Could you see yourself loving music that celebrates riding around in a pick-up truck, partying in cornfields and drinking whisky? Maybe not, if you, like me, grew up in London, where your weekends are more likely to be spent at the local boozer moaning about an overpriced pint.
I’ll admit, I was a cynic. The sheer mention of the genre provoked an almost visceral reaction. But that all changed after spending a year in North Carolina.
Country music is and always will be quintessentially American. Country and blues music began as a genre embodying the trials and tribulations of the American dream. Whilst celebrating American culture, it also spoke of hardships and struggle, epitomized by the bluegrass of the 30’s and 40’s; it embodies and paints a picture of depression era melancholy.
With the popularity of radio, and ‘barn dance’ shows, such as the Grand Ole Opry, the infamous Nashville sound began to spread. This was undeniably heightened by the idealized cowboy culture immortalized in Hollywood. Then of course it moved towards what perhaps us Brits would be more familiar; the rock and roll inspired rockabilly and Americana, championed by Elvis Presley.
His music didn’t talk about fishing and trucks, but it captured the heartache and brutal honesty encapsulated in the country genre. Later, country music would evolve into pop-inspired ballads, with the rise of powerful ladies such as Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton. Popular country groups also emerged, like Rascal Flatts and the Dixie Chicks..
Country artists now experience more crossover potential than ever before. My first introduction to country music was through Taylor Swift.
A then-16-year-old from Nashville. She sang about being in love with boys who barely knew her name, of magical first dates, of unrequited love and dancing in your best dress in the rain, careless and young. Her music was nothing extraordinary, her songs were pretty catchy and her voice was average, but she perfectly vocalised the content of a tween’s internal monologue.
Her music SPOKE to me. When I saw her at age 15 at Shepherds Bush Empire and she sang Love Story, I felt like I was part of the fairytale.
Since her reign, popular country artists such as Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Lady Antellebum have experienced crossover success, dominating the billboard charts and boasting international popularity.
Maybe it’s the blending of pop with country, and the shift from specifically American themes to universal topics such as the ups and downs of love, but it’s undeniable that they’re expanding and their popularity is growing.
In the UK, there is now an annual festival called ‘Country 2 Country’ which has a weekend at the O2 Arena in London, as well as in Glasgow and Dublin, in which 60,000 fans revel in the spectacle. C2C’s official media partner is BBC Radio 2 – Europe’s most popular radio station. With over 15 million weekly listeners; their playlists are filled with country jams.
Popularity of the genre has also undoubtedly increased due to the success of the television series ‘Nashville’, where the world of country music is glamorous, sexy and dramatic; here in the UK, its soundtrack garnered sales of 150,000 copies, and it’s screened in over 30 countries to large and admiring audiences.
It’s a culture completely alien from our own, and it’s by no means ground breaking or thought provoking. It’s not held in especially high regard or lauded as exceptional.
But it’s fun. It’s enjoyable, whether to laugh at or to suspend your disbelief as you sit in the library sulking over your dissertation and moaning about life. This article is a declaration of my undying love for country music.
And why I think you should stop being a pretentious snob and try and embrace it, too – if not for its musical excellence, but at least for some escapism, or just a chuckle here and there.