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Breaking down Beyoncé's unusual album announcement last night

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Beyonce has once again proven that she can break the internet whenever she wants to. During last night's Super Bowl 58, Beyonce appeared in a commercial and announced that she would release new music. It didn't take music fans long to turn their attention away from the game and onto their cellphones, where they found the superstar had dropped two new songs and announced a new album out on March 29. NPR Music's Sidney Madden is here to tell us all about it. Hey, Sidney.

SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: OK, Sidney, I was glued to my TV last night. I saw every minute of last night's action. And this album announcement - it was truly unusual. Walk us through what happened.

MADDEN: Absolutely - unusual, unorthodox, unexpected, surprising, all of the above. So in that Verizon commercial that you mentioned, Bey was donning a bunch of different outfits and poking fun at her ability to break their network and break the internet. And at the end of that commercial, she slyly dropped a little line that said, OK, drop the new music. That one line was enough to send everyone in the Beyhive away from their living room TVs and onto the internet to discover, No. 1, she announced a new album was coming and, No. 2, she dropped two new songs to back it up right there.

SUMMERS: Wow. OK, let's get into the music. What do we need to know?

MADDEN: Right now all we know is that the album is being called "Act II" in reference to a continuation of her last album, "Act I," also called "Renaissance." And judging from these two new songs, she's headed in a new direction sonically, and that's the most exciting part. The two songs are country songs. She dropped country music. One song is called "Texas Hold 'Em," and the other one is called "16 Carriages." and they're very opposite in feel but showing her range in an impeccable way. "16 Carriages" is that soul-stirring, dog tired, inspirational type of country ballad. The storytelling on this is amazing. She's talking about carrying the load of unrelenting excellence and success and what hard work has done to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "16 CARRIAGES")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Going so hard. Got to choose myself - underpaid and overwhelmed. I might cook, clean but still won't fold. Still working on my life, you know? Only God knows. Only God knows. Only God knows.

MADDEN: And then on the opposite side of the spectrum, "Texas Hold 'Em" - that's the get down. That's the line-dancing do-si-do. That's the energy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEXAS HOLD ’EM")

BEYONCE: (Singing) There's a heat wave, there's a heat wave, coming at us, coming at us - too hot to think straight, too hot to think straight, too cold to panic, too cold to panic.

MADDEN: So the higher-energy track, "Texas Hold 'Em" - it features banjo and viola being played by Rhiannon Giddens. And for people who don't know that name, Giddens is a Grammy winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner and MacArthur genius grant recipient. She's just all-around an excellent artist who's made it her mission to educate people that banjo is a Black instrument.

SUMMERS: And, I mean, this focus on country music by Beyonce - that is a big leap artistically from what we heard from her in "Renaissance."

MADDEN: Yes, absolutely. And that's what makes it so exciting. With her last album, "Renaissance," Bey dedicated the entire album and the world tour she built around it to the architects of house music, techno music, disco. And that's the Black, queer community, who historically have not gotten credit for creating these art forms. So with "Act II," we're already hearing how she's continuing that discourse. Country music in America is another Black-birthed art form that has, over the years, become mostly whitewashed. And just looking at the large swath of country music today, that's evident. So she's true to this, not new to this. She's a Texas Bama herself, and she's dropped country songs in the past, like 2016's "Daddy Lessons."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY LESSONS")

BEYONCE: (Singing) He held me in his arms. He taught me to be strong. He told me when I'm gone, here's what you do.

MADDEN: This is really a trademark of Bey's work. She's being intentional about reclaiming all the music genres that Black people have created but were not widely credited for. So we're in for a lot.

SUMMERS: NPR Music's Sidney Madden.

MADDEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DADDY LESSONS")

BEYONCE: (Vocalizing). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Sidney Madden is a reporter and editor for NPR Music. As someone who always gravitated towards the artforms of music, prose and dance to communicate, Madden entered the world of music journalism as a means to authentically marry her passions and platform marginalized voices who do the same.