The country music genre seems to have come to encompass a wider variety of musical characteristics. Lately, many country music listeners who have remained loyal to the musical genre are questioning its motivation to blur its lines that fade into forms of pop music. To say the least, it just doesn’t seem like real country music anymore. I think it’s rather sad actually. Country music has deep roots and comes from a strong historical foundation of storytelling and heartache with songs about the lower class as well as the heart of southern America. These days, however, it seems so unfortunate to me that new and upcoming country musicians have grown further and further away from what made country loved by so many in the first place. Folks, these are the days when cute country artists like 19-year-old Taylor Swift dominate the CMA’s including “Female Vocalist of the Year” and “Entertainer of the Year” and Justin Bieber goes home with a CMT award. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to hear Taylor Swift try to tell me anything about the lower class. I want Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn. Is this truly a sign of our times? I believe it is so–a day and age where mainstream Rock sucks more than ever and country music is dead. Might it symbolize our exponential growth in commercial interests, self-propelled mentalities, and possibly our social fatique which is what keeps us from standing up and saying, “This new country *%@# sucks!”
Country music has now been replaced by cheap melodies and teenage angst. What was once a representation of the lower class has begun its gradual yet determined transformation into being a plastic imitation of today’s pop music which is really bad itself these days. It’s been overshadowed by corporate record heads and the tyranny of musicians that allow themselves to be molded into what we see today, and it has destroyed the roots that keep country held firmly to a tradition and make it loved by so many. I know personally that when I explain what sort of music I enjoy listening to that when I get to country, I always specifically say classic country and not country itself because I feel both are now two perfectly distinct genres. Don’t get me wrong; however, I know that today’s country has grown hugely popular in millions of hearts, and the crossover theme has gained country many more fans that normally would not find their way to this category. Country itself has survived many decades as other musical fads have come and gone, but it used to always fall back on what drove it in the first place. Now, it has spread all across America as well as internationally as we watch it turn into something else. Does this mean that country has lost its culture? Have we all? You see, country music is all about tradition. It has stayed popular all these years because it has held fast to the traditions of a certain subculture, so I believe to really love country, you have to admit where it came from and the distance it’s gone to get where it is today.
We do have some great artists such as Robert Earl Keen, Steve Earle, and Lyle Lovett-artists who operate outside the confines of country traditionalism but are still holding their fingers on a real country sound. Still, the change in country can be exemplified by certain events like when Olivia Newton-John, Australia’s very own pop singer, won “Best Female Country Vocal Performance” as well as the Country Music Association’s most prominent award for females, “Female Vocalist of the Year” in the year of 1974. This sparked a huge debate within the country music scene and led to the short-lived formation of the Association of Country Entertainers. In the following year, John Denver won “Entertainer of the Year” leading his predecessor, Charlie Rich, to protest against crossover artists by lighting the envelope announcing Denver as the winner with a cigarette lighter catching it aflame. Now I’m not saying I have a direct problem with country music artists crossing over to other genres of music. The Great Willie Nelson even had two songs on the pop charts in the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 in the 80s, but when it gets to a point where young music listeners coming fresh into country are only introduced to what’s on the radio currently, it gets me worried as the fans of country play a huge role in determining it’s sound. I’m just looking for another NeoTraditionalist movement like we had in ’87 where country music artists redefined the basics of country. Rejecting the country-pop sound, a group of new artists rose to new heights- artists like Ricky Skaggs.
Still yet, who am I to say it’s wrong for country to change? One tradition it does have is that it has branched into different outlets several times—rockabilly, honky tonk, hillbilly boogie, bluegrass, etc. Moreover, many of you may not know this, but country music at one time looked upon the drums as being overbearing and artificial. A few bands in the 1930s had drummers that would literally sit backstage during popular performances. Rockabilly then came along in the 1950s and used drummers in all performances. The Grand Ole Opry, however, still did not frequently have drums on their sets. It wasn’t until the 60s that drums were firmly introduced into country music society. What I mean to tell you is that I personally appreciate this change as well as more acoustic settings such as the Late and Very Great Towns Van Zandt, but did it ever need to branch into something involving pop music? Pop was never good anyways really, and the problem is country is beginning to grow not off it’s own branches, but it seems to have sprouted a whole new tree!
Any country artist that chooses to cover a rap song and call it art goes beyond insulting country but the hip hop industry as well. You see, what country has always been about is a sentimental biography of the heartland culture, but how can that stay when country itself is growing quickly away from its own traditions? Honestly, overall I would probably choose Rock N’ Roll over country in the big scheme of things, but when I listen to artists like Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, and Towns Van Zandt, there is nothing better; and that’s when writers like me get fired up about where country is headed. Remember, what we have loved about country is the tradition, and there no longer is one. While abandoning its birth rite, country music could soon be the jack of all trades and the master of none.
“When a culture’s music is lifeless, that culture is bound for more trouble than just having nothing decent to listen to…” (Anonymous)