I Like Country Music Now, OKAY?

A few short years ago, I found myself inside the irritating “everything but rap and country” category of music fan. At my small rural high school filled with kids who drove trucks and had bonfires, I was trying really hard to go against the grain. (I would later discover that this label didn’t make me different or subversive, but rather striving for exactly the same image as every white kid who bought a leather jacket as soon as they started listening to Arctic Monkeys.)


I can remember vocalizing my distaste for country music to a high school friend. Knowing myself back then, I probably didn’t say “I don’t prefer country, but it’s cool if you do!” It was more like “Country music is objectively bad and I am correct about this.” I thought I was cool and smart and worldly by referencing the misogyny, redneck pride, and overall bro nonsense present in male-driven popular country at the time. (Since this would have been about 2013, I’m sure I was referencing the Blake Shelton song “Boys Round Here” which featured the immortal line “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.”)


Like any fan whose favorite thing was disrespected by someone they loved, my friend was not having it. Her counter-argument was that each music genre, even my precious indie rock, had its own level of disrespect toward women. (After becoming more well-read and making my own music years later, I can tell you: yeah.) She was absolutely right to call me out. I was probably being an aspirational elitist little jerk.


I’d been hot and cold over the years in my thang for the twang. I can go on the record and say that a Brad Paisley song (that didn’t go too far out of its way to reinforce the gender binary) has made me cry before. My Valentine’s Day playlist last year might have been Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” fourteen times. And that summer Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” was everywhere, I stopped fighting the urge to be kinda really into it.


But there was one drawl that changed everything for me. As I’m sure she’s done for many of my fellow elitist alt-pop dinguses. Her songwriting is witty, her fashion sense is to die for, and her grasp on her own identity is iconic.


Kacey Musgraves.


Upon a suggestion from the Recording Academy (and a bunch I’d ignored from Pitchfork, NPR, and everything else), I gave a listen to her 2018 album Golden Hour and HOLY EFFING EFF. So much brilliant wording. (“Velvet Elvis;” “Space Cowboy”) So many soaring triumphs and emotional depths. (“Oh What A World;” “Butterflies”) So many relatable experiences that I didn’t think were worth capturing in songs. (“Lonely Weekend;” “Happy & Sad”)


It reminded me of my hometown- dirt roads and harvest season and nice old people and high school basketball. But it also reminded me of myself. Music rarely ever reminds me of both at the same time.


When you’re 15 and you don’t think anyone else in the world is like you (because everyone at 15 is kind of a narcissist except for probably Malala Yousafzai), it can be easy to hate the place you’re growing up in. I think lots of us go through that stage, even in hometowns that weren’t tiny and rural like mine. I spent a really long time being ashamed that I wasn’t able to take AP classes, or see a lot of cool art, or have the money for super-nice things as frequently. But somewhere in the process of growing up, pursuing what I want, and becoming more at peace with myself, I discovered that I don’t hate my hometown. And that was so freeing.


I get it now. It took Kacey Musgraves in her feathery glory to make me get it (and realize how much influence Dolly Parton has had on basically every pop star I like).


Furthermore, yee haw.