Beyoncé Made My Favorite Beatles Song Even Better

Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

I was pulling into my driveway the first time I heard Beyoncé’s BLACKBIIRD on Cowboy Carter. My jaw immediately dropped, and I ran straight inside to continue listening to this new version of one of my favorite Beatles songs. By the end of that two minutes and 11 seconds, I had chills all over my body.

I have been a Beatles fan for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of Saturday mornings with my mom, listening to Beatles records on repeat. I grew up with The Beatles as a constant feature in the soundtrack of my life. My mom strummed her guitar while singing Norwegian Wood in our little one-bedroom apartment. Blasting Oh! Darling as I drove around the city at 16. Seeing Paul McCartney live. Honest to God, suggesting to my husband that we name our future kids Jude and Eleanor (IYKYK). Getting the lyrics “I’ll follow the sun” tattooed on my arm. And walking down the aisle to a beautiful instrumental rendition of In My Life. The Beatles are in my bones—as central to who I am as a person as my name.

While I love The Beatles fiercely, I also love when artists put their own spins on Beatles music. In fact, there are certain covers I firmly believe outshine the originals (Fiona Apple’s rendition of Across the Universe is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard). So, to say I was thrilled when the familiar strums of Blackbird started unexpectedly playing after the opening track of Cowboy Carter would be an understatement. After my first full playthrough of the album, BLACKBIIRD was the first song I relistened to. I immediately added it to my liked songs on Spotify, as well as my ultimate plane playlist. As I got online to see what everyone else thought of Beyoncé’s latest, I found that I wasn’t alone. The album is a massive hit (it is excellent), and BLACKBIIRD is just one of a handful of songs that left an impression on listeners.

Originally featured on The Beatles’ self-titled album in 1968, Paul McCartney has said that he and John Lennon were inspired by the Civil Rights Movement happening in the United States when they wrote Blackbird. Specifically, McCartney was inspired by the Little Rock Nine, the nine Black students who, following the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling to desegregate schools, became some of the first Black children to enroll at a white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Those nine children faced such extreme discrimination and harassment that President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort them to their first day of classes. McCartney, watching all of this unfold from the U.K., wrote Blackbird to give Black people—and Black women in particular—a little bit of hope. By writing, “Take these broken wings,” he acknowledged the profound struggle and sense of defeat that comes from fighting what at some points felt like a losing battle. By following that line with “and learn to fly,” McCartney encourages those fighting to keep fighting and reminding them that this is their moment. The song is beautiful in its simplicity—a stripped-back guitar-focused performance with a melody that evokes peace and a message of hope. The song’s impact, however, is anything but simple. In the ’60s, it was a signal from across the pond that Black people had support in their fight.

I loved The Beatles growing up—and I loved Blackbird especially, but I had no clue that the song was inspired by Black women. I simply thought it was a sweet little tune. Now that I’ve grown to embrace my identity as a Black woman, Beyoncé’s BLACKBIIRD makes one of my favorite Beatles songs that much better. Growing up, being Black was not a central part of my identity. Most of the people in my life were (and still are) white. Outside of my family, there were never too many people around who looked like me. Between the girls I played soccer with and against and my friends and peers at school, being Black didn’t mesh with what I thought I needed to be to “fit in.” Consequently, this part of my identity is one I’ve only gotten to know and love as an adult. It started with embracing my natural hair in college and has expanded into educating myself on the deep history of Black culture in this country.

Beyoncé’s BLACKBIIRD is a message tailor-made to me and all other Black women: keep going. In whatever it is, remember your strength. Take up space. You’ve got this.

By covering Blackbird on Cowboy Carter, Beyoncé does two crucial things: She shines a light on the forgotten history of a quintessential Beatles song and gives it new meaning by featuring four Black female country singers: Tanner Adell, Tiera Kennedy, Brittney Spencer, and Reyna Roberts. The fight for equality is ongoing; it just looks different than it did in Little Rock after Brown v. Board. Today, Black country artists like Adell, Kennedy, Spencer, and Roberts are fighting tooth and nail to be accepted by the white-dominated country genre. Beyoncé featuring these artists on BLACKBIIRD is an extremely intentional choice. It harkens back to the fight that originally inspired the song while simultaneously lifting up the Black artists fighting for a seat at the country music table now. Cowboy Carter was always going to be a mainstream hit, and now the four artists she sings those powerful, hopeful lyrics with have a platform to further their fight for acceptance in a world where most would prefer to pretend they don’t exist.

This is why Beyoncé’s BLACKBIIRD is an enhancement of the original Beatles tune. In the ’60s, the message was one of support from afar—welcome, to be sure—but by singing it themselves, Beyoncé and her collaborators are sending a message to the country music industry: Black country artists are here now, have been here, and are here to stay.

For me, this new version of Blackbird is a personal reminder of how far I’ve come in embracing my identity. Yes, The Beatles still (and always will) hold a special place in my heart, but Beyoncé’s BLACKBIIRD is a message tailor-made to me and all other Black women: keep going. In whatever it is, remember your strength. Take up space. You’ve got this.