Beyoncé Changed The Lyrics Of "Jolene"— And Reclaimed Country

A dive into her version of the country classic.

There are many surprises in Beyoncé’s 27-song-long Cowboy Carter, but one of the biggest is her take on Dolly Parton’s singular classic “Jolene,” which she’s chosen to completely reimagine with new lyrics. It’s more than a clever flip; in the larger context of the record, it’s the singer’s undeniable stamp on country music.

As Beyoncé said herself, Cowboy Carter isn’t a country album — it’s a Beyoncé album, and this applies to her version of “Jolene,” which has been morphed from an anthem of desperation into a song of warning, a much more fitting Bey theme. She’s firing shots right off the bat, altering Parton’s original opening, “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you please don’t take my man,” to the much more striking, “I'm warnin’ you, don't come for my man.”

What makes Beyoncé’s “Jolene” more than your average rewrite is the way she pushes and plays with the established narrative by personalizing its lyrics. Like how Parton’s original was inspired by a red-haired bank teller she caught flirting with her husband, Bey also draws from her life to make the song her own — and it heightens the stakes. In the track’s first verse, she references her marriage to Jay-Z: “We've been deep in love for twenty years/ I raised that man, I raised his kids/ I know my man better than he knows himself (Yeah, what?)/ I can easily understand/ Why you're attracted to my man/ But you don't want this smoke, so shoot your shot with someone else (You heard me).”

The personalization continues as she calls herself “a Creole banjee bitch from Louisianne,” and claims, “I had to have this talk with you'/ Cause I hate to have to act the fool” (a line that we can’t help but connect to another real-life confrontation). But where Beyoncé’s version dovetails the most is its ending, which closes on a note of assurance and safety knowing that she and her husband are in it for the long run: “I'ma stand by him, he gon' stand by me.”

In many ways, Beyoncé’s reclamation of “Jolene” — as a song and as the narrator — feels like the sharpest distillation of the larger thesis of Cowboy Carter. For years, the message Beyoncé received from the country-music establishment and its fans was that she didn’t belong — that her songs and her life weren’t congruent with the messages of the genre. But who’s more country than Parton, a woman whose life, Beyoncé has now shown, isn’t that much different than hers? Cowboy Carter is her proof that her life is country — and “Jolene” is its most definitive example.

The biggest question from the original “Jolene” was who the titular woman was — and Bey has even accounted for that, too: A cheeky intro from Parton herself brings up the “hussy with the good hair.” That’s another parallel — like the original Jolene, she’ll likely continue to be referenced for decades to come.