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December 23, 2013 10:29 AM   Subscribe


 
The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome, reminiscent of the hip-hop snobs of the early and mid-2000's. A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.
posted by downing street memo at 10:37 AM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


Did you ever hear the one about what happens when you play a country song in reverse? You get your wife, pick up truck, and dog back. A high school friend of mine once wrote a song called "Country Song in Reverse", and it was damn good. I remember it began, "The engine turned over on the first try today/My girlfriend came back, but my wife's still away."
posted by orange swan at 10:38 AM on December 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


fucking indie saddo, country was amazing this year, and no matter how good isbell was (very) and how over rated musgraves was (more than isbell was good), the pleasure of bryan is deft. worth as much. as brantley gilbert says, country must be country wide. also, any year that gave us two black cadilliacs, cannot be terrible.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:39 AM on December 23, 2013


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome, reminiscent of the hip-hop snobs of the early and mid-2000's. A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.

I don't know, I'd be quite interested in hearing about country that's not a flood of syrupy awfulness.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on December 23, 2013 [18 favorites]


I don't know, I'd be quite interested in hearing about country that's not a flood of syrupy awfulness.

Totally fine that pop-country isn't your style, but the genre is romantic and emotive. Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings - old school guys most commonly cited by snobs as being "good" country artists - made some extremely syrupy songs.
posted by downing street memo at 10:43 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


None of this stuff sounds very sad. It's all "Fuck yeah, havin' a good time". And not just on this list, but any time I've come across country music in the wild.

I liked Casey Musgraves' album though.
posted by bleep at 10:45 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


downing street memo: "Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings - old school guys most commonly cited by snobs as being "good" country artists"

This is called "actual Country music" versus the pop country crap that has dominated the genre for decades. But I guess that makes me a snob even though I hate country music?
posted by Big_B at 10:45 AM on December 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


Jason Isbell's album this year is just amazing. I've been a fan of his both with the Truckers and solo but Southeastern is a masterwork.
posted by octothorpe at 10:46 AM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Criticizing music is tricky, which is why I stick to criticizing music criticism - this is shitty music criticism. If you want an expansive entertainment experience outside the sound of your own bad boy blogginations consider going to cirque de soliel with headphones on listening to dream theater.
posted by Teakettle at 10:47 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome, reminiscent of the hip-hop snobs of the early and mid-2000's..

Indeed, it's well-known that the families of Johnny Cash (cotton farmers), Hank Williams (railroads), Merle Haggard (railroad), Loretta Lynn (coalminers), George Jones (shipyard) etc. were all members of the aristocracy.

A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns

I'd be okay with that too.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:47 AM on December 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


Those fine-ass sugar-shakin' country girls with the tight jeans better be careful or they'll get a sweet little yeast infection before the sun goes down..
posted by ReeMonster at 10:47 AM on December 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.

Sure. Accurately. Country, rap, or dance pop, 90% of it is crap.
posted by tyllwin at 10:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


South Eastern is a masterwork, so are Bryan's spring break eps.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:49 AM on December 23, 2013


A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.

Yeah, or just ONE R. Kelly song, and pussy!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:49 AM on December 23, 2013


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome...

This is some organized troll, I can tell. That movement cannot possibly exist. What possible purpose would "sophisticated country music" serve? "I only listen to highbrow country music, I buy organic chewing tobacco and I wear a monocle when I fuck my cousin."

I'M NOT FALLING FOR THIS!
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:50 AM on December 23, 2013 [53 favorites]


What's with the assumption that 'the good stuff' is alcohol. He might have had ketamine and Pynchon novels in his backseat.
posted by mannequito at 10:50 AM on December 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Hey, is this the country music thread? I just came across this Teddy Thompson cover of a George Jones tune and it's pretty damn swell.
posted by kenko at 10:51 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Indeed, it's well-known that the families of Johnny Cash (cotton farmers), Hank Williams (railroads), Merle Haggard (railroad), Loretta Lynn (coalminers), George Jones (shipyard) etc. were all members of the aristocracy.

The claim isn't that Cash et al. came from money, but that the person saying "I only like real/good/outlaw/whatever country" is classist, looking down on the yobs who like ... well, whatever the Nashville radio machine is turning out these days (I wouldn't know because I'm too good for that crap, y'see).
posted by kenko at 10:52 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's 10 best not "10 ten".
posted by w0mbat at 10:57 AM on December 23, 2013


Working class Metafilter: I wear a monocle when I fuck my cousin.

Classy Metafilter: I wear a monocle with my tophat when I fuck my cousin.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:59 AM on December 23, 2013 [23 favorites]


What would a fedora and sunglasses make me?
posted by tyllwin at 11:00 AM on December 23, 2013


What would a fedora and sunglasses make me?

Barney Fife.
posted by Redfield at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Duckie from Pretty in Pink?
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


you are allowed to not like things
posted by thelonius at 11:02 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


What would a fedora and sunglasses make me?

A hipster who got signed up before you had to pay $5.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013


The claim isn't that Cash et al. came from money, but that the person saying "I only like real/good/outlaw/whatever country" is classist, looking down on the yobs who like ... well, whatever the Nashville radio machine is turning out these days (I wouldn't know because I'm too good for that crap, y'see).

I see. So when we say we dislike the Nashville radio machine garbage because it sounds like soulless, formulaic pop with a southern accent (on a good day) instead of traditional country music, it's because we're secretly being classist? Having a preference makes us classist? What about poor people who also prefer traditional country music?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013 [35 favorites]


downing street memo: "The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome, reminiscent of the hip-hop snobs of the early and mid-2000's. A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns."

I won't deny that you've identified a real trend, but you've set it up so that hating pop country implies classist ideological underpinnings, where I think the arrow points the other way. There's a huge scene of largely working class people making their own country music as a reaction to their dislike of what's on the radio, and I think they'd be pretty confused to find out that they're only doing so out of resentment of...themselves.
posted by invitapriore at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Do we really need reasons to turn our noses up at rural whites
posted by Teakettle at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


If by "awful" you mean formulaic, hackneyed, cliched, boring, predictable and unimaginative, then ... yeah, the stuff in that first link is awful.

Careful what you wish for, America.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:03 AM on December 23, 2013


I'm a northern boy with all the hallmarks of hipsterdom and goddamn do I love country music. It's a great American art form and its my favorite music to pick on a guitar. This means that I have had the "do you like country music? or real country music?" conversation with acquaintances and friends and it sucks. It's a lose-lose proposition. Because I can't just say I like country music, because then the person's biases show and they more often than not scrunch up their noses at something so distasteful to them. Sure you can say I like rock music or hip hop, but country music always seems to need an explanation. So, then I try "I like country music, but no not THAT country music" and I come off as the snob. It fucking sucks.
posted by boubelium at 11:05 AM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure how fucking Entertainment Weekly serves as an arbiter of any sort of tastes outside of "I don't really care what I am listening to." I can't imagine anyone is expecting a serious survey out of any genre from that publication.

Anyway, I'm just mad that the Devil Makes Three announced their NYC show like three days before playing and I am yet to see the one country band I really, really enjoy.
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Also I don't mean to dump on Grady Smith personally, who may very well be a perfectly good music journalist.)
posted by griphus at 11:11 AM on December 23, 2013


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome...

Oh, hooray, it's the backlash to alt.country all over again. Shut up and uncritically love mass-marketed dreck, or you're oppressing Walmart shoppers or some such baloney. At least the talking point is now that we're not loving the corporate approved artists, rather than not sticking to the corporate approved genres for our marketing demographic.

Take it away, Whammo and his Ayslum Street Spankers: I'm Startin' to Hate Country (But I Still Like Cowboy Songs)
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2013 [10 favorites]


Just stopping by to wonder why Ashley Monroe never got on this list? Absolutely gorgeous voice, and especially so if us highbrow country lovin' types cotton to Dolly.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 11:13 AM on December 23, 2013


I don't defend or malign entire genres, but since 2003 I've gotten satisfaction every time I hear of a country music station abandon the format due to struggling ratings.

2003 was the year Country Music Inc. rejected the Dixie Chicks.
posted by surplus at 11:14 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Country music is weird, man. I come from--on one side, anyway--Good Country People from Rural Northern Florida. I grew up listening to records from all "classic" country artists as well as a lot of bluegrass because of my grandparents. (In fact, when I was wee, my grandpa used to hold Pickin'n' Grinnin' nights, where people would show up with their instruments and just jam as well as play bluegrass and gospel.) Then country music became all Garth Brooks/Randy Travis/Trisha Yearwood/The Judds for a while. And then somewhere around the mid-90s it started to take on that shiny pop sheen that permeates it to this day. This is the country music my dad and stepmom still listen to, though TBH, it doesn't much different than a Top 40 station offering (and often crosses over).

I must confess I really really got into alt-country/Americana/cowpunk/whatever in the early 00s. I still like quite a bit of it too but I no longer think it needs any of those designations. I just like what I like and I still work on not being classist about it because, you know, that is bullshitty.

(I miss my grandpa's Pickin'n'Grinnin' nights though.)
posted by Kitteh at 11:15 AM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh, hooray, it's the backlash to alt.country all over again. Shut up and uncritically love mass-marketed dreck, or you're oppressing Walmart shoppers or some such baloney.

I couldn't give less of a shit whether you like it or not, but going out of your way to look down your nose at the music other people like (like this video does!) is another thing entirely.

When you drop a piece of criticism like this into the raging bonfire of cultural competition that is the modern internet, what you get is a whole lot of shitting on people who generally aren't here to defend themselves and their tastes.
posted by downing street memo at 11:17 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I see. So when we say we dislike the Nashville radio machine garbage because it sounds like soulless, formulaic pop with a southern accent (on a good day) instead of traditional country music, it's because we're secretly being classist?

Hey, lady/dude, I'm with you over here.
posted by kenko at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2013


Why was country music awful in 2013?

Because it is country music!

(I'm only talking about pop country. Whatever regional band or person or old timey musician you care for is exempt from this snark.)
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine anyone is expecting a serious survey out of any genre from that publication.

Based on Metafilter, I've come to the conclusion that I can't expect a serious survey of any topic in any publication that currently exists.
posted by IvoShandor at 11:27 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I couldn't give less of a shit whether you like it or not, but going out of your way to look down your nose at the music other people like (like this video does!) is another thing entirely.

Well... That's me persuaded never to give anything labeled as country a try, so I guess you win.
posted by Artw at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


> reminiscent of the hip-hop snobs of the early and mid-2000's. A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.

I liked having that conversation.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:31 AM on December 23, 2013


Awful in 2013? Neko Case released an album in 2013. I like to imagine her making a particular response (NSFW).
posted by adipocere at 11:33 AM on December 23, 2013


I couldn't give less of a shit whether you like it or not, but going out of your way to look down your nose at the music other people like (like this video does!) is another thing entirely.

But did he? Go out of his way, I mean. His initial 10 best list didn't reference this style of country music (which I think is really a style of its own, and not the "pop with a southern accent" style) at all. His article wasn't snark, it was all "this is good, check it out." It's only after all the comments criticizing him for not picking more popular acts that he created this to show why, isn't it?
posted by tyllwin at 11:39 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


When you drop a piece of criticism like this into the raging bonfire of cultural competition that is the modern internet, what you get is a whole lot of shitting on people who generally aren't here to defend themselves and their tastes.

Wow, that's not even wrong. If hating on Bieber may cause someone to put an angry frowny face on his or her tubmlr if they were to ever learn of my elitist opinions... guess what? Still gonna hate on Bieber and the industry that spawned him. I really don't care that legions of bored suburbanites could be mildly put out if they were to learn that a critic on the internet doesn't like what was on the office radio when tuned to WCKT: Cat Country, Rhode Island's Home for Country Hits! Sorry.

Grady Smith's criticisms were funny, spot on, and damning of the Nashville machine. He wasn't even very mean about it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:40 AM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I couldn't give less of a shit whether you like it or not, but going out of your way to look down your nose at the music other people like (like this video does!) is another thing entirely.

When you drop a piece of criticism like this into the raging bonfire of cultural competition that is the modern internet, what you get is a whole lot of shitting on people who generally aren't here to defend themselves and their tastes.


Right, so let's see here: Grady Smith seems to be the country music writer at EW, so commenting on it is the absolute opposite of going out of his way, it's covering his beat. He likes country music -- look at the article where he enthuses about ten of the best albums, also linked in the FPP -- so it's the absolute opposite of music "other people like". The video is a response to comments on his top 10 list, which means it's the absolute opposite of shitting on people who aren't here to defend themselves -- he's engaging with people who are responding to him.

If a county music critic is not allowed to criticize country music, then who the hell is left?

His earlier article about country music's identity crisis is interesting reading as something of a back story to this brou-ha-ha. And he did a variation on the video a couple of months ago with lyrics, looking at the broification of popular country music.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:41 AM on December 23, 2013 [32 favorites]


Yeah, this should read the problem with "pop country." But the same problem with pop country exists with pop music generally and other top 40 stuff. It's formulaic because the industry believes the formula works.

But there isn't a problem with country music broadly. As mentioned, Isbell's album was great (Cover Me Up is worth it alone). Guy Clark put out another great album, as did Sam Baker. I can name a bunch of great country music. And you have tons of great artists out there gigging like Hayes Carll. There's a lot that is great about country music right now. Picking on country because pop country is formulaic--the very thing that makes it pop--is unfair.
posted by dios at 11:47 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your favorite country band sucks.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is this anything like why hip hop sucks in '96?
posted by anthom at 11:48 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is this anything like why hip hop sucks in '96?

If you boil it down, it's the exact same reason.

"It's the money!"
posted by entropicamericana at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


If a county music critic is not allowed to criticize country music, then who the hell is left?

What kind of "criticism" is this video? Seriously. Let's say a hip-hop critic published a list of the top 10 rap records of the year, and it was all MF Doom and Pharcyde and what not. In the comments people complained that he didn't pick Lil Wayne, and in response he made a video of all the lyrical tropes in hip-hop - cars, women, guns, jewelry.

We'd correctly recognize such a video as terrible criticism. Maybe it's true in some sense, but it misses the point, which is that lots of hip-hop is feel-good party music. Some of that feel-good party music is deceptively complex, and the rest of it is valuable if only because it documents the aspirations, the most basic desires, of a particular group of people at a particular time.

So why do we get criticism like this of country music? Because there's no more basic desire among the (white) cultural elite and those who follow their lead than to avoid being seen as a member of the southern white working class, the predominant audience for Nashville pop-country. None. There's ample evidence of this in this thread alone.

I'm just saying - this kind of punching down is gross, no matter the target.
posted by downing street memo at 12:03 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm just saying - this kind of punching down is gross, no matter the target.

Whoa, hold on. So criticizing multi-millionaire recording artists for being hackneyed and trite is considered punching down now?

Because there's no more basic desire among the (white) cultural elite and those who follow their lead than to avoid being seen as a member of the southern white working class, the predominant audience for Nashville pop-country. None. There's ample evidence of this in this thread alone

Ah, because criticizing a thing is exactly the same as hating and oppressing people who like that thing. I hate a thing because it is hackneyed and trite and not to my tastes, but a subsection of poor people like that same thing for their own reasons, therefore, I obviously just HATE poor people!
posted by branduno at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


So why do we get criticism like this of country music? Because there's no more basic desire among the (white) cultural elite and those who follow their lead than to avoid being seen as a member of the southern white working class, the predominant audience for Nashville pop-country. None. There's ample evidence of this in this thread alone.


Your "cultural elite who want nothing more to avoid being seen as members of the southern white working class" is comprised of the likes of Alan Jackson and Naomi Judd.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:34 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


In general, I have been trying to follow this rule: If I don't like something new and argue that something old was superior, it doesn't make me sound like a seasoned critic; it makes me sound like an old crank going on about Benny Goodman being better than Miles Davis.

We always have an advantage in favoring the past: There is so much of it, and the present has done an exceedingly fine job of tilling the wheat from the chaff. We remember how great Countrypolitan was, as an example, because of "I Fall to Pieces," but forget the million of terrible country albums that got consigned to the dustbin of history. This year wasn't bad. This year was typical. New genres of country aren't bad, they just haven't produced enough material to have had their classics emerge. And any critic who doesn't know that should get out of the game, because the only thing worse than the mountain of bad country music is the mountain of bad country criticism.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:38 PM on December 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


I dunno, maybe it's actually folk.
posted by Artw at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2013


Your "cultural elite who want nothing more to avoid being seen as members of the southern white working class" is comprised of the likes of Alan Jackson and Naomi Judd.

Complaining about how nobody makes real country music anymore is a tradition that might be older than country music itself, if that weren't logically impossible. Everyone either does it or will do it; it's more a marker of where you are in your career than anything else.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:43 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist

You know what's classist? Assuming poor = tasteless.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:48 PM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think we're also forgetting how many Jewish Northerners make country music as well. Me, for examples. And, um, Ray Benson.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:48 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


You know what's classist? Assuming poor = tasteless.

I don't think pop-country is tasteless.
posted by downing street memo at 12:49 PM on December 23, 2013


The video is cute... but, yeah, it's shooting fish in a barrel. So, meh. But I'm not feeling the depth of cultural injury. Showing that a boatload of music in any genre exploits the same tired tropes can be pretty powerful criticism of that genre. Sure, you could to this for anything. I'm a britpop/garage/punk/new wave/postpunk etc. guy, and in that severely restricted art form there's a lot of cliche. Guess what? The artists that never get past that stuff aren't very good! So, why the thin skin, and for god's sake, why do we have to use this tired charge of "elitism" to describe the intent? I hate to break it to you, mainstream country music has a heavily ideological subtext (remember the Dixie Chicks?), so it can't just be held up as if it's above criticism.

Because there's no more basic desire among the (white) cultural elite ... than to avoid being seen as a member of the southern white working class, the predominant audience for Nashville pop-country. None. There's ample evidence of this in this thread alone.

What do you mean? That I, a white northeastern academic, wouldn't want to be caught dead driving an ostentatiously gas-guzzling pick up with a stars and bars front plate and testicle-ized trailer hitch? Guilty as charged, my friend. But, otherwise... baloney. The clever framing you're using implies that the only elites in the country are those opposed to some "southern working class culture". But that image you're using is itself largely an ideological fabrication. The dudes I've seen my whole life on every other cable channel, the ones who represent "southern" (really, it's "country") authority figures--like culture-war-promoting clergy, businessmen, and politicians--those people seem like "elites" to me. Because, you know, they largely run the fricking country. Or, maybe you're saying progressive ideologies are intrinsically culturally elitist in a way that the very real economic elites promoting these flag-wavin jesus-lovin truck-drivin duck-shootin macho-man images are not?
posted by mondo dentro at 12:52 PM on December 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I don't think pop-country is tasteless.

Maybe not, but you seem to think the working class is its primary audience, so much so that it is so tightly woven into the fabric of their being that if someone were to ever criticise it, they'd take it as a personal insult.

That's bullshit.

Country is middle class.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:03 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't have a dog in this race, but I'm longing for the sanity of black metal arguments regarding who is more "kvlt" and "grim" than others.
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:07 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see the "best black metal of 2013" version of the video bit. That would be a hoot.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:10 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


If we're gonna talk about country music can we use the FPP as the basis? Dude's #9 best country album of the year is Wheelhouse by Brad Paisley, which debuted at #1 on Billboard's Top Country Album chart. Squarely pop country.

Pop country music is truly genre music in a way few other music genres are: common themes and motifs and structures. Most of it is not particularly great art but it does it's job. It soundtracks your commute and makes you feel okay — makes you feel that the world ain't changing too fast that a man can't drive his truck and lust after some lil miss in tight jeans.

Like any genre work, though, there are artists that make great art with it. Appreciating it does require accepting a certain level of cheese, but like a lot of art there is much to love once you get past the kitsch.*

Here's some of my favorites.

Brad Paisley — Southern Comfort Zone
Brad Paisley — American Saturday Night
Brad Paisley — Welcome to the Future

(Note Paisley's distinctly liberal and forward-thinking bent in these tracks. Country diversity!)

Eric Church — Springsteen
Eric Church — Hell on the Heart
Eric Church — Hungover and Hard Up

Tim McGraw — Southern Voice
Tim McGraw — Something Like That

*Also note that plenty of pop country doesn't take itself particularly seriously and is intentionally goofy. Witness Tracy Byrd's Drinkin' Bone. By which I mean go listen to it now. It's gold. And I assure you Kenny Chesney's She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy isn't intended as a serious meditation on relationships and farm vehicles.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


War is peace, freedom is slavery, taste is snobbery.
posted by anazgnos at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2013


Big_B: "This is called "actual Country music" versus the pop country crap that has dominated the genre for decades. "

Ah, a prescriptivist vs descriptivist debate; in a flash of epiphany these discussions finally make sense.
posted by Mitheral at 1:19 PM on December 23, 2013


Oh and to cement my indie cred: Jason Isbell's Southeastern is basically all I've listened to for the last 3 months. Goddamn that album.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:19 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I couldn't give less of a shit whether you like it or not, but going out of your way to look down your nose at the music other people like (like this video does!) is another thing entirely.

I don't know. It seems entirely legitimate to criticize a string of hit songs that tell the same story with the same motifs, often recycling the same lyrical phrases from song to song. I suppose one could make an argument that the story of a guy, in his truck, with "good stuff," picking up women with jeans that are likely ripped and/or "painted on," and driving out to a river is this decade's murder ballad. Some of that may be self-parody.

You could probably make a similar video out of any music genre, likely by only dropping the pickup truck and river. I've made similar comparisons about cliches in things I love. If you made a video of them, I'd probably giggle insanely. I suspect Mr. Smith is coming from a position of love rather than snobbery given his introduction to the video: "I love a dumb party song every once in a while (including some of these!), but when they're the only flavor available, they get old very, very fast." I didn't see it as a criticism of audience or genre, but a criticism of radio, which has spent the last 20 years vanishing into it's own asshole of highly triangulated mediocrity across the dial for some time now. (Somebody, somewhere, is playing a Fleetwood Mac song, not because it's good, which it is, but because it's on the list of songs to hit the target market.)

I think that one of the whole points of reading a critic's top-10 list rather than Billboard's is that the critic is probably going to be in love with some albums near the top of the list, some near the bottom, and some that didn't chart at all. Only a few albums on his list could be called obscure by any meaning of the term. At least two of them charted at #1 this year. Others come from performers who previously charted or won awards in the industry. Ebert the Great had a knack for recognizing finely-crafted blockbuster cheese along with the limited-release art film. I suspect Smith's list has similar aspirations.

A chorus of "what about..." just comes with the territory of making year-end top-10 lists.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:22 PM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


You could probably make a similar video out of any music genre, likely by only dropping the pickup truck and river.

That's an interesting and true point. The repeated themes here are pretty much only distinguished from radio hip-hop/pop by the rural setting and it's accoutrements.; the story (guy, booze, car, girl, sex) is pretty much identical. One of the songs used heavily in the video "That's My Kind of Night" by Luke Bryan actually has the singer put on a country hip-hip mix tape (described as a "Little Conway, a little T-Pain") before he and the woman catch some catfish and have sex in a cornfield.

It's pretty transparently "hip hop for rural white people," which is fascinating as a cultural place for country music to go.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:33 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm always torn, because I work mostly in the blue collar trades, I love my big American pickup truck, my dogs, my rundown mountain cabin by the train tracks in West Virginia, shootin' skeet down by the river, my huge Southern family in Georgia, but there's nary a single dang-danged thing in modern pop country music that speaks to me on any level.

I love Patsy Cline, The Carter Family, I enjoy Jimmy Martin, and when a drag queen did Bobbie Gentry's rendition of "Fancy," at bingo night at the honky-tonk gay military drag blue collar sports bar in town a couple months ago, I actually levitated from joy, and I'm sure that all seems like "sophisticated" country with some hipster credentialist vibe, somehow, but I pretty much want music I love to be about something I give a shit about, rendered with a distinct voice and musical qualities that aren't just tired old chords and tired old rhythms and tired old country-cutesy big belt buckle street cred. Sing me a song about astronomy, about coyotes on the run in the big city, or about going camping in an old Renault with your big gay boyfriend, for pete's sake.

I guess I think love for genre music often comes down to who, where, and what you are when it first came into your existence. The genre of latter-day country wasn't present as my tastes were coming together in the same way that terrible dance music was thrumming up through my socks while I was dancing nude on a bar in the shittiest part of DC as a mostly freshly minted fag in the throes of the prolonged ecstatic moment of having transcended a lifetime thus far of fear, and I'll forgive terrible dance music almost anything but dubstep while latter-day country may as well be the traditional polka music of the Benelux countries to my ears. In the same way, I can listen to the coldest, most esoteric glitchy electronic Csound-generated music imaginable, but I can't even describe how fucking insanely much I love Steve Miller without getting all choked up, because he was the soundtrack to my unsettling childhood.

Show me a video of why dance music sucks in 2013 and I will almost certainly laugh, then pop my earphones right back in and set the fine hairs of my ear canal on fire to a terrible Nicki Minaj song that I plan to give full faith and credit when I'm making my Pulitzer speech in that projected future that exists solely to keep me editing a manuscript I think I'll never finish. Things can be terrible and wonderful all at once without necessarily surrendering to irony because we are large and contain multitudes.

Strange, how potent cheap music is.
posted by sonascope at 1:43 PM on December 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I actually think one of the really interesting things that's happening to pop country at the moment, Bulgaroktonos, is that the younger pop country audience now listens to a lot of pop hip-hop. It used to be that whiteness was kind of central to pop country's identity: country was conceived of almost in opposition to styles that were self-consciously influenced by black culture. (That's not to say that all country music fans were white or that country wasn't heavily influenced by black culture. But that's not the way it was marketed, and it's not the way many fans thought about it.) I'm not defending "bro" country, which really isn't my thing, but it's interesting that country/ hip-hop crossovers seem to be a part of that genre. The audience is, I think, still mostly white, but they don't define their musical taste in terms of their whiteness. And I wonder if that isn't part of what's fueling the generational divide among country producers and fans.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:46 PM on December 23, 2013


country music these days is kitsch - and what is kitsch? - it's art that allows middle-class people to feel nostalgia and longing for things that have long disappeared from the modern world - it's not about hicks or rural southern whites, it's about the children or grandchildren of hicks or rural southern whites living in the suburbs, going to the office or the factory, wishing that they could be where they were - or their parents were - 30 or 40 years ago

the only time these people get on a john deere is to mow the lawn

even from a pure musical standpoint it's calculated nostalgia, combining the grooves of 60s pop with the guitars of 70s classic rock while retaining the accented vocals, the pedal steels and fiddles of old country music - (except that the accents seem to be more exaggerated than they were before)

i thought country music was alright in the 70s and 80s - not my favorite by any means, but enjoyable

now it sets my teeth on edge - it's an overly polished turd of reactionary nostalgia that panders as much to its audience as rush limbaugh does - and it's often the same audience
posted by pyramid termite at 1:46 PM on December 23, 2013 [11 favorites]


Really like Tin Star by Linda Ortega.

Also really down and dirty from his best list Sturgill Simpson whom I want to see live, but looks like he's in the UK for the next few months.

Thanks for posting!
posted by telstar at 1:49 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


How many arguments about the authenticity of a musical genre can dance on the head of a pin? And is it possible to discern if they are two-steppin' or line dancing? Heh. Good post here, zabuni. Thanks. Just added Grady Smith's top 10 to a GoogMusic playlist ('cept Brandy Clark, who is not to be found there Thanks Obama!) and looking forward to giving it a listen. Its hard to come by stuffs I like in these genres, and easy to encounter that radio-esque and studioly over-produced pop cosplaying in cowboy get-up. This is a nice invite to revisit, and the video critique was entertaining, if facile. Those songs and videos didn't try very hard, so why should a critic of said products?
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 2:05 PM on December 23, 2013


Well, I'll just leave this here. (Dale Watson)
posted by spitbull at 2:10 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


I like to take off work a couple of hours early if I'm going to a show in Nashville just so I can hit the 2nd Avenue honkeytonk bars beforehand. Depending on the time of year and what's going on in Nashville, these can be tourist traps, nothing but locals, a mix of the two, or something else entirely. But regardless of the crowd, there's about 4 great bands and many more good ones absolutely breathing life into some of the cheesiest, most overproduced singles in music history. Really, if you're in Tennessee, stop and check out 2nd Avenue.

My point is that the production on these tracks is really just killing them. There's nothing wrong with sappy or inane pop lyrics, but man, this is a genre all about authenticity and simplicity and is also heavily over-produced. Vocals especially just sound so processed, the bass has this active-pre-amp direct-to-the-board compressed clean tone on every single song, the guitar always sounds like a Fender into a Dr. Z or vintage Fender - it's so formulaic and cookie cutter. Those same songs won a live band just work so, so much better.

Anybody listen to anything of the Motown label is the mid-80s? The production was choking the life out of the backing bands, and while it didn't get AS bad as country is now, there are a lot of otherwise quality songs that sound immensely dated now. I think in ten years the current country sound is going to sound immensely, painfully dated in a way that "elitist" country won't.
posted by Benjy at 2:39 PM on December 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


That's an interesting and true point. The repeated themes here are pretty much only distinguished from radio hip-hop/pop by the rural setting and it's accoutrements.; the story (guy, booze, car, girl, sex) is pretty much identical.

Oh yes. I think it's an evergreen songwriting formula. Memphis Minnie wrote one. Steinman and Meatloaf did (arguably) a parody on Bat out of Hell. (The theme was also lampooned by Burning Sensations (NSFW).) I'm kind of fond of Gwar's take on the formula (NSFW). Springsteen wrote a bunch (including "Blinded by the Light"), which influenced a whole bunch of working-class rock variants through my childhood.

Still, it seems weird to have that much imitation (down to the same lines in some cases) in songs from a single year. Perhaps I'm just having a get-off-my-lawn moment.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:45 PM on December 23, 2013


The whole "I only listen to sophisticated country music" movement is incredibly classist and getting more than a little tiresome

What do we say about artists like Hank Williams III, Bobby Bare Jr. and Shooter Jennings who also crap on mainstream Nashville hit machine stuff in their work? Are they out of touch with the common man in spite of growing up among the very people who's work you cite? Your thesis feels like a plan for a circular firing squad. I don't think it's economic oppression to say that both hip hop and country music have been co-opted by the pop music machinery and turned into Lowest Common Denominator inoffensive pablum that is churned out by a auto-tuned pretty faces (or guys with demographically appropriate hard luck stories) written by rich old people who have been identified as "hit makers" in any genre.

What possible purpose would "sophisticated country music" serve?

Says the guy who went to an Old '97s show with me.
posted by yerfatma at 2:49 PM on December 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was about to construct a comment about how the 'good' country music was all wistful and sad and the 'bad' country music (which I agree is bad) was all about having a good time.


But then I listened to that Kacey Musgrave song. Which is now my favorite country song of this year. And I have listened to five times in a row.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:54 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is Pop-Country vs. Alt-Country, nothing more. Alt-Country craves some kind of old country sound, Pop-Country craves being the center of attention and feeding some kind of poor-but-happy-in-love/lust/booze fantasy, all trying to be Countrier Than Thou (YTL).
posted by Sunburnt at 3:00 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh man, I remember when the Old 97's were country. Good times.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:05 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like some alt-country stuff. I like Appalachian bluegrass. I used to like Willie Nelson and Alabama, I'm just not into them anymore.

I am about equally "elitist" about country music as I am about pop or hip-hop. But I don't need other people's approval for my tastes in music, and that doesn't make me classist.
posted by Foosnark at 3:50 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just despise any music that takes the time to shout out particular brands. You can singabout your truck and that is fine. If you sing about your F150 fully loaded or your Silverado then that is just not country musics. You are just a corporate county music songsperson.
posted by srboisvert at 4:05 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


When Country Music Goes to the Dark Side of Small-Town Life: Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves have defied country's tradition of celebrating the working class, and in doing so, they address the harsher realities of modern rural America.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:50 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


A dumbass, reductive video like this could have just as easily been made about rap's alleged obsession with sex, cars, bling, and guns.

I agree 100%, but not for the reason you think.

It would be hard to choose which genre is more pathetic, rap or country. They're very similar in their formulaic, repetitive, hackneyed, generic, crappy, no-talent-required ways.
posted by Max Udargo at 6:09 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be hard to choose which genre is more awesome, rap or country. They're very similar in their eclectic, diverse, groundbreaking, great-talents-are-out-there-and-worth-finding ways.

Another interesting thing about the two genres seems to be that both get dissed by people who have not been exposed to the good stuff.
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:24 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like songs that tell good stories.
posted by Renoroc at 6:56 PM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think it's snobby or classist to think that "pop country"—the oddly sterile and monotonic crap that passes for "country music" despite being essentially a corporate product—is not as good as other forms of country. To me, "Nobody in this World" by the Honey Dewdrops is country music. Or "When is Enough Enough" by Kellin Watson. Or "1 Samuel 15:23" by The Mountain Goats.

A cartoon version of "redneck culture" sold as the legitimate extension of a folk culture is depressing at best, exploitative and contemptuous at worst. Isn't it odd that the musical forms that present themselves as the music of the black ghettos and the white trailer park are so over-produced, vapid, and endless?
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:01 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Rap or country ... Buck 65 - Indestructible Sam
posted by phoque at 9:38 PM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coming in so late to say that I've been citing Jason Isbell's Southeastern in all my favorite albums of the year conversations. I didn't even know it was considered particularly country. Just a fantastic record.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:02 PM on December 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


Another interesting thing about the two genres seems to be that both get dissed by people who have not been exposed to the good stuff.

Sorry, buddy, but I've fallen for that far too many times. Sure, you can find examples of people who express interesting ideas through these genres, but rap and modern country are not designed for that kind of exercise. They exist to crank out cheap, low-risk-to-investors, predictable, marketable garbage that both satisfies the undiscriminating tastes of its audience and trains its audience to lack discrimination. 99% of it is junk, worse than the junk I listened to when I was young and dumb. They keep pushing the bar lower and lower, to minimize the expense of capturing an ever more dull and mindless audience.

If recognizing that makes me a snob, then snob is no longer a bad word.
posted by Max Udargo at 10:49 PM on December 23, 2013


...They keep pushing the bar lower and lower, to minimize the expense of capturing an ever more dull and mindless audience....

That applies to any and all modern pop music though. That's just Sturgeon's Law. There is nothing about rap or country music that makes them intrinsically worse than any other form of mass-marketed pop music. Nothing.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:15 AM on December 24, 2013


If recognizing that makes me a snob, then snob is no longer a bad word.
I'm not sure that makes you a snob as much as an old fogey. Dismissing rap and country isn't something that music snobs have done for at least the past 15 years.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:19 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


They exist to crank out cheap, low-risk-to-investors, predictable, marketable garbage that both satisfies the undiscriminating tastes of its audience and trains its audience to lack discrimination.

I completely agree with this statement but rather than applying it to just 99% of rap and contemporary country music, you can extend it across 99% of all music made since the popularization of the wax cylinder. Easily including the beloved music of your youth.
posted by griphus at 9:38 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


It would be hard to choose which genre is more pathetic, rap or country. They're very similar in their formulaic, repetitive, hackneyed, generic, crappy, no-talent-required ways.

I imagine it is rather hard to choose when you're ignorant about a subject.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:36 AM on December 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is nothing about rap or country music that makes them intrinsically worse than any other form of mass-marketed pop music. Nothing.

I don't disagree that all modern pop music is crap, but these two genres are extreme examples, especially rap. Rap is designed from the ground up to allow people with no talent and no real ability to make music to make "music" (stealing or renting it from real musicians, mostly) and cannibalize proven products. Throw in profanity, misogyny, materialism, dorky adolescent posturing, and loud, rhythmic thumping sounds and you're sure to see a return on your investment.
posted by Max Udargo at 10:46 AM on December 24, 2013


Honest to god not sure if this is parody.
posted by griphus at 10:55 AM on December 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


At least rappers use clever wordplay, vocal tone, rhythms, metaphors, cadence, humor to talk about these tropes. Country is full of the same fake/exaggerated southern accent and less imagination in the lyrics.
posted by scose at 12:38 PM on December 24, 2013


99% of all music made since the popularization of the wax cylinder

People always quote the "99 [or 90, or whatever large proportion] of everything is crap" in a kind of dismissive way, but just think about it. If 99 percent of everything is crap, then one percent of everything is not crap. Given how much music is out there, the one percent that's not crap is more than a lifetime's worth of listening. Even if only one percent of the non-crap is really great, that's still enough to keep you going for a long time. That's why I never dismiss a genre out of hand - you can never tell when that one in a thousand song is going to pop up.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:56 PM on December 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Honest to god not sure if this is parody.

I keep mentally attaching a WAKE UP SHEEPLE to the end of each comment and the improvement is profound.
posted by elizardbits at 1:29 PM on December 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's why I never dismiss a genre out of hand - you can never tell when that one in a thousand song is going to pop up.

I dismiss genres out of hand all the time. If the common tropes/themes/etc are something I'm not interested in and/or something I can't stand, out it goes.
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:57 PM on December 24, 2013


Rap is designed from the ground up to allow people with no talent and no real ability to make music to make "music"

This last weekend, some lost soul at SiriusXM in middle-management allowed the interns to program the "Classic Vinyl" station in honor of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducting new honorees. "Classic Vinyl" plays the most threadbare and worn out classic rock standards... usually. The weekend before Christmas? All R&RHoF inductees! As selected by our unpaid intern!

In a thirty minute stretch, I listened to a Do-Wop bootleg, a Metallica war horse, and a RunDMC track I had never heard before that consisted entirely of bending a hair-metal band to their awful will for fifteen minutes straight. I was scaring people in the parking lot with that cranked out the mighty sound system of my Kia, let me tell you...

Oh, yeah, Rev. Run says you're dumb. I have to agree. Gonna queue up some Blackalicious and Death Set on my Spotify, c'ya!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:02 PM on December 24, 2013


Seconding all of the praise for Jason Isbell's Southeastern. "Elephant" and "Relatively Easy" both break my heart every time I hear them.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 1:33 PM on December 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Vandal smile, a baseball in his right hand ...
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:39 PM on December 25, 2013


I don't disagree that all modern pop music is crap, but these two genres are extreme examples, especially rap. Rap is designed from the ground up to allow people with no talent and no real ability to make music to make "music" (stealing or renting it from real musicians, mostly) and cannibalize proven products. Throw in profanity, misogyny, materialism, dorky adolescent posturing, and loud, rhythmic thumping sounds and you're sure to see a return on your investment.

Man, these sentiments sound as reductively crypto-racist as they did back in the 80s.

The classics never get old, I guess.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:13 AM on December 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it's a bit simplistic, reductive, and silly to assume that anyone who doesn't like hip-hop is a racist, but that might just be me.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:08 AM on December 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one said that.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on December 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


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