Beyoncé: “Texas Hold ’Em”

Over the last decade, Beyoncé has positioned herself as a pop star and an archivist, tracing a personal historiography of Black musical tradition through her own body of work. With 2022’s Renaissance, she looked to the dancefloor to shine a spotlight on the queer artists of color who built the community of house music. Act II, the album’s newly announced sequel, suggests a similar approach to the dance hall. Lead single “Texas Hold ’Em” is a tribute to the Black roots of the genre, but it’s also a reminder that country-western music is fundamentally a kind of dance music, as Beyoncé beckons us to join her in a line dance.

Of course, this isn’t a completely uncharted frontier for Beyoncé, who performed “Daddy Lessons” with the Chicks at the 2016 CMA Awards. But it’s not exactly a return to roots for the native Houstonian either: As she informs us on the first line, “This ain’t Texas.” The first sound we hear isn’t a fiddle or steel guitar, but the distinct twang of a hot banjo lick, courtesy of multi-instrumentalist folk musician Rhiannon Giddens: an intentional choice that emphasizes the banjo’s lineage as a West African instrument, brought to North America by enslaved persons in the 17th century. With Raphael Saadiq as co-producer, “Texas Hold ’Em” brings together the parallel worlds of country and soul, which have often overlapped despite their commercial segregation: from Isaac Hayes’ quiet storm version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” to the Bee Gees originally writing “Islands in the Stream” for Diana Ross, to Toby Keith covering Barry White.

But as with “Break My Soul,” Beyoncé’s attempts at 9-to-5 relatability can ring slightly hollow from beyond the veil of privacy and security her monies afford—it’s just as difficult to imagine her boot-scootin’ at a honky-tonk as it was to imagine her rolling at the club. The ho-hey stomp-clap of it all, complete with an Andy Griffith whistle, veers dangerously close to the border of Lumineers car-commercial music; this is working-class music for folks who can afford to drive a Lexus.