Single Review: Beyoncé - 16 Carriages

A vinyl of BeyoncĂ©’s single “16 Carriages”, lying on a grey surface, which looks like a backdrop used for photoshoots.  The cover art features a black and white shot of BeyoncĂ© wearing a black cowboy hat and a black cowboy shirt, with a full volume bob.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” is the song that has the Internet in a tizzy, is blazing up the charts, has country radio stations getting in on the pop culture action and everybody on TikTok line dancing. But “16 Carriages” is the quiet storm of the two, and my preferred choice of the two songs.

I’m just gonna say it now. Not only do I think “16 Carriages” is one of BeyoncĂ©’s best singles. I think it is one of her best songs.

“16 Carriages” is a country song, just as “Texas Hold ‘Em” is. But it’s a different kind of country song. Country, as with any genre, has different styles, which tap into different tempos, vibes, feelings and facets of being - something which BeyoncĂ© smartly conveys with the simultaneous release of “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages”, which is also a chance for her to show her range in a genre she’s not known for from the offset. She’s pulling a “If Were a Boy” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)”. “Texas Hold ‘Em” is a song of fun and wild abandon to have everybody doing the same dance in the clubs. Where-as “16 Carriages” is a song about ‘the feelings’ and reflecting on life, which also seems to be semi-autobiographical.

Whilst I do like shake-my-ass-and-imaginary-titties type songs from BeyoncĂ©, the songs of hers that connect with me on a different level tend to be her more emotive, sombre songs; “Smash Into You”, “I Miss You”, “Love Drought”, etc. So “16 Carriages” is right up my alley, just off of Miserable Bitch Street.

A criticism that many have lobbed at BeyoncĂ© over the years is how little her songs actually say about her and how she doesn’t really let people in. And I get it. They are not wrong, because I felt the same way for a while. So, BeyoncĂ© releasing a country album is an interesting prospect, because so much of country is about telling your story. So BeyoncĂ© won’t be able to hide. Well, she could just flat out lie. But “16 Carriages” shows that she’s probably not going to. And at this point in her career, I feel that BeyoncĂ© has managed to find a good balance of honesty and artifice, and finding honesty in artifice.

As she has gotten older, BeyoncĂ© has gotten better at the performance of telling a story through song. BeyoncĂ©’s channelling of the right energy and vibe is an oft overlooked aspect of Renaissance. Aside from it featuring great curation and production, the conviction of everything BeyoncĂ© was saying on every song made us not only believe her, but it made us believe that we could be that girl in those songs too, even if it was only for the next 62 minutes and 14 seconds. So it’s great to see BeyoncĂ© continue to zone in on the honesty and vulnerability of her performances, to such a degree that she can tread the line between truth and fiction until they blur and it all just becomes truth - because it’s real to her and it’s real to us. Lemonade’s “Love Drought” is a great example of this. BeyoncĂ© didn’t write the song about her and Jay-Z. The song was written by Ingrid Burley about her frustrations with somebody in BeyoncĂ©’s team who lied to her and how fed up she is with the music industry. But between the way in which Ingrid wrote the song and how BeyoncĂ© performs and re-interprets it, the narrative becomes hers and it becomes true to her and thereby true to us. But regardless of whether you know the story behind the song or not, it’s still truth; whether it’s Ingrid’s, BeyoncĂ©’s or ours. But love droughts, hot sauce in bags, America’s problems and that oochie coochie la la aside; “16 Carriages” is a different type of beast to some of BeyoncĂ©’s earlier songs, because it truly does feel like BeyoncĂ© is telling an account of what is her story. Or at least part of it. We’re given enough to connect dots, but not so much that we get the complete full picture. And a big ol’ margin is left for speculation.

Lemonade is when BeyoncĂ© really honed this line towing. BeyoncĂ© told us the ‘what’ of what had happened, but she never told us the ‘whens’, the ‘hows’ and the ‘whos’. And the grandiosity of how BeyoncĂ© delivered her story had such an air of surrealism and fantasy to it, that the lines blurred. But it didn’t matter, because we were so engrossed in the ‘HE CHEATED ON BEYONCÉ!?’ of it all. “16 Carriages” is the exact same. It’s grounded. It’s real. There are parallels to what we know of BeyoncĂ©’s life, but there’s fiction that’s being woven into it. And unlike Lemonade, where every song felt as though it was as much about Jay-Z (and also her father) as it was BeyoncĂ© herself, “16 Carriages” is all about her, how she feels, the part she’s played in her own [looks into the camera] Destiny, and the choices that she has made by choice or by circumstance.

In many ways, “16 Carriages” feels like a more poetic version of “Break My Soul”. Both songs are about overcoming adversity and living for yourself and your dreams. And both songs have Beyonce working a job that we know she ain’t worked. A 9 to 5? Sixteen dollars for a day’s work? Gurl. But “16 Carriages” delves a little more into what comes with working towards your dream. Prioritising ourselves and wanting to believe our dreams can become reality is what keeps us going and gets us out of bed in the morning, but it always comes with a cost. For some that cost is just simply being alive. But chasing a dream means making a sacrifice. And even when you manage to make that dream a reality, there’s something you’ve had to give up for that. As though life reminds you that you cannot have it all. In BeyoncĂ©’s case, she has secured a legacy and is one of the most popular and decorated pop stars in the world, but her kids will never be able to have a ‘normal’ life because of it. Nobody in her family will. And the lives of those close to her have all had to adjust to accommodate BeyoncĂ© living her own dream. “16 Carriages” does an amazing job of really highlighting how fulfilling a dream takes work, but also exerts a toll which never stops charging payments. It can be a bit of a monkey paw situation.

The timing of “16 Carriages” could not have been better; coming days after Tracy Chapman went vial for making a rare appearance at the Grammys to perform her classic hit, “Fast Car”. “16 Carriages” bears some similarities to “Fast Car”. The sombreness. The sentiment of wanting better for yourself. Using a vehicle as a transportation method on which to place hopes and aspirations. Generational cycles. BeyoncĂ© has become so intentional with her music, that it wouldn’t surprise me if Tracy Chapman was on her mood board for this song and the act ii album. Especially with her being a notable Black woman in folk music.

But “16 Carriages” also has threads to another song. And it might seem like a stretch, but it’s “Church Girl”.

If you got what BeyoncĂ© was doing with “Church Girl”, then you will get “16 Carriages” and it will hit differently for you. Just as was the case with “Church Girl”, “16 Carriages” feels like it is talking to Black women. Whether it’s being the eldest sister who had to hold down the family at a young age and miss out on just being able to be young and carefree. Or young mothers whose own dreams and aspirations had to be put on hold because of motherhood. Or the girls and women who have grafted to create a life for themselves without a ‘significant other’, only to then have the world tell them that they’ve done too well for themselves to ever get a man who can match them. These things are not exclusive to Black girls and Black women. But there is a certain experience, expectation and set of optics for each of these things which is. And I’m sure there are Black women and young Black girls out there listening to “16 Carriages” who feel seen, the same way that “Church Girl” made them feel seen. But “16 Carriages” definitely has a far broader appeal than “Church Girl” had, in terms of its lyrics and sound.

The simple act of just existing can feel so difficult and overwhelming. Everything is a cycle of loss to some degree and this feels like some of what “16 Carriages” is conveying. At least to me. The beauty of this song is that there are so many different ways in which each of us can interpret it, but the way it makes us feel and the emotion it taps into is the same for everybody.

As someone who was raised in a matriarchal family by Black women who all put dreams on hold and made sacrifices for their families, there’s a second hand connection I have to “16 Carriages”. But even for me on a first hand level, there were times I couldn’t just be a regular kid because of circumstances which forced me to grow up fast. And because of how I felt about aspects of my life, not always being accepted and people who didn’t know me telling me who / what I should be and not allowing me to be who / what I wanted to be; I never even attempted to chase the dreams I had as a kid and throughout adolescence. So “16 Carriages” speaks to me on that level too. There have been times when I’ve listened to this song and been on the verge of tears.

Some rich ass woman who had a Christmas dinner at Tiffany and Co., flies a private jet and could close The Lourve so she and her husband could shoot a music video, putting out a song I can identify with!?

The nerve of this woman.

A black and white shot of Beyonce looking into a dressing mirror framed with lights. Adjusting her silver cowboy hat, whilst wearing a silver string net style dress.
Beyoncé - 16 Carriages | Parkwood Entertainment

BeyoncĂ©’s voice has matured beautifully over the years. She has developed this tone which lends itself so well to country, and songs such as “16 Carriages”. But she’s also matured as a singer. BeyoncĂ© is really able to settle into the vibe of a song and sing in a way which better encapsulates it, which has evolved into her sometimes not really singing at all and just saying ‘Fuck it’ and rapping, which is cool. But there is also a sense of BeyoncĂ© not feeling like she has to prove anything in regards to how she sings. Before it felt like BeyoncĂ© would throw moments in songs that were so ridiculous and extra, just to remind everybody ‘I CAN HIT ALL THESE NOTES AND GIVE YOU THESE BELTS AND ALL THE THINGS’. All the girls back then who could actually sing were doing it, because that was a measure of how good a singer somebody was back then. Even the girls that came before and the girls that came before the girls who came before were doing it. But BeyoncĂ© is a [turn and looks into the camera] grown woman now, who gets that just singing loud and high are not the sole measures of a singer at all. Just ask somebody like Brandy. And as a result of this, BeyoncĂ© approaches songs differently. She sings in service to the song and the feeling of it. And she’s not afraid to let the production shine and have its moment. (Production of which on this song is STUNNING). And because BeyoncĂ© is such a talented singer, she can sound good no matter how low and how quiet she sings.

Don’t let how quiet and low her voice is on “16 Carriages” fool you. She’s throwing in quick runs, holding notes, perfectly controlled vibrato, exhibiting incredible breath control and commanding the entire song as though the music is playing to her will. She is doing that GOOD singing. But Beyonce is a twist in what is otherwise a pretty ‘normal’ (if you will) country rock folk song. Beyonce has frequently gone about singing songs in a way which makes them difficult to cover and sing as she does, across the board. But even just within country music, there are few who could sing “16 Carriages” the way in which Yee-HawyoncĂ© sings it as well as she sings. The cadence she hits during the pre-chorus, the way she flutters, her runs - they’re not easy to imitate, and not everybody has the range nor the technique do all of them. And yet, even with the technical prowess Honky-TonkcĂ© effortlessly exhibits on this song, “16 Carriages” somehow sounds deceptively simple, and this is also a skill. To sing in a way where you’re not masking your vocal ability, but are able to have it sit in a sweet spot that makes people not just want to sing it, but feel like they can - it’s truly a testament to Beyonce’s approaches to songs, her vocal arrangements and the songwriters. A song with lyrics that stick, with a performance which those attuned to the technical aspects of her singing can appreciate, with riffs and runs just calling out for those who can sing to attempt them for social media challenges. TikToncĂ© has whole thing down to a science. We saw the same thing with “Plastic Off the Sofa”.

In short; BeyoncĂ© sounds great on this song. And it’s so cool to hear that even after all these years, she can find new things to do and tap into when it comes to her voice, how she uses it and how it factors into her delivery.

A black and white shot of Beyonce looking into a dressing mirror framed with lights. Adjusting her hair, whilst wearing a silver cowboy hat and a silver string net style dress.
Beyoncé - 16 Carriages | Parkwood Entertainment

“16 Carriages” won’t become anywhere near as popular as “Texas Hold ‘Em”. Especially in this day and age of songs charting and trending based on what will hit on Tik Tok. You can put on a cowboy hat and line dance to “Texas Hold ‘Em”. All you can do to “16 Carriages” is just sit in front of your camera with your lip quivering. But I really do hope that “16 Carriages” finds its place and hits with the MASS mass audiences. Because not only is it an amazing song, but it shows a side of BeyoncĂ© that we rarely get to see; a side of her that I think those who may not have gelled with BeyoncĂ© during Renaissance and what came prior will get on board with - which will in turn make them appreciate BeyoncĂ©’s journey up until this point, because it all plays a part.

It would be a shame for “16 Carriages” to just be relegated to the confines of ‘that song that was done for that one tour and never performed again’, when there is so much potential for it to be a fixture and a definitive mid-tempo in her discography alongside that damn “Halo” song.

Also, justice for “Satellites”.