Beyoncé Changed The Meaning Of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

Arts & Celebrities

Beyoncé’s new country album, “Cowboy Carter,” features a familiar tune — Dolly Parton‘s classic “Jolene,” instantly sparking online discourse.

Beyoncé didn’t just cover the song – she rewrote it. And she seems to have missed the point, flattening Parton’s poignant ballad into a “girlboss” power anthem.

Beyoncé’s version contains a reference to the “Becky with the good hair” mentioned in her 2016 album “Lemonade,” in which she implied that her husband, Jay Z, had cheated on her. But the vulnerability of Parton’s lyrics has vanished; Beyoncé isn’t “begging” Jolene not to take her man — she’s “warning” her.

Online, the reaction was mixed, with a clear split between Beyoncé’s dedicated fans and casual listeners.

Azealia Banks, always a wordsmith when it comes to insults, critiqued the song on an Instagram Story, describing the new lyrics as “forced” and dismissing the idea of an “imaginary adversary” finding Jay-Z “even remotely attractive.”

Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ Has Been Covered Before

“Jolene” has been covered and reinterpreted countless times before — according to Parton, it’s her most frequently covered song.

It’s difficult to pin down why certain works of art become wildly popular, but the song feels deeply sincere; Parton’s raw envy, longing and desperation resonates across time and borders.

Everyone has felt threatened by a “Jolene” at some point in their lives, or a “Becky.”

Parton says that the song is based on a true story, inspired by a bank teller who was flirting with her husband, but admitted that she took the name and physical description from a young fan who approached her on stage.

Remarkably, Parton wrote the song in one day. In fact, she wrote two classics that day — “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.”

As Parton puts it, “that was a good writing day.”

Just to be clear, Dolly Parton very much supports Beyoncé’s interpretation — it’s not like Beyoncé rewrote the song against Parton’s will.

Parton introduces the song in “Cowboy Carter,” and expressed her excitement on social media, writing: “Wow, I just heard Jolene. Beyoncé is giving that girl some trouble and she deserves it!”

In fact, Parton expressed her desire for Beyoncé to cover the song a couple of years ago, in an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Parton said:

“I think [Beyoncé’s] fantastic and beautiful, and I love her music. I would just love to hear ‘Jolene’ done in just a big way, kind of like how Whitney did my ‘I Will Always Love You,’ just someone who can take my little songs and make ’em like powerhouses. So that would be a marvelous day in my life, if she ever does do ‘Jolene.’”

That day has come, but much of the internet seems to disagree.

Online reaction To Beyoncé’s “Jolene”

While many Beyoncé fans loved the reinterpretation, other social media commentators disagreed, albeit rather cautiously, mindful that Beyoncé’s fans can be hostile to critique.

Others simply had fun with the fact that “Jolene,” whoever she really was, has inspired decades of discourse about infidelity.

The rest of the songs on “Cowboy Carter” have been very well-received by fans and critics, but the “Jolene” discourse shows the narrative limitations of empowerment — more often than not, triumph just doesn’t pack the same punch as an open wound.


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