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I do not like modern country music. Not at all. I listen to a pretty diverse range of music genres but I’ve never been able to enjoy the likes of Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney or Miranda Lambert, and I have to wonder why that is.
But it’s only recent country music that I can’t seem to enjoy. Johnny Cash, a country classic dating back to the ‘50s, is one of my favorite artists of all time. I also love a multitude of bluegrass and folk bands, two genres that share their roots with the country music of today. At first glance what’s the difference? Has country music really changed all that much?
As a matter of fact, it’s changed quite a lot. For one thing, most modern country bands tend to eschew the instruments often associated with rural American music, shutting the door on the soulful sound of a wailing harmonica, the piercing cry of a well-tuned fiddle or the familiar twang of a banjo. For the most part, modern country music relies heavily on lead vocalists such as Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney in order to carry its songs.
Lyrics are probably one of the most aggravating things about modern day country music. At first glance, these lyrics seem to be an extremely positive portrayal of country music’s homeland. If you’ve listened to almost any modern day country music, you’ll see that its songs support a very traditional image of the rural Midwest and South, painting a classic picture of good ol’ fashioned blue collar men leading a simple life. Isn’t that the image of our region that we want to espouse?
No, it’s not. You see, in truth, country music has always been about the rural man’s present and what’s going on in the here-and-now of the Midwest and South, while bluegrass and folk have been about preserving our past and honoring our heritage. The problem with country music’s message about the present day situation in rural America is that it’s idealized, uninformed and ignorant.
The ideal that modern country music promotes is an over-idealized image of the rural United States. It shows all the positives of rural culture while at the same time showcasing none of the negatives. It almost never takes a look at the larger picture of what’s going on in the U.S. and the world at large, instead it advocates retaining our strictly rural heritage in the modern age.
A recent example is the song “Fly Over States” by Jason Aldean. While espousing the virtues of Midwestern and Southern life, it conveniently overlooks issues such as under-education, social intolerance and the meth trade, much like all of Aldean’s music and all of modern country music as a whole.
The main social ill of the Midwestern and Southern United States is a lack of acceptance for those who are different — liberals, blacks, gays, Muslims. The idea a traditional rural lifestyle is the only one our region can tolerate isn’t an idea we can afford to enforce.
To be perfectly clear, this by no means suggests we shouldn’t honor or respect our heritage, and I have to confess that the occasion has all too often arisen when I’ve perhaps become a bit too disenfranchised with rural American culture. There are a lot of great things about the region of the world in which we live, but there are a lot of terrible things about it, too.
I honestly believe acceptance is one of the most important things we can offer to our neighbors, but I suppose that ultimately, my dislike of country music stems from one group I really have trouble accepting: white rural Americans opposed to change and the rocognition of the faults of the Midwest.
But that’s my problem to fix, and I suppose that the same goes for modern country music.
I hope that the genre evolves into an accurate reflection of the current state of its homeland and begins to promote a more accepting viewpoint, but it falls to me, in the meantime, to try and tolerate it and accept it for what it is.
by Jake Alden