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From Navy Man to Country Legend: How Zach Bryan is Changing Country Music for the Better

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Zach Bryan never planned to be a country star; as a son of two parents in the Navy, he had gone his whole life thinking he would end the same way as them, serving his country. But with a few Bieber-esque viral videos, Zach Bryan would be forced out of the military after almost nine years and into a musician’s world with no warning. Less than six years later, following the great success of his debut studio album American Heartbreak in 2022, Zach Bryan has topped the Billboard 200 charts with his self-titled album, containing heart-wrenching hits like “I Remember Everything” with Kacey Musgraves, and “Spotless” featuring The Lumineers. I think his journey is something to be commended, but I also think his huge impact on the future of the country music industry and its audience is something that should also be commented on. 

We are all too familiar with “bro” country, aka the never-ending, all-sound-the-same songs about beers, bros, tractors, girls, and the beach. To name a few: Kenny Chesney’s “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” Sam Hunt’s “House Party” or “Body Like a Back Road,” and literally any Florida-Georgia Line song (“Cruise,” most notably). While these songs are all undoubtedly bangers, the lyrics of country music since the beginning of its time have always reflected what its conservative audience and writers think about women. More often than not, these songs highlight women in bikinis, men getting drunk and wanting to sleep with them, or something about the girl’s overprotective father being an a-hole.

While these lyrics seem harmless (and are certainly fun to sing along to, I can’t lie), I believe that the hidden misogyny in country music lyrics has only reinforced the negative opinions of women that men who listen to country music may already have. This is not to say that all country music is misogynistic or that everybody who listens to country music is a misogynistic conservative. I think that this type of subconscious influence on the psyche of a music’s audience can be pointed out for every genre. But there has been a turn in recent years in the sound and style of country music, and while Zach Bryan definitely didn’t start it, he is a beautiful example of the culmination of this change.

I would argue that Chris Stapleton is largely responsible for this change in country music, from loud and bro-y to soft and emotional. While a majority of country music before him focused on the sexual or surface level feelings of being with a woman, Stapleton’s songwriting focuses on his own deepest emotions. He credits the love of his life for saving him from the destruction of alcoholism in “Tennessee Whiskey,” and breaks gender roles with the raw emotion in “Sometimes I Cry.” Artists like Chris Stapleton are responsible for this deeper, more raw side of the country, which some have labeled “yearning.” It’s refreshing to see the emotional side of men in a genre whose audience is primarily made up of men who may not necessarily be comfortable with showing their emotions. Artists like Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers have also tapped into this “yearning” style of songwriting really well. 

To get thousands of men screaming “To you I’m just a man, to me you’re all I am, where the hell am I supposed to go?” is no easy feat. Zach Bryan’s ability to admit that he is lost without a woman and his openness with sadness, especially coming from a military man, promotes a healthy communication of negative emotions that many men are uncomfortable verbalizing. Zach also writes very openly and beautifully about his mother who died of addiction — naming an entire album after her — and other family members who struggled with alcoholism or illness. 

Zach Bryan is growing rapidly and with good reason. The combination of emotion, authenticity, and a traditional (but new) sound has made Zach a new force to be reckoned with in the country world, and I am excited to see what lies ahead in the future of his career.

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Eve Lescovitz

U Mass Amherst

Eve is a junior Political Science and Spanish major at UMass Amherst. Her favorite things are Harry Styles, sweet treats, and her puppy, Garbanzo. When she's not in class catch her napping, hanging out with friends, or listening to music way too loudly.