20 years ago, artists such as Clint Black, Ty Herndon, Jo Dee Messina, and George Strait hit the Billboard Top 25 for Hot Country Songs of the week, and I’d be willing to bet that many students at Texas A&M today, who were born close to this time period, have no idea who some of these artists are and the songs they produced. Today, so-called “country artists” on Billboard’s website include Florida Georgia Line, Kelsea Ballerini, and LoCash (which is not a name I would choose for my son, but everyone likes their coffee a little different, I suppose), and even some of the artists who have been around a while, such as Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney, are increasingly finding it more popular to sing duets with traditionally pop or rock singers, like P!nk and Demi Lovato. Our country has seen this sort of blending before. Blues from African Americans in the south spread to the north and influenced rock sensations like Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the word “country” began to encompass everything from bluegrass to gospel to western swing. However, it raises a valid question that haunts the minds of those who watch the Grand Ole Opry and whose parents grew up watching Hee-Haw (such as myself): Have we gone too far? Is this blending too much? Or, is it time to move on? Is this how our grandparents felt when our parents started listening to Michael Jackson and Prince for the first time?
For me, it is hard to tell. I was raised by a father who still tucks in his pearl snaps to his Wranglers, and finishes the look with a nice belt buckle, boots, and a 10 gallon. I was raised by a mother who owned jeans in the 80s that came up to her chest and used more hairspray and lipstick than Miss America. Willie’s Place (owned by Willie Nelson) is the only satellite radio music station my dad listens to in his long bed pickup truck, and my parents’ wedding song was “I Cross My Heart” by George Strait. Maybe, if nothing else, this proves an argument that how a person is raised contributes to his or her preferred style of music, among other things. Or, maybe it just makes me an old soul with a conservative outlook.
This type of music is catching on, though, and it reaches more listeners because of its appeal to pop culture, which is ultimately who decides “what’s hot and what’s not”, anyway. Against my own musical preferences, this is a lesson in change. It is not only inevitable but necessary, and we have to remember that this country is a melting pot of many cultures, backgrounds, and styles. Sometimes we complain, but the music industry is actually pretty phenomenal at providing such a wide range of listening opportunities, and every day new people are advertising themselves on street corners and YouTube videos in hopes of creating something new. The beauty of music is that it is an outward expression of an inward experience, and we all experience things differently. So, while there are country singers out there dipping their toes into the auto-tune waters, I still have my Alan Jackson gospel album in the car and that’s okay.
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