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Madonna Had a Cowboy Era Before Beyoncé



Beyoncé recently turned a lot of heads by releasing ‘Cowboy Carter’, a tribute to cowboy culture. Madonna also made a statement with her cowboy video.

Beyoncé recently turned a lot of heads by releasing Cowboy Carter, a tribute to cowboy culture. Before then, Madonna had a cowboy era of her own. Interestingly, both of these career evolutions have different meanings.

Madonna and Beyoncé are part of a tradition of pop stars going the cowboy route
Cowboy Carter is a tribute to Black cowboys and their sadly ignored role in the Old West and their presence in Western culture today. By releasing the album, Beyoncé is making a turn toward country music, as well as placing herself within a long tradition of pop artists who drew from Americana imagery. For example, before Cowboy Carter, Lil Nas X combined country and trap music with his cowboy-themed megahit “Old Town Road.” He later released a remix of the song featuring 1990s country star Billy Ray Cyrus.

In 2000, Madonna released her last big album: Music. The cover of the album was a photo of her dressed as a cowboy. The most Western-inspired song on the album was its single “Don’t Tell Me.” With that single, Madonna made the bold choice to mix elements of pop, country, electronica, and folk music. It showcased a sound that never made its way to the Billboard Hot 100 before.

What made the Queen of Pop’s cowboy era similar to Beyoncé’s

The cowboy angle of “Don’t Tell Me” is most prominent in the video for the song. In it, Madonna dances with an all-male crew of cowboys. The way they dance has a not-too-subtle homoerotic element to it.

The LGBTQ undertone of the “Don’t Tell Me” video might just be Madonna catering to her LGBTQ fans. On the other hand, the Queen of Pop might have been highlighting the fact that there were LGBTQ people in the Old West as well, even if Hollywood hasn’t acknowledged that. Like Beyoncé, Madonna was shining a spotlight on ignored history.

Fascinatingly, “Don’t Tell Me” was co-written by Madonna’s brother-in-law, indie singer Joe Henry. During a 2006 interview with The Believer, Henry explained how the Queen of Pop came to record his song. “I very sheepishly said to my wife, ‘I’m working on something—come listen to how the room sounds,’” he recalled. “So I played this thing, and she thought it was really good and that I should send it to Madonna. I’d never pitched anything to my sister-in-law, and I told my wife if I was going to, it wouldn’t be this. I mean, the song is a tango.” As if Madonna hasn’t recorded dance music for decades!

So Melanie said, ‘Make me a copy of it and I’ll do it,’” Henry remembered. “Madonna called twenty-four hours later to ask what I was doing with the song. I told her it was just on the pile. Months went by. On Christmas night, I got an email from her. ‘Oh, by the way, I recorded that song. I’ve got to get the strings on it, and I’ll send it along. I think you’ll like it.’ And I said, ‘I like it already!’ I don’t think I ever had a cover until that point.” What a cover to start with!

Madonna and Beyoncé are two of the most important pop singers who ever lived and they both took awesome Western detours.

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