Debunking The Stigma: A Defense of Country Music
By Chris Donohue
“I like all kinds of music…except country. NO country!”
This is a sentence I’ve heard several times when music comes up in conversation. It seems these days that aversions to country music are as common on college campuses as “Mr. Brightside” is at frat parties. However, I’ve discovered that these opinions primarily stem from people’s preconceptions and prejudices of what country is, and they haven’t actually thought about the many different artists and styles that make up the genre.
People tend to joke that all country songs are sung by Southern males wearing cowboy hats and boots, and that they are all about either guns, God, or girls. And yes, there certainly is a lot (maybe too much?) of that in country music. But there are still plenty of artists out there who break this mold in a variety ways and have started to establish their own identities as powerhouses in the music industry. Here are a few you should keep an eye on:
Although she recently gained more widespread recognition through her work with Zedd and Grey on “The Middle,” let’s not forget that this Texas native has the potential to become the next female country queen. Her voice has many similarities to that of Hayley Williams, but with a country-rock edge that helps establish her identity as an individual artist. After doing some songwriting for artists such as Tim McGraw and Kelly Clarkson, Morris had her personal breakthrough in 2016 with her debut album Hero, spawning hits such as “My Church” and “80s Mercedes.” In 2017, she earned 4 Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist and Best Country Album, and won the award for Best Country Solo Performance for “My Church.” Additionally, I can’t help but smile at the humorous extended metaphor of a song, “Rich,” or relate wholeheartedly to the emotions expressed in “I Wish I Was.” Although it’s been two years since the release of her debut album, I know I’m not the only one who can’t wait to see what else this country spitfire has in store.
Must Listen To: “My Church,” “I Wish I Was,” “Second Wind,” and “Dear Hate”
Sam Hunt became a well-known name outside of country music when his 2017 single “Body Like A Back Road” broke records by remaining at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for almost 6 months, but there are many more sides to this artist than that one slow-burning summer jam. It’s somewhat surprising that an artist with as much name recognition as Hunt has only released one studio album, Montevallo, all the way back in 2014. But despite the time that has elapsed since its release, there are many aspects of this album that still intrigue me to this day. Most notably is “Break Up In A Small Town,” where Hunt seamlessly straddles the line between country, rap, and even elements of dubstep, in a genre-hopping style similar to Taylor Swift’s Red in 2012. Hunt has been teasing the possibility of a new album since he released “Body Like A Back Road” back in February 2017, and we hope that these promises will come to fruition shortly.
Must Listen To: “Downtown’s Dead,” “Body Like A Back Road,” “Take Your Time,” and “Cop Car”
This girl and I go waaaaay back. I’ve been a massive fan of hers since I saw her on American Idol in 2011. Although she finished as the runner up to another country singer that year, 12-year-old me still hoped that she would somehow find her way into a promising career. Since the moderate success of her album Wildflower, released shortly after the show, Alaina’s career has been on an upward trajectory for the last few years. Her best-known song to date would probably be “Road Less Traveled,” the title track of her 2017 album which also served as her reintroduction to the music world. Other highlights of the album include “My Kinda People,” the summer jam that preaches a message of acceptance, and “Pretty,” which emphasizes the importance of internal beauty. Additionally, Alaina just recently released a new single entitled “Ladies in the 90s,” which, despite containing some admittedly odd and strangely placed references to various aspects of 90s pop culture (Britney Spears, The Spice Girls, and Shania Twain, to name a few), hopefully promises a new era for this on-the-verge artist.
Must Listen To: “Next Boyfriend,” “Doin’ Fine,” “My Kinda Party,” and “Road Less Traveled”
One interesting characteristic that all these artists share is that they all write their own songs, something that is more rare in country music than in most other genres. In fact, many artists who are considered to be the most prolific country artists of this generation (Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, etc.) play little to no role whatsoever in the composition of their own music. Perhaps this explains why these three aforementioned artists are able to crank out albums annually or biennially, while the artists I’ve recommended have a bit more time in between albums. However, I for one would much prefer quality over quantity.
So, contrary to what you may believe, country music is not all about “Drinkin’ Beer and Wastin’ Bullets” (which is actually the title of a Luke Bryan song). It’s also not all bluegrass, and not all redneck Republicans either (consider Carrie Underwood’s recent single “Love Wins”). I suspect that if more people were willing to approach this historically disliked genre with a bit more of an open mind, they might be surprised by what they discover.