and in the ensuing days it became a locus of backlash and conspiracy. Listening now, less than two weeks later, it’s like hearing a ghost: a specter flickering fainter and fainter as the future creeps upon us.
Rebecca A. Gowns: True Americana, in the most positive, most uplifting sense. Musical influences from blues to bluegrass, country to pop, Louisiana jazz and zydeco are threaded together by these four women; the harmonizing, the call and response, the mournful/happy bittersweet lyrics all a part of the great Black American and folk tradition. The song was already great, but the giddiness infused into this version is fantastic. I’m especially thrilled by the horns that bop along in the distance, bringing to mind the streets of New Orleans, that sense of heaviness in the ground layered with the magic in the air.
David Sheffieck: Beyoncé already had the best country song of the year, but interpolating the Dixie Chicks’ take on “Long Time Gone” makes its politics explicit through the implication of that juxtaposition: that Real Country can be made by a black woman at the peak of the pop world, that modern country’s not Real Country to begin with, that a song the Chicks first covered over a decade ago is, if anything, more relevant today. “Real Country” may be a phantom, but that doesn’t stop it from being used as a cudgel against anyone who trespasses on its alleged territory; hearing Bey and the Dixie Chicks co-opt and claim the moral and artistic high ground for themselves — and sound this good doing it — is genuinely thrilling.
Anthony Easton: This has been written about in long form, brilliantly, by Jewly Hight and Kandia Crazy Horse. There is so much meta stuff in here — meta stuff that Beyoncé encourages — that writing about the music is difficult. I love this song. I love how it collapses Houston into the rest of Texas. I love how in this version she switches the New Orleans horns in the beginning. I love how she claims Southernness back and how it trolls purity hacks. I love how it makes the argument that zydeco is another kind of country music. I love that it makes the argument that despite all of the sidelining of black musicians in the history of country, they founded it. I love how their voices match in tight harmonics, given birth to by the angst of the church. I love that all of this happened at the stage of the CMAs, and destroyed whatever Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton were doing in the meantime. I finally wish this would show up on country radio, and I kind of want to know what she could do with Miranda.
Alfred Soto: Hours after their CMA performance forced the audience to consider the links between Merle Haggard and R&B, Beyoncé and Dixie Chicks run into the studio in an attempt to harness the good will and obvious chemistry. To my ears the original “Daddy Lessons” was unimpeachable, a 9 or 10: hardly country and closer to zydeco, but who cares? I wanted to hear it between Dierks Bentley and Cam on 99 KISS FM. What this latest version gains in timing it loses in tension — it goes slack when extended a couple minutes.
Will Adams: “Daddy Lessons” is one of Lemonade‘s brightest spots, so I question the need for an extended remix with the Dixie Chicks elbowing their way through the studio to be near Beyoncé’s mic. But the base is intact enough, with those same details — the “woo-ooo-ooh” hook, the rawness of the lyrics — to keep it a shining example of Beyoncé’s versatility and her ability to convince in almost any setting.
Edward Okulicz: First of all, the Lemonade version of this is at least an , and racist dickbags who complained about Beyoncé being at the CMAs and put up a whole bunch of fig-leaf reasons why to avoid admitting that they are racist dickbags get . With that out of the way, I really do prefer the original, which better captures the darkness and ambivalence in the lyrics; a strong song can’t stand up to the pressure of being a highly-planned event performance that wants to both Make a Point while satisfying on purely musical terms. I relish how much this offended some people who need a reality check and a calendar to realise that this is 2016, and that Beyonce would have had every right to be doing this in 1967 when the CMA Awards began, but I’ll only ever listen to the original from this point.
Crystal Leww: The discourse around Joanne has been irritating, with critics grouping Lady Gaga’s faux-country schtick with Gwen Stefani dating Blake Shelton with Beyoncé’s turn on Lemonade. Beyoncé’s original was already a work of art, but “Daddy Lessons” with the Dixie Chicks is a whole new level. Released on the day Beyoncé performed on country music’s largest stage, it is so deliberately letting y’all know that Beyoncé belongs in a category of artist all to herself. Whereas Joanne uses country to signify authenticity without actually engaging with the genre, “Daddy Lessons” nods to the tropes, themes, and references of a genre obsessed with tradition and reverence. “Daddy Lessons” talks about fraught relationships with fathers, makes references to guns and Bibles in the same breath, and features excerpts from the Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone” — a song that starts with “Daddy,” too. Any conversations attempting to compare Beyoncé with any other pop star are pointless at this point. She is unparalleled in the way that she engages with and understands the meaning in art.