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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Country music has been a hot topic lately, with Beyonce releasing her “act ii” genre-bending country album, Cowboy Carter, as well as Lana Del Rey announcing her country album Lasso. On top of that, the cowboy aesthetic is making a comeback, with all things country and western on the rise.

But you and I both know that hasn’t always been the case. There are many moments in my life when I can remember people saying things like: “I love all genres of music… well, except for country,” or “I don’t understand how people can listen to country music.”

If you’ve never played a country song on aux, only for the rest of the room to moan and groan until you give up and turn it off, you haven’t lived.

So many people find their hatred of country music to be a core piece of their musical identity. For as long as I can remember, country music has been having a disco-in-the-80s moment. Play a Luke Bryan song in the wrong crowd, and you are going to face vocal outrage. But I’m here to tell you that there is lots to love about country music and how it lost all that it was supposed to be.

Thanks to a certain country music fan in my life (shout out to my aunt Kirsten), I grew up with the soundtrack of my childhood filled with artists like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, and Dolly Parton. Country music has always been a part of my life. Although I love a lot of new country artists and songs, older outlaw country will always hold a special place in my heart.

While people may think they hate country music, if you ask them if they also hate Dolly Parton they aren’t likely to say yes. Everyone likes Dolly Parton.

So, what has changed about the country music industry? Why do people still like (begrudgingly) old country music but not anything from the 21st century? The answer may shock you: it’s all the nostalgia — both good and bad. 

My aunt has always loved country music and is an especially big fan of Willie Nelson. She has been to five of his shows (soon to be six). I can remember asking her what she loved so much about his music. She’s always said that the second she hears his voice, she can finally exhale. Nelson’s music gives her an immediate sense of calm, being her version of comfort music.

She’s not alone.

Over time, country music has become a voice of nostalgia for many people; nostalgia and comfort make so many people gravitate toward country music. Because it’s so rooted in American culture and history, it holds that comfortable feeling for many people who love it. Richard Carlin described it as “a nostalgia for the world left behind.”

Another great example is Dolly Parton. She has been a voice of feminism from the earliest days of her career. She is featured in the film 9 to 5, which is about a group of women overcoming their misogynistic and bigoted boss. Parton’s song “Dumb Blonde” is more of a feminist piece than people give it credit for. She represents what country can be in a big way.

Country music is a great way to use nostalgia for change. You can say important things in a comfortable genre. It’s sort of like softening the blow. This can, however, be a double-edged sword. A lot of the time, we reach for our comforts in times of fear, but sometimes that fear breeds a darker underbelly.

9/11 changed a lot for North America. After 9/11, country music was once again brought back to the forefront of popular music in America. This time, however, something shifted. During what was a very dark time for America, the country music genre changed. For most of the past 20 years, a lot of popular country music was a reflection of hyper-patriotism and lost a lot of the parts of country music that were about progression and cowboys-in-love and became something else — something angry.

“Pro-America rhetoric in country music became more prevalent, and country singers fed into the palpable culture of fear and distrust from a terrorist attack by channelling it into nationalist middle America anthems. Jingoist country had taken hold,” writes Grace Roberston for Afterglow.

A song that comes to mind is Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of The Red, White And Blue (The Angry American),” which is a perfect example of the kind of song that country music haters will point at and go, “I mean, listen to this garbage!”  

The reason country music changed is simple but also very complicated. There are a lot of complex human emotions behind this change in the genre, which has fallen into the hyper-patriotic and one-track mind of American nationalism. The problem with this is that for music to be truly good, and for it to be popular, it needs to be both comfortable and do something new.

The majority of popular music will fit into the framework of whatever genre it comes from but still do something unique — something listeners feel like they haven’t heard before. Country music doesn’t do that anymore. I believe country music has fallen so deep into the fear and comfort cycle that it doesn’t evolve or change. Good music has to change, or we will be listening to the same two songs over and over forever. 

Everything has to evolve, and it’s time for country music to grow. Not only is country music a great genre for being progressive and comforting, but it’s also great fun and easy listening. Some of the best country artists do both.

Beyonce’s new song “Texas Hold ‘Em” is doing exactly that. It follows the traditional ’70s and earlier country sound, but it’s not the same old country song we’ve been listening to for the last 20 years. She says (aptly), “This ain’t Texas, ain’t no hold ‘em.”

This song is the perfect example of what country music is becoming. It’s like she’s saying this ain’t Texas. Not anymore, not what it used to be. 

There are lots of great modern country artists out there. Orville Peck, Colter Wall, and Kacey Musgraves to name a few. But the number of country songs and artists that are changing the genre and simultaneously making odes to what it can be is growing exponentially.

Even good old Luke Bryan has the perfect song that says what country music has the power to say. This song sounds like a lot of other 21st-century country music, but I think most haters will find it more tolerable or even enjoyable. The reason is that it is the opposite of hyper-patriotism and represents what “good-hearted” American values and progressive outlaw country is meant to be.

It’s super cheesy, but honestly, it’s one of my favourite songs. Its title says it all, “Most People Are Good.” It’s comforting and familiar but has a great message.

So, I leave you with that song, and I hope you give it — and all the songs and artists I mentioned — a listen. 

👯‍♀️ Related: 5 Artists to Spice up Your Spotify Playlists 
Julia Dwyer

Toronto MU '25

Julia is an English major at TMU and has lived in Toronto her whole life. She is passionate about women and the things they create, book adaptations, and really good stories with flawed, loveable characters. When she's not procrastinating, studying, or buying expensive coffee on campus, you can find her rewatching Pride and Prejudice, reading everything that Emily Henry publishes, and wishing she could be eating apple pie.