Dear Country Music

Lately, my sister and I have been talking about music.  We’ve always had very different tastes — she’s a die-hard Americana/folk fan, and I like a mix of pop, lighter rock, and country.  But last time we talked, we discussed how disappointed we both are with mainstream country right now.

While there are certain songs we both like, she has never been as big a fan of country music as I have.  I listened almost exclusively to country from eighth grade up until my junior year or so of college.  I still absolutely love the sound — twangy banjo, steel guitar, voices that are perfect for ballads and dance tunes alike.  But today’s country — specifically, what gets played on the radio — is largely uncreative, tired songs about the same things over and over and over.

I get that there are themes to music genres.  Just like with books, for a certain type of artist to be successful in their genre, they have to include certain elements that the audience expects.  If you completely ignore the main elements of your genre, you’re going to lose your audience.

But I think country music has taken this too far.  While there are purely musical elements to the country genre, far more of country is defined by the lyrics.  “If they don’t talk about trucks, back roads, country fields, beer, or girls in the passenger seat,” the producers ask, “is it really a country song???”

I don’t have anything against individual songs about back roads or beer.  But when that’s all that gets played on the radio, it gets old.  It’s fine to be shallow sometimes — after all, we can’t be deep thinkers every second of the day.  But shallow should not become the norm.  And especially not when a lot of objectification comes with that shallowness.  Country artists, especially the ones that routinely make the top hits, are absolutely awful about reducing women to bodies only.  Don’t believe me?  Try Kenny Chesney’s “All the Pretty Girls,” Luke Bryan’s “Strip It Down,” and Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road.”

I know that not all country artists are shallow and sexist — far from it.  In fact, if you want recommendations, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and Chris Stapleton are great examples of talented country artists who often go outside the norm of beer, trucks, and sex.  But artists like this don’t get played on the radio nearly as much as those who make bro-country, which is another name for the shallow kind.

The blame for this is just as much on consumers as it is the artists.  If shallow country songs didn’t get good ratings, they wouldn’t get played as much.  But I really wish more country artists would break out of the same old truck-girls-beer rut and actually look around at society and make some music that means a little more.  I’m not asking for them all to become social warriors — I’m just asking for something a little different.  Find a new way to express your down-home country roots, please.  I’d like more country artists to sing about their families (like RaeLynn in “Love Triangle”), grief and the struggles that come with it (like Maggie Rose in “Better”), and even the shallowness of country music itself (like Maddie and Tae in “Girl in a Country Song”).  Let’s get meta.  Let’s get interesting.  Let’s get controversial.  Let’s please just get something different, for God’s sake.  I’d really like to start listening to country again.

 

10 comments

  1. I totally agree with you in terms of the annoying country stereotypes in country music but some of the songs you mention have such a good beat that I don’t care 😂 but I like this post a lot x

  2. I’ve disliked country music for this very reason. Like all too often in other genres, sexual things and objectification seem to be the sole focus of too many songs. Why can’t mainstream music dig a little deeper? xoxo

  3. My problem with modern country music is that it’s not country music. It’s southern rock, or it borders on pop, or any number of other things. Like, it’s ok for the opening act to sing Metallica’s “enter sandman” and the main act to sing a Beyonce song and the crowd goes wild for both (yes, it happened at a show i worked, and as a metallica fan i was appalled at it all). That’s cultural appropriation, plain and simple.

    but when the Dixie Chicks invite Beyonce to perform at the country music awards, Beyonce gets told to “stay in her lane”?

    Yeah, I have gripes with modern “country” music. Give me some old Reba, or Loretta, Patsy Cline, Kenny Rogers, or Eddie Rabbit, or even Randy Travis. But you can keep the modern stuff.

    • I actually love the genre crossovers that country has developed into. Southern rock is my jam, and I’m okay with a pop-y sound too, as long as it’s not too autotuned and I can actually hear the artist’s vocal talent. I don’t think I’d define rock or R&B songs at a country concert as cultural appropriation either; I’ve been at concerts where the artists did covers outside their genre and it strikes me as more of a tribute to other artists, like acknowledging them as just as good. It’s all about appreciating the music and appreciate that audiences have diverse tastes.

      I do agree that what happened with Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks was ridiculous. She should’ve been welcomed; it’s an all-artist atmosphere, after all, and it won’t kill anyone to have some different styles presented now and then.

  4. I’ve never really been into country music but in the past few years my brother has gotten into it and he’s even gotten my parents lowkey hooked, so I’ve heard a lot of it. You’re right, a lot of it is just songs about bodies and beer, and I can’t say I enjoy that either. I guess the only saving grace is that it’s still classier and more respectful than rap music.

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