Let me just go ahead and put it out there for the record: I hate country music. Hate it.
I have hated country music with a burning passion for most of my teen and adult life. I’ve led a revolt against any “modern” country gracing my radio or my house for so long that I’ve gotten a reputation. When asked, I’d say that I had no use for timidly twanging steel guitars, men in ten-gallon hats and skintight blue jeans, and women with crispy bangs crooning and wailing about the same old recycled formulas: broken relationships, fishing, hound dogs, tractors, guzzling beer, and the good old days. Something about modern country music just feels insincere to me. Perhaps it’s the fact that often the modern country song is a couple of notes away from basically being Top 40 Pop (and many modern country artists DO make a few tweaks and release their songs for both audiences. For example, Faith Hill, Taylor Swift, etc.).
Don’t get me wrong, I love OLD country, and have always loved it. Give me some Johnny Cash (my personal favorite), or some Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, or George Jones and I’m in honky tonk heaven.
I also happened to love country music when I was a little girl. My favorites were Garth Brooks, who I had a monster-sized crush on, Reba McIntyre, and Alan Jackson. As I grew up, though, I put country music aside to focus on grunge just like everybody else my age did, and I traded those safe, sentimental country stars of old in for the blistering, dark reality of Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains.
These days, it’s only modern country that I despise. For me, it takes more than a keen fiddle player to make a pop song something other than a pop song. I dislike the marriage of country and pop. Ultimately, though, it has always been the subject matter of modern country music that makes me cringe.
Most modern country falls into three categories: introspective songs about sadness (grieving over loved ones, adversity, heartbreak, loss – these songs are meant to make you cry into your Mountain Dew), “funny” songs (songs about fishing, drinking, tractors, “honky tonk badonkadonk” and various other topics to make you giggle into your Mountain Dew), and lastly, duets – when two country-pop stars get together to sing about love and sex or some variation thereof while using pretty adjectives and most likely standing on a beach, a stage, or both. Extra bonus points if wind is tousling their hair. If the couple is actually together in real life, you get even more bonus points.
Country music speaks of gallantry, an old romanticism and honor, that doesn’t seem to exist in the real world, at least not anymore. I suppose that’s the problem with me and country music. I don’t buy it. Or at least, I never have in the past.
Much to my horror and disgust, my two-year-old son has decided he loves country music. Somehow, despite all my efforts to the contrary, this impostor child of mine has fallen head over heels with the genre. We recently purchased a new vehicle and it does not have an auxillary to hook up my iPod. We’ve been forced to listen to the radio, and after a few weeks of five r&b stations, two pop stations, and one classic rock station that plays only Peter Frampton and Steve Miller Band, we’ve been forced to cater to his desires and listen to a little country. I protested, loudly, for several weeks. Then somewhere along the line, I think I realized I didn’t mind so much. Or maybe I’d just been brainwashed by then.
I still hate the cheesy love songs, and I still hate songs about tractors and coon dogs, but I found that I did enjoy some of the more introspective and self-aware songs. Tim McGraw, Keith Urban and Jason Aldean come to mind as being especially good at this type of tune – songs that make you think, make you identify with the artist and feel like you relate to them, that leave you feeling hopeful or positive afterwards. That’s a well-written song. I especially like Jason Aldean’s newest release, which actually features the rapper Ludacris (how much do I love that he got a fellow Georgia native to join him for a marriage of rap and country?).
Perhaps for me, it’s easier to identify with some country music these days, because country music has always sought to illustrate the struggles, life and loves of the “working man and woman.” This is something I’ve always snickered at, and one of the reasons I have always rebelled against country in the past. I always thought it was cheesy, outdated and insincere. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t. So many of us are struggling to make ends meet, to get through school or to raise our kids or just get through the days without losing our minds for one reason or another. Country music is the only forum in which you’re going to hear those very real life experiences addressed. After all, listening to modern pop, you won’t hear much about everyday struggles in life – you’ll be hearing about sex with extraterrestrials, expensive cars and jewelry, people living outside their means. How many of us truly relate and identify with Lady Gaga, or even Katy Perry? In today’s world, with so much pain and suffering going on in the world, the last thing I want to hear on my radio is some out-of-touch, wealthy pop star singing about dancing in the club.
As someone whose normal musical interests include eclectic and amazing artists like Arcade Fire, Liam Finn, Fever Ray, Lykke Li, and Neutral Milk Hotel, and who cleans the house listening to Dubstep, you can imagine that my new interest in country music has come as somewhat of a shock. I’ve been railing against that twangy thang for so long, I never thought I’d go this route. But, it’s true, I do enjoy some country music. I can relate to the subject matter, and I have to admit that there are many promising new (and old) country artists out there who have incredible singing and writing talent. The subject matter I always thought was too safe and and too cheesy, in many cases just seems REAL to me now. In a world of fakery, that can be nice.
I’m not completely throwing in the towel – you can pry my La Roux and Salmonella Dub from my cold, dead fingers – but you won’t find me changing the channel whenever a country song comes on anymore. And I’m ok with that, traitor or no.
image courtesy cbs.com