Shaboozey post by Willie Jones bares Black country artists’ conflict

Shaboozey appears to be taking the path of country music star Charley Pride who made his Blackness safe for white fans. Willie Jones pointed it out.

Thursday morning, Willie Jones appeared to throw some internet shade to another Black country music artist.

In a post on X, Jones congratulated Shaboozey for hitting No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart with “A Bar Song (Tipsy)”. Jones also included a screenshot of an Instagram post in which he congratulated Shaboozey while referencing the song’s video, particularly its lack of Black actors:

“Congrats but I hope the YTS + bee hive gone support me like they doing shaboozey lol cause yall seen all them in his video?”

As of this writing, the post has garnered nearly a million views. Some X users questioned its veracity, speculating that, perhaps, the “beef” is a fabricated attempt to generate Kendrick Lamar/Drake-style attention. Among those who took Jones’s critique at face value, the prevailing sentiment was dismissive: He’s a hater; he’s jealous of Shaboozey’s success; he needs to keep the drama to the group chat.

Country music pushes Black artists to assimilate to white cultural norms

Internet etiquette aside, those who know anything about country music and Black folks’ enduring struggles within it understand Jones’s implication: Success for Black artists in country music, while already extremely difficult, is only possible when they assimilate into the industry’s dominate, white, culture.

History supports this, of course. While it is commonly known that RCA Victor promoted Charley Pride’s early works without his photo, Pride’s own willingness to detract from his Blackness is less frequently discussed.

Despite launching his career in the 1960s and achieving stardom while the country was ablaze with racial unrest, an article in the June 9, 1968, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that Pride rejected a civil rights group’s invitation to speak on their behalf. “Gentleman,” he said, “I respect your position, but your business is politics and mine’s country music. You speak to yours and I’ll speak to mine.”

The next year, Pride notched his first country No. 1 with “All I Have to Offer You (Is Me).” “(I’m So) Afraid of Losing You Again” also reached the top of the chart in ’69, kicking off an incredible 15-year run during which he logged at least one number-one single per calendar year. In all but five of those years, he had multiple.

Because Pride is, far and away, the most successful Black artist in country music (more successful, even, than many white artists), his career journey has become the path which subsequent Black acts must follow. This is the case whether they were led to it by the industry’s white gatekeepers or decided to embark on it on their own.

As such, Black artists in country music—certainly the ones who have developed any sizeable platform—tend to be aberrations within their appointed entourages, exceptions to their own rules. Or, as Jones put it, “a fly in a milk bowl.” Often, they tour with white bands and write with white songwriters; they record with white producers and establish their careers with the help of white managers and publicists.

Black artists on Beyoncé’s album are streamed because of her, not them

To some people, some Black artists included, none of this matters. I’m just trying to make music, they say. I have to do what’s best for me, they say. And, in an echo of the white decision-makers (who, absent the death of George Floyd and/or the release Beyonce’s “Cowboy Carter”album, would’ve never uttered their names): I don’t even know any Black [fill-in-the-blank].

But it does matter. And if you’re a Black artist bemoaning the lack of diversity in country music as it applies to other artists – if you wonder, for example, why more Black artists aren’t played on country radio, or booked on festivals, or nominated for CMA and ACM awards – you should, in theory, also be concerned about the lack of Black songwriters in the genre, or even the optics of a Black artist’s video that features an all-white cast.

As for Jones’s speculation about support from Beyonce’s fans – a reasonable query given his feature on “Cowboy Carter’s” “Just for Fun” – his Shaboozey call-out appears to have turned off those who showed up at country music’s doors to support their queen and her country vibes, not to be privy to any long-festering industry issues.

Beyoncé didn’t knock. She busted down the doors of Nashville’s country music industry

Data, however, reveals that Jones had valid reason to be concerned well before Thursday’s blowback. Regarding the impact of a “Cowboy Carter” inclusion on the careers of the featured artists, Dr. Jada Watson, professor at the University of Ottawa and author of the report “Redlining in Country Music,” notes:

“Roughly 95% of the increase in monthly [Spotify] listenership is for the songs on which they are featured and not for their catalogues. Beyoncé’s fans, and any new fans to the album, are streaming “Cowboy Carter”from Beyoncé’s Spotify page and those listeners are rarely making the click over the featured artists’ pages to discover their music. If they are visiting their pages, they are following, but not returning to become an active listener.”

Shaboozey’s success is partially due to rare industry support

The result, Watson says, is a precipitous drop in listener-to-follower conversions – about 90%-plus. She estimates that the damage will be felt long-term, and she cites Tanner Adell’s recent release of “Whiskey Blues” as illustrative of potential impact.

Adell, who was featured on “Cowboy Carter”’s “Blackbiird,” achieved some streaming success with “Whiskey Blues” – around 500,000 streams in its first week, according to Watson, but not enough to achieve similar heights to Shaboozey, who was featured on “Spaghettii” and “Sweet Honey Buckiin’” from the album.

“Despite being a brilliant self-marketer on social media, Adell’s single suffers because, 1), she’s in a moment of negative fan conversion because of how Beyoncé’s album is washing right over her,” Watson says, “and, 2), she doesn’t have the same external-to-Nashville support or the internal-to-Nashville support to parlay this moment into chart activity. Honestly, she was doing much better with fan conversion before ‘Cowboy Carter’.”

Some of the reasons for Shaboozey’s outlier success are speculative: As an example, he may have known about his inclusion on the record earlier than other featured artists and thus had more time to develop a more strategic promotional plan. (Jones has stated that he was added to the album “in the fourth quarter.”) Other explanations are more certain – namely, that Shaboozey has the support from both inside and outside of Nashville that Adell and other Black artists lack.

“On the report that published on Monday, April 29, ‘A Bar Song (Tipsy)’ had over 300 spins on country radio, and it sat at No. 78 on the Mediabase report,” Watson says. “When you add this type of radio support to digital sales and stellar first week streams (9M+), you have the kind of digital footprint to land at the top of Billboard’s hybrid-Hot Country Songs.”

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The point, of course, is not to begrudge Shaboozey of his success, or to attempt to diminish it. But it is completely fair to point out how his success will impact other Black artists who hope to achieve their own number ones – or, put differently, how Shaboozey is, or isn’t, altering the course laid out by Pride.

For now, though, what was true in the 1960s remains true today: An industry that allows for only sporadic, individual Black successes is one that never truly evolves. It, instead, waits for the next Black artist willing to play the game and follow suit, the artist who will proclaim that their Blackness is a safe kind of Blackness, that it is, in fact, the only Blackness needed.

Andrea Williams is an opinion columnist for The Tennessean and curator of the Black Tennessee Voices initiative. She has an extensive background covering country music, sports, race and society. Email her at or follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) at @AndreaWillWrite.

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