I Cheated on Myself with Country Music

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.

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By Teri Drake-Floyd

An almost 30-something synestheste, foodie, genealogist and all around proud geek.

26 replies on “I Cheated on Myself with Country Music”

I am kind of fascinated with a tangential part of your post – the fact that you like Liam Finn and Salmonella Dub. How did you discover them? Living in New Zealand, it is seriously hard work to discover country music (aside from country-pop like Taylor Swift, who gets plenty of radio play); there are no country radio stations that I know of. The Finns and Tiki Taane are hard to miss, on the other hand. But I didn’t really expect that many Americans would have heard of them (especially since they play so many local gigs I wouldn’t have thought they’d have much time for U.S. tours), so I am really intrigued.

It’s not such a mystery, really – I lived in New Zealand for several years!

I love New Zealand music. It’s probably my favorite ‘genre’, if you could call it that, but my NZ music interests vary wildly. I love Salmonella Dub, Tiki Taane, Crowded House/Split Enz, Minuit, Opshop, Mt. Eden Dubstep, The Feelers, Shihad, Bic Runga/Boh Runga, Fat Freddy’s Drop, and many others that I’m forgetting to mention.

Ah. Makes sense! In that case, I shall put on my proselytising hat – based on the kind of stuff you’ve said you like, if you haven’t already, I would recommend checking out Phoenix Foundation, the Black Seeds and Hollie Smith :) Zowie’s ‘Broken Machine’ is a bit poppier than the stuff you’ve listed here, but it’s not wholly unlike La Roux. Hope you enjoy!

She is awesome, indeed. She’s just featured on a track by Wellington band Junica, as Pip Brown – first I’ve heard from her in a while. Some more under the radar bands (who I know DO actually tour in the States semi-regularly) are Lawrence Arabia, and the Ruby Suns. And now I will shut up…I am totally derailing your thread! Apologies!

I HAAAATE county music. Any and all kinds. I always have. I’m pretty open about music – I like just about everything except country and opera. It’s funny, though, because I love traditional Irish music, which definitely overlaps in some ways with country, so I’m thinking it’s the twanging that must bother me, as I really like the fiddle.

Country music, though? Flames on the side of my face. Hate it!

Being from The Netherlands, I didn’t grow up with country at all, and didn’t really discover it until I started living in Australia (country country, too) when I was 21. I’m not a connoisseur by any means; I just know what I like when I hear it, and I don’t discriminate between old, new, poppy, heartbreak, or funny country. Whenever I need cheering up I just have to hear the lines “rain makes corn / corn makes whiskey / whiskey makes my baby / feel a little frisky” and I’m instantly smiling.

I grew up listening to Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn and really liked it, even though none of my friends listened to it. Then country radio started being taken over by the country-pop you describe, or, worse (to me), the American beer-drinking everyman, who isn’t really good for anything but drinking beer and singing about it. And then I broke up with my “country” boyfriend and started listening to other things. For a while, it seemed like every time I tried the country station, it was Taylor Swift not understanding the whole point of “Romeo and Juliet” or some guy singing about wet tee shirt contests (so much for family friendly?), and I would just hate it all over again. Now I’m able to listen, but only to some stuff, and only the kind of music you describe – the kind that makes you think. Sometimes I decide I can’t listen to another single country song because it seems like every yahoo who listens to it thinks he’s going to write the next best country song, and get this, it will be about LOVE, you guys, or FINDING YOURSELF IN THE COUNTRY. Or every yahoo chick who can strum a guitar wants to move to Nashville and be discovered. But then I’ll hear something that is actually unique and thoughtful and doesn’t sound like it was made by a country-song-writing Mad Lib and decide I can like it for a little bit.

Yeah, I hear ya. My husband had to learn a few country songs for a charity show he played last year and one of the songs was the guy singing about how he had no skills, no job, wasn’t good at anything and had no desire to do anything, but “I’m pretty good at drinking beer”. Man, I HATE that song. We get it. Y’all like beer. Moving on? There’s also a good deal of misogyny (I like to call it redneck romance) in some country music…but I suppose no more so than other genres of music these days. I refuse to listen to that stuff. I’ll just change the channel.

And under NO circumstances will I EVER listen to Tobey Keith.

I adore country music. I grew up listening to classic rock but always leaning more towards the folky end of the spectrum: Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Jerry Garcia. Nowadays I barely listen to anything else. There’s a realness to it, like you said. The music is easier to relate to than some of the pop songs that are getting turned out, at least for me. One of Brad Paisley’s recent singles in particular has a line “Are you haunted by the echo of you mother on the phone/crying as she tells you that your brother’s not coming home” The song came out right around the time my baby brother joined the marines and that line never fails to get to me; it hits my biggest fear exactly on the head. At the same time it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in that.

I actually registered (again? I’m not sure) just to comment on this. I love country music. I live in Nashville, I have friends in the industry, I’m constantly surrounded by it, and I love it. There are some really interesting things going on in country music today, I think, resulting in some really good music (Jason Aldean is one of those interesting things). I’m glad that someone is giving country music a little credit!

I’d also like to point out that, as a genre, it’s one of the most accessible groups of musicians out there. CMA Fest/Fan Fair is a good example of that. Most of the artists (the ones I’ve met and the ones I’ve heard about) are generally really, really nice people and that means something to me. Riders ask for things like “3 bottles of Jack”, not “only blue m&ms”.

Anyways, thanks. Good article.

Oh, I’m totally jealous of you and your Nashville-residing self. I’ve always heard it’s a great place to be with a good energy, country fan or no. Any cool starts you’ve bumped elbows with?

I have a few friends/folks from my hometown that are up and coming in the industry, and most of the have moved to Nashville as of late. Corey Smith, Brantley Gilbert and Zac Brown are all from around these parts. Plus some folks I went to high school with are trying to make it at the moment.

Nice! Corey Smith is a UGA person, yeah? I’ve heard his stuff. I actually just wrote about Brantley Gilbert’s current single. Of course, we’ve all heard of Zac Brown.

Nashville does have a great energy. It’s a very fun place. Karaoke here is an altogether different experience! The lyrics of “Crazy Town” are really true- everybody plays and everybody sings.

As for stars…my most recent ex was a front of house dude/tour manager. So I know the artist he was touring with (Lee Brice). A good friend of mine is in a band that’s really about to hit it big (Her and Kings County). Otherwise, I know some smaller people, a lot of touring musicians, some producers, etc. I never seem to be at the coffee shop at the right time to see TSwift or Nicole and Keith or anyone. Ah well.

But definitely, if you ever get a chance, you should come up for a visit. Being here and being around the people and just being in the middle of it really changes your opinion of it, I think. I mean, I liked country when I moved here, but now that I hear my friends on the radio, or hear people I’ve talked to in a bar or whatever, well…it just maked it more special.

Also there’s a bar in my neighborhood that banned Ke$ha (for life), so I think that’s worth a trip at any rate.

That’s how I feel. I grew up with it (I am from North Georgia after all), and I just never really connected with any of it outside of childhood. But suddenly, it’s like some of it just speaks to me, in a way it never did before. For as long as I’ve been making fun of country, I feel almost embarrassed now that I can relate to so many songs.

I used to love country music, as in the good ole drinkin’ songs, the story tellin’ songs and the silly fishin’ songs. And then, I lost interest.

I want to blame it on the radio stations (at least in my little section of the world). They are owned by the BIG corporations that bring us Top 40 radio. They over play the mediocre stuff. They force the CRAP down our throats every day – and never play any of the real music.

Another reason why I lost interest, is because I found out that most artists don’t write their own music, lyrics. And to me that just feels like a rip off. But then, not many popular “artists” of any genre do today – and that again makes me feel like the whole industry is nothing but a bunch of suits pulling strings.

I want to like the popular music… but honestly, I cannot.

I think that more country artists write their own music than pop artists. But even then, basically the only way for artists to make money is by writing songs (unless they can make big tour money; ie, they aren’t making money off records) so even if they don’t SING songs they’ve written themselves, they’re probably writing for someone else.

I’ve dated a guy who was, when we were dating, in the thick of the country music industry, and through him, have gotten to know several country artists. They make money off of writing. That’s it. Also, I, um, write a blog about country songs, and look up the writers for all the songs. It’s a pretty small group, honestly.

Two years ago country music gave me the worst headache. I’m not sure if it was the twang or the lyrics, but I couldn’t stand it. My roommate always listened to country in the car and I use get really warm and car sick. I rode in her car as seldom as possible. What changed me was I started dating a “country boy.” He either listened to country music or classic rock. It was touch and go for a while. But since we live 4 hours apart when we’re not in school country music sort of brought us together. Now I love it. It’s odd but I agree country music is different because the “good songs” actually talk about real life struggles and it’s not consumed with sex and what most pop songs express. I’m never expected this would happen. Many of my friends still are surprised when they get in my car and hear Chris Young singing.

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