If you’re anything like me and you look at the Billboard HOT 100 charts to see what is going on in popular music, you may have noticed an increase in country songs on the charts. I find this particularly interesting, because country music has always been a polarizing genre. Most people either love or hate country music, with not very many in the gray area. This is largely due to the political nature of the country music we see today, with many of the themes catering to people who are on the conservative side of the political spectrum. However, country did not always have this connotation, and I feel that we are witnessing a flip in what we define as country music in America today.
Country music only became related to conservatism fairly recently. After the devastating World Trade Center attacks on September 11th, 2001, Americans were doing anything they could to create unity among citizens. This manifested into increased patriotism everywhere, but specifically in country music. Country music has always been a genre that spoke about tragedy and injustice in America, specifically within the working class. In turn, it became the perfect medium for processing 9/11. Patriotism was great at the time and it still is today, but it has a different cultural context than it did 20 years ago. In America today, patriotism has become a political idea, largely due to the many protests with the image of the American flag at the center. In turn, blind patriotism has taken over country music. Controversial songs like Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town” are a prime example of this. Songs like this show a complete lack of regard for the real issues Americans are facing in an effort to be “patriotic.”
This is not me saying that musicians have to be social activists, however, I feel that the lack of care that goes into the work of certain country songs is purposeful to make the left angry and attract those on the right. This is still the main trend in country music, but I am starting to see a flip. Country artists like Zach Bryan, Orville Peck, and Tyler Childers are blowing up in popularity in America and they completely reject what we have come to recognize as pop country. These artists take their inspiration from folk roots and use stunning vocals to convey themes like heartbreak and grief, rather than the common themes we are used to seeing in country music that lack depth. They stay true to what the country genre was before 9/11, and in doing so they introduce country music to a whole new audience.
With all of that being said, I am hopeful for the direction country music is going in today. As someone who has always been a closeted country fan, I feel the need to differentiate between popular country music and this new country music we are beginning to see. What country music is supposed to be and what it is known as now are completely things. I hope the reimagining of the genre continues to happen and more people can be exposed to how great country music can be without the political connotation.