Music never ceases to amaze me; the way human beings have found so many different ways to combine noises into meaningful, beautiful compositions, and how singing or making music is so primitive that other animal species do so as well. There are so many genres and subgenres, and music is still constantly evolving. This being said, I’ve been wondering why certain genres of music, namely country, can be so polarizing. I grew up on country music, my parents transitioning from their preferred 90’s alternative when I began singing along to dirty lyrics, and it holds a special place in my heart. However, many people are quick to express their distaste for it, and I’ve done some researching and asking around to figure out why.
What's The Problem?
The type of country music most commonly hated seems to be more contemporary and populated by the likes of Keith Urban or Brad Paisley, rather than Willie Nelson or Dolly Parton. The most common reasons I’ve seen for disliking it are the structural simplicity and repetition as well as lyrical simplicity, the religious aspect, the often excessive and ignorant patriotism, the tone of misogyny and gender stereotypes, and the glorification of anti-intellectualism. This seems like a lot but is country music this bad? Some songs certainly seem it.
Brad Paisley & LL Cool J’s “Accidental Racism”
Inspiring controversy in 2013 was Paisley’s release addressing slavery, the Civil War, and modern racism. He explains that he may wear a Lynyrd Skynryd T-shirt depicting the Confederate flag, but he’s not racist -- he’s just proud of his Southern heritage. With lyrics from Cool J such as, “You don’t judge my do-rag, I won’t judge your red flag, if you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains,” people were understandably up in arms. This song seems to support the stereotype of country music being ignorant, simplifying a complex issue, trivializing slavery, and comparing choices of self-expression to racial heritage. Statements from the artists express that they meant the song to encourage seeing the individual rather than letting stereotypes influence you, but the song seems to have failed in that regard.
Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” (The Angry American)
Another controversial song, demonstrative of why so many dislike the genre, is Keith’s 2002 hit addressing 9/11 and the death of his father. Although the patriotic message of the song is inspiring and heart wrenching, with verses like “My daddy served in the army where he lost his right eye, but he flew a flag out in our yard until the day that he died, he wanted my mother, my brother, my sister and me to grow up and live happy in the land of the free,” is also hateful and ignorant. Referring to 9/11 as “a mighty sucker punch… from somewhere in the back” and then describing the US War on Terror as “we lit up your world, like the 4th of July” and “it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you,” Keith simplifies the conflict and extols ignorance toward all of the lives lost. Even more cringe worthy is the verse, “you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A. 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it`s the American way,” which displays exactly the crude and uneducated genre of patriotism that gives the US, and country music, a bad name.
On the Other Hand
Sure, these two songs display exactly the qualities that those who dislike country music claim it to possess, but you can’t judge a genre by two songs. A lot of country music focuses on simple living, traditional family values, and growing up. Songs like Montgomery Gentry’s “Something to Be Proud Of” tell the tale of men who don’t necessarily become successful, but raise families that they’re proud of, as well as “In Color” by Jamey Johnson which paints the picture of an old man reminiscing about his childhood and the timeless struggles of growing up. Studies show that approximately 42 percent of the US population listens to the genre, and if anything the messages of the songs are more relevant to the average American than many pop songs.
In conclusion, people like country music for the same reason they like pop music; it doesn’t necessarily have to be good or creative, it just has to focus on universal emotions including heartbreak, lust and love, and have a good beat. Maybe country music is more simplistic- I’ve never taken a music theory class so I can’t speak to that- but ultimately, songs must be judged for their individual merit. I’m not trying to sell the genre, but I think it’s worth a try and that hate towards it is often the result of broad generalizations. Any genre is worth approaching with an open mind.