*Beyonce performed at the Country Music Awards (CMA) last week and apparently was well liked. But then after the show came the backlash. Let’s peel back this onion.
First it should be noted that the audience at the Awards show was into the performance and gave her a nice ovation. This could be a result of a bunch of musicians recognizing the excellence of another performer. Musicians are typically plugged in to their industry in a way that their fans are not. When Kanye West samples Maroon 5 and records with Coldplay it is a surprise to us but within music circles they just like good music. So although it was a change of pace for Beyonce, a career long R&B singer, it wasn’t that surprising to me in this greater context.
Secondly it is important that Beyonce performed with the Dixie Chicks. While they alienated many country music fans their appearance was able to still garner positive reaction in that room. This is a function of the fact that although country music fans might be mostly conservative, that many artists are liberal. I don’t know that most of the music artists in that room were liberal but it’s a safe bet that some were and that helped because Beyonce has been openly supportive of Clinton in the current presidential election cycle and the Dixie Chicks were openly critical of George W. Bush.
Thirdly Beyonce’s performance was pulled from the CMA website after a large amount of negative comments from presumably country music fans. This illustrates a sort of insular way that country music fans see their genre – they don’t want any new kinds of artists and Beyonce as primarily an R&B singer need not invade their territory. This is ironic because the awards show is designed to garner attention outside of the community and grow the market. But if Beyonce was helping to introduce urban people of color to country music, the online reaction to her performance serves a wall preventing those potential new fans from fully embracing the country music community.
Fourthly it is downright hypocritical of the CMA to pull the footage of Beyonce’s performance because of the reaction of certain fans. I admit that I am assuming that those who were making the negative comments are not a majority but I do feel comfortable with this assumption because it is hard to believe that Beyonce has gotten to be the force in the music industry by selling her music to only urban people of color. So it seems like the CMA caved to a very vocal minority of people. If there is a place in the recording industry for white hip hop artists (and there have been since early on) then there should be space for another black country artist. And the people in charge of the CMA should know this and support such an expansion of their audience. Also notice I said another because there have been popular black country artists already – hello Darius Rucker.
Overall this should have been a moment in time in which country music grew. Instead the CMA come away looking very small.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.