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Is the Music Industry Actually Going Country?

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 UCF chapter.

“Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? Yes they are. In theory, they have a simple definition thats easy to understand. But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

-Linda Martell, featured on Beyonce’s song, Spaghettii, off her album Cowboy Carter

Beyonce’s iconic country album drop, announced only a month and a half before its release, has already turned the industry on its head by changing what it means to be a country music artist. Cowboy Carter is anything but just a country album. The non-traditional album blends electronic beats and layered harmonies with the classic American old-west style of banjos and string instruments.

This leads us to the heart of the debate: What makes country music country? 

Well, that depends on who you ask.

According to Reddit user baalroo, “Country music has reached a point to where it now has a pop branch that is nearly indistinguishable from average 90s and 2000s pop music that it can easily slot right in between other average pop music on the billboard charts.”

When people think of country music going more pop than country, Taylor Swift comes to mind. What started as a 13-year-old girl moving to Nashville to pursue her Shania Twain dreams turned into her becoming one of the most famous and recognizable pop artists of all time. Once Swift transitioned to pop in 2014 with her album 1989, her credibility as a country music artist was challenged. The rivalry between pop and country music is nothing new. Hardcore country fans had issues with Swift over whether her music was ever considered country enough for her to be called a country music artist. 

Beyonce combats this battle for acceptance early in the first track on Cowboy Carter, Ameriican Requiem.

In the first song of her album, Beyonce directly addresses the listener, asking, “Can you hear me? Or do you fear me?” The song American Requiem is a homage to not being accepted in the country music industry due to her skin color. She explains her parents’ all-American roots, from Gadsden and Galveston to Louisiana, and then eventually settling in Houston, Texas, where she lived until age 21.

What’s more country than being born and raised in Houston, Texas? Beyonce asks,

“If that ain’t country, tell me, what is?”

Backlash towards Beyonce for embracing her country roots started weeks before the album’s release. The evening of the Super Bowl, she released two singles: Texas Hold’ Em and 16 Carriages. It wasn’t long until fans started requesting them on their favorite radio stations. KYKC – 100.1 FM of Ada, Oklahoma, sparked controversy after they rejected to play Beyonce’s new songs, stating that they do not play Beyonce on their station. After a fan took this to social media, General Manager Roger Harris spoke on the issue. 

Harris told Good Morning America that the rejection was a miscommunication. He explained that they were unaware she had released new country singles and simply did not have access to the songs as a small country music station in Oklahoma. Since the debacle, KYKC 100.1 FM has added Beyonce to their rotation. That decision received backlash, too.

Reddit user HailState17 commented on the “Ask An American” thread discussing today’s country music, saying, “I hate to be “that guy,” but what’s become popular isn’t country music. It’s more of “southern pop music” than anything else.” 

“Used to say I spoke too country and the rejection came, said I wasn’t country ‘nough.”

-Beyonce, off her album Cowboy Carter, track Ameriican Requiem

The debate over what qualifies country music is far from over. Beyonce isn’t the only one making 2024 her country moment.

On January 31st, during the Billboard and NMPA Songwriter Awards celebration, Lana Del Rey announced that she’d be releasing a country music album titled Lasso in September. According to Del Rey,

“The music business is going country. We’re going country. It’s happening.” 

Details on her upcoming album are still under wraps, but Del Rey loves to tease. She posted a snippet of one of her new songs, presumably to be released on Lasso, titled Henry, Come On. The tease features her soft and angelic voice accompanied by her signature ethereal harmonies fluttering in the background.

Del Rey wasn’t lying when she said the industry was going country. According to Morning Brew,

Country music has reached an all-time peak, accounting for 36% of streams on Spotify’s Top 50 songs compared to only 2% in 2016. 

People have various theories as to why country music is experiencing so much popularity. Morgan Wallen, a country music artist with eight Top 10 Billboard hits and One No.1 single, significantly contributed to the industry’s rising numbers. Other country music artists, such as Luke Combs and Jason Aldean, also found themselves on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100 list for much of 2023. 

A few Reddit users attribute the popularity to a changing America, with diminishing rural areas and their transformation into large cities.

User WeirdNext1917 states, “Country music, from its beginning in the early 1900s, has always been a reflection of life in rural America. In the early days of country music, artists born and raised during the Great Depression sang about what they knew: poverty and a tough life. Since that time, however, rural America has become more prosperous, more infrastructure has been built, and most recently, technology has exploded.”

Another user, Firm_Bit, agrees. They state, “The themes you’re hearing are all related to abandoned rural America. It’s less of the old school “I love America and my little small town” and more of the even older school outlaw country “we gotta take care of one another cuz we’re on our own.” So, it sounds a lot more like Cash and Nelson than Tim McGraw, for example. Which makes sense given the economic hardships that places like Appalachia and other rural areas are seeing. It’s cliche to say that good music comes from pain, but it kinda does. Hip-Hop kinda did. Outlaw country before that. Blues before that.”

Even rapper Post Malone is diving into Western music. Malone has recently been photographed in the studio with well-known country music artists, and Morgan Wallen confirmed with Billboard that they have been working together. According to Billboard magazine, Ed Sheeran also mentioned that he would love to transition into country. 

Ultimately, the music industry is ever-changing, and with it are the definitions of what makes music one thing vs. another. Maybe country music is gaining popularity because its definition is becoming broader. Or perhaps it’s transforming into something completely new. Successful creative artists like Beyonce, Lana Del Rey, and Post Malone will surely deliver their own unique magic within their albums and, by doing so, widen our perspective on mixing and matching various genres. People who have never been into country music are giving it a chance because their favorite artists are experimenting with it. 

As one of those people who has never been a fan of country music, I’ll tell you this: Once Lana Del Rey releases Lasso, I’ll be the first to show up wearing a white lace dress, heeled cowboy boots, and a straw hat. Catch me Yee-Haw’ing all summer!

Caysea Stone is a Journalism major and a Women’s Studies minor at the University of Central Florida. She has been vegan for almost five years and is very passionate about yoga, meditation, and feminism. Her ultimate goal is to write for a women's magazine like Cosmopolitan or Bustle. She wishes to inspire younger women to always show kindness towards themselves and assist in the process of deconditioning any internalized misogyny.