How Did Beyoncé’s ‘Cowboy Carter’ First Week End Up Out-Performing Her ‘Renaissance’ Debut?

If it felt like Beyoncé‘s Cowboy Carter was the only album was anyone was talking about last week, there was a reason that: It was on pace to post the biggest single week for an album so far in 2024 by a wide margin.



See latest videos, charts and news

See latest videos, charts and news

The album, Bey’s long-awaited pivot to a country-rooted sound and the second part of her expected Renaissance trilogy, bows atop the Billboard 200 with 407,000 units in its first frame, galloping past the 251,000 units moved by Future & Metro Boomin’s We Don’t Trust You in its debut, previously the top single-week mark for any album in 2024. It’s also well clear of the 332,000 units posted by Renaissance Act I in its first week, making it Beyoncé’s best entrance since Lemonade notched over 650,000 units upon its 2016 debut.

How was Beyoncé able to outdo her Renaissance comeback? And what could we possibly expect to come with her eventual Act III? Billboard staffers discuss these questions and more below.

Trending on Billboard

1. We once again have a new high-water mark for a 2024 first week with the 407,000 units moved by Cowboy Carter in its first frame — a solid 75k higher than the 332,000 moved by Renaissance in its debut week. What do you think is the biggest reason beyond the superior first-week number for Beyoncé’s latest? 

Kyle Denis: The biggest reason is the same as the one I gave when we broke down the massive streaming debut she garnered with Cowboy Carter lead single “Texas Hold ‘Em” a few weeks ago — Beyoncé is finally playing ball with new solo music after completing her transition to the streaming era. Renaissance’s numbers, while nothing to scoff at, were indicative of its circumstances — Beyoncé’s first solo studio album to receive a simultaneous wide release across all major streaming platforms. Now that Renaissance has run its course and done the job of introducing Queen Bey’s new music to younger streaming audiences, Cowboy Carter is riding off into the sunset off the back of that foundation. Couple that with both the natural curiosity of an artist like Beyoncé delving into country music and the current commercial power of that genre, and you’re left with Cowboy Carter’s robust first-week units total.

Jason Lipshutz: Track length, curiosity and quality. The fact that Cowboy Carter is 11 songs longer than Renaissance undoubtedly helped its streaming totals, as did the incalculable number of casual listeners who had heard about Beyoncé releasing her version of a country music album and pressing play with their interests piqued. But also, Cowboy Carter does not play out like a gimmick — the album has earned raves from both the BeyHive and neutral observers, and stands as one of the boldest mainstream projects of the year. We’ll see how it endures in her overall discography, but immediately, Cowboy Carter was a lightning rod too interesting to deny.

Taylor Mims: There was a lot more build up and marketing for Cowboy Carter than there was for Renaissance. We had the Verizon announcement, as well as two lead singles that really set the tone. There is no greater marketing than a single as good as “Texas Hold ‘Em.” The song was a great encapsulation of country music, made for brilliant line dancing videos and has been on repeat for months. While people might have been hesitant to listen to dance music or trust Beyoncé in a non-pop/R&B space, she proved that she can take on just about anything with Renaissance and even more fans were onboard for round two with Cowboy Carter. Being part of the Renaissance world last year was a big deal, and a lot of people did not want to miss out on the next big thing she did.   

Melinda Newman: While a Beyoncé release always dominates headlines and charts, this one got an incredible start based on the Super Bowl commercial and the drop of “Texas Hold ‘Em” and “16 Carriages.” That started non-stop chatter for six weeks about the album and the reaction it would get from the country community, so by the time the album dropped, “Texas Hold ‘Em” had already topped a number of Billboard charts and the cultural discourse had reached a fever pitch.

Andrew Unterberger: The hype here was arguably even greater than for Renaissance, and it built on both the wildly positive reception for that album and the ensuing, headline-capturing Renaissance Wrold Tour. Plus, never hurts in the streaming era to have 27 tracks instead of just 16.

[embedded content]

2. Unlike with the recent blockbuster bows from albums by Ariana Grande and Future & Metro Boomin, which both spawned No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 debuts as well, the highest-charting song from Cowboy Carter in its first week is still prior Hot 100-topper “Texas Hold ‘Em,” which returns to No. 2 on the chart. Is there another track on the album that you think could be ticketed for a similar level of chart success, or is it all just parts of a bigger whole outside of “Texas”? 

Kyle Denis: It’s a great problem to have, but there are many potential smashes on Cowboy Carter. Obviously “Jolene” and the Miley Cyrus-assisted “II Most Wanted” garnered the most traction during release week, but I’ve seen a lot of love for “Bodyguard,” “Ya Ya,” Riiverdance,” “II Hands II Heaven,” “Tyrant” and “Levii’s Jeans” (with Post Malone). If I had to choose one or two songs to directly follow in the footsteps of “Texas,” I’d put my money on “Bodyguard” and “II Most Wanted,” with “Ya Ya” right behind them. 

Jason Lipshutz: I think “Bodyguard” eventually gets there, after the initial plays of Cowboy Carter prioritized her rendition of “Jolene” as well as the Miley Cyrus duet “II Most Wanted” (both of which debuted in the top 10 of the Hot 100). “Bodyguard” may have started below them both at No. 26, but the song offers the most thrilling distillation of Beyoncé’s country-pop approach on the album, as well as a hook and tempo that could work at multiple radio formats. Of course fans wanted to see what Bey did with “Jolene” and alongside Miley, but when the dust settles, I’d expect “Bodyguard” to keep climbing.

Taylor Mims: “Riiverdance” and “Bodyguard” seem like a clear frontrunners given the attention they have already received on TikTok and beyond. But there is still plenty of room for “II Hands II Heaven” and “Levii’s Jeans” to get love on streaming and radio. “Ya Ya” also has a wonderful sample of “These Boots Are Made for Walking” by Nancy Sinatra, and feels both familiar and new in a way that I think will carry it further than the first week numbers suggest.  

Melinda Newman: There are a few. Though it’s not in line stylistically with what’s hitting on the Hot 100, “Blackbiird” is simply beautiful, and deserves the biggest audience possible. Beyoncé takes the 1968 Beatles’ classic, which Paul McCartney said he wrote about the civil rights movement, and reinvents it into a glorious testimony, with the help of rising Black women country artists Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Reyna Roberts and Brittney Spencer. The arrangement, which includes part of the Beatles’ original version and stunning backing vocals from the four newcomers, is too good not to find the broadest possible audience.

Andrew Unterberger: “Bodyguard” seems like the most obvious Cowboy Bey Bop, one that multiple radio formats could glom onto for the entire summer if so inclined. And even though it wasn’t actually Taylor Swift providing those sighing backing vocals as many fans theorized…. maybe it’s not too late for her to actually do so for the song’s remix? Needless to say, that would certainly seal the deal.

[embedded content]

3. There are a whole host of guests on Cowboy Carter who have already gotten a considerable bump from their appearance on the album. Either from a legacy standpoint or a rising popularity standpoint, which outside collaborator do you think will benefit the most from their involvement with Cowboy Carter? 

Kyle Denis: I would say Shaboozey and Tanner Adell. Shaboozey – who appears on “Spaghettii” and “Sweet ★ Honey ★ Buckiin” —  is launching a new album next month (titled, Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going, out May 31), which gives him a nice window to convert the initial Cowboy Carter boost into a larger fanbase that tunes in to his own releases. 

Adell has the built-in narrative of people clowning her for hoping for Beyoncé collab just for her to appear on both “Ameriican Requiem” and “Blackbiird.” That, coupled with her low-key viral “Buckle Bunny” and marketability as a “Beyoncé with a lasso,” should result in a substantial career boost for her. Fellow “Blackbiird” collaborator Brittney Spencer should also benefit nicely from this moment, given that it coincides with the current momentum of her My Stupid Life album, which dropped on Jan. 19. Moreover, Tierra Kennedy is releasing a single titled “I Ain’t a Cowgirl” on April 26, so she also has a chance to parlay this new exposure into a hit of her own.  

Of course, from a legacy standpoint, country pioneer Linda Martell stands to earn the biggest boost. People know and love Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, but Cowboy Carter introduces Martell to millions of new listeners and people generally unaware of her contributions to country music history. 

Jason Lipshutz: Someone send Willie Jones the Shaq “I wasn’t familiar with your game” meme on my behalf, because, holy cow, I could wait to hear more from him after listening to his Cowboy Carter duet “Just for Fun” for the first time. I could see the song serving as a springboard to legitimate mainstream interest for Jones, a former X Factor contestant who’s carved out a country following but has yet to score a crossover hit. “Just for Fun” could be that hit if it becomes a single from Cowboy Carter, but if not, Jones is deservedly experiencing an upswing now.

Taylor Mims: It has to be Linda Martell. Folks are already listening to Miley Cyrus and Post Malone, so I doubt their numbers will be as significant as Martell’s. A lot of people either weren’t familiar with her legacy before Cowboy Carter or they are going to be excited to return to her work. And she deserves renewed attention. Dolly Parton will also certainly continue to see a bump in streaming for at least “Jolene.” Beyoncé’s version is great, but it definitely makes you want to go back and listen to the original.

Melinda Newman: Beyoncé has not only created a work that honors the roots of country music and serves as an educational and entertaining work, she knowingly used her currency to shine the light on country legends and newcomers. While Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson don’t need the extra attention from Beyoncé, the legacy artist most likely to get the biggest boost from her presence on the album is Linda Martell, the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry. Though Martell’s country career was brief — she registered only three top 40 Country Airplay hits — it was very significant, and her spoken-word inclusion on two tracks on Cowboy Carter has already helped introduce her to millions of Beyoncé and country fans and burnished her place in the history books. The timing couldn’t be better, as Martell’s granddaughter is working on a documentary about her 82-year-old grandmother.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s Martell. Maybe not everyone who hears Cowboy Carter will go digging for 1970’s Color Me Country — though many listeners already have — but at the very least, her name now rings out with casual country (and pop and R&B) fans in a way that it perhaps never quite has before thanks to the major bump in exposure she’s getting from being one of this set’s spiritual elders. That increase in recognition of her legacy should long outlive any short-term streaming bump.

4. Cowboy Carter is the third album in four weeks to set a new mark for the best single-week performance of 2024, with a fourth very possibly coming via Taylor Swift in another couple weeks. Is there any particular reason you think the past month or so has seen such a glut of successful big-ticket releases, or is it mostly just a fluke of timing? 

Kyle Denis: I think it’s a mixture of a fluke of timing and people trying to get their records out before the imminent Taylor Swift hurricane. That’s not to say that every artist who released before Swift was trying to get their moment in the sun before Tortured Poets Department, but I’m sure that crossed the minds of their labels and teams, at the very least. 

Jason Lipshutz: Nope, just a timing fluke. New albums from Beyoncé, Future & Metro Boomin and Ariana Grande are always going to be big deals regardless of when they’re released, and after a relatively sleepy release calendar in January and February, things started to heat up in March, with Taylor, Billie and more Future/Metro around the corner as well. It’s been a fun month for pop fans (although I do fear that the summer will be comparatively barren — somebody save an album for July, please!).

Taylor Mims: Since roughly the Grammy awards in early February, big stars have been priming fans for a big year. Taylor Swift announced her new album. Kacey Musgraves announced hers the same day. We already had Ariana Grande and new Dua Lipa on the horizon. The music industry decided 2024 was going to be a big year for music and fans are paying attention. Beyoncé and Swift had a huge impact on music sales and touring last year and, rather than relying on two mega stars like 2023, it looks like there will be several other big names filling in the spaces around them this year.  

Melinda Newman: There was a time before streaming’s rise when the fourth quarter was the repository for all the year’s biggest releases in order to take advantage of the holiday giving season, but that went out the window years ago when listeners switched to streaming instead of wanting a new CD in their stocking. That has led to big releases dropping year round, so I think the quick succession of record-setters is just coincidence. If anything, I imagine the acts would like a little more breathing room between releases so they could get more time at No. 1 instead of a revolving door at the top.

Andrew Unterberger: Some years, everybody just kinda gets in the pool at once. I do think we’re also just in a particularly rich period for new music at the highest commercial levels, both in terms of the established A-list artists and in the rising artists/sounds starting to properly crystalize within the mainstream. Maybe it’s just that we’re deep enough into the 2020s now (and out of the COVID-19 pandemic) for artists to feel more comfortable diving in with new projects. Regardless of the reasons behind it, it’s a fun time to be a pop fan.

[embedded content]

5. Act I was largely based in dance, and Act II has mostly come from the country world. Assuming it’s also rooted in a genre/history exploration, would you most be interested in hearing Beyoncé do with her potential Act III of Renaissance? 

Kyle Denis: Rock is the genre most people expect for Act III, and I wouldn’t be mad at that. Nonetheless, there was already a solid amount of rock on Cowboy Carter, so how about a funk album? Let’s see Bey in her Parliament era! Completely selfishly, I’d love for Act III to be an album of jazz standards or musical theatre covers. This is just my truth! 

Jason Lipshutz: Rock, for sure. We’ve got the expansion of the “Daddy Lessons” universe, now it’s time for “Don’t Hurt Yourself” to get one, too.

Taylor Mims: The rumor is rock and I would love that. As a big fan of rock, especially old rock’n’roll that came from legends like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Big Mama Thornton, Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, etc. – I think Beyoncé could do wonders with old school rock’n’roll, as well as reinvigorate a genre that has lost a lot of steam with a younger audience. If she could tap Brittany Howard, Amythyst Kiah, Gary Clark Jr., Stevie Nicks, St. Vincent, The Linda Lindas or HAIM — or get Jada Pinkett back into her metal roots — it would be a hell of an album. We’ve already heard her flirting with the genre on Lemonade’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” She’s got this.  

Melinda Newman: The prevailing rumor is that Act III will be rock based and if her past Grammy Awards performances with Prince and Tina Turner are any indication, it should be another home run. She’s already shown on record— whether it’s 2016’s “Don’t Hurt Yourself” or Cowboy Carter’s “Ya Ya”— that she’s very comfortable in the rock world, though as she stresses on the new album, Beyoncé is way bigger than any one genre.  

Andrew Unterberger: We want the funk. Give up the funk, Beyoncé!