Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The State of Country Music

There's a problem with country music. It's not broken by any stretch, but too much garbage is making its way to the airwaves. My prime example is Blake Shelton's new song She's Got a Way With Words in which the chorus starts like this:

“She put the her in hurt / She put the why in try / She put the S.O.B. in sober / She put the hang in hangover / She put the ex in sex"

Blake Shelton
Let that sink in for a moment. If you were to try to pass that off as an acceptable poem in the 8th grade your teacher would either laugh, shake their head, or politely tell you "Maybe writing isn't one of your strengths" if they were really nice. A coworker of mine described the song as a "terrible redneck nursery rhyme." To be fair, Blake Shelton has produced a bunch of great songs over the years and he's free to record whatever he wants. It's not as though I'm offended by the lyrics, the problem is that they are so poorly written you could ask a 5 year old to write a better chorus for you and they would.  

There are songwriters who go to Nashville in the hopes of penning a big hit and living off the royalties of that song for years to come. Those writers are pitching their songs to superstars like Blake Shelton to release their song on his next album. If you're trying to tell me "She put the ex in sex" is the very best that writers can come up with then you might as well burn Nashville to the ground. But of course that's not true. Nashville is a wonderful place full of talented people, I was fortunate enough to visit a couple years ago and it's unlike any other city. So how is it that lazy songwriting is making it's way onto your favourite country station? Because it's Blake Shelton. He's popular so whatever he puts out is considered good enough, so let's play it. That's a flawed way of thinking. Name recognition certainly counts for something but a great song should always beat out a mediocre or awful one. Somewhere in Nashville, or maybe rural Alberta, or anywhere really, a talented young writer is sitting at a table pouring out their heart into lyrics and in the background their radio sings "She put the ex in sex" and they're tempted to blow their brains out because they've lost hope that there are people out there who appreciate a well crafted song. That's not acceptable, which is why I'm writing this in the hopes of sparking conversation between country radio programmers and country music fans. There are better songs out there right now which aren't getting a sniff because they sound "too country." Which brings me to my next point...

General Lee and me in Nashville
Country music is in flux and it doesn't know what the hell it wants to be. On one hand you have songs like Tim McGraw's Humble and Kind which most would agree is a great country song about family values and is sung with a lot of heart. On the flipside we have...well, any Sam Hunt song which by some mystery gets classified as country music. I'm not saying his songs are bad, I'm saying they're simply not country. I'm not the only one who feels this way. Can you imagine an elderly couple going for a leisurely drive, cranking this song up and saying "Yessir, that's a fine country tune right there!" You might be thinking, "Times have changed, get with the program! Besides, old folks aren't your target audience anyhow." That's true, most country stations target demographics are females aged 25-55. Essentially, moms. So why aren't we hearing more moms on the radio? Probably because they're all at home working and taking care of their kids, with the exception of Carrie Underwood who somehow manages to do everything. She's practically superwoman. So you would think a lot of country songs would be relatable to moms right? Not so much. The only one that really comes to mind is Lonestar's Mr. Mom, and that was released way back in 2004. What we DO have is an overabundance of songs about pickin' up chicks, drinkin', dancing on the tailgate, and gettin' it on in the backseat. For reference you can check out Jason Aldean's past 5 singles.  

Jason Aldean loves to party.  Judging by his song choices, that's the only thing he does.
Is that what most people are up to on the weekend? I guess I'm really boring. I suppose there's no way anyone could possibly be in a committed relationship and be happy to simply relax on the couch at the end of the day with their spouse.  Netflix and chill is a thing, right? Why haven't we ever heard a song that captures being with the one you love while conversing and watching TV? That sounds more like real life for most than the typical bar/pick up song "Hey girl, whatcha say girl, about you and me gettin' away girl" (Billy Currington). There's supposed to be something authentic about country music, a realness and truthfulness that can only be captured in a song. The good news is, songs like this exist and some of them are getting the recognition they deserve like the song Cole Swindell wrote about his father passing away, You Should Be Here. That's a real country song. It's personal and yet universal enough that someone going through the same thing can identify. And it's not as though country needs to take itself too seriously either. Try listening to Jon Pardi's Head Over Boots without tapping your toes to the beat. That's a song you can sing and dance to with your wife (or hubby) while in the kitchen making dinner together. No record scratches or hip-hop beats required. Just a solid country song. They're still out there, let's make sure they don't go extinct, okay fans and country music programmers?

Since I started this article with a quote from a Blake Shelton song I feel it's appropriate to end my thoughts with a line from one of his songs that wasn't terrible. "If you got a problem with that, you can kiss my country ass."

Kyle Born
Total Country B-104 Music Director/Afternoon Host/Assistant Program Director