If I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say, “Oh, I like all kinds of music. Everything but Country,” I’d be a rich man. Or, well, actually I’d probably only have maybe a few bucks at most, but still.
Now, if I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say, “Man, what ever happened to country music like from the good ol’ days? Country music sucks now,” then there’s a chance I’d be able to hit the drive-thru at Starbucks and order a small (excuse me… short) cup of black coffee. Rich man, indeed.
Listen, it doesn’t really matter what I could or couldn’t buy if there was some theoretical machine that would allow me to exchange my experience of having heard annoying complaints into currency. My point is that I’ve heard some version of the gripes above for years from two sets of people who, superficially, seem to have nothing in common, but in reality want the same thing, and I’d like to grab them all by the metaphorical lapels and shake them. What good is writing for a pop culture blog, after all, if I can’t occasionally call out people whining unnecessarily about music?
Let’s start with the first statement. While it pretends to be a not-so-subtle statement of taste superiority (I listen to everything except Country, therefore you should infer that Country isn’t any good because otherwise I’d listen to it), it’s really just a complaint. Anybody who says they don’t listen to a certain type of music is simply bemoaning a lack of quality music (according to their subjective tastes, obviously) within that genre OR admitting that they haven’t even tried to find any. Either way, if this hypothetical complainer could be presented with enough examples, eventually they would have to relent, admitting that, ok, there is actually some good Country music.
What I think people really mean when they say that they don’t like country music is that they don’t enjoy much of what gets played on contemporary country music radio (and therefore what gets most of the attention at Country music award shows). Fair enough. If Eric Church and Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton aren’t your thing, you won’t catch any grief from me. The problem is that, like with FM radio in most of its forms, what gets played is merely a tiny sliver of what’s out there. Of course, that wouldn’t matter if those who claim to dislike all Country music based their views off of anything besides that tiny sliver. But they don’t bother. And so what we’re left to endure is their smug superiority built on an uniformed view of the musical landscape.
No better than the uninformed, however, are those who argue that “real” country music died with Waylon or George Jones or [insert dead, beloved Country star here]. The problem with this argument is that the folks who make it are living in a (cue up the Wonka music) world of pure imagination. Musicians have, with the odd exception here or there, always done what was most commercially viable. Country music stars are no exception. At least as far back as Elvis, Country has been a genre that big names dipped a toe into when they wanted to open up a market and from which they then moved on. Yes, the outlaws like Merle and Waylon and Willie did things a little bit differently, and there’s no reason not to celebrate how closely they stuck to their roots, but let’s not pretend that most Country musicians aren’t just as conscious of popular trends as musicians of any other type.
For instance, I saw my local weatherman complaining that he tuned into the Academy of Country Music awards to see Garth Brooks perform and was aghast at the other performers’ displays. Garth Brooks! Ha! As though Garth didn’t spend two decades pushing Country music right up to the dividing line between it and the world of pop. And since then, artists like Shania Twain and Taylor Swift have followed his lead and gone beyond him. Hell, every “radio” country star of today got part of their formula from Garth. Now, that’s not necessarily a knock on Mr. Brooks. After all, without Led Zeppelin we don’t have most crappy 80s hair metal, and without Nirvana there’s probably no Nickelback. I don’t blame the originals for the disciples’ perversion. So no, you don’t have to like what’s peddled to you by the current state of radio Country, but don’t pretend it’s because someone snuck into the genre and stole all the good stuff. It’s there, you just have to know where to look.
And here’s the funny part: that last sentence applies in equal measure to both the I-hate-country-music-ers and the man-I-miss-the-good-ol’-days-ers. Both groups, which think their problems are so different, actually need the same solution. And that’s what, exactly, you ask?
How about this?
Or maybe even this?
But nah, you’re right. Country music is terrible. There are no examples of young acts with sharp lyrics and a mastery of classic country instruments anywhere to be found. I definitely believe you’ve given the genre an opportunity to win you over, and in no way think that you’re basically just prejudiced against people with twangy voices. Absolutely not.
And you, over there. Yeah, the guy gazing longingly at the poster of Loretta Lynn. You’re right, Country music is straight-up dead. These youngsters with their hippity-hop about weed and booze and women have no use for real musicians like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and George Jones. Ain’t it a shame?
Oh wait. I apologize. I forgot how this is really about you flashing your superior taste badge like an overzealous FBI agent in a Michael Bay movie. I’ll be quiet now so you can hear your Fleet Foxes (who owe nothing to Country music; definitely not) record or get back to spinning your early George Strait.
As you were.