Culture

What's Wrong with Country Music Today?

Pretty boy duo Florida-Georgia Line exemplifies all that's wrong with country music in 2014.

Pretty boy duo Florida-Georgia Line exemplifies all that’s wrong with country music in 2014.

I’ve complained about the state of modern mainstream country music for a long time now. And clearly, I’m not alone. Singer-songwriter Collin Raye, one of the top country artists throughout the ’90s, recently took to Fox News to air his grievances at the state of country music today.

As a platinum-selling country music artist and, more importantly, a lifelong fan of the genre, I’d like to send out this heartfelt plea to the gatekeepers of the industry:

Enough already.

I’d like to think that I am expressing what nearly every artist, musician and songwriter (with perhaps a few exceptions) is thinking when I contend that the Bro’ Country phenomenon must cease.

It has had its run for better or worse and it’s time for Nashville to get back to producing, and more importantly promoting, good singers singing real songs. It’s time for country music to find its identity again before it is lost forever.

[…]

Disposable, forgettable music has been the order of the day for quite a while now and it’s time for that to stop.

Our beautiful, time-honored genre, has devolved from lines like, “I’d trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday … holding Bobby’s body next to mine,” and “a canvas covered cabin, in a crowded labor camp stand out in this memory I revive. Cause my Daddy raised a family there with two hard working hands….and tried to feed my Momma’s hungry eyes,” down to “Can I get a Yee Haw?”

And the aforementioned Truck! “Come on slide them jeans on up in my truck! Let’s get down and dirty in muh truck, doggone it I just get off riding in muh truck, I love ya honey, but not as much as muh truck!” Oh and we can’t leave out the beautiful prose about partying in a field or pasture.

He goes on to lay the blame at the feet of the label honchos rather than at the artists or songwriters. “They have the power and ability to make a commitment to make records that keep the legacy of country music alive, and reclaim a great genre’s identity.”

Raye has a point. Here’s Exhibit A: “Cruise,” by Florida-Georgia Line, which spent an astounding 21 weeks at #1 on Billboards Hot Country Songs chart.

Modern country music has become so formulaic that some wags devised a web-based Bro Country Song Inspiration Generator. For the most part, the poetry and beauty that have been hallmarks of the genre for so long are missing from mainstream country today, with a handful of exceptions, such as Zac Brown Band, The Band Perry, and Miranda Lambert.

The real Nashville could take a cue or two from the fictional Nashville. Most of the songs on the hit ABC series fit the mold of the country songwriting tradition – heartfelt and often poetic. And, though actors who just happen to sing populate the cast (with some of the best Southern accents in the business, I might add), these folks know how to interpret a song well.

Take Sam Palladio, who plays up-and-coming songwriter Gunnar Scott. The British actor/singer wraps his amazing voice around “It Ain’t Yours To Throw Away,” a beautiful tune co-written (in real life) by the great Pam Tillis:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gltFZ23vMyk

In another clip from a concert special, members of the cast perform “A Life That’s Good,” which has become an unofficial anthem for the show, along with the songwriters:

Collin Raye has a point. If industry executives treated their talent as artists rather than as commodities and their music as art rather than as products, country music would improve. The next Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton are out there for discovery, but they’re taking a backseat to the “Bro Country” movement. I’m afraid one day we’ll look back at these last couple of  years as a low point in country music.