If you’re a fan of country music, you’re supporting an extinct genre of music that died around the time Internet music streaming services were born. Though let’s not pretend the topic is that clear-cut. There still exists today a genre that’s called “country music,” but it has nothing to do with actual country. Back when Hank Williams and John Carson were the original country pioneers, and up through the Outlaw genre, and even into the ‘90s, country music consisted of real stories, real bands, fiddles and steel guitars, and true stories of human emotion put into song form.
Today’s country music isn’t country at all. It’s pop music - cookie-cutter drivel mass-produced in studios by greedy corporate executives who push out “earworm” songs laden with electronic instruments, studio soundtracks, and weak, repetitive lyrics that don’t say much at all. Worse than that: The bulk of today’s country music is just rebranded hip-hop that’s targeted to White people as party music.
For most people today, if you asked them, “Are you a fan of country music?” and they responded “Yes,” they generally mean that they like older, classic country. George Jones, Merle Haggard, David Allan Coe, Willie Nelson, and George Strait and Alan Jackson on the more modern end. Unfortunately, the Strait generation of artists was the last death throes of country music. Whereas if you asked someone if they liked pop music, and asked them to list their favorite artists, you can bet Taylor Swift is a name that would fly out of their mouths.
Let’s not confuse pop music today with actual country music. It’s insulting to true cultural pioneers who went through hell–and a whole lot of rejection–to bring the world one of the purest musical genres to ever exist.
Real country music is its own sub-genre, like “classic rock.” You don’t mix Imagine Dragons in with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. In the same way you shouldn’t mix Lainey Wilson and Zach Brown in with Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson.
As the musical world started pushing modern, with music streaming services and ample competition among record companies, the idea became to push music out as a consumer good. This is entirely antithetical to the reason country music existed in the first place. True country started to become popular with the fantastic story-telling abilities of Hank Williams. These stories resonated with people who felt the pain and angst in the poetry.
At its peak, country music dominated the charts throughout the ‘70s when the Outlaw genre started. What the music executives did to kill country music in the modern era, they also tried back in the late ‘60s. They told artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and David Allan Coe that their music wasn’t catchy enough for the radio - it wasn’t safe enough, it wasn’t commercial enough. These rejected artists started working with independent labels, outside of the mainstream, which is why it was dubbed “Outlaw.” Surprising to the music execs, but not fans of country music, this genre of music would dominate the sappy, commercial music forced out by the largest corporate companies.
After country music became popular, shifty execs tried to kill it in order to monetize it for their own wealth generation. While this just threatened unsuccessfully to kill off country music two generations ago, it actually did kill it in the modern era. The mass monetization of country music went off without a hitch once all of those independent labels either went defunct or sold out to larger companies. On their second attempt to kill country, the corporations met zero resistance.
Country music is dead. You have a few artists who sound as if they’re real country musicians, such as Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, but the fact is that they only sound like classic country when juxtaposed against the pop-music garbage that surrounds them on the radio.
This fact isn’t any secret. Every country music fan knows that country music died a long time ago. Keith Urban and Brad Paisley are no saviors - they’re progressive sellouts whose corny music is only as good as the person writing songs for their puppet act.
If you want real country music, the truth is you’ll just have to listen to the classics. The real deal is never coming back.
1/17/2023 07:07:39 am
Amen, Brother. George Strait and Alan Jackson's "Murder on Music Row" tells the story, in a great song.
1/17/2023 06:06:34 pm
Brian, an excellent write-up.
1/18/2023 04:48:42 am
Mr., Hendrix, a great article, saying what has long been needed to say. You need to write a book. Yankees can't create anything, but they can seize and sell what we create, bringing it down to their own trivial and tawdry level.
1/18/2023 04:57:13 pm
I quite listening to the radio back in the 90s and I have to agree with your article. In fact thousands or millions have made the same observation. But my perspective is that "Country" was the wrong name for it all along. It was Dixian folk music. Branding it as Country of course denies our ownership of it.
1/18/2023 05:54:35 pm
I grew up on the classic country of the 60s and 70s. While I don’t listen to modern pop country, I have found a lot of modern stuff I like. Artists like Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Zach Bryan, War Hippies, among others, while maybe not quite up to the classics, still make some good music.
1/18/2023 05:59:32 pm
And can’t forget Jamey Johnson
1/22/2023 12:33:35 pm
It's a funny thing. Jamey Johnson is good. Luke Combs is good. Morgan Wallen is good. There are a few artists who sound like real country artists. What gets me: Is it because we're juxtaposing them against the pop-country that exists today? Would they have stood out as good if they were up against Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash? Or even in the '90s against George Strait and Alan Jackson? I think about this a lot.
1/19/2023 04:55:31 am
I have to agree with the author. This is one of the biggest reasons I pretty much stick with Bluegrass.
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Brian Hendrix is a singer-songwriter who has won and placed in over 20 songwriting contests, winning 12 1st-place prizes. He has also sold publishing rights to 18 of his songs. He doesn’t have any hits under his belt to date, but you never know what the future holds.