Is Carbon Copy Country Really a Thing?
by: Leslie Hale
If you’re active on social media at all, you’ve probably seen this mashup making the rounds over the last few days:
I’ve already talked at length in an earlier column about how so-called “bro country” is the bane of my existence and an abomination to the very idea and legacy of country music, so I won’t get into that here.
I’m also not really going to talk about the mashup itself, except to say that it’s hilarious, incredibly well-done, and effective at illustrating the true point that mainstream bro country all sounds the same. Kudos to whoever made it, because it’s great.
What I’m going to talk about is the title of the page, and the sentiment behind it, which I’ve seen echoed by many of the people who have shared it (even my friends, who should know better!):
What do you mean all Country music sounds the same?!?
I take issue with this title, and not just because of the questionable capitalization choices.
(For the record, the link and title I provided are taken from The Chive, which is not where the mashup originated. And, granted, I know I shouldn’t be expecting too much from The Chive to begin with. But from what I have seen, it’s the most frequently shared, and all the other iterations I’ve seen have had similar titles.)
When people ask me what type of music I listen to, and I tell them mostly country, nine times out of ten they come back with something like, “Ugh, I can’t stand country music. All the songs are about the same three things.” Or else, bizarrely, they say something along the lines of “You like country music? But you seem so smart!” which is a backhanded compliment if I ever heard one.
Consider the following meme, which I found in the comments on The Chive’s Facebook page (a particularly gross corner of the internet which I hope to never revisit):
First of all, can someone please help me understand why “country singers always talk about their dogs dying” became a stereotype? For the life of me, I can’t figure it out. I have spent the last five minutes racking my brain trying to think of a single country song about a dead dog and came up with nothing. In fact, the only dog-related country song I could think of is “Ol’ Red” (which, despite being by Blake Shelton, is an awesome song), but that song is about dogs procreating, which last time I checked is pretty much the opposite of dying.
(By the way, can we as a human race please make it a priority in the Year of Our Lord 2015 to put an end to the “if you play it backwards” joke format? It was never funny, and besides, that’s not even how playing things backwards works.)
Back to my point. This view of country music – that it all sounds the same, that the lyrics are all the same, that it’s for uneducated rednecks – is an extremely limited and unenlightened view of one of the purest and greatest American art forms. I’ve grown bored and annoyed with this particular brand of willful ignorance.
Apparently, so too has Jason Isbell, who is one of the greatest country music singer-songwriters currently living on planet Earth. Back in 2013, Isbell made a tweet that I have since thought about at least once a week:
This is a gorgeous metaphor (but of course, I would expect nothing less from Mr. Isbell. I mean, have you HEARD Southeastern?)
To expand on this idea a little further, imagine a person whose only experience with burgers was fast food. They’ve eaten millions of burgers in their lifetime, but they’ve all been from McDonald’s, Burger King, Whataburger, and Wendy’s. Now imagine that person telling you that burgers were overrated and all taste the same.
They’d sound ridiculous, right? I mean, of course they think burgers are overrated – they’ve never had a real burger. The burgers they’ve eaten have been frozen, pre-prepared, and left under a heat lamp for God knows how long. They’re made of a questionable meat-like substance and “cheese” that, for some bizarre reason, doesn’t melt. The patties weren’t hand-pressed from fresh meat, the vegetables weren’t garden-grown, they weren’t cooked on a real grill. We can almost be sure that if our subject had eaten a burger like that, their opinion on the entire concept of burgers would be quite different. At the very least, even if they still didn’t like it, they would probably be able to imagine why someone else would.
That’s what country music is like.
Songs like the ones featured in the above mashup don’t come from an authentic place. They’re created in a boardroom by men in suits who are ticking off items on a checklist so that they can adhere to a certain formula that they know sells. They appeal to the lowest common denominator and, therefore, have the widest appeal on the radio. And if you’re listening to mainstream radio and believing that what you hear is indicative of an entire genre, then the problem isn’t country music. The problem is your own ignorance and unwillingness to consume art by any means other than the path of least resistance.
You don’t go to Wal-Mart to buy a priceless painting to hang on your wall. Why would you expect to find high-quality music there? To find good art, especially in our modern era of instant gratification, you usually have to dig a little deeper.
Do I think that people who don’t like country music at all are wrong? No. Is it everyone’s personal preference? Of course not. Country music – even the good stuff – just doesn’t appeal to some people, and that’s okay! Nothing wrong with having an opinion; spice of life and all that.
I think I’ve mentioned it here on New Slang before, but I hate jazz music. It makes me want to rip my ears off and set them on fire. I just really, really despise the sound of horns. But I can still listen to jazz and think, on an objective level, that it is inventive, that the players are talented, and that listening to it is probably an incredibly moving and enjoyable experience for some people.
Now, if my only exposure to jazz had been Kenny G. and that led me to declare that all jazz sucks and is super lame music for suburban moms who drink too much wine, that would be ignorant.
It’s all about perspective.
So don’t scratch the surface of a genre and think you have enough evidence to proclaim that it all sounds the same. Stop expecting to get a good view from the cheap seats. Stop expecting to get gourmet quality cuisine from McDonald’s. And get rid of whatever weird, unfounded bias you have that says that if a person is speaking or singing in a southern accent, they don’t have anything important to say.
Open up Spotify and listen to some Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, some Ryan Bingham, and tell me that country music can’t have substance (And don’t you dare come at me with some “This isn’t country, it’s Americana!” garbage. Americana is the favorite genre of people who are too cool to admit they like country music.)
If you do that and you still don’t like it, fine. That’s a matter of taste. But if you continue to say that all country music sounds the same, you and I will both know that you’re a liar.
Just remember that there’s a lot of burgers out there. If you’ve tasted a good one and still opt for the dollar menu, then bro, that’s on you.