If you listen to pop radio you’ve noticed country stars showing up on the playlists more and more. If you watch awards shows, country artists and country music categories are featured more and more. ABC’s Nashville is a huge television success. And country seems to be taking over singing reality competitions (Tate Stevens won The X Factor, and let us not forget Blake Shelton is The Voice’s reigning champ two seasons in a row… and by the way, Cassadee Pope, last season’s winner, has just signed with country label Big Machine). So why has “mainstream” fallen in love with country music?
It’s simple: “Mainstream” isn’t coming around to country. Country is going to it. Not in a conformist way, but a revolutionary way.
“What is country music, really?” is a topic debated ad nauseum, and I won’t touch it. I’m far from knowing where the exact line is that separates country music from not country music; however, there is certainly no need to hold the country music genre captive in a box anymore. Those boxes are obsolete.
“Traditional” country music of old truly wasn’t for everyone. It was it’s own niche. Obviously, music trends change from generation to generation; yet somehow for years country music remained immune to those changes. Or, as Entertainer of The Year Blake Shelton so perfectly put it on GAC’s Backstory: Blake Shelton:
“Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
You’ve heard the famous Harlan Howard expression “Country music is three chords and the truth.” That’s actually a very astute observation; there wasn’t a lot of stylistic variety in decades past. For example, the musical differences between Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin’” in 1970 and George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen” in 1990 are negligible. Noticeable differences, yes, but not 20 years worth. (For reference, in that same timeframe we can compare The Jackson Five to MC Hammer… or for kicks, Atari to Super Nintendo)
But the game began to change for country music. It started adopting, with Garth Brooks paving the way. He was the first country artist to essentially put on a rock concert, while breaking records in album sales and concert attendance. Then Kenny Chesney took the ball and ran with it, merging country music with summer vacation, and putting on a live show that would rival Bruce Springsteen. Right about the time he was selling out stadiums year after year, Carrie Underwood won American Idol. All of a sudden, we had millions of people voting a contemporary country singer into the forefront of pop culture. Shortly thereafter, Taylor Swift came in, completely monopolized the teenage girl market, and all of a sudden country music was “cool.”
Country music had finally started changing with the times too, just as other genres had always done. And we are now beginning to see, for the first time, all these genres merging together.
Today’s hottest “country” stars barely see genre titles anyway. Jason Aldean keeps releasing rap songs. Taylor Swift had elements of dubstep in “I Knew You Were Trouble.” Remember 90’s pop rockers Hootie and The Blowfish? Yeah, their lead singer is now a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Nelly just remixed “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line. (Nelly is a rapper, my traditional country friends.)
Why has the “mainstream” fallen in love with country music? Because country music fell in love with “mainstream.”
Now the question is: where do we go from here?
Blog Rodeo Roundup: See What Everyone Else Is Saying!
CMchatLive: “Insight from Country Stars like Scotty McCreery, Sunny Sweeney, Tracy Lawrence and more!”
Urban Country News : “Why Country Music Is Like the Zombie Apocalypse“, “A Love Affair For The Ages”
For The Country Record: “TV and Nashille: It’s Merits and Implications for Country Music”
UKCountryMusic: “Is Country Music About To Be Mainstream In The UK?”
Country Music Tattle Tale: “For The Love of Country Music”
Country Music Pride: “Country Music Has A Little Something For Everyone, Traditional, Pop, Americana and More”
Keepin’ It Country Blog: “Everyone Loves Country Music”
Country Music News Blog: “The Mainstream Has Fallen For Country and I Am The Mainstream,” “The Mainstream Adopts Country Music,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool“