Monday, July 24, 2017

What Happened to Country Music?

Lately, I've been listening to some country stations on the radio, for the same reason, I imagine, that people tune in to watch the Jerry Springer show. Sometimes you want to see a trainwreck. My interest was peaked after hearing some comically bad country music the other day in Walgreen's.

It's no secret that what gets called country these days isn't truly country. Most of what I hear is pop rock sang with a twang and often with some traditional instruments like fiddles and banjos added to the mix. The beat is straight-forward rock (in 4 with emphasis on 2 & 4). You don't really hear waltzes or western swing anymore. Melodies are based off the relative minor pentatonic rather than the major, making the music more similar to rock and blues than country. Most annoying of all, lyrics are no longer written to tell a story but are just a bunch of country keywords glued together to pander to their audience.

These features are all well on display in a song I heard this morning, which I guess was a big hit a few years ago. All the features are there of the "pop rock plus twang" pattern, in addition to the cliche lyrics. Just listen to the first verse: truck, boots, mud, tractor, toolbox, tailgate, etc.

You can see why people would like the song. It's simple & fun and clearly directed towards women, which is fine. By why call it country? You couldn't even call this "red dirt" country, which infuses rock but still generally keeps a light shuffle to it. If you insisted it's country you'd have to call it club country. Can you imagine old-timer farmers actually listening to this crap in the fields?

But that's not even the worst of it. A lot of new country is trying to be like hip hop and other urban genres. If people enjoy the music and will pay for it that's fine, but it's only a parody of the country genre, so stop calling it that. Here's the current number one hit on the Billboard's Top 40 Country. Go ahead and listen to it. Or just listen to a small part, it's all the same.

This isn't even a music video (the backdrop is static), yet this 5-month-old video has 78 million views! Clearly, people are listening to it. Yet, there is not one iota of the country genre in this song. They didn't even bother with the twang & banjo. The vocals here are mostly in the style of urban black singers and highly processed in the modern fashion. It is 100% contemporary roots & blues. It should be on the Billboard R&B list, not the Country list. Perhaps Sam Hunt has such impeccable country cred that he can get away with an R&B song, the way Garth Brooks could work in a gospel tune without anyone complaining. But looking at his videos on YouTube, I'm guessing not. Here's another one of his.

It's a fine song, with much better lyrics than most modern country, but it's still another example of pure R&B without one shred of country sonic attributes. The Nashville definition for country seems to be "white guys singing in whatever style from a list of preferred buzz words." Reject the definition. If a station plays Luke Bryan all day it's club music, not country. If it plays Sam Hunt all day it's an R&B station, not a country station. A rant against corporate pop country might seem a bit silly on a Monday morning, but it fits into a major theme of this blog: the rejection of a culture permeated by dishonesty.

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