Although Beyoncé’s performance with the Dixie Chicks at Wednesday’s CMA Awards elicited everything from bemusement to outrage, it wasn’t Queen Bey’s first foray into country music. In fact, had things transpired a little differently, the Houston native’s fourth Number One pop single could have been a country hit.
“Irreplaceable,” with lyrics penned by R&B artist Ne-Yo, had Bey contributing melodies and harmonies. But Ne-Yo’s original intention for the song was to write a country tune that could fit crossover superstars Shania Twain or Faith Hill.
“I just basically did my version of how an R&B, country-western song would sound like in my opinion,” Ne-Yo told BlackFilm.com in 2007, adding, “I love country music.”
Once a drum track was added to the mix, however, the songwriting veered off into classic Beyoncé territory. The resulting track topped the pop chart for 10 weeks, selling more than two million copies and earning a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year.
Country music did get its hands on the tune, however, thanks to Sugarland, who picked up on it almost immediately and performed it live with a bouncy bluegrass twist in their shows. At the 2007 American Music Awards, the duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush teamed up with Beyoncé, adding even more sass and swagger – and a whole lot of Nettles’ Georgia twang – to the tune.
Plenty of country artists have expressed their appreciation for the former Destiny’s Child singer in the past. In a 2014 Rolling Stone cover story, Miranda Lambert fan-girled her fellow Texan, saying, “She’s a girl from Houston, and she worked her butt off to get where she is. She’s not just being carted around on her chariot; she’s driving it.” And in 2011, the Queen of Country covered Beyoncé as Reba delivered a dramatic version of her “If I Were a Boy” to country radio. (The song peaked just shy of country’s Top 20.)
As for Bey’s presence at the CMAs this week, Scotty McCreery, for one, felt her presence was well-intentioned.
“I don’t think they’d come to a country show,” McCreery told Rolling Stone Country on the red carpet, “if they didn’t really respect what it’s all about.”