The flawed magic of country music
Country music gets a bad rap, particularly amongst politically correct, progressive college students such as those populating Rice University. Trust me, I get it. Despite growing up around horses and ample Toby Keith, I instinctively cringed the moment I heard Kenny Chesney’s “American Kids” blaring from my best friend’s radio. It wasn’t the rhythm or the vocals; it’s impossible to not at least tap your foot to Kenny’s hit. There was just some deeply rooted, perhaps partially warranted disdain for the genre that was hard to shake. Yet, as I politely indulged my friend and listened to the entirety of her exclusively country playlist, I found my guard coming down. In fact, the past few days, I haven’t been able to stop listening, and I’m not holding back. I’ve come to realize that there’s something moving and, for lack of a better word, magical about country music. While there is reason to question certain elements common to the genre, I would claim that Rice students, especially as Texans, are missing out if they write off country as a whole.
To qualify this statement, let’s first talk about what sucks about country. I think even die-hard fans can admit that it’s generally a pretty anti-feminist genre. Male country singers are crazy for women; they obsess over girls they want, they dote on the ones they have and they pine for the ones they miss. That’s certainly an improvement on a lot of rap, which doesn’t ascribe much emotion from men toward women besides sexual desire. That being said, women are also primarily described generically, mainly in terms of relative physical attractiveness. Take Sam Hunt’s recent hit music video “Leave the Night On,” in which he sings “Girl you got the beat right / killin’ in your Levis,” while groping a variety of speechless blondes. Or take Dustin Lynch’s “Where it’s At,” featuring the lyrics “Dressed up, her hair down, in a ball cap / yep, yep, as long as I get that / Sweet little something late night kiss / On a plane or a train or way back in the sticks.” Country disconcertingly fails again and again to feature any women with personalities or edge. They are innocent, docile creatures that are admired but not taken seriously, meant to be acquired or won by men, not engaged.
Further, country may, to some, seem to portray lifestyles that are simplistic to a flaw. They feature singers and characters that aren’t rolling in money and expensive drugs, driving around in Ferraris, or negotiating intensely complex relationships described through intricate metaphors. Most country songs have calm, steady melodies played on guitars and banjos. There’s no bass drop, and there’s no electronic accompaniment. Understandably, country lacks a lot of the excitement that can be found in dubstep, rap or pop.
Yet, despite these criticisms, there is still reason to not reject country outright. Despite its elements of anti-feminism and lack of excitement, there are plenty of redeeming qualities. Country embraces simplicity as a thing of beauty. Unlike almost all other genres, country strives to be more than entertainment; it is a storytelling mechanism. Further, the stories it tells may not feature the same settings Rice students encounter, but they do contain the same universal human narratives. In a good country song, people may fall in love, grow up, have their hearts broken, celebrate simple friendships over a beer; they experience the things we all experience, the things that tug on our heartstrings. There’s no distracting electronic bass, no sexually-explicit, overly-repetitive chorus. Country has no need for these things; it tells simple stories about ordinary people. Listening to country music is like peeking in on another’s life: full of people that love and hurt just like you do.
In other words, maybe we reject country music because of its intense and, perhaps, uncomfortable vulnerability. To like it is to like something quite sweet and honest. Playing it doesn’t allow you to feel cool, edgy or sophisticated — It requires you to break down your internal walls and connect with something real and authentically humble.
I know now why I blush when I blast Kenny Chesney unlike when I’m playing Purity Ring or Banks. To play it is to demonstrate that I’m not necessarily guarded, mysterious or fierce; I’m sometimes just an average person who wants to be swept off my feet by a charming guy or kick back and watch a football game with friends. So, instead of waiting until I can put headphones in, I roll down the window and turn it up. If you can admit to yourself how much you like Brad Paisley, George Strait or Miranda Lambert, then you should do the same. Listen to country and take a moment to be unabashedly human.
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