Why All Country Music Sounds the Same

Greg Todd’s six-song mashup of recent “bro-country” hits (above) along with Grady Smith’s supercut from 2013 (below) reveal what some of us have known for some time: contemporary country is a musically and lyrically bankrupt medium–pretty much creativity’s antithesis.

Which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing.

Just don’t ask my why I won’t listen to a genre of music in which a song is already, in effect, an oldie the day it’s released.

I’m beginning to believe you could actually write a hit country song by simply ticking enough boxes of hillbilly hackney…

blah blah blah blah “small town”

blah blah blah blah “dirt road” blah blah “pickup truck”

blah blah “backwoods”, “moonlight” blah blah “tight blue jeans”

“good stuff”, “cold beer”, “six-pack” and/or “homemade wine”

blah blah on a Saturday Night (or Friday)

Listen to Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried”, for example, which rattles off no less than four of the above clichés within the song’s first seven lines (and that’s not counting the fried chicken reference). Many country songs amount to nothing more than lists of things identifiably rough-hewn and rustic–compiled into a testament either of the singer’s redneck cred or that of the (small town, blue-jean clad) girl of his affection.

It seems the only suitable locale for a country song is a small town. The only vehicle a country song’s protagonist may drive is a pickup, or perhaps a flatbed. The only acceptable dress for a woman in a country song is tight blue jeans. And the only time anything happens in a country song is on a weekend. Pretty rigid songwriting–and listening–requirements.

Now think of great–and I mean great–country songs of decades past. Songs such as “El Paso” and “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” and “Sixteen Tons” and “King of the Road” and “Behind Closed Doors” and “Stand by Your Man” and “Ring of Fire” and even “The Gambler”. Notice how none of those songs were strewn with lazy lists of all things “country”. That’s because when those songs were popular, country music was the medium, and not the message. The song was about something else, something substantive.

To sum up what’s wrong with (or at least what’s different about) country music today: “country” has gone from being the genre to the subject matter itself. Like a painting of a picture frame.

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