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Beyond Cowboys and Tractors: The Beauty of Country Music

With the recent release of Beyoncé's new album "Cowboy Carter," and the ensuing debate over its classification within the country genre, I felt compelled to delve into the world of country. When we think about country music, what typically comes to mind are vivid scenes of cowboys riding into the sunset, drunken men drowning their sorrows in dimly-lit dive bars and the omnipresent imagery of big green tractors. While these snapshots may encapsulate the essence of popular and radio-friendly country tunes, they only scratch the caricatured surface of the genre’s rich history.

It seems like when you’re talking to someone and you ask them what kind of music they like, they’ll say “anything but country music,” However, it’s important to take a note of the depth and authenticity that permeate the heart of country music, often overshadowed by its more commercialized facades. 

Country music has a rich history starting in the early 1900s, and is known by the recognizable sounds of banjos, fiddles, various kinds of guitar and more. Typical country music follows a more simplified form and harmonies tied together with folk lyrics – which is what I really think makes the best country music. What sets country music apart is its commitment to storytelling. Each song is a window into the lives of its characters and their emotions. Whether it’s a tale of lost love, the struggles of everyday life, or yearning for a simpler time, country music serves as a mirror to the soul, reflecting the joys and sorrows of existence. 

Johnny Cash is a great example of being the complete opposite of what we stereotypically associate country music with. He sang for the working class, for those who felt forgotten by the leaders of this country. He performed “Folsom Prison Blues” after finally getting sober from his vices, to a group of prisoners as a way to connect to them and show them they’re not alone. The Chicks performed “Goodbye Earl,” one of my favorite songs, about getting revenge on an abusive husband.

When delving into the realm of country music, it’s necessary to confront its tumultuous past filled with sexism and traditional masculine values. Historically, the genre has struggled to diversify its roster of musicians, often favoring heterosexual white men as its quintessential “tortured” figures. The narrow focus on “White Americana” perpetuates a skewed narrative that overlooks the rich contributions of black southern culture to the genre. The genre’s tendency to prioritize certain narratives over others perpetuates a cycle of erasure and exclusion. Thankfully, the genre is getting more and more conscious about its exclusionary past and bettering itself, even if there is still a long way to go.

All the country songs that I like, they usually make me feel something very vividly. In fact, most remind me of summers visiting my grandparents in rural Wisconsin, where I was away from the hustle and bustle of the world and had no worries or responsibilities except waking up early on Saturday to visit the Amish lady who made insane cinnamon rolls. At its core, country music is a reflection of the human condition – its joys, its struggles, its triumphs, and its heartaches. It speaks to the universal truths that bind us all together, transcending barriers of time, place, and culture. Through its soul-stirring melodies and heartfelt lyrics, country music invites listeners into a world of authenticity and vulnerability, where every song is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

At the end of the day, I understand that it can be hard to accept it when one of your favorite artists experiments with other sounds. It can be weird, especially if it’s a genre you aren’t particularly a fan of, like country in this situation. For artists and listeners alike, trying something new can be daunting, but ultimately allows you to see life from a different perspective. That’s why I urge you to not shy away from listening to something outside of your comfort zone. It might just surprise you how much you vibe with the new sound, and it might just make you feel something new. There’s no hurt in giving something new a shot, and at the end of the day, you’ve given your favorite artist another listen and some appreciation for the work they put into the music they’ve created. 


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