Yee Haw Redux: Why 2024 Is Seeing Another Country Western Revival

By Dan Ahwa
American values are in the spotlight across fashion, music and politics for 2024.

In an election year, bolo ties and cowboy boots prompt a wider reflection of American values. In this latest Sign of the Times instalment, we take a look at how a classic fashion trope is destined for a revival off the back of some of this year’s biggest musical releases.

You can probably pinpoint moments in fashion and pop-culture history when we all collectively said howdy to the onslaught of Western-inspired fashion that has its roots in the entertainment industry.

There’s Dolly Parton and her time-honoured mix of country kitsch — sky-high blonde hair, embellished denim, and acrylic nails.

There’s queer country icons such as Orville Peck and his wardrobe of fringed masks; and of course, Lil Nas X. When the 24-year-old released Old Town Road featuring Billy Ray Cyrus in 2018, the moment challenged country stereotypes and defiantly signalled that country is in fact cross-generational, black and queer.

A predilection for the flamboyant is also what makes some of the world’s biggest musicians veer toward country when it comes down to their styling.

Madonna’s Music era from 2000 is one that easily comes to mind from the turn of the new millennium.

Ushering in the ensuing decade’s obsession with bedazzled cowboy hats and chaps (see Christina Aguilera’s 2002 album cover for Stripped), the Las Vegas meets Ohio aesthetic is still one of her more recognisable eras to date, a salute to small-town Americana reaching a climax in 2000 when she covered Don McLean’s 1971 folk-rock hit American Pie.

Up until recently, much of the mystery surrounding that song’s meaning has been kept a secret by McLean, who finally gave an explanation in the 2022 documentary The Day the Music Died: The Story of Don McLean’s American Pie, where McLean stated that he “needed a big song about America”.

In one of the most significant songs in American history, McClean references everything from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to “Americanisms”, with lines like ‘and them good ol’ boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye’ and ‘I was a lonely teenage broncin’ buck, with a pink carnation and a pickup truck’; reflection points on American values and a yearning for much simpler times that feels relevant to a year when Americans will return once again to the ballot box for the US elections in November.

Destiny’s Child’s Bug-a-Boo (1999), was supported by a music video featuring fashion specific to the Texan group’s preference for bedazzled leather and big hair. Its Western styling layered with culture, reflective of the nuances of Black urban life in Houston, Texas, where Destiny’s Child’s lead vocalist Beyonce hails from and has long played tribute throughout her musical canon over the years.

Beyonce wearing a full Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 2024 look, alongside Dua Lipa at the Grammy Awards last month. Photo / Getty Images
Beyonce wearing a full Louis Vuitton autumn/winter 2024 look, alongside Dua Lipa at the Grammy Awards last month. Photo / Getty Images

At this year’s Grammy awards, the singer showcased a new look that paid tribute to her “second act” — a new album launching this year as part of her “three-act project” that began in 2022 with her dance-inflected album Renaissance. For the occasion, she wore a cowboy hat and a Louis Vuitton bedazzled leather Damier check skirt and jacket with a cream cowboy hat from Pharell’s autumn/winter 2024 Western-inspired menswear collection. The collection was another sign of the times: A black musician turned creative director for a storied French luxury brand releasing a menswear collection inspired by the Midwest.

For an artist who rarely gives interviews or shares much about her personal life, Beyonce uses music and fashion to do all the talking for her. On this occasion, it was a prelude to that second album, to be released March 29. Following on from Renaissance, this new body of music will make a hard pivot to country music.

Two new country-themed songs, Texas Hold ‘Em and 16 Carriages, were released on the only other day to rival the fourth of July — the opening of the Superbowl (where she wore a D&G outfit complete with turquoise bolo tie). The strategy of releasing these two songs on the most American of days where patriotism, sports, beer, celebrity and capitalism collide was — like much of her career — a calculated choice.

But Beyonce’s own relationship with country music is complicated.

In 2016, upon the release of her album Lemonade that year, she performed one of her country-tinged songs Daddy Lessons alongside the Chicks at the 50th annual Country Music Association Awards.

Pharrell takes a bow after his Louis Vuitton, rodeo-inspired show for the brand's autumn/winter 2024 menswear collection. Photo / Getty Images
Pharrell takes a bow after his Louis Vuitton, rodeo-inspired show for the brand's autumn/winter 2024 menswear collection. Photo / Getty Images

It was one of the most controversial performances the awards has ever televised, with detractors claiming Beyonce had no place at the awards. One public commentator argued with racial undertones that Beyonce “isn’t even what country represents”. But country music is a Southern phenomenon with its roots in Appalachian music through to enslaved black America, and much like what Renaissance has done for dance music, no doubt this new country era for Beyonce will provide a reclamation of country music and its black roots.

Another musician reigniting country music this year is Lana del Rey. At Billboard’s pre-Grammys Power 100 Party this month, the 38-year-old announced her next album coming out in September will be entitled Lasso, a country music record. Like Beyonce, it’s a genre that isn’t unfamiliar terrain for Lana, whose distinctive sound is a consistent combination of cinematic melancholia and instrumentation, as if plucked straight out of the great American songbook.

We’ll see it again on March 15 when Kacey Musgraves releases her sixth studio album, Deeper Well. The country singer comes from the style school of Dolly Parton — kitschy, flashy, flamboyant.

But fashion hasn’t always been successful when referencing the Midwest, particularly when it comes to referencing native American and black culture within the realm of Western aesthetics.

Damage control was taken by Chanel in 2013 when the late designer Karl Lagerfeld sent models down the runway for the Maison’s Metiers d’Art show wearing feathered headdresses inspired by Native Americans. Even our own fashion industry has had to answer to the cultural appropriation. In 2014, Trelise Cooper received backlash for her inclusion of American and Canadian First Nations’ feathered headdresses as part of her runway show for New Zealand Fashion Week.

A look from the Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses collection. Photo / Polo Ralph Lauren
A look from the Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses collection. Photo / Polo Ralph Lauren

Designers such as Ralph Lauren, a brand synonymous with drawing inspiration from Americana style, has often looked to the Midwest for the basis of its collections over the years. In December last year, the brand launched Polo Ralph Lauren x Naiomi Glasses, the inaugural collection of the company’s artist-in-residence programme, which invites artisans working with a variety of skill sets and mediums to participate in an immersive collaboration with Ralph Lauren’s creative teams.

The collaboration with the 24-year-old Navajo artist and weaver is a step in the right direction for fashion’s commitment to Midwest culture and displays the kind of celebration and preservation that is essential when it comes to referencing the cultural aesthetic of Western style.

While a yee-haw revival in fashion and music feels relevant at a time when so many Americans are looking for some type of culture to cling to, the next few months will be telling on whether this cultural shift is going to help unify the nation or give an even bigger reason for the heartland of America to propel Donald Trump into a second term as the President of the United States. The once imperial power of the US is now uncertain of who it has become, while its creative industries continue to search for answers.

But the true value of Western style is its consistency and ability to make you feel confident. A hat, belt buckle, denim and boots are just some of the reliable wardrobe essentials that are tried, trad and true.

When we think of Western style, there’s a confidence that comes with the look that can only be worn convincingly by those with a sense of conviction.

It’s perhaps the reason why inept Republican Ronald Dion DeSantis continues to avoid questions about whether or not he wears shoe lifts in his cowboy boots.

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