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Beyoncé's "Jolene" Finishes What She Started on 'Lemonade'

What a time to be alive. Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter is here, and the album is more than just the brilliant reimagining of Americana that we were promised. Cowboy Carter is an explosive game of musical Minesweeper with pop-culture bombs planted under stylized titles and double-entendred lyrics that has the internet broken into a million spur-shaped pieces. While her country debut may have some couples heating up in the bedroom, Queen Bey has also provided us with a few HBIC anthems, like her cover of “Jolene,” which has the girls fighting. And yes, Dolly Parton has entered the chat.

The jury is still out on whether the vengeful recreation of the pleading classic is revolutionary or regressive, so consider this your official Beyoncé/”Jolene” breakdown to help you decide for yourself.

Dolly Parton Asked for Beyoncé To Cover “Jolene” (Watch):


While Beyoncé has not identified her motivations for this song specifically, she did preface her latest drop with the context that this album is her reclamation of space in a genre from which she was previously unwelcomed (looking at you, CMA Awards). We can assume then, that all of the country music titans included in Cowboy Carter are artists that the Houston native considers emblematic leaders of the genre she grew up listening to. And the respect is mutual — in a 2022 interview on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah asked Dolly Parton with all the covers of her timeless song already in existence, why would she want Beyoncé’s rendition? After praising the singer’s talent and beauty, Dolly likened a potential Beyoncé version to “what Whitney did” with her “little song” (lol, humble queen) “I Will Always Love You.” Seems like the collab was thus a match made in heaven, and a natural continuation of Beyoncé’s immortalized semi-fictional beef with Becky With The Good Hair, as Dolly narrates in the anthem’s radio-style prelude, “Dolly P.”

Old vs. New “Jolene” Lyric Breakdown


Here’s where the drama started. Instead of relying on vocals alone to transform the original, Cowboy Carter took it upon herself to make some lyrical adjustments as well… some big ones.

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene 
I’m warnin’ you, don’t come for my man (Jolene) 
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene 
Don’t take the chance because you think you can 

Whereas Dolly P “begs” Jolene not to take her man, Yoncé warns Jolene to stay in her lane because if she fucks around, she’s gonna find out.

In the next verse, Dolly and Bey are on the same page about how much their man means to them, but the latter takes it a step further by proclaiming she “raised that man” and “raised his kids” and for that reason, Jolene should “shoot [her] shot with someone else” before “the Creole banjee bitch from Lousiana” eliminates her competition by force. Overly literal translation: Beyoncé has been to hell and back grooming Jay-Z into the man he is today so if she has to let the hood jump out to protect her investment, she’s charging it to the game.

There’s a thousand girls in every room
That act as desperate as you do
You a bird, go on and sing your tune, Jolene (What?)
I had to have this talk with you
‘Cause I hate to have to act a fool
Your peace depends on how you move, Jolene

More threats! Dolly’s happiness may have depended on Jolene back in the day, but in Beyoncé’s version, Jolene’s peace depends on staying out of Bey’s way. She considers this song Jolene’s one and only opportunity to save herself any further embarrassment, which sounds like a fair deal to me. She ends the ode by declaring Jolene cannot “dig up them planted seeds,” AKA her family’s roots and seemingly pays homage to Jay-Z’s OG love song with Mrs. Carter, “0’3 Bonnie and Clyde,” using the lyric “I’ma stand by her, she gon’ stand by me, Jolene.”

Why does this have everyone all hot and bothered? First of all, many people were offended that the song strayed from Dolly’s original intent to which I tell those people, do you know what a cover is? Others are not into Beyoncé’s unchallenged devotion to a man who would cheat in the first place, especially when that man is most obviously imagined as Jay-Z, who Beyoncé has spent quite a few ballads defending in the past. Isn’t blaming Jolene for Jay’s misgivings incredibly misguided? Well, duh. Just like begging a hotter chick not to sleep with your boyfriend is intentionally pitiful, Beyoncé’s version is ridiculously aggro: the songs are not oppositional, they’re two sides of the same coin. Beyoncé’s route is not prescriptive, as much as it is reflective of one of many human reactions to feeling threatened in your relationship that deserves to be explored in art just like all of the other intrusive thoughts we’re too afraid to say out loud in day-to-day life.

Finally, there’s a strong faction of card-carrying Beyhive members taking issue with the implication of the specific lyric about a grown woman having to “raise” a grown man, just like she has to rear her babies. I agree that part is probably not one I’ll belting with my chest any time soon, as not to tempt the universe. But I do think after baring the inner workings of her complicated relationship journey in previous projects like her self-titled album and Lemonade, lines like this are just a statement of a fact for Beyoncé at this point and even more so, acknowledgment of some of the generational relationship trauma she’s forced to work out for her good in the end.

Dolly’s Reaction To Beyoncé’s “Jolene”

 

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A post shared by Dolly Parton (@dollyparton)

While this song (and the album) have received much critical acclaim for the musicality (if not always for the woman-on-woman criminal antics analogized in the fresh lyrics), there’s one person’s opinion that matters the most. What did Dolly have to say? According to her Instagram, Dolly is just as in love with the remake as she hoped, saying, “Beyoncé is giving that girl some trouble and she deserves it!” If you ask me, with Dolly’s stamp of approval seal, case closed.

Marissa Dow
Marissa Dow
MARISSA DOW is a trending news writer at Betches. She's more than just another pop-culture-addicted-east-coaster-turned-LA-transplant...she's also an upcoming television writer and aspiring Real Housewife (whichever comes first). Live, laugh, balegdah.