My mom’s side of the family has its roots deeply planted in the suburbs of Nashville, so I guess it’s no surprise that I grew up listening to country music. Every morning on the way to elementary school and every afternoon on the way back home I was treated to the sounds of Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, Reba McEntire, and more until their lyrics were all but burned into my subconscious. Before I’d reached the third grade I was utterly and happily indoctrinated, singing along to Kiss Country Radio with gusto.
Then I graduated to middle school, and in the crush of meeting new friends I heard one specific exchange more frequently than other:
Person 1- what kind of music do you like?
Person 2- Oh, anything but country.
Country music, I learned quickly, is something of a taboo in Miami. I don’t know if it’s because of the southern hick stereotype or the accent or something else entirely, but country is considered second-class music, listened to only by people who don’t have enough experience with other music to know how bad it is. As I travelled north to college, I learned that the same held true for the Northeast: mentioning country music provoked immediate scorn and disdain. Over time, that attitude took its toll on me. I stopped requesting Kiss Country in the car, branched out into other genres, and slowly replaced the country on my iPod with hip-hop and rock. By the time I reached high school, to be completely honest, I forgot I’d ever loved it.
This would probably have carried on for much of my adult life, except that a few weeks ago, as I was helping a friend pack for Spring Break, Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead" started playing. Despite not having listened to the song in about ten years, I found that, to my surprise, I still remembered the chorus. Even more surprisingly, I found myself singing along with abandon, absolutely drawn in by Lambert's story of a woman liberating herself from an abusive husband via shotgun. Later that night, after having plowed through around three hours of Spotify's "Country" section, I realized what about it enchants me.
I love country music because of the stories it tells. Some are empowering, like Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” Others are deeply meaningful, like Randy Travis’s “Three Wooden Crosses.” Still more are raucously fun, like Big and Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” And a whole host of them are downright heartbreaking, like Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This.” More than anything else, though, country music songs are interesting.
This isn’t to say that country musicians sing about themes that other musicians don’t, or that all country songs are wonders of creativity. Love and loss and partying and alcohol all get their fair share of titles, as do the undeniably “country” topics like good old ‘Murica and pickup trucks. What makes country music special, though, is that it approaches those topics differently. Feeling happy? How about Darius Rucker’s “This,” where he celebrates all the things that didn’t work out for him? If you’re in the depths of a breakup you can always turn on “Goodbye Earl,” in which the Dixie Chicks manage to make killing an abusive husband with poisoned Black-Eyed Peas sound ridiculously fun. If you’re in the mood for a party you can get down to Brad Paisley’s “Alcohol,” sung from the perspective of the title substance. Country songs, in other words, feel like the artist has something original to say, and is committed to saying it beautifully.
So yeah, I love country music. And if I’m being honest, I think you should like it too.
With excitement and optimism,