(February 21, 2024).  She may not have broken the internet, but Queen Bey has just broken the U.S. country chart.

Billboard reported Tuesday (Feb. 20) that one of her two new singles, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” is now the No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs, making Beyoncé the first Black woman to accomplish that feat in the chart’s 80-year history.

She joins only a handful of Black men to have achieved a No. 1 record on Hot Country Songs or any of its progenitors, including under its first name as Billboard’s Most Played Juke Box Folk Records beginning in January 1944.  Her No. 1 predecessors include Louis Jordan, Nat King Cole, Charley Pride, Ray Charles, Darius Rucker, Kane Brown, and Jimmie Allen, or about one new Black country chart-topper every ten years, on average.

In addition to “Texas Hold ‘Em” topping the chart, Bey’s other new single, “16 Carriages” enters Hot Country Songs at No. 9, giving her two concurrent top-10 country hits, another first for a Black woman.

Before now, no Black female in a lead role had climbed higher on the main chart than No. 22, when Linda Martell reached that position in 1969 with “Color Him Father,” a remake of the old Winstons’ soul and pop crossover hit from earlier that year. Another Black female, Rhiannon Giddens, reached No. 9 as a guest artist on Eric Church’s “Kill a Word” in 2017.  Giddens, coincidentally, plays fiddle and banjo on Bey’s new No. 1 country record.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” concurrently debuts at No. 2 on the all-encompassing Hot 100 behind Kentucky rapper Jack Harlow whose “Lovin On Me” spends its sixth week at No. 1 there (and 14th-straight week at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart).  

Interestingly, Bey’s hoedown isn’t extended to the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where she has had numerous chart-topping hits.  Billboard omitted “Hold ‘Em” from its R&B-related “Songs” charts despite the tune drawing airplay at rhythmic, adult R&B and mainstream R&B/hip-hop formats (although, like country radio, not enough to rank in the top-50 of the R&B/Hip-Hop component chart).

Conversely, Beyoncé’s “Hold ‘Em” gets to No. 1 country despite only having a No. 54 ranking on the Billboard chart that tracks country-specific airplay, a chart fittingly titled Hot Country Airplay.

“Texas Hold ‘Em” was just beginning to get country radio play during the tracking week; it made it to No. 54 based on an accumulation of 1.1 million in radio audience across 100 country stations from its debut after Super Bowl Sunday to the end of the tracking period, Thursday, Feb. 15 at 11:59 pm.  

With just four days of availability during the chart’s eligible seven-day window (Feb. 9-15), the No. 54 rank in country radio play is not so bad, especially for a song by a primarily pop/R&B artist that received an initially tepid response from country music’s purists.  

But the discrepancy between a No. 54 radio rank and a No. 1 placement on the overall country songs chart smells of boot-scootin’ shenanigans that merits some explainin’, particularly since radio play is a key factor in the calculation of Billboard’s singles charts, including Hot Country Songs.

The short answer is “Texas Hold ‘Em” benefited from a lot of streaming and downloads, from country fans and non-fans alike, as well as play across multiple formats beyond country, like pop stations (where it ranked No. 38) and the support the song received at R&B formats during the tracking week.

But it’s that last part – support from other formats – that illustrates the weirdness with how Billboard now calculates its genre-specific charts and explains how songs that are seemingly underperforming within a format’s core audience can top that format’s main chart, something that’s happened many times in the R&B/Hip-Hop world since a rule change that Billboard implemented more than eleven years ago affecting all of its genre charts.

Methodology change making all genre charts mere subsets of the Hot 100.

In October 2012, Billboard announced that all its main genre charts (like Country, R&B/Hip-Hop, Latin, Rock, Dance/Electronic, etc.) would now use the same formula as its all-inclusive Hot 100 songs chart, with no distinction being made for the genre-specific radio stations or sales patterns that reflected the tastes of fans of any one format.

What that meant was, even if country music fans were not consuming or listening to a “country” record in droves, the song could still conceivably top the country charts if it was getting airplay from pop, R&B, or even dance/electronic radio stations, because those stations’ data now contributed to the final rankings on Hot Country Songs.

The same rule applied to R&B/Hip-Hop, where the post-2012 disparity between what the genre’s core radio stations supported and what non-genre pop fans consumed has played out even more glaringly.

The first and most immediate example of this happened the week Billboard implemented the rule change.  In late-October 2012, the song “Diamonds” by Rihanna wasn’t getting any real love at R&B/Hip-Hop radio (it ranked in the 60s on the R&B/Hip-Hop airplay-only chart).  Put simply, it was a pure pop song (and a smash at pop radio) and Black radio and R&B music’s core audience hadn’t yet warmed up to it.

Yet “Diamonds” shot from No. 66 to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (and remained there for 12 weeks!) in the October week the publication altered its R&B/Hip-Hop chart formula (and other genre charts) to include airplay from all formats, including pop, dance/electronic, country, etc.

The discrepancies continued to play out during the 2010s, most embarrassingly in 2013 when Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ novelty rap hit, “Thrift Shop,” topped the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for 14 consecutive weeks, more than all but three songs in R&B chart history at the time, again despite modest radio support from R&B or hip-hop stations.

Like “Diamonds,” the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs ranking for “Thrift Shop” came mainly by way of its play at pop stations, along with the resultant downloads and streaming, which now factored into all genres’ charts. 

“Thrift Shop” wound up being named the biggest R&B/Hip-Hop song of 2013 by Billboard because of its near-record, pop-infused No. 1 run there.  By virtue of that chart run, it also stands as one of the biggest R&B/Hip-Hop chart songs of all time, although no true historian of R&B music would be willing to acknowledge that.

Do genres really even matter anymore?

Billboard’s rule change reflected a huge philosophical shift for how genres should be treated by the trade publication.  Most notably, it reflected a world where technology made it difficult to discern which genres’ fans were buying what music.

The rule change also had the following effects: 1) it rewarded crossover records before the crossover even occurred; and 2) it meant that Billboard’s chart editors, i.e., humans, played a bigger role in deciding which songs fell into which formats, since a format’s radio input was no longer isolated as a factor in determining a song’s placement on the genre charts.

The latter impact led to questionable decisions by chart editors over the years, like Billboard determining that New Zealand artist Lorde’s 2014 smash “Royals” was an R&B/Hip-Hop chart-eligible hit (a legitimate decision), but her follow-up single “Team” wasn’t, despite R&B and rhythmic radio support also happening for the latter.  Both songs reached the top ten of the Hot 100.

Or, more famously, when Billboard’s editors decided to remove Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” from its country charts in 2018 despite radio support – albeit moderate – from country stations. It was a poor decision that remained in effect even after country legend Billy Ray Cyrus was added to a remix and the song shot to No. 1 for 19 record-setting weeks on the all-inclusive Hot 100.

Now this type of seemingly arbitrary filtering by Billboard’s editors is playing out again with the publication’s decision to include “Texas Hold ‘Em” on its Hot Country Songs chart (they weren’t about to screw that up again after the Lil Nas X fiasco) but not its Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs list, despite the song also receiving airplay at R&B stations.

How it was done in the old days

Before 2012 and, more pointedly, in the pre-streaming and download era, it was easier for Billboard to track what a genre’s target audience was buying, especially in R&B/Hip-Hop, which was (and still largely is) a Black music domain.

In the old brick-and-mortar retail store days, where physical sales of vinyl, CDs or cassettes still ruled the day, Billboard didn’t have to be the arbiter of which songs fit which formats.  They would survey a specific panel of record stores to determine the songs populating its R&B/Hip-Hop charts, for example.

Those stores were primarily located in Black communities or in urban areas where that music was largely consumed.  That data was combined with airplay specific to R&B or hip-hop radio stations (including hybrids like Adult R&B, Rhythmic, and Mainstream R&B) to create the R&B/Hip-Hop charts.

It was how classic soul songs like Stephanie Mills’ “I Feel Good All Over” or George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” (and many other examples like those) could top the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart while (criminally, I’ll admit) not even appearing on the Hot 100. In essence, they didn’t need approval by pop music fans in order to top the R&B music charts, which, under today’s rules, those songs likely wouldn’t come close to doing.

The same approach was used for country music, although that chart was a little trickier.

For nearly 50 years, Hot Country Songs (and its predecessor charts) had used a combination of radio input from only country stations, plus sales of single records at stores.

Billboard eliminated the sales component in 1990 when it incorporated point-of-sale data for its charts because, quite frankly, country singles were no longer being released commercially and/or not selling enough to make a difference on Hot Country Songs.

As such, from 1990 until 2012, Hot Country Songs was strictly an airplay-driven chart, with no distinction made between it and the so-named Hot Country Airplay chart (where Beyonce ranked No. 54 this week). A similar fate later befell Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs as physical singles sales diminished to negligible numbers and Billboard hadn’t yet incorporated modern digital consumption methods into that chart.

Billboard needed to change, but did it go too far?

Billboard’s decision to get with the times and incorporate sales/streaming/download data into its genre charts was appropriate, given that sales (now downloads and streaming) have always been a truer indicator of what fans like and how labels need to adjust marketing strategies to accommodate those fans’ tastes.

The decision to apply all sales equally to each genre chart, regardless of the source, is likely a recognition that, in a digital world where streaming and downloads are tracked as pure numerical metrics without regard for who’s doing the streaming and the downloading, it would be difficult – if not impossible — for Billboard to discern whether it is R&B fans or pop fans or country music fans that are buying the latest record by Beyonce, for example.

Thus, until Billboard and its data partner Luminate can come up with a way to track consumption patterns for specific genre fans, it kind of makes sense that an all-sales-are-equal approach be applied to each of the magazine’s genre-specific charts.  

But the all-format radio formula now used in those genre’s charts is perplexing to say the least, especially for traditionists who believe a country chart should reflect what country fans liked and an R&B chart should reflect what R&B fans liked, and so on.

Billboard’s October 2012 methodology change essentially dictated that we now live in a world where genres were still important enough to get their own charts, but the core audiences or demographics of people that consumed and listened to specific types of music no longer mattered… at least not enough to have their inputs isolated to the charts that catered to their favorite styles of music.

The change has specifically impacted the country charts by allowing songs with significant non-format crossover appeal to dominate Hot Country Songs for months on end, by virtue of their support from pop radio.

In the first year of the change, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” spent a record 24 weeks at No. 1 on Hot Country Songs, a mark that would be exceeded by Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” (34 weeks in 2017) and “Meant to Be” by Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line (50 weeks in 2017-18).

I doubt a majority of diehard country fans would stand by that last tune being the biggest country chart hit of all time, just as much as they’d balk at Beyoncé’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” topping today’s chart.

In its defense, Billboard explained…

For the past eleven-plus years, since the October 2012 rule change, all of Billboard’s main genre charts still use the exact same formula as the all-inclusive Hot 100, which means they’ve become mere subsets of that larger chart.  A song’s relative ranking on the Hot 100 foretells what its ranking will be on its associated genre chart.  Jack Harlow’s rap hit “Lovin On You” is the No. 1 Hot 100 song, so it is by default the No. 1 R&B/Hip-Hop song. 

Beyonce’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” at No. 2 on the Hot 100 is the highest ranked country song on that list, so it is No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart.  The second-highest ranked country song on the Hot 100 – Zach Bryan’s “I Remember Everything” – is the No. 2 song on the country chart, and so on…

Billboard noted the following in the article announcing the rule change in its October 27, 2012, issue: “Until now, only country stations contributed to the Hot Country Songs chart, or R&B/hip-hop stations to Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs; the same held true for Latin and rock.  The move to the Hot 100-based formula (for the genre charts) will ensure that the top-ranked country, R&B/hip-hop, Latin and rock titles each week will be the top titles listed on each genre’s songs ranking…” 

In defending the rule change, chart director Silvio Pietroluongo stated, “The way people consume music continues to evolve, and as a result so do our genre charts, which now track the many new ways fans experience, listen to and buy music.  We’re proud to be offering updated genre charts that better reflect the current music landscape…”

Maybe this is the type of democracy on the charts that the new (digital) world order dictates, but it doesn’t make sense to purists who grew up in a world where core country or R&B artists and music could thrive in their specific genres without being impacted from “outside listeners and consumers.”

But back to Beyonce, some country stations defended their initial reluctance to play “Texas Hold ‘Em” by stating they weren’t sure Columbia Records was officially promoting the song to country radio.  On Feb. 14, they were officially serviced the song by Columbia’s country music department, which served as the official “green light” for stations who relied on the old “we won’t play it until we’re told to” mantra.

It appears that country radio will now only be playing catch-up to the rest of the nation and a bunch of consumers – country and non-country alike — who have already spoken. 

Their statement: Queen Bey’s “Texas Hold ‘Em” now reigns supreme on Hot Country Songs and she has, once again, made history, thanks mainly to that 2012 methodology change… oh, and a 2018 “Old Town Road” mistake that practically guaranteed they wouldn’t be leaving Beyonce out of this year’s country chart do-se-do.

And it appears she’ll be No. 1 country again next week, as the song is now trending to move from No. 2 to No. 1 on the Hot 100, which, by default, means a No. 1 country rank.


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock, and country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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