Playing Favorites – Country Music Part 2: Bro, THIS is country.

Over the past decade the country music mainstream; radio, awards shows, and charts have been dominated by the lowest common denominator assembly line country music. A collection of cliche songs and mediocre acts that (similar to hair metal before it) rode it’s cliches, female tokenism, and misogyny into blockbuster success at the expense of tradition and culture.

Now, let me be clear it’s not gate keeping country music if the music being kept out isn’t even country.

People will cry, “Music must evolve,” but “evolution” is just another buzzword lazy people throw around when other music fans take a stab and something they like or want really bad to be included in the group for some reason. Here’s my opinion on evolution when it comes to music- it runs parallel to the evolution of humans.

Humans evolved from monkeys and at some point in the chain we evolved so much that we were beyond monkey and became something else until we end up as Homo Sapiens. So sure, all music evolves. But much of the music people defend with the word, “evolution” has evolved beyond being country music to being straight ahead pop.  So while human are not monkeys like monkeys we are still primates as primates we are all still mammals.

So bro-country “evolved’ so much it is no longer country music but it pop music.  And pop like country is all music.

And the most telling thing in all my discussions on this topic is when folks drop the word “evolution” in defense of some new mainstream say, Sam Hunt song,  and I ask them, “What about this song makes it country music?”

Crickets at worst and at best they sight all the cliches in the song or the artist themselves that apparently define being a country singer; back roads, small towns, beer, trucks, whiskey… I mean Beyonce was born in that small town of Houston so she must be country right?

Much has been covered on this topic at places like Saving Country Music, so I will not belabor that tirade.

And I will add country music like any genre has always had some goofy and outright bad songs. But the percentage in the past was much much lower. 90% of the last ten plus years in country music’s mainstream music row was atrocities like this.

Or this.

Or this.

So you can see why people thought “Old Town Road” was a country song.  Because if this is country music in the modern era… But you see when all this started showing up we forgot to ask, “How is this country music?”

It isn’t.

And as bad as Honky-Tonk Badonkadonk is as a country song it IS a COUNTRY song.

I have a theory that these bros came to dominate country music because the labels, and the likely the artists themselves knew these acts could not survive one day in the pop world against all the pop ladies dominating over this time. Beyonce, Rhianna, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and other women controlled the Hot 100. So these dudes planted their toxic seed in country music soil because it was easier to take over. Especially from women because country music has a history of short-changing women anyway so let’s take a terrible tradition and amplify it and show rock music how it is really done.

Well, while these dudes were going on about snap-backs, flatbeds, back roads and red solo cups. Women and men of the independent country scene outside Music Row were constantly putting out grade A material for those who knew where to look. I admit when I really got hard into country music I did not know where to look and while, “Country Girl Shake It For Me” was something I danced to with great energy once (MAYBE twice) I thought it was awful then and it’s aged like milk now. At least glam metal had power chords, guitar solos, and often harmonies in songs that TRIED to go somewhere interesting.

Also fun fact: Music Row has always been about the $$$ first and has always had an issue with “true country music”.  I mention this because in the mid 80s they told Dwight Yoakum he was “too country”.  And here we are with the bros who are not country at all.

Anyway, once I heard some of this independent material, I knew there had to be more of it out there. And yes there was! And I found myself regularly hearing songs that made me cry, laugh, or even shout, “Tell it! Tell it!” into my apartment.

Some people will argue the mainstream (in any genre) has always been hot steamy rotten garbage and the best was never popular. These are the same people that where a shirt that reads, “I listen to bands that don’t even exists yet” with not a whiff of irony. The mainstream has had both bad good all this time it is true BUT that is a lazy take with ZERO context.

Because while the 60s pumped out some assembly product, like all those Motown singles. One bad Motown single from the 60s is better than the entirety of bro-country and probably MORE country too. Point being the percentage of outright lazy phoned in dreck has increased over time in the mainstream outpacing the quality stuff you would normally hear on the charts or radio alongside it.

For every “Party All The Time” by Eddie Murphy there were 3-4 Luther Vandross or Sade cuts to balance it out. For every “Who Let The Dogs Out?” or “Macarena” or “My Humps” you had Beryonce or Arcade Fire or Miranda Lambert to kind even the scale.  For every “Chattahoochie”, there was some Keith Whitley, or Mary Chapin Carpenter, or even Alan Jackson himself to balance the scale.

But now we’ve had ten years of mostly dreck in mainstream country and so entire generations of music fans think bro-country is what country music is and what it sounds like and so when trying to break into the genre repeat that base formula. And lazily trash actually country music and it’s fans for being elitist out of touch gatekeepers.

Thankfully, in the past few years we’ve seen the tide turning with folks like Jon Pardi and Ashley McBryde making strong course corrections. But it is still a land almost entirely devoid of female acts.  And the bros aping country music are clinging to it all like Gorilla glue.

But as I said outside music row and the mainstream some of the best music in any genre is being made by both females and males. And so I now I end this complaint piece and celebrate that.

Below is another sample amazing next generation country acts doing the work. Another starting point for you to jump off from and find some amazing country music. Music that showcases not only what country music is but why I love it so damn much.  And since that sampler barely scratched the surface it is followed by a list of 30 female and male acts you can check out RIGHT NOW to further explore the vibrancy of the modern era of one of my favorite genres.

You can bet I have something to say specifically about the lack of female representation in the country mainstream and that is coming in part three.  But for now enjoy this little appetizer.

American Aquarium
Ashley McBryde
Brennan Leigh
Caitlin Cannon
Caitlyn Smith
Charley Crockett
Charlie Marie
Cody Jinks
Cole Chaney
Copper & Coal
Corb Lund
Dori Freeman
Emily Scott Robinson
Gabe Lee
Hellbound Glory
Jamie Wyatt
Josh Abott Band
Joshua Ray Walker
Karen Jonas
Kelsey Waldon
Lindi Ortega
Matt Woods
Mike and the Moonpies
Mo Pitney
Molly Tuttle
Rob Leines
Steel Blossoms
Summer Dean
Tami Neilsen
Ward Davis
Whitey Moragan and the 78s

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