Beyoncé’s Country Pivot With ‘Texas Hold ‘Em’ a Hot Topic During Country Radio Seminar: ‘We’re the Coolest House on the Block’

Though Beyoncé wasn’t in attendance, the singer-songwriter (and her chart-topping hit “Texas Hold ‘Em”) has been a much-discussed topic during the annual Country Radio Seminar being held this week in downtown Nashville.

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Queen Bey recently made history when “Texas Hold ‘Em” debuted atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart; the song went on to top the all-genre Billboard Hot 100. In its second week on the Country Airplay chart, “Texas Hold ‘Em” rose from its No. 54 debut to No. 34.

During an early-morning panel on Friday (March 1) titled “Diversi-’Tea’: Spilling the Data on Inclusive Programming,” panelist Travis Moon, the current director of operations for Radio One Houston and the program director of KKBQ, spoke of being early adopter in playing “Texas Hold ‘Em.”

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“I saw the song come out and was waiting for the edit that we could play,” he said. “I could have overthought this, but my initial gut said, ‘Let’s go.’ A lot of times, we wait to see who moves first; safety in numbers. I didn’t care.” He went on to add, “If the listener turned on the station in the middle of that song, it sounds like something we would play.”

Moon didn’t see playing the song — and adding it during the day — as a huge risk. “I’ve been doing country radio for 32 years, we’ve played hundreds of stiffs during the day that we never play anymore. I don’t know how it will do in the research world, but it sounds great on the radio.” He also noted that during a recent event the station held, they played “Texas Hold ‘Em,” and “the dancefloor was full.”

“First of all, Beyoncé is part of a huge conversation, and you can’t ignore a song she puts out regardless of what genre you work in,” said fellow panelist Jess Wright, has served as the country format captain and host at LiveOne/Slacker Radio since 2016. Wright noted that in their metrics, they are seeing “Texas Hold ‘Em” “has the highest-banned score of any song on stations it is played on. It also has the highest heart score. We expected this because you will always have your traditionalists. There are people who won’t want to hear it.” She noted that listener reactions to “Texas Hold ‘Em” are very similar to those they saw with the 2019 Lil Nas X/Billy Ray Cyrus smash hit “Old Town Road.” “It was the most-panned and the most-hearted,” Wright said.

On the Country Airplay chart dated March 2, “Texas Hold ‘Em” was among the songs with the most increased audience and most increased plays. But it remains to be seen what will ultimately happen with the song at country radio. During a panel discussing “Debunking Industry Myths,” Gator Harrison, Senior VP of Programming for iHeartMedia’s Nashville Market, said, “I played [the Beyoncé track] as soon as I got it, we’re exposing it and once we’ve exposed it enough, we’re going to go to research and ask, ‘What do you guys think? Do you like this?’ We still have to have that local conversation through research with our audience.”

“Whether it’s a song that stays long-term, it does feel a little bit of a novelty, but it sounds good so right now we are sticking with it,” Wright said.

Earlier in the week, “Texas Hold ‘Em” was also part of the conversation in another diversity-focused panel, which featured BBR Music Group leader/president Frontline Recordings, North America Jon Loba, as well as singer-songwriters Frank Ray and Lily Rose, as well as consultant Jaye Albright, and moderated by the Country Music Association’s Senior Director, Industry Relations & Inclusion Mia McNeal.

Loba addressed some of the criticism that has swirled around the song being part of the country music format.

“To the Beyoncé point, I absolutely understand wanting to be protective with the format, and the young artists put in so much work and so much effort for that one shot,” Loba said. “So I do understand the thought of this taking a slot maybe of somebody who’s been here… and wanted to do it all their life. But I think that there is a balance. Maybe [country radio] won’t play every Beyoncé record, but right now one of the biggest icons in music is saying, ‘This genre is cool, this genre matters,’ and we should at least, in this moment, embrace that. Everybody wants to be here. Come to our house. We’re the coolest house on the block.”

Loba also offered a potent reminder regarding backlash surrounding the song, saying, “I also think the gatekeepers need to understand the loudest voice is not always the majority.”

“I’m not surprised by the way this industry has embraced this album,” McNeal said. “I think by and large, most people have enjoyed it. And if some people don’t, they don’t. And it’s OK. It’s art, and it’s something to be consumed and judged.”

On the same panel, Ray, who broke through with his Latin music-tinged song “Streetlights,” praised the lift that the song is giving to other Black women country artists on streaming and socials. “She’s elevating these other Black female artists that have been doing it for such a long time, like Brittney Spencer, Reyna Roberts and Tanner Adell — if we can do that with a Mexican artist, that’d be awesome.”

“That song is countrier than 33% of stuff that is on country radio right now… she just wrote a country song and it’s great, and it’s a tide lifting all boats,” Rose added.

Fellow “Spilling the Diversi’TEA’” panelist Jada Watson, an assistant professor of Digital Humanities in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa (and the principal investigator on the SongData project), noted that since the release of “Texas Hold ‘Em,” there have been increased numbers of consumption and engagement on DSPs and social media platforms for Black country artists — including Rissi Palmer, Tanner Adell and Reyna Roberts — but that largely hasn’t translated to radio support.

“I’m not seeing it yet on radio, but I recognize this is week three,” Watson said. She also spoke of concerns as to whether this will mark lasting support for other Black women country artists: “That is where my concerns lie now — how and when will this translate into support for the Black women who have been pursuing country music?”

The comments from the panels came as part of an ongoing wider conversation about increasing diversity on country radio, and opening doors to include and elevate more women artists and artists from Black, Latino and LGBTQIA+ communities.

Moon advocated for radio taking more chances and looking beyond what research testing might show, pointing out as an example the success of Gabby Barrett’s 2020 hit “I Hope,” saying the song “had some high negative [scores] and huge high passion [scores]. I ignored the negatives and it ended up being a big hit. A lasting hit.”

“The reality is when you are testing music, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Moon said. “If we have less female artists in our music tests, when people are taking the test, it does hit them as a little more novelty. They’re unaccustomed to hearing a lot [of female voices on radio], so you’ll have higher negatives as a result. I have in the past ignored the negatives on female artists, and I look specifically at the love score,” he said, later adding, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to put it power, but that doesn’t mean I’m going drop a song. There’s certain context. I look at artists and I don’t [do] just one size fits all the negative scores. So that’s one rule I’m willing to break, [in order to] try to find, unlock that passion.”

Rose, who was named outstanding breakthrough artist at the 2022 GLAAD Media Awards, said, “I think with fans, you just have to give them patience. They just want to be moved. They just want to hear a good song.”

“We don’t give the audience enough credit,” Loba said. “At the end of the day, people want to hear great music. We as the labels just need to offer that up and gatekeepers do, too.”

Loba’s sentiment was echoed by during the Friday morning panel, with Wright telling attendees, “We need to play good songs and find great music wherever we can find them.”

Watson also noted the benefit of increasing the diversity of artists and sounds found in country music in reaching members of the vast country music audience, saying, “The audience of country music is far more diverse in every way than we even know. I think the exciting thing about this moment is that we have the tools to actually discover who that audience not just is now, but who they always been. And I think that once we start to know who that audience is, we’re going to start to see changes that reflect a greater diversity within the industry as well.”

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