“Of emotions, of love, of breakup, of love and hate and death and dying, mama, apple pie, and the whole thing. It covers a lot of territory, country music does.” – Johnny Cash
Just recently, I took my wife to a local country music concert to celebrate her birthday. I was surprised by the number of people drinking Bud Light there. Given the conservative market backlash to Bud Light’s transgender beer campaign, I expected many more people to choose no shortage of alternatives. A friend observed that they saw a thirty-pack of Bud Light at the local grocer for twelve dollars. This is why it was odd to see people pay twelve dollars for a single Bud Light tallboy.
One Bud Light drinker, in particular, stood out. This person was among the first to stand for the Memorial Day tribute of the national anthem played on the fiddle with the American flag waving on the jumbotron. This same person also knew all the words to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.” At that time, I realized that many Americans are blissfully unaware or apathetic to current affairs and are just here to catch a good time.
Country music presents an interesting metaphor for modern America: traditionally family and faith-oriented, now shallow and self-interested. It has always been a storytelling art form that celebrates a simpler life, God, family, and traditional morals. With the recent mainstreaming of country music came a melding of pop, rap, hypnotizing beats, and repetitive lyrics emphasizing superficial topics like sex and alcohol. I have heard it called country rap or crap, and that’s an apt description. Songs I would place in this category are often the least melodious or creative but were the first to get the youth up and dancing at the concert.
I heard a recent SiriusXM interview with Hall of Fame songwriter Steve Wariner, in which he grieved the loss of storytelling in country music and the promotion of cliches like whiskey in every tune. I can relate to this sentiment. I enjoy many crap songs for the mindless anthems they are, but I also find myself irked by the lip service to country themes without much depth to them. In one of the latest radio hits, “Good Time” by country artist Niko Moon, the listener is treated to cliched lines such as “like a bobber on a wet line, we just tryna catch a good time,” an homage to classic country songs like “Fishin in the Dark” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band that repeats throughout the chorus.
What irks me most about the shallowness of these kinds of lyrics is that they are a cosplay of a genre that celebrates an authentic heritage. Putting on a pair of cowboy boots while twerking no more makes you a cowboy than putting on a dress makes you a woman. Cowboys exist, and many still fight to maintain their traditional values nationwide.
The shift in country music toward shallowness and commercialization coincides with a shift in Music City, Nashville. Long seen as the epicenter of country music and the home to the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville became an attraction for Country Music, what Hollywood is to film. Commercial politics and a leftward bend to a historically family-oriented genre came with commercial recording dollars. At the most recent CMT Music Awards, viewers were treated to pride flags and drag queens dancing in fanciful Western regalia just days after a deranged transgendered person shot up a private Christian school in Nashville.
Country music artists themselves have adopted leftist politics into their art. Hall of Famers Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill have openly waded into gun control debates. Once the crooner of chest-puffing gender pieces such as “I’m Still a Guy,” country music artist Brad Paisley recently recorded a song with perpetual Ukrainian war celebrity and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Platinum recording artists Lady Antebellum disavowed the term Antebellum during the height of Black Lives Matter protests and truncated their name to Lady A. Unfortunately, that trademark was already taken by a black blues performing artist. Thankfully, they sued her to appropriate the moniker so that they might end racism.
If politics is downstream from culture, it seems the primary strategy for injecting leftist politics into conservative America has been infiltrating the conservative culture. Much like urban culture was co-opted by the commercial glorification of gangs, sex, drugs, and alcohol in rap and hip-hop, the same playbook has been deployed against a traditionally conservative demographic and appeals mainly to the apathetic class. In one of the latest radio hits, country artist Hardy pays tribute to all things “Red” about conservative culture: barn doors, Budweiser cans, and red dirt, but is quick to preface all that is praiseworthy with “I’m not talking politics.” Conservative politics are verboten in the new conservative culture.
At the concert that we recently attended, there were still splashes of conservative Americana, whether an occasional lyric referencing church or the prior mentioned Memorial Day tribute. Still, attendees were primarily treated to celebrations of alcohol and getting naked in various forms, including a promotional commercial featuring the headliner selling his personally branded premium whiskey. While there has always been an element of women and whiskey in country music, the complete saturation of all things country with the superficial aptly represents an intentional leftward infiltration.