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.