Why I love country music
Thanks to reddit, I became aware of a debate within country music over whether today’s country hits are worthy of the country music label. This debate highlighted the derivative nature of these hits and the slightly misogynistic themes, and that has made me reconsider what I like about country music.
These hits that derive from the so-called “bro country” sub-genre still use the timeless country music tropes of small farm towns, trucks, and whiskey, but they do so in service of very different themes. Whereas classic country used these tropes to describe the realities of life in these places, bro country uses these tropes to celebrate the fratty and brotastic themes of partying and sex. The melodies used in bro country, however, are not morose, but could be better described as poppy with a bit of twang to tap into that party spirit.
I’m not going to hate on bro country, even with its repetitive wording. The pop-influenced sound is enjoyable, catchy, and upbeat and the lyrics are sometimes clever and funny, so the sub-genre generates a lot of fun summer anthems that are worth listening to. “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line has truly terrible lyrics, but the tune is really catchy and the song just feels fun and upbeat. Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” is my favorite bro country song with its clever lyrics and fun feeling.
But the country songs I like best are songs that tell stories that anyone can understand, whether they come from a small town or a big city.
Sometimes these lyrics tell stories that are really sad. “Whiskey Lullaby” by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss is a song about a man catching his wife cheating on him. Both end up as alcoholics and eventually commit suicide.
Sometimes the stories are sad, but describe the protagonist triumphing over adversity. Carrie Underwood’s angry woman songs best fit this description. In these songs, the feeling of victory carries through the strength of her voice. These songs use the classic country themes of infidelity and alcoholism to create a progressive image of a woman overcoming these obstacles to create her own destiny. (I want to point out that these songs are very different from Taylor Swift’s passive-aggressive, frankly childish, hate songs to her ex-boyfriends.)
But country shouldn’t be a genre that limits itself to the sad stories. I enjoy a lot of country songs that express love, usually by the male singer of a woman, using incredibly saccharine lyrics. Imagine cringe-worthy teenage love poetry sung with vocal harmonies and set to bluegrassy melodies. The best example of this is the chorus in “Honey Bee” by Blake Shelton.
Many of these artists are also the bro country artists derided by the critics. For example, in Brad Paisley’s “She’s Everything,” we get a hint of the bro (the object of his affection is wearing jeans).
The difference between these songs and the bro country songs is that these songs tell a story that is a little deeper than just partying and getting laid. For example, “Farmer’s Daughter” by Rodney Atkins cleverly changes the chorus as the farmhand progresses from seeing the farmer’s daughter to falling in love with her to marrying her.
Luke Bryan’s “Play it Again” and “Don’t Want This Night To End,” though they don’t tell complex stories and still seem very bro (trucks and tailgates), are about more than getting laid. Both songs describe vignettes of a time spent with the object of affection. It’s romantic and saccharine and adorable. These songs are more aspirational in nature, bringing the listener back to moments where he felt the same emotions and making the listener pine for those times.