Single Review: Beyoncé - Texas Hold ‘Em

A vinyl of Beyoncé’s single “Texas Hold ‘Em”, lying on a brown surface used for photoshoot backdrops.  The cover art features Beyoncé wearing a black cowboy hat and a cropped jacket, with a silver breastplate bikini top and pair of bikini bottoms with chrome heart.

Beyoncé put on her cowboy hat, chrome pussy plate and said ‘park your Lexus and throw dem keys up. We goin’ country.’

Yep. Beyoncé’s lead single from her act ii album follow-up to act i’s Renaissance is a country song. Not a song inspired by country. Not a song which is country influenced. Not a song which is country adjacent. “Texas Hold ‘Em” IS a country song.

As with “Break My Soul”, “Texas Hold ‘Em” is incredibly smart in its execution. It shows that Yee-Hawyoncé and her team have really done their homework. “Break My Soul” was a faithful homage and contribution to its genre, which laid its influences bare and was instantly familiar, whilst being acutely engineered to elicit a specific type of reaction and have a wide appeal, all whilst speaking specifically to a particular audience. “Texas Hold ‘Em”? Same shit. Different genre. But the intent and execution is exactly the same.

On the surface, “Texas Hold ‘Em” is a pretty standard country song, the same way that “Break My Soul” seemed like a pretty standard house song. But only when you listen to it over and over, hear it out in public and see the effect it has on other people, do the layers reveal themselves. Both “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “Break My Soul” are selfless in a sense; in that they feel more like a gift to people and less about being a vehicle for Beyoncé. Now, listen. I’m realistic. I know the latter is absolutely true. But two things can be true at the same time. And I truly do believe that both songs were intended to be gifts to the Black queers and the Black folk who love themselves a bit of country - two audiences which absolutely intersect and overlap. Songs to be played loud in celebration of love, freedom, self and the joys of being alive. Whilst also giving Beyoncé commercial success and allowing her to stretch herself creatively.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” is a good time. The same way “Break My Soul” makes me wanna vogue down, “Texas Hold ‘Em” makes me wanna put on Hwoarang’s Tekken 3 P2 outfit and line dance. There is just so much joy in the song. And much like “Break My Soul”, there is also a very prominent gospel element to it. Sometimes when I listen to “Texas Hold ‘Em” the song doesn’t even hit my ears as a country song. It hits me as a gospel song, because of how it makes me feel. Sometimes I wanna line dance and have a hoedown and sometimes I wanna throw arms up and do church hands. But also because there were songs of this sound which were being played in Black churches back in the day.

Something which has been great to see from Beyoncé is how smart and layered her music has become. I didn’t realise the genius of “Break My Soul” initially, but I get it now - which I feel is part of what’s helped “Texas Hold ‘Em” click with me quicker.

Off the back of Renaissance, “Texas Hold ‘Em” is further proof that Folkyoncé gets what makes a Beyoncé song, and that it isn’t genre. Sure, Beyoncé was known for a particular type of sound for many years. But from Lemonade onward, Beyoncé’s really gotten stuck into breaking that apart and showing that she transcends ‘types of sounds’ and genre. Because genre isn’t what makes a Beyoncé song a Beyoncé song. Beyoncé makes a Beyoncé a song a Beyoncé song. And this is what’s so remarkable about “Texas Hold ‘Em”. It manages to simultaneously sound like nothing Beyoncé’s done before and something she has absolutely done before - which is a great sweet spot for a lead single that you want your fans to love, but for new audiences to also become fans of.

When it comes to the evolution of Beyoncé’s approach to her music, she has come so far from the days of I Am… Sasha Fierce, where Beyoncé tried to cover all manner of bases with no real commitment, with very little follow through into the albums which came after. To such a point that you could wipe I Am… Sasha Fierce out of existence, and 4 following B’Day makes complete sense. Beyoncé’s intention with I Am… Sasha Fierce made sense, but it felt kinda wrong. Or at least the timing perhaps felt wrong. This is not to say that none of it worked. I do feel I Am… Sasha Fierce was an album which really helped push Beyoncé to superstar status. And there were songs on the I Am… Officer Knowles disc which I adored and still adore to this day. “Smash Into You” is an incredible song. “Satellites” is beautiful (which “16 Carriages” reminds me a little of). But “Smash Into You” is still an incredible song when Jon McLaughlin sings it. And Christina Aguilera during her Stripped days could cover “Satellites” and I’d probably like it just as much. The problem with the I Am… Surrounded By Your Embrace disc is that Beyoncé was just being put on these rock, folky songs and ballads to try and cover different bases, but there was no real regard for Beyoncé’s brand of sound or ownership of it. The only thing which really tied a lot of those songs together were that they had black and white music videos. And this is why I Am… Sasha Fierce will always be Beyoncé’s worst album for me. Where-as by Lemonade, Beyoncé started to kinda get it. And now she fully does. Beyoncé in 2008 singing “Texas Hold ‘Em” would not have hit the same as her singing it now, which is what makes the song feel all the more right. Because Beyoncé felt the time was right and that she could give the song everything it needed in order for it to work. For it to feel right and feel hers in ways lots of songs on the I Am… Back Combing My Wig disc did not.

A shot of Beyoncé wearing a black cowboy hat and giant black and silver earrings, one of which catches the light and casts a lens flare / glare.
Beyoncé - Texas Hold ‘Em | Parkwood Entertainment

Despite sounding so different from anything on Renaissance, “Texas Hold ‘Em” still feels wholly connected to it, which goes back to the Beyoncé of it all. She has become a genre. So she can follow a dance album with a country song and it doesn’t feel like whiplash. But also, “Texas Hold ‘Em” features a lot of the songwriting and arrangement traits that songs on Renaissance had. A ridiculously catchy hook which sticks almost immediately after hearing it. A song structure which feels just left of conventional. And a chorus which has a word or two switched when it runs for the second time, as though the song is trying to catch you out. The DNA of Renaissance is in this song, which isn’t surprising, given that the albums for acts i, ii and ii were all recorded together.

Whilst Renaissance featured a fair amount of zigging and zagging from Beyoncé, with crazy song structures and bold creative choices that I never expected from her, “Texas Hold ‘Em” is pretty straight forward, which is a surprise in itself. Upon knowing that she wanted to do a(nother) country song, Beyoncé could have turned around and said ‘Let’s try something new’ and tried some country-with-a-twist type shit. But instead, she kept everything super classic and familiar, which further highlights how Beyoncé is a genre unto herself. Because whilst “Texas Hold ‘Em” is very much a classic country song, not just anybody could sing it how she sings it. The deceptive simplicity of “Texas Hold ‘Em” is a nice sign to others in music right now; that sometimes the way forward is to strip things back and not try so hard to create the next thing. The thing which already exists can be the next thing. And Beyoncé opting for simplicity with “Texas Hold ‘Em” feels like a bigger surprise off the back of Renaissance to me than the country of it all.

Beyoncé seems so confident in herself and the genre that is she, that it transfers into my listening experience. Because as was the case with Renaissance, “Texas Hold ‘Em” feels so familiar that you kinda forget that Beyoncé hasn’t always done these types of songs before and that they were not her bread and butter. The country turn is less of a shocker given that we got “Daddy Lessons” on Lemonade. And then there is I Am… Sasha Fierce’s country-ish songs “If I Were a Boy” and “That’s Why You’re Beautiful”. And the meat of it all, is that Beyoncé has always been a proud Texas girl, and country has been a part of her aesthetic since the days of “Bug a Boo”.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” is nice reassurance that Beyoncé is growing as an artist and becoming more fearless musically, because for years I felt she was just standing still. THIS right here is the point I have been waiting for Beyoncé to reach. But even I could not have foreseen that we’d get a song like “Texas Hold ‘Em”.

The song is just so much fun. And the more I listen to it, the more I get why this was made the lead single for act ii. Just like that Renaissance song I’ve mentioned throughout this entire review. It’s the parallels y’all.