Why Modern Country Music Gets A Bad Name

by Stephanie L. Carlin

All across Berklee, regardless of the musician, there are various kinds of artists. There’s reggae, jazz, classical, blues, metal, alternative, musical theatre, funk, and EDM. Everything is so varied at Berklee, and yet, there seems to be one genre that everyone seems to dislike: modern country. Even country musicians at Berklee have told me that they don’t like today’s country. And after reviewing everybody in the Billboards currently, I think I have an idea as to why.

First, let’s start with the actual music. I don’t think there’s much of a problem with the music itself. Similar to popular music, most songs use a simple chord progression and I suppose that could be annoying. At the same time, there’s still a market that these record companies are trying to appeal to. Interestingly enough, there are many country songs that are trying to adapt into modern popular music by utilizing electronic music. However, the problem I’ve come across with this is that there’s never a need for these adaptions. Most of the time, they sound awkward. It’s not like country music can’t be done without a banjo, but if there wasn’t a twang, there’s no real way to tell if it’s a country song or a pop song. Check out the top 100 songs below for comparison:

Now, come the lyrics and boy – howdy, I found some lyrics.

For most of the country I was exposed to as a kid, they were all story songs. From tales of achieving greatness, falling into life, to depression and loss, country provides a variety of stories that can help amplify the human experience.

Then, there’s bro country.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Every now and then, America needs a good beer-drinking, flag-waving party song to get the juices flowing, but bro country takes this idea to another level. There’s explosions. There’s Vegas trips. There’s a lot of beer as well as champagne. It’s always a big party where crazy things can happen, even though the song never takes us to what is happening. There’s not really a narrative. It’s like listening to something that is between a pumping party song heard on mainstream pop waves and a song trying to find meaning with guitars and the occasional banjo. There’s no substance to them. It’s just “guys being guys” with their big trucks and beer.

Might sit down on my diamond plate tailgate
Put in my country ride hip-hop mixtape
Little Conway, a little T-Pain, might just make it rain” — Luke Bryan (2013)

Yeah the boys ’round here 
Drinking that ice cold beer 
Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks” — Blake Shelton (2013)

Not to mention the pretty gross comments about women in between.

Shake it for the birds, shake it for the bees 
Shake it for the catfish swimming down deep in the creek” — Luke Bryan (2010)

When you see a priceless French painting 
I see a drunk, naked girl” — Brad Paisley (2010)

Ooph.

All of these songs just don’t feel down to earth. Again, what can be great about country songs is that they can be escapes into narratives that we can connect with. There’s not much to rally behind when it’s just about a party that was crazy. There’s no pay off. Songs allow listeners to escape but, if the fantasy is unobtainable to say a farmer or rural communities where country stations thrive, then the story comes off as dense and shallow.

Weirdly enough, after a lot of research including finding some of Steve Tyler’s country music career (view at your own discretion), I still like country. Looking at some of the greatest musicians of all time, I point to the country greats like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, and Glen Campbell. They’re innovators for even musicians that aren’t in the country scene. And besides, just because one sub-genre exists doesn’t mean a musician shouldn’t listen. No genre of music should be taken off of one’s radar because a musician will never know what they’re going to play for a gig or be asked to write. So… explore. There’s nothing wrong with a good story. Speaking of which, I’ll share a good story I found on the Billboard charts. He’s just coming out into the scene, but he’s a legend already.

What do you think? Which country artists do you like and which do you think should fall in a ring of fire? Leave a comment down below!