One of the genres of music that continues to fascinate me is contemporary country music. I don’t listen to it with any sense of regularity, but every time my curiosity gets the best of me, I check out whatever is on the country charts and it’s always interesting at least.
Like listening to most genres of music for an extended period of time, trends start to develop and certain aspects become noticeable and more jarring as time passes. In regards to country music, one of the more apparent trends is how incredibly exclusionary it is.
The knee-jerk reaction to something like this would usually be a very resounding “duh.” Country music is usually derided and defined by its clichés. Just as similar fools would call hip-hop nothing but the glorification of violence and excess, country music is generally shrugged off for, well, being country music.
Unlike hip-hop however, country music artists not only wear that as a sign of pride, but the songs tend to carry a very “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality.
Take a song like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.” Before doing research for this column, I wasn’t aware that “Truck Yeah” was a song, and I certainly hope it’s not a real thing that real people say.
At the onset, the song thunders in with a bellowing AC/DC-style riff, but then remembers by the chorus that it is, in fact, a Tim McGraw song, so the necessary background banjo and fiddle are thrown in. The lyrics are a literal laundry list of what it means to be “country proud,” including, but not limited to: watching football, drinking beer and going to church on Sunday.
By the time the chorus is nearly finished, McGraw is putting all of his cards on the table.
“If you think this life I love is a little too country — truck yeah.” Despite “truck yeah” not really being an appropriate response to that proposition, it begs the question: Who is McGraw talking to?
I would be willing to bet that outside of ardent country music listeners and asinine music columnists, no one is listening to this song. What is the point of addressing country music haters that aren’t listening?
One of the many “Truck Yeah” — author’s note: I will never tire of typing that — related YouTube videos was a similarly proud song called “Where I Come From” by the duo Montgomery Gentry. I had thought Montgomery Gentry was simply one impossibly-named man, but a quick Wiki search proved me wrong.
Right off the bat, the protagonist of the song is on the defensive, angrily telling the listener to not dare insult his upbringing and in return, he won’t “cuss” our “city lights.” This brings to the forefront one of the obvious reasons for the divide between country music fans and non-fans. The cliché of country music fans only living in rural areas while “everyone else” lives in a glossy city setting is a vastly outdated concept, especially when you consider that the upper echelon of country musicians play to large crowds in those same huge cities when they tour.
Listening to music in 2012 means that you don’t have to live in a specific setting or be in a certain tax bracket to truly understand or appreciate the music, hence why I was able to so thoroughly enjoy “Watch the Throne.” There aren’t any other genres of music I know of that so adamantly and confidently shun people that aren’t fans in the songs themselves.
Because the lyrics are already so defensive, it makes those people who simply don’t like the music appear even worse for disliking it, further growing the weird divide.
Of course, it pays handsomely to be a country musician, which is why there have been so many successful crossover artists in the past few years. Why is it that someone like Lionel Richie gets a free pass into “Countryland”?
Though born in Alabama, Richie’s musical output was never anywhere close to country music, yet when he released his strange all-country-tinged duets album earlier this year, it went platinum. It’s currently the second best-selling album of the year behind that British female singer whose name I can’t remember. The album sold largely based on big names such as Shania Twain and Willie Nelson, and also that it was pimped to an absurd amount in Wal-Mart and on the Home Shopping Network.
Other than hip-hop, country music is one of the best music-related businesses to be in. It’s always been a strange and foreign beast to me, and on paper, it still makes no sense whatsoever.
There are millions of untold people that feverishly listen to country and brashly echo the sentiments of songs like “Truck Yeah.” Is that why the only people that I know personally who listen to country are coincidentally people who I wish I didn’t know personally?
Still, there simply is no other genre of music where the fans overwhelmingly buy the music they listen to. Could this be why the artists are so fiercely defensive about the people that listen?
Appealing to the base is one of the basic tenets of being popular in anything, and country music does it better than most political candidates. One day it’ll all make sense, but until then, I’ll keep my respectful distance.
5 Johnny Cash songs about murder:
“Folsom Prison Blues”
“Don’t Take Your Guns to Town”
Kevin Stairiker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.