Why Country Music Matters
Country music has a bad reputation, specifically among those who are ignorant enough to not listen to it at all and then pass their judgement upon it. The reason as to why it’s considered bad? Who knows, maybe because it doesn’t have the same type of excitement as pop or indie? Maybe because the lyrics are straightforward and don’t usually hold hidden messages? Country music is like an 80’s science fiction movie; Linear, to the point, and generally lighthearted. In a time and age where every lyric can be interpreted as a political stance or as a jab to another artist, that clear cut meaning is probably one of the only things that keeps us sane.
Country music as a genre likes to hold onto the simplicity of life, and though some artists bring manufactured songs that pander to audiences and relay experiences that the artists themselves have never been through; that’s true with every genre (I’m looking at you, every pop boy-band with vague songs about girls). What sets country music apart, however, is the openness of its concept. Over the past few years, we’ve seen several artists that aren’t in the country scene venture into that style of music, most significantly Bebe Rexha and even Lady Gaga. That kind of temporary transition almost never happens in other genres. You don’t see Harry Styles putting out anything that remotely resembles an album like DAMN, but if Lorde decided to put out a country album we’d all lose our marbles in support. Part of this is because country fluctuates in its popularity. Hip hop and rock are constantly in the spotlight so people begin to get tired of it and then look to other genres for inspiration. Country is open to new artists and welcomes new albums with open arms like any self-respecting Montgomery-native grandma.
Yes, a lot of times the reverse will happen and a country star will start out country, switch to pop, and then stay there permanently. But there’s a reason people like to go into country music first. It’s arguably the most versatile genre of music, without diss tracks or the constant pressure to outdo other artists in lyrics and relevance. Country music is perhaps a metaphor for its target audiences in middle America. Life in the fast lane is overrated, sit back and enjoy a song about chilling with your animals and taking a drive on the highway. In a way, country music is the genre for those who don’t want to be involved in the negativity that’s surrounding the rest of the world, and that’s pretty admirable. It has its own connection to the happenings of the world, but with more optimism and more linear of a direction. Take “Jolene” by Dolly Parton, for example. It’s a simple song about a very hard subject to handle. Infidelity is a difficult thing to go through, but Parton addresses it in a way that still sounds lighthearted and is good to belt out in order to cope with the pain, regardless of whether or not the listener has been cheated on. This kind of non-specificity isn’t as present in other genres and oftentimes goes overlooked because “it’s just songs about cows, right?”
Another interesting thing in country music is its ability to laugh at itself and recognize its ridiculousness. You don’t see rappers or indie rock singers having lyrics like “I’m just complaining about twenty-something problems from my house in bed,” But there’s songs in the country genre that blatantly laugh about their source material. Songs like “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw both take themselves seriously in the fact that the causality of life is more or less the best thing about southern living, while also playing entirely into the country music stereotype that there’s just songs about how great it is to have a pickup truck. The song is serious, but not serious at the same time, making fun of its own ridiculousness and celebrating the lifestyle at the same time. This type of un-parody song isn’t seen at all in other genres unless it’s a parody specific artist like Macklemore or The Lonely Island that sings the song, and then the novelty wears off because that artist is deliberately making fun of something, where it’s more genuine in country.
That sentiment can be held for country in general. It tends to be less deliberate and more relaxed and genuine. There's nothing inherently wrong with a simple point to sing about, but the simplicity of it gets lost in this world where people embrace complexity and nuance. I feel as though that's where country begins to get its bad rep. It’s not bad music by any means, it’s just that the subject matter tends to be for a different niche, and that's oftentimes looked down upon because of societal norms and niche marketing. Is it sad that country ends up the butt of the music joke? Kind of. Does country music care though? Not really, and that’s its biggest contribution to the rest of the music world: Resilience.