What is Country Music, Today?
What is country music, today? It seems like such a simple question.
There's no denying country music has changed a lot over the years. A genre that once relied heavily on steel guitars and fiddles now seems to feature those cornerstone instruments less and less. The country music that was popular in the 70s, 80s and 90s is very different from the music that perpetrates country radio and video channels today.
More "true country fans" are speaking out all the time. You now frequently hear someone say "this isn't country" or the like when expressing their distaste for some current hit or artist. They may be right. But are they, really? I admit, I've said those things myself. I've come down hard on the "new style" of country music and longed openly for the traditional sound I grew up on. Sometimes I even get mad about it. But let's take a step back and take a closer look.
Everything evolves and everything changes. That's a simple fact of life. The synthesizer and drum machine oriented pop music of the 80s is, for the most part, a far cry from the heavy hip-hop influence much of today's pop music features. Less than 20 years ago, many radio stations were afraid to play Michael Jackson's 'Black Or White' when it first came out because it had a rap solo in it, and the prevailing fear was that rap turned off adult listeners. There was a lot of truth to that, but now it can sometimes be difficult to find three songs in a row that don't have some type of rap/hip-hop sound. Rappers are mainstream today. So much so that some of them have even started making inroads into country music on a few collaborations. Expect more of that.
That 80s pop sound still exists, but now you'll find it more on country radio with artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum and Luke Bryan. Even artists like Toby Keith, who few would confuse for a pop star, now regularly feature hip-hop style beats and instrumentation. Toby has even rapped... a couple of times.
Guitars in country music used to be all about twang and were never played too loudly. Now there are guitar solos that rival those of 80s hair bands every where. The southern rock influence in today's country is loud and proud and in your face. Artists like Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert and Eric Church rely on it. Church even called his own song 'The Outsiders' a cross between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Metallica.
This is the face of natural change and evolution. Genres and formats have become more and more blurred as time goes by. Keith Urban says he just makes music and listeners can decide what it is. So far that's been labeled as country, but it would be no surprise if Keith achieved cross over success. He doesn't sound twangy, he's an exceptional guitar player and he writes songs that appeal to people from all walks of life.
This is the new country. If you prefer not to call it country, that's fine. Just keep in mind that Kenny Rogers and Conway Twitty were rock stars who crossed over. Dolly Parton, who is possibly the poster woman for country, hit #1 on the pop charts with '9 to 5.' 'Elvira,' by The Oak Ridge Boys, was a #1 pop hit, as well. There are several more just like them.
What is country music, today? It's a melting pot of styles and attitudes and boundaries are made to be crossed over.
As for fans of the old style, traditional type of country... like me... we can all be very thankful George Strait has never gone out of style.