Saturday, March 8, 2014

The State of Country Music

I've struggled for a while about whether or not I want to write this post for three reasons in particular:

1) I hate the idea of putting negative thoughts out into the world.  There are enough negative vibes around that everyone could do without me adding my opinions into the mix.

2) On the same note, I have no right to critique professional musicians' work.  These artists, their producers, and countless other people put time, love, money, creativity, and a little bit of themselves into each single they release.  I struggle to even put into words the amount of respect I have for musicians who have succeeded in making albums that thousands, or even millions, of people actually want to buy and listen to repetitively.

3) In all actuality, I have no idea if anyone cares about country music as much as I do and if this discussion will be even remotely entertaining.  I obsess over country music and its artists the way some people do sports teams and athletes, and I don't know if that's normal.

But after considering all of these points, I came to the conclusion that, even if I have no right to my opinions, I am a passionate fan of country music.  I want to write about this subject matter simply because it is something I love.  And if nobody finds it engaging, then at least I will have gotten my thoughts down on paper (well not really on paper, but you know what I mean).

While I have an over-the-top love for country music, I almost hate country radio.  Listening to the radio is exhausting because I have such a strong dislike for the majority of songs that come on the local stations that I have to switch back and forth between stations constantly, in hopes I will find something worth listening to.  And the few songs I do like are so overplayed that I hate them by the time they become popular.  The problem with country music these days can pretty much be summed up by this YouTube Video.  I blame Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.

It seems many of the leading men in country music found out they could have #1 songs if they sang about getting drunk with a girl who was beautiful and looked really good in her Daisy Dukes/"painted-on jeans".  They cracked a code, and I'm sure it's making them richer than Hell, but it's disgraceful.  And when Zac Brown kindly pointed this out for everyone last September, he was verbally attacked.  In my opinion, Brown was 100% correct in what he said about Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night."  That song is horrendous and embarrassing to the genre.  For some reason, an overwhelming amount of people now believe that country music's umbrella extends over terrible hip-hop songs that feature a country twang and lyrics about biscuits, trucks, and John Deere.  That's not my country music.  Even worse, these types of songs are often the #1 songs on the charts, so that's how the rest of the world understands country music.  One of the best arguments for my point-of-view is, ironically enough, Luke Bryan's 2009 song "That's What Country Is." Oh how far he has fallen in my eyes.

I need to clarify that I am in no way a country music purist.  On occasion, I will jam out to Florida Georgia Line's party anthems, and I don't spend my time listening exclusively to Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.  But, for me, country music is music that makes you FEEL something.  I mean like a real emotion, not "man, it would be awesome to be drunk right now making sexual advances toward a hot girl/guy."  Moreover, the country genre has historically had string instrumental talent that pays homage to its roots - folk, blues, bluegrass, gospel.  The steel guitar, the banjo, and unbelievable guitar picking talent that at one time defined country music have been in large part replaced by the same computerized, electronic b.s. that accompanies pop and hip-hop music.

Many folks like to point at crossover artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Hunter Hayes for the shift that has taken place in the genre.  But I will argue that their music is usually associated with something deeper than drunken partying and pick-up trucks, and that they do often include country-ish instruments in their music.  Before Swift, Underwood, and Hayes, Shania Twain and Faith Hill spent their fair share of time on the pop charts.

There has always been the "Murder on Music Row" mentality in every generation.  I won't contest that.  But I will say that I doubt there has ever been a time in history that the only differentiating factor between the music on country stations and on their pop and hip-hop counterparts is the accent in which the artist is singing/"rapping" and whether or not the words "dirt road" or "river bank" are mentioned.

What I have found impressive is that, in a lot cases, female artists are carrying the torch of traditional country music.  Miranda Lambert (and her group Pistol Annies), Kacey Musgraves, and Kimberly Perry (front woman of the Band Perry), really have a grasp on making modern music, featuring current themes, that respects their genre.  Of course there are men worthy of this recognition as well, including Zac Brown Band, Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley, and Kenny Chesney.  And I would honestly be perfectly content if the artists mentioned in this paragraph were the only ones that were played on country music stations.  (I'm sure I am excluding some quality artists here, so please don't be offended if your favorite, legitimate country artist isn't mentioned.  It's late and my brain is not functioning at its optimum performance level.) 

You're probably thinking, "But Hannah, if you dislike FM radio so much, then use Pandora or another source of streaming or radio that won't make you want to pull your hair out."  I've tried.  I want to expose myself to new music and not just listen to my iTunes and CDs all the time, but the terrible music has infiltrated all things country related.  When I choose "music similar to Eric Church" on Pandora, it pretty much only plays popular songs by all current male artists.  And the other day when I chose "Rowdy Country" on Songza, it exclusively played the hip-hop country I've been complaining about this whole post.  That is not rowdy country.  Rowdy country is Hank Williams, Jr. It's Tim McGraw's "Country Boys and Girls Getting Down on the Farm."  It's Eric Church's "Smoke a Little Smoke."  It's most definitely not this.  In conclusion, I don't really know what the solution is to the current country music predicament.  It does make me worry for the fate of my genre.  And it embarrasses me that when I say I'm a country music fan, people think I enjoy what's on the radio these days.  Maybe we need to have a little country music uprising, a revolution... or maybe just a split where us neo-traditionalists can go our own way, and keep our "country music" title, and send that other type of music another direction and give them a "hip-hop country" genre heading.  Who knew music could be so political?

I'll let Eric Church's "Lotta Boot Left to Fill" be my closing argument.

Stay tuned for an album comparison sometime soon - Eric Church's "The Outsiders" vs. Dierks Bentley's "Riser"

* Disclaimer: The photos in this post do not belong to me.  They are simply results of Google Image searches.

No comments:

Post a Comment