I know that country is often the music genre that people love to hate, and I frequently hear people say "I listen to everything...except country," but I have long been a country fan. I grew up in the South, and I was raised on Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and George Strait. I love country. At least, I love this kind of country. Country is not inherently bad. It is a uniquely American art form that grew out of the mixing of cultures that occurred in the rural South. When a Patsy Cline song comes on the radio you can tell it is a country song, despite the lack of a discernible southern drawl, because of the style of the music.
In recent years, country music seems to have lost its way. It has become more mainstream, and you can now hear songs on country stations that include rapping and the word "badonkadonk." For the most part, it is musically indistinguishable from anything you would hear on a top 40 station. So how do the current country artists let you know that you listening to a country song? They tend to over-do the Southern accent, name drop other country singers (Johnny Cash and Tim McGraw seem to be particularly popular for this), reference Southern place names, and throw in gratuitous mentions of beer and pick-up trucks. This is annoying, but not unforgivable. What has really triggered this post is the recent trend of artists legitimizing their country status by advocating for Christian dominionism. It has become a country badge of honor to promote the erosion of the wall of separation between church and state.
This morning I heard a new song by Big and Rich called "That's Why I Pray," which includes the following lyrics: "My neighbor lost his house ’cause he can’t find a job, Don’t you dare pledge allegiance, don’t you dare speak of God." Now let me ask you: when is the last time you heard of somebody being discriminated against or losing a job because she/he said the pledge of allegiance? I have NEVER heard of a single instance of this. What I have heard are numerous stories of people being harassed for opting out saying the pledge. I recently heard Jessica Ahlquist speak about how the pledge itself was used to harass her when her classmates would turn and yell "Under God" at her. And this vitriol is not reserved only for us non-believers, but for believers who are opposed to swearing oaths. The fact that Christians, who make up an overwhelming majority of the country and receive countless unearned privileges, continue to see themselves as an oppressed minority is baffling.
Another recent hit that got under my skin is Toby Keith's "Made in America." In this song, Keith refers to raising traditional American family on "King James and Uncle Sam," as if the two naturally go together." This apparent longing for good ol' days of McCarthyism is incredibly disturbing, and the fact that this was a massive his is even more disturbing. The chorus proclaims "he ain't prejudiced," but methinks he doth protest too much. Incidentally, this song also references saying the pledge of allegiance in school every day even though it "isn't cool." Because apparently picking on pledge-sayers has become a major problem in our nation's public schools...
Finally, current country songs seem to echo the virtues of remaining uneducated. Montgomery Gentry's "Where I Come From" preaches the virtues of small-town life, inducing the lyrics "Don’t let those faded overalls fool ya, He made his millions without one day schoolin." While it is certainly possible to become a millionaire without a single day of school attendance, it is not likely. I also see no reason to promote the idea that education is superfluous. Even if you manage to succeed in spite of it, why should ignorance be celebrated? (I also find it interesting that this song presents as desirable regular church attendance and fighting in the parking lot) One more song I want to mention is not quite like the others in that it was not a major hit and it is not from 2012, but it certainly fits this trend. Pat Green has a song called "Poetry" that includes the line "I can't explain a blessed thing, not a falling star or a feathered wing." He goes on to conclude that "of course we were created." An argument from ignorance set to music. Perfect.
All of this makes me very sad, partly because these messages are spawning massive hits and partly because said hits are crowding out the kind of music I used to love. So if you need me, I'll be listening to Patsy Cline on my iPod on repeat.