Home Spanish News Beyoncé and her reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’: When the blame lies with ‘the other woman’ | Culture

Beyoncé and her reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’: When the blame lies with ‘the other woman’ | Culture

Beyoncé and her reimagined version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’: When the blame lies with ‘the other woman’ | Culture

Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the most transgressive element of Beyoncé’s latest album is the Texan singer’s choice of musical genre. Beyoncé herself has explained that the decision to make a country album, a genre traditionally associated with the United States, rednecks, secessionist flags, and white pride, was born from a previous experience with country music in which she was made to feel that she was not welcome: “The criticisms I faced when I first entered this genre forced me to propel past the limitations that were put on me. Act II is a result of challenging myself and taking my time to bend and blend genres together to create this body of work.”

However, this is not the first time that a Black performer has taken over the codes of country music or that they have given it a rebellious twist, and it is true that the entire internal narrative of Act II: Cowboy Carter (the album’s full title) contains politically and racially charged elements. In the song titled The Linda Martell Show, Beyoncé pays tribute to Linda Martell, the first African-American singer to release a Country music album. The album’s cover art imitates the design of the posters for the Chitlin’ Circuit, the network of safe entertainment venues for African-American people that has existed since the 1930s. In Texas Hold ‘Em there is a banjo riff played by Rhiannon Giddens, one of the great communicators and defenders of the link between Black music and the quintessentially country instrument.

And yet, when audiences were able to listen to all the songs from this highly anticipated release at the end of last week, both fans and critics had their attention fixed on a single song, Dolly Parton’s 1973 classic Jolene. And it was not the reinterpretation of the song’s music that was pored over, but the radical transformation of the lyrics that Beyoncé made with Parton’s permission.

Jolene is a song that raises the issue of sisterhood between women because, in its original version, you can hear how Dolly Parton plaintively begs another woman to stay away from her partner. Parton herself has explained that the song is based on real events: she wrote the song after she began dating Carl Thomas Dean — to whom she has been married since 1964 — who began visiting a bank employee frequently and even saying her name in his sleep. Parton has said that it was the woman who developed an infatuation with her husband, and not the other way around, but that he had allowed it to continue.

As if she were perfectly aware that her husband’s unfaithful impulse could only be stopped if the other woman involved lent her ‘help,’ Parton wrote an equally tender and pathetic song that Queen Bey has changed from top to bottom, with the original writer’s full consent, and whose name appears in the song credits.

Where Parton sang “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ I’m begging of you, don’t take my man/ Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ Please don’t take him just because you can,” Beyoncé has introduced a threat: “Jolene , Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ I’m warning you, don’t come for my man/ Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene/ Don’t take the chance because you think you can.”

The change in tone becomes much more evident in the next stanza. Parton dedicated herself to praising the beauty of the other woman: “Your beauty is beyond compare / With flaming locks of auburn hair / With ivory skin and eyes of emerald green / Your smile is like a breath of spring / Your voice is soft as summer rain / And I cannot compete with you, Jolene.”

Beyoncé, on the other hand, not only considers herself a worthy competitor but also despises the beauty of the one who at this point is already her opponent. “You’re beautiful beyond compare / Takes a lot more than beauty and seductive stares / To come between a family and a happy man / Jolene, I’m a woman too / The games you play aren’t new / So you don’t want no heat with me, Jolene.”

Beyoncé also completely modifies the narrative of the verses in which Parton originally confesses that she cannot stop crying when her husband says the name of “the other woman” in his dreams and in which she admits to Jolene that she knows that if she wants him, her husband will be unfaithful to her, which is why she is asking Jolene to cooperate.

Beyoncé, on the other hand, dedicates herself to arguing with Jolene about the reasons why she believes that her man is “hers”: “We have been deeply in love for twenty years / I raised that man / I raised his children / I know him better than he knows himself / I can easily understand / Why you’re attracted to my man / But you don’t want this smoke / So shoot your shot with someone else (you heard me).”

The threatening tone of Beyoncé’s version was received with irony by some colleagues. Singer Azealia Banks, known for her brutal honesty, even dared to address Beyoncé personally and publicly on her Instagram stories to say: “Nobody thinks he’s even remotely attractive…,” about Beyoncés husband, Jay-Z, and that the singer needs to “find new content.” These comments generated a huge stir because Jay Z’s constant infidelities have been the subject of rumors in the music industry since the beginning of the relationship between the singer and the rapper, when Rihanna was the woman that everyone suspected, long before Jolene.

He ended up confirming the rumors personally in 2017, when in an interview in The New York Times he admitted that faithfulness was not his strong suit. In that interview, he intoned a mea culpa in which his excuse was the proverbial male emotional shield that was finally lowered by going to therapy: “I was in survivor mode and when you go into survival mode, what happens? You shut down all emotions. So even with women, you gonna shut down emotionally, so you can’t connect. […] And then all the things happen from there: infidelity,” he explained to justify himself.

Beyoncé has received harsh criticism for changing the meaning of Parton’s lyrics. Journalists from Variety and the Washington Post did not like it at all. Although the fiercest critic of all is perhaps Spencer Kornhaber of The Atlantic, who wrote: “On the first listen, I cackled. […] On the second listen, I felt sad. Popular culture is not in need of more songs in which women diss each other over a man.” He goes on: “Beyoncé replaced the vulnerability that made Jolene one of the best tunes of all time with a bunch of ‘bad-bitch’ clichés.”

And with that, a whole world of controversy was unleashed. While it may well be that Beyoncé (in the journalist’s opinion) had written lyrics full of clichés, it is also true that there is no bigger cliché than accusing a Black woman of being aggressive when she expresses herself freely. Doesn’t the singer have the right to create a fiction in which one woman is angry with another? The prestigious cultural journalist Nadira Goffe, in fact, has provided another possible reading: what if Beyoncé was speaking from the point of view of her own mother, who was notoriously a victim of her husband’s infidelities while her daughters were children?

The song’s author and owner of its rights, Dolly Parton herself, quickly came to the singer’s defense. She gave her seal of approval to the lyrics and expressed her sympathy saying: “Wow. I just heard [Beyoncé’s] Jolene. Beyoncé is giving that girl some trouble and she deserves it.”

The veteran singer advocated the same sense of humor that she used when she explained the relationship between Jolene and her husband to Oprah two years ago: “He loved going to the bank because she paid a lot of attention to him. It became kind of an inside joke between us, I was like, ‘Damn, you spend too much time at the bank. I don’t think we have that kind of money.’”

Beyoncé, on the other hand, is less given to humor and it is not the first time that she has blamed her husband’s infidelities on the “other woman,” instead of on the man himself. When she released Lemonade in 2016, the album in which she explicitly addressed race issues for the first time, the album included a song titled Sorry in which she mentioned an anonymous “Becky with the good hair.” In particular, she sang: “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair.” Although the singer never officially revealed who she was addressing, her fans quickly targeted Rachel Roy, a designer about whom there had been rumors of infidelity with Jay-Z since 2009.

Roy, a creator of very limited reach and fame, had worked as an intern at the sportswear company founded by producer and close friend of Beyoncé’s husband, Damon Dash until 2005, when Jay-Z bought the company. The producer, who took a back seat in the business, and the intern, who started her own fashion brand, had started a romance that finally led them to the altar, although they divorced in 2009. At that time, rumors of an affair between the former intern of Jay-Z’s partner and him began to circulate in New York, according to The Cut magazine.

In 2014, Beyoncé’s sister and her husband were involved in a very loud controversy when the cameras in a hotel elevator recorded them resolving their differences with a clean kick. The cause of the fight was never officially revealed, although in several media outlets it was attributed to an argument related to his infidelities. The scandal went global and the family was forced to issue a statement in which they did not explain the reasons why the brawl had occurred but they did apologize for their violent attitudes.

It was not until 2016, when Beyoncé included the hint to her husband (allegedly) and his (also alleged) lover in her album. Rachel Roy herself took the opportunity to upload a photo to Instagram in which she said: “Good hair don’t care” and added a hashtag: “No drama queens.” Right after, Queen Bey’s hive, living up to its name, began to sting Rachel Roy in the form of insults on her networks, false reports on Instagram, and finally a hack that ended up blocking Roy’s Gmail and her iCloud accounts. The designer had to report the cyberbullying she was experiencing to the Los Angeles Police Department.

In one of the soundtracks of Beyoncé’s new album, in fact, there is an explicit allusion to “Becky with the good hair.” The mention is made by Dolly Parton herself, who speaks a few minutes before Jolene starts, saying: “Hello Miss Honey Bey. […] You know that hussy with the good hair you sang about? Reminded me of someone I knew back when, except she had flaming locks of auburn hair.”

It was, in fact, Parton herself who suggested the collaboration between the musical titans two years ago, when she said during an interview on the variety show The Daily Show that despite Jolene being covered more than 400 times since its first release, no one has ever achieved a big sales success with a version of the song. “I think it would have to be done by someone very powerful, like Beyoncé. Nothing would make me happier if she were the one to try.” Parton took the opportunity to mention another Black performer who did achieve enormous global success with one of her songs, saying that she hoped that she would achieve what Whitney Huston did with I will always love you, turning “one of my little tunes into a powerhouse.” The controversy has already been raised and the noise has been made, now all that remains is for the song to overtake the original Jolene in the charts.

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