I think it’s time for me to come out of the closet.
I know the Bay Area is known for its welcoming liberal arms, but it’s hard to find acceptance in a place where the radio stations dedicated to this kind of music have been shut down and transitioned to “all sports, all the time” coverage. It’s like they don’t believe we exist here. But I need to speak out on behalf of my people to make it known that we will NOT be put into a corner, forced to drive way out into the middle of nowhere on a one-lane highway just to pump a little boot scoot into our veins.
Yes, it’s true. I love country music.
Just the other day, a friend of mine (who is not an avid country listener, by any means) had her iPhone streaming through her car radio. Amid the pulsing beats of Tiesto and sultry sounds of Justin Timberlake, I was surprised to hear the opening licks of Dan + Shay’s “19 You + Me” blaring through her speakers. I told her that I loved the song, and she responded, “Me too! But is this country?”
I replied, “Why wouldn’t it be country?”
And she said, “I don’t know. Because it’s, like, good.”
Now, I don’t think she meant to blatantly insult an entire genre, but I understand what she’s getting at.
It’s too common to hear someone brag that they “listen to everything … except country,” punching that extra emphasis on the word “country,” like they’re knocking a tall glass of sweet tea from the frail hands of a rocking-chair-bound grandmother who’s sitting on her front porch and overlooking her grassy wheat field.
Maybe the negative connotation behind country music comes from the home-on-the-range mindset. Maybe it’s the affinity toward guns and Jesus that halts our Bay Area hipsters from jumping on the country bandwagon (which is probably a literal bandwagon).
But here’s the harsh truth: You can rag on country all you want, but it’s slowly taking over. It’s getting into our heads, pumping into our veins like an ice-cold Mason jar brew and taking the kids by storm. A recent New York Times article stated that “country’s audience has grown stronger, wider and younger” — which is no surprise, due to the candid, “Why doesn’t he like me back” middle-school style lamentations that made Taylor Swift the face of country crossover success.
To put the current scope of country music into perspective, Swift’s Red tour has been running for more than a year and is making its way through Asia.
How many country artists make tour stops in Asia? A few years ago, the idea would have sounded completely absurd, but the growing popularity of country music has made its global presence possible.
Country’s expanding market is due in part to adaptation of content. The stories told in country songs aren’t limited to life on the farm anymore (although Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” is a perennial favorite). A new class of country, the one that outside listeners deem to be “like, good” is taking over the charts — both country and overall.
Luke Bryan, whose last two albums topped the Billboard 200, has secured his spot as country’s new party boy and crossover hitmaker. Songs like “That’s My Kinda Night” serve as the genre’s equivalent to “Turn Down For What,” letting everyone know what he wants to happen at his tailgate party. Down where the “corn rows grow,” he’ll “row, row” his boat and “catch us up a little catfish dinner.” I mean, doesn’t that sound like a great time?
The lyrics may sound a bit outlandish, but to be fair, every genre has their fair share of silly, aquatic and now infamous lyrics (ie: “What she order? / Fish fillet.”)
Collaboration has also broken down the country barrier. Thanks to a remix by Nelly, Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” became the best-selling country song of all time in the United States, surpassing Lady Antebellum’s yawn-inducing “Need You Now” (because honestly, no one needs more of that right now).
All I’m trying to say is, up here in the land of hipsters, punk rock, experimental rap and emerging EDM stars, country is still regarded as taboo. You’d think this quirky, fun genre would be able to find a home in the Bay — between countless venues and the invisible radio waves — but people still cringe at the thought of cowboy hats and Southern twang. Country music is spreading faster than ever, so I say we buckle up our seatbelts, put this truck in four-wheel drive and ride this dirt road straight through the Golden Gate.