Country music remains stagnant due to repetitive themes
Country music has been interesting lately. Not interesting in a good way, but in an “is this really playing on the radio for the 15th time in a row right now?” kind of way. A quick glance at the songs at the top of the charts will quickly tell you that the genre has become a wrinkly, worn-out husk of its former self.
Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “But what about bluegrass? Bluegrass is great.” Maybe you’re thinking, “I think Blake Shelton is kind of cute, though.” Sure, bluegrass is great, and Shelton looks good for 37 years old. I won’t deny some things related to country music are great. But if you enjoy modern country music, you’re wrong.
Millions of people enjoy country music in the United States; it’s the most popular genre in the country, according to a 2012 survey by the NPD Group, a market research company. And if you’re one of those fans of Shelton, Luke Bryan or Carrie Underwood, take a moment to learn why you shouldn’t get your pitchfork or torch out.
Take a look at the top 20 songs under the country genre on iTunes. Nearly every song there could be mistaken as a clichéd parody of the genre as a whole. The genre has watered down completely to celebrating drinking, trucks and girls with “painted-on” jeans.
The genre is so congested with uncreative drinking songs, you might be an alcoholic if you can enjoy more than 20 minutes of listening to the radio. Maybe Bryan keeps telling me to drink a beer in the hopes that I’ll enjoy his music after a few.
It seems, though, that the women of country music try not to stray into that stereotype so much, and in some ways I want to thank Underwood, Miranda Lambert and similar women for breaking the mindless drivel that the men of modern country tend to perpetuate. But then I hear songs like “Two Black Cadillacs,” and I change my mind.
Although older country music used to be full of misogyny and violence against women and other people in general, it also used to be full of legendary talents like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams and George Strait. It seems now, though, that the acceptability of domestic violence has switched genders for modern country.
For instance, “Two Black Cadillacs” seems to be a favorite among female fans of the genre. Some women like the tune, some feel empowered by the message. Personally, I can’t help but feel a little put off that murdering someone for cheating has become an anthem for empowerment. Maybe I’m naïve, but I thought violent revenge fantasies got you sent to mental wards in this age.
“Before He Cheats” depicts a woman committing vandalism as she imagines her significant other cheating on her. Although not as serious as committing murder, I still feel that committing a crime against an unfaithful partner is still not quite OK. I have a hard time seeing people saying “you go, dude” in today’s times to a story of a man beating his wife or vandalizing her car in response to her cheating.
If Underwood wants to promote violent revenge fantasies or tell a story, that’s her right. The Dixie Chicks and Lambert can all sing about murdering terrible boyfriends all they want as long as they don’t feel like the reaction is actually appropriate. Revenge ballads have a history in country music, and women should be allowed to sing them just like any man. It doesn’t seem to be a popular topic among the men of country anymore, though, and perhaps for good reason.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, women are the primary victims of domestic violence, estimated to make up 85 percent of victims. That alone is a huge reason why violence against women shouldn’t be supported, but I also tend to think that the smaller group shouldn’t be marginalized.
Perhaps I’m special in thinking two wrongs don’t make a right, whether it’s getting revenge on your cheating significant other or on men for oppressing women. I’m not sure, but I think country music as a whole has tended to soften up on the darker themes, and that has had some positive and negative consequences for the genre. I don’t necessarily dislike the violent themes, but I do think they tend to get criticized differently.
Even in rap music, Eminem, the god of explicit music, has received plenty of criticism for his violent fantasies. His song “Kim” is on an entirely different level from Underwood’s music. Although I can’t say for sure where the line between “acceptable expression of art” and “violent, psychotic madness” is, one thing is for sure — at least Underwood and Eminem aren’t singing another song about beer, trucks and girls.
Opinion columnist Shane Brandt is a petroleum engineering junior and may be reached at [email protected]