No sooner had Beyoncé showed up at the Grammys in platinum hair and a pristine white Western hat did the universe start speculating about what the get-up might mean. Two surprise singles and an album announcement later, suspicions were confirmed: The star was going whole hog with a country music-tinged collection, aptly titled “Cowboy Carter.”

Before its March 29 release, the Beyhive was poised for brilliance. Meanwhile, some country fans and critics questioned her right to explore the genre (even though she’s literally from Texas).

The album — which also happens to feature Baltimore country music artist Brittney Spencer — has been generally loved. It has a score of 92 on Metacritic and smashed records, racking up the most streams in one day on Spotify this year and the most first-day streams of any country album by a female artist on Amazon Music.

Art is subjective and no one likes everything, so the same can be said for “Cowboy Carter” (looking at you, Washington Post and reliable shade-slinger Azealia Banks.) But I was most interested in the opinions of those with the most auditory skin in the game: Beyoncé fans and country fans.

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I enlisted the help and ears of Kendra Nelson, a self-proclaimed BeyHive member who does digital marketing and events under the name Charm City Maven, and Mardela Springs resident Brad Hudson, professor and acting chair of the Department of Fine Arts at University of Maryland Eastern Shore who has been “a country fan forever.” I was curious what their reviews would be since they were coming at “Cowboy Carter” from different positions — one from staunch fandom, the other from curiosity. And both of them really liked it.

“This is her best album,” said Nelson, who’s been a Beyoncé fan since the singer’s Destiny’s Child days, watching her increasingly embrace her identity in projects like “Lemonade” and “Black Is King,” forever “cementing her as standing on her Blackness. She’s my era’s Whitney Houston, a pop culture icon. She’s our every woman.”

Nelson was not, however, much into country outside of a few Reba McEntire or Faith Hill hits. But given Beyoncé's 2016 declaratively country single “Daddy Lessons,” further exploration “didn’t seem like a departure to me,” Nelson said. “She’s from Texas and has country roots. Black music is American music. My personal thing is not to ever look at things from a white gaze, and more about us talking to us. We have been here all along. We can have American pride and country pride.”

Nelson has been playing “Cowboy Carter” on repeat, but especially loves “American Requiem,” “Ya Ya” and the portions featuring Black country pioneer Linda Martell, who attempted a Nashville career in the 1960s and ’70s but was blocked by the establishment. It’s a shame Martell had to wait this long for a reckoning in a genre that finds some roots in African instruments and gospel, and has boasted a small number of Black stars, from Charlie Pride to Darius Rucker.

Hudson, whom I’ve known since we were students at University of Maryland College Park three decades ago, counts legends like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard among his first concerts. (I saw my first country concert, Vince Gill, with Hudson’s sister, Tania, in 1995). Hudson also likes a lot of R&B and hip-hop, “but Beyoncé was never really my thing.”

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So he was surprised by the catchiness of “Texas Hold ’Em” and how impressed he was overall with “Cowboy Carter,” which he listened to with his daughter in the car on the way to work this week. “I’d call it ‘country gospel hip-hop,’” he said. “It sounds like what she’s doing is exploring her own kind of roots and breaking out of her pigeonhole, her mold she’s been shoved into.”

It was actually the negative reaction to Beyoncé's appearance at the 2016 CMA Awards performing “Daddy Lessons” alongside similarly controversial trio The Chicks that inspired her to dive deeper. Sometimes adversity is a creative kick in the butt.

“I love the defiance of reclaiming our stance and still having allies like Dolly [Parton] and Willie Nelson,” Nelson said.

Hudson was not shocked by the racial and genre gatekeeping. “What bothers people is that she’s linked to R&B, and that she doesn’t buy into the mold of a country artist. I’ve always felt like a lot of country artists have to tailor an image and persona to be more palatable to white country fans.”

So much of the criticism has been the idea that Beyoncé, because she is Black and known for other genres, is a pretender to the country throne. New York native, former Bo Duke, country singer and president threatener John Schneider likened her twangy foray to a dog having to mark every tree it sees. Just a good ol’ boy, right?

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But consider that a Black Texan who’s always spoken with a Southern accent is considered to be less legitimate as a country singer than Canada’s Shania Twain or Australia’s Keith Urban, both white with crossover hits. Twain’s biggest songs had separate versions released to country and pop radio.

Nelson also pointed out that even as a Black Baltimorean raised in Pimlico, “horses are a part of our experience. The Preakness happens not a mile from my house. That is a Maryland thing.”

I also think it’s funny that some critics, including rapper Banks, assume that because Beyoncé's lyrics often seem to skew biographical, every “Cowboy Carter” track is telling her story. Banks, for instance, seems to assume that Beyoncé’s redo of Parton’s “Jolene” is about women wanting to “hump on” Jay-Z. Never mind that country music has a tradition of songs about murders, cheating and all sorts of nasty stuff that the singer didn’t actually do in real life. Johnny Cash was never stuck in Folsom Prison for shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die.

“That’s very country,” Hudson explained. “A lot of it is just storytelling, singing a story like any artist would.”

Hudson said he’s had fun discussing “Cowboy Carter” with his UMES students, who are mostly Black. “Some of them said it was OK, some of them like it and some of them think it’s stupid,” he said. But in sharing with those young people, he, in turn, is learning from them. One introduced him to Louisiana singer Willie Jones, who is featured on the album, and “it was really cool having a Black student get me to listen to a Black country artist.”

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“I would tell people that if they’re simply a fan of music, it’s worth a try,” Nelson said. “If you are a fan of music, the variety of songs and instrumentation. It’s quality. Everything about it is intentional and has variety.”

Hudson, our lifelong country fan, said he sees Beyoncé as a new force that Nashville was going to have to deal with, no matter what.

“If country radio knows what’s good for them, they will embrace this,” he said. “They will let this happen.”

This post has been updated.