It’s no secret that I’ve generally disliked country music for a long time. It’s not that I won’t listen to it if it comes on the radio; I’ll just do everything in my power to not listen to it if it does. I’m a firm believer that no music is inherently bad as long as the notes are being played correctly. Everyone has different tastes, and what invigorates me musically may make you want to gouge your eyes out. However, I do believe that country music is doomed to fail; actually I’m certain that country music already has failed. If I could play a guitar and sing, I’m sure I could write my very own hit country song. The lyrics go something like this, “Woke up, and grabbed a beer. Need to make last night disappear. Grabbed my fishin pole and hopped in my truck, headin to the pond let’s see if I have some luck. Now I’m drivin down that old dirt road, what do my eyes see? They see a nice cute honey, can’t take her eyes of meeeeeeeeee,” (continue to corny chorus about country living and good times). Guaranteed, number one on the charts, and I just thought of that in only two minutes.
The failure of country music has been inevitable. To truly understand it, you must understand country music pre-1994. Back then, you had legends like George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, etc. These lyricists brilliantly crafted stories about life in the backwoods areas of the country; stories about strange characters, women who hurt them, drinking escapades, all the things that cowboys or rednecks were accustomed to. The problem is that as the United States progresses technologically, these places and occurrences happen less and less. It’s imperative not to forget that country music used to be dubbed country western music, as in the Wild West. The Wild West is dead, and along with it should go country music.
I generally break music down into 3 main groups. Rock/alternative, pop/hip-hop, and country (yes, this discounts other genres like jazz, classical, and polka, but none of those are mainstream). Rock music can never die simply because it’s based on musical creativity. No matter how poorly lyrics are sung by a wild-haired rock star, each song can throw a face-melting guitar solo or an ear pounding drum segment at you. Pop/hip-hop can’t fail because it constantly updates itself with the times. At its birth, rappers talked about how they make danceable beats, in the early 90’s it was the gang wars and East vs. West, present day is about making lots of money and obtaining material success. Country music is faced with an impossible paradox. It’s a music genre that can’t give you guitar solos or really any musical creativity. It’s completely lyric-based, but as the years move on, country music cannot lyrically update itself with the times. Dierks Bentley can’t croon about using his iPad on the rocking chair out on the front porch of his lakeside cabin. It would similarly seem strange if Trace Adkins belted out a verse detailing him watching his new car automatically parallel park itself in front of the new Super Target in town. Unfortunately for country, this means that there is a set limit of subject matter it can cover; much like the finite amount of subject matter western movies could cover. If you hadn’t noticed, there isn’t an increasing influx of western movies, and the same should happen with country music, if only we could be so lucky.
What continues to be the lure of country music then? The answer to this question is simple. As our nation has become more urbanized, the thought of being able to “get away” and out of the big city for the weekend or for a vacation has become this utopian idea for many children, adolescents, and adults. However, getting away to the woods or country now is not what the country truly is. People who take vacations to their getaways are doing so in lavish cabins with cable TV and Internet. They drive luxurious speedboats and fast cars. This is what country has become in 2011. What people don’t realize is that individuals and families who already inhabit the country don’t view it as a getaway, but a way of life. These singers from the country were telling stories about their true lives, not vacations out on the lake. The detachment from what country really is has led to the new generation of pseudo-country pop; artists singing about pop themes while on vacation in the country.
I will forever and always blame Tim McGraw as being the catalyst for the genesis of pop-country. Growing up, my parents were very fond of blasting country western music on the radio in our home. I genuinely was a fan of the artists that I heard back then. McGraw was probably the first hugely popular country singer that I absolutely could not stand. To me, he was a fraud; someone who walked around with a fake cowboy hat and a big belt buckle and pretended he was a country bumpkin. It disgusted me that he even thought of himself as a cowboy. Once he entered into the picture, it opened the floodgates for the army of imposters. Ever since, country music has spiraled into a cesspool of people who sing the same songs, about the same events, in the same way, with the same twangy guitar chords. I can think of no better example that signaled the free fall of country music than Craig Morgan’s song, “Redneck Yacht Club,” which was released in 2005. This tune, with stunning lyrics talking about party barges, houseboats, and tiki torches, basically signifies everything that country music is not. So much so that it actually made my blood boil. Now whenever I see Taylor Swift trot out in a dress and cowboy boots, or am forced to hear Rascal Flatts’s lead singer whine in his crybaby voice about girl problems that we’ve all heard a million times over, I want to jump into a fire pit.
Country music has run its course. Honestly, I don’t care if the new genre that’s been created still exists; I just can’t accept that it still calls itself country, because it’s not. It not only hurts what country originally was, but also prevents young music listeners from discovering what true country is. Disco died and it moved on; no other genre took it in a completely different direction and called itself disco. Country is also dead and it’s time for it to finally move on as well.