What makes a country song country enough for charts?
April 6, 2019 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Stereogum has a write-up on Lil Nas X's background, both personally and how this single blew up. In short, the viral fame of this track is thanks in significant part to a Tiktok #yeehaw challenge (YT video compilation), and it grew (or blew up) from there.

More details: the beat comes from a producer in the Netherlands, YoungKio, who was also surprised to see this track take off (Billboard).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

What makes a country song country enough for charts?

I feel like the answer to this (and so many other questions in 2019), is systemic racism & white fragility.
posted by Fizz at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2019 [39 favorites]

The article flatluigi added has my exact feelings on it. No, this isn't really country music, but neither is a whole bunch of the shit on the charts, so stop being racist.
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2019 [6 favorites]

“It was so obvious to me after hearing the song just one time,” Cyrus wrote on Twitter Friday. “I was thinking, what’s not country about it? What’s the rudimentary element of a country and western song? Then I thought, it’s honest, humble, and has an infectious hook, and a banjo. What the hell more do ya need?”


On Friday, John Rich stopped by the Brian Kilmeade Show on Fox Nation, where he said “the fans” should decide where the song belongs, using legendary singer Johnny Cash as an example.

“Let the fans decide. I mean, country music — I go back to guys like Johnny Cash when he showed up in Nashville, they said that is not country music,” Rich said. “The guy made his records in Memphis where rock and roll was happening — he’s got his hair slicked back, he’s singing about sex, drugs and rock and roll.”

I'd take that a bit further actually, and could do worse than quoting the publisher's blurb for Hidden in the Mix: The African American Presence in Country Music (there's some great essays in it and it's worth a read if the topic interests you):

Country music's debt to African American music has long been recognized. Black musicians have helped to shape the styles of many of the most important performers in the country canon. The partnership between Lesley Riddle and A. P. Carter produced much of the Carter Family's repertoire; the street musician Tee Tot Payne taught a young Hank Williams Sr.; the guitar playing of Arnold Schultz influenced western Kentuckians, including Bill Monroe and Ike Everly. Yet attention to how these and other African Americans enriched the music played by whites has obscured the achievements of black country-music performers and the enjoyment of black listeners.

The contributors to Hidden in the Mix examine how country music became "white," how that fictive racialization has been maintained, and how African American artists and fans have used country music to elaborate their own identities. They investigate topics as diverse as the role of race in shaping old-time record catalogues, the transracial West of the hick-hopper Cowboy Troy, and the place of U.S. country music in postcolonial debates about race and resistance. Revealing how music mediates both the ideology and the lived experience of race, Hidden in the Mix challenges the status of country music as "the white man’s blues."

From a review of the book:

South Carolinian Darius Rucker is talked about as the heir to Charley Pride – the idea being that he is the first African-American country star since Pride. They are, after all, the second and third African-Americans to be inducted in the Grand Ole Opry, after DeFord Bailey; Rucker was the next after Pride to have a #1 song on the country charts. So they at least stand out as the institutionally recognized African-Americans in country. Within the comparison is the assumption that they are anomalies in the world of country music: others.

That lurks, too, whenever a high-profile black musician dips a toe into country waters. Snoop Dogg dueting with Willie Nelson, for example, is seen as a novelty song, as are country-rap hybrids in general, even when performed by a white Southerner who therefore gets more easily identified as “country” (say, Colt Ford). It was an obvious part of the recent Internet hubbub about the Brad Paisley song “Accidental Racist”, featuring rapper LL Cool J as a guest. Intended as a Southern-Northern truce on racial profiling, one even with an air of revealing how whites and blacks really think, the song’s awkward generalizations and metaphors drew widespread guffaws. One piece of that reaction was surprise, even anger, that anyone would dream of such a pairing, as if their musical worlds are so different as if to be inherently incompatible.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:13 PM on April 6, 2019 [13 favorites]

My theory for several decades is that popular country music is popular mainstream music about 10 years later. That seems to be how it works to me.

Saying this song isn't country is pretty stupid if it's charting on the charts, because aren't the charts tracking what is being sold and played in certain segments of the market? How did it even get onto the charts if it wasn't being considered to be a country song by those playing and buying the song?

It's interesting to me that Cyrus got involved. He was, if I remember correctly, sort of on the edge of country and rock and was criticized about that back in the day. And then his daughter, of course, was Hannah Montana and now is Miley Cyrus who is in her own right edgy.
posted by hippybear at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

This stuff was just ahead of its time, plus racism. We've since seen songs like Pitbull's "Timber" and a number of others that either have crossed these genres entirely or have been remixed to do so. Hip-hop and country are definitely fully meeting and overlapping on the other side of the continuum of Auto-Tuned music now.
posted by limeonaire at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think it's worth listening to what African-American singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert had to say back in the '90s, in his Country Western Rap.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:58 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thoughts from Jesse Walker.
posted by doctornemo at 2:01 PM on April 6, 2019

The remix with Billy Ray Cyrus is currently the #1 trending video on YouTube. I hope Lil Nas X can swing this into a great career and that the Billboard execs don't dig in their heels on their embarrassingly bad call.
posted by rogerroger at 2:07 PM on April 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

As I understand it, the Billboard genre charts are essentially business metrics for their corners of the music industry. Chart positions are determined by a mixture of radio airplay and streaming. The airplay numbers come from all types of radio stations rather than just country-format stations, and of course streams are not genre-specific. The country charts are obviously filled with material that is debatably country, but those songs are embraced by country stations. On the other hand, when "Old Town Road" was removed from the country chart, it was receiving basically no airplay on country stations. It seems likely that it charted on the basis of its strong streaming numbers and airplay on rap radio. In that way, it seems meaningfully different than artists who make music that a listener wouldn't necessarily identify as country but who are firmly in the country sector of the music business.

Of course, that's not what Billboard said in their statement. If I'm being generous, I can sort of see why they chose to say that they classify music based on compositional elements. To say otherwise would be to insist that country radio stations control what can appear on the charts, and the whole idea of Billboard's shift away from airplay as the sole measure of chart success was to make it so that isn't the case. But that shift didn't change the close relationship between airplay in on genre-specific radio stations and appearance on genre charts, and it must be a fairly novel situation for an artist to claim that a song that's both not sonically country and not connected in any way to country-music-as-a-business is actually a country song. They would have been better off just rolling with it, but it seems defensible to me why they'd see it as messing with the integrity of the chart as a measure of what's succeeding in the country music business.

The irony of course is that the controversy generated by the removal has apparently helped to popularize the song with country fans and push the song on to country radio stations, so now it probably does belong on the chart by conventional standards.
posted by vathek at 2:19 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here’s a great YouTube breakdown of the country charts and the pervasiveness of the snap beat. I may have actually originally seen this on the blue.
posted by misterpatrick at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

The irony of course is

Oh, gotta love the Streisand effect!
posted by hippybear at 2:22 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Now waiting for a rap/country/opera crossover hit.
posted by otherchaz at 2:23 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I haven't listened to the Cyrus thing yet, but hoo boy I'll have some thoughts about Nu-Country (yes, I'm shading it with Limp Bizkit) after I get back from a bike ride and tackle it.
posted by rhizome at 2:37 PM on April 6, 2019

Mod note: A few comments deleted. Heya, I know the question was meant in a good spirit, but it's going to get us too far off-track to steer this discussion in the direction of a very broad "what's been happening with fun rap since the '90s anyway?"... AskMe will be a better place for a broad side question like that. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:01 PM on April 6, 2019

I think this track might broaden the scope of both rap and country music. Country is always pulling in elements of pop (albeit about a decade late), and rap needs some topics hitting the charts that are different from what they have going on now.

It's not my jam, but it's a jam I'm glad is out there.
posted by hippybear at 3:08 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would never have heard this song for sure if it hadn't been for the blow up, and I'm loving it. I can totally picture a group line dancing to it in a country bar. Here's a one hour loop of the remix ft Billy Ray Cyrus
posted by maggiemaggie at 3:09 PM on April 6, 2019

" (2) limit the subject matter of the lyrics to those few things above "

If you listen to classic country, there are a LOT more subjects the genre tackles, often in very personal and honest registers, sometimes in story songs, sometimes hilariously, sometimes seriously. I'm not sure exactly what the dividing point is between "classic country" and "pop country" (as I think of the modern stuff) but when I listen to a classic country radio station I am entertained for hours and hear a huge variety of subjects addressed; when I listen to a "top country" station there are some bops I definitely enjoy but I always turn it off within half an hour because the politics of it -- particularly the bombastic jingoism, the "yay guns," and the Buddy Jesus stuff -- absolutely enrages me, and there's definitely a lot less room in country these days for acts outside that market.

Anyway, I've been really interested to watch this play out. And as someone who enjoys country a lot, I am always pleased when more diversity (of musicians, of topics, of beats and chords) hits the "top country" stations, because it's such a rich genre and it's so limited by the current Fox-News-ish imperative for corporate country radio. (And yeah, I think the "this isn't country!" reaction was basically driven by racism from the Fox News demographic.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:23 PM on April 6, 2019 [19 favorites]

I occasionally listen to mainstream country radio, although not very much these days, and my take on it is that the boundaries are basically ideological. It's essentially music for Trump voters. It's pop music that has lyrics that espouse a particular vision of the US, which may not be rural but which takes for granted that supposedly-rural values are preferable to urban ones. It's Christian, it favors common sense over education, it prides itself on working hard and playing hard, it celebrates mainstream gender norms, it assumes the primacy of male perspectives. It's white, but it allows in just enough people of color to claim that it can't be racist because some of its best friends. It may also have banjos and twangy vocals, but that's not the defining feature.

So anyway, I think that country radio would have been happy to play this song if it were by a white artist, and they might have been willing to play a different song by a black country artist. But they weren't going to play that song, with that beat, by a black artist who also identifies as a rapper. There's no way. That is not music for Trump voters.

Who the fuck died and made a few radio conglomerates the boss of country music is a whole other issue. Apparently Billboard did, but it's stupid, because there's so much more to the genre than that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:28 PM on April 6, 2019 [15 favorites]

it's also worth noting in all this that the banjo sample comes from a nine inch nails song, putting the whole enterprise one step further into "post-genre" territory.

to quote twitter user @max_read: "a nicki minaj stan tweetdecker sampling NIN to make a trap-country song that goes viral among semi-rural whites on a chinese lip-syncing app is the most cyberpunk thing that's happened in years"
posted by JimBennett at 3:43 PM on April 6, 2019 [44 favorites]

I said back in the day that NIN's Ghosts project was going to be one of the most influential projects ever and people laughed.

And then... this.
posted by hippybear at 3:50 PM on April 6, 2019 [11 favorites]

Tidal sent me this playlist yesterday .

It’s got Lil Nas X and a lot of the other artists mentioned here, plus the cringey Florida Georgia Line and the transcendent “Turn Up For The Weekend” by Branches and Big Wet!

posted by chrchr at 4:05 PM on April 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I liked the original track, but I really like that remix with Cyrus.

As a country fan, I'd way rather listen to that than the repetitive 'me and my girl in my pickup truck' crap that's so much of country radio these days.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:07 PM on April 6, 2019

Apparently it didn’t have enough snapping on the back beat to make it country.

And if that's What modern country sounds like, maybe not being “country enough” ain’t an insult.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:14 PM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

From Ray Charles's Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, 1962: "You Win Again" (written by Hank Williams).
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:15 PM on April 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Cain't nobody tell me nothing" is a country and western line to me. (I also want a cheerful, rowdy version in which that's the refrain between verses of Dumb But Not Mean Things I Survived.)
posted by clew at 5:31 PM on April 6, 2019

@max_read (editor at New York): a nicki minaj stan tweetdecker sampling NIN to make a trap-country song that goes viral among semi-rural whites on a chinese lip-syncing app is the most cyberpunk thing that's happened in years
And he links to this article by Brian Feldman.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:35 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you listen to classic country, there are a LOT more subjects the genre tackles, often in very personal and honest registers, sometimes in story songs, sometimes hilariously, sometimes seriously.

In a way this is something that country and rap have in common - they are capable of being among the most lyrically sophisticated genres while also having a lot of dumb party songs on the radio.
posted by atoxyl at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2019 [16 favorites]

Toby Keith really stinks at rapping but I'm happy for Lil Nas X.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:28 PM on April 6, 2019

I’ve been really enjoying the “Cocaine and Rhinestones” podcast by Tyler Mahan Coe, which is focused on the history of 20th-century country music. It’s really interesting because the “what is *real* country music” debate is as old as the genre. In particular, the attempts by Nashville powers-that-be to control that never seem to stop, and rebellion against the orthodoxy by the Bakersfield and Austin scenes (among others) defined entire schools of country. Country music, like most music, is at its best when it’s telling stories that reveal truths about the human condition. Personally, I think Florida Georgia Line is hot garbage, and I’m giving guys like Eric Church the side-eye. I’ll take one Hayes Carll or Adam Carroll or Jason Isbell over a thousand FGLs. All that said, Lil Nas X has written a pretty good country song. I’m interested to see where he chooses to go next.
posted by wintermind at 6:47 PM on April 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

And he links to this article by Brian Feldman.
That article is weird. Does Feldman really think that people are going to cancel Lil Nas X because of his "unseemly" past as a Tweetdecker? I mean, Merle Haggard spent three years in San Quinton, Steve Earle went to jail for being a raging heroin addict, David Allan Coe spent like 20 years in prison and just barely avoided going back a couple of years ago because apparently he didn't bother paying taxes for twenty years.... being a Tweetdecker is just not the most unseemly thing that any musician has ever done.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:00 PM on April 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

Well, a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song
And he told me it was the perfect country & western song
I wrote him back a letter and I told him it was not the perfect country & western song
Because he hadn't said anything at all about mama
Or trains, or trucks, or prison, or getting' drunk
Well, he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me
And after reading it I realized that my friend had written the perfect country & western song
And I felt obliged to include it on this album
The last verse goes like this here
That was a JOKE, Billboard.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

This reminds me of a quote from the middle of the 20th century, about the reasoning behind why southern colleges it did not want black players on their basketball team:
If you let them on the team, your daughters will date them. And if your daughters date them, your daughters will marry them. And then it’s all over
If you let your daughters dance to their music…
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:12 PM on April 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Back in the 90s I spent four years as a country radio DJ.

This song is country. Period. Even without the Billy Ray Cyrus remix.
posted by mrbill at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

Now waiting for a rap/country/opera crossover hit.
it's a beaut

oh, wait, you said hit as in popular and not like.... drugs
posted by idiopath at 7:33 PM on April 6, 2019

If you listen to classic country, there are a LOT more subjects the genre tackles, often in very personal and honest registers, sometimes in story songs, sometimes hilariously, sometimes seriously.

I will never pass up even the flimsiest excuse to link to Loretta Lynn's "The Pill."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:39 PM on April 6, 2019 [18 favorites]

I was going to say, part of commercial country radio's problem is its homogeneity, and that it seems like 80% of the songs are by men when I listen, when many of the most critically-praised albums in the past two years have come from women, and I thought, no, I must be biased because I'm more interested in female acts, it can't possibly be that bad. So I looked it up, and it's actually worse! The "most equal" stations play female acts or mixed-gender acts only 10% of the time, and worst, less than 5%! So you tune in for Carrie Underwood, Ashley McBride, Ashley Monroe, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgroves, Pistol Annies, Marin Morris, or Lindsay Ell, and you're lucky if you get 2 songs an hour. Instead you get 54 minutes of (largely) mediocre men singing about how they went hunting with Jesus for Murica, and if you're lucky 6 minutes of women.

And it's easy to imagine lots of the discography of Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, and Loretta Lynn simply being purged from modern country radio for being too feminist, too real about the shittiness of poverty, too real about terrible men, too real about sex.

I tried to look up the racial breakdown of country radio, but they just tell you the number of artists of color who were played on commercial country radio in the entire month, instead of the percentage of plays. In December 2018, it was a year-long high: there were two.

(I did also see a lot of male country artists lamenting that they couldn't write about interesting topics and they couldn't write ballads, because radio simply wouldn't play them, commercial radio wanted uptempo, happy jams about hunting and America being great.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:55 PM on April 6, 2019 [15 favorites]

See also Beyonce's Daddy Lessons, a better country song that a lot of the stuff on the radio.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:37 PM on April 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

So, there are ClearChannel, I mean I Heart Radio stations in my area that play "classic rock".

There's also a station here, I forget what stereotypical male name it uses, maybe "Earl", that is the country music equivalent.

I find it really interesting to listen to because I know about 1/5 of the songs, but the others are mostly new to me and that is good..

It's hard to get the warehouse I work in to agree with that choice, but I think it's better than the same 3 Journey songs the same 8 Def Leppard songs the same 4 Tom Petty songs over and over.
posted by hippybear at 10:56 PM on April 6, 2019

I mean, that's an awful song.
But hey, country radio has been full of awful songs for at least the last decade when the programmers decided that country music was basically Top 40 with a southern accent.

So by the current criteria for airplay, I don't see why it shouldn't be considered "country enough".
posted by madajb at 12:12 AM on April 7, 2019

Haven't listened to the FPP link yet, but we can agree that the musical difference between that snap track country and its contemporary R&B equivalent is basically nil at this point right? Loops and autotune, overdone effects, and some bro trying to sing sexy, over a melody at about the chordal complexity of "Jingle Bells," tops.

Old country got a sometimes deserved bad rap [hee] for musical simplicity, but even the cringiest seventies stuff was occasionally more than three chords and a back beat.

Anything that takes on the actual musical elements of what used to be country has weirdly been relegated to Folk/Americana/Alt. Country/some other sub-genre at this point. I mean, I guess ditto everything that used to be hip hop?

It's been remarked elsewhere, but a lower barrier to entry along with the weird tailspin of the music industry was really reductive in terms of taking chances on what actually does get produced and pushed toward the charts. Meh. Most pop music has always been bad, it used to just be bad differently.

Weirdly this snap track stuff, and a lot of contemporary pop, might have something quite in common with bad sixties folk music on one level - anyone can throw together a beat on a phone now, so it's almost the modern equivalent of knowing three chords on a guitar or being able to bang out "Kumbaya" on a bongo.
posted by aspersioncast at 5:15 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

On Wednesday, Cyrus tweeted at the rapper, “Been watching everything going on with OTR. When I got thrown off the charts, Waylon Jennings said to me ‘Take this as a compliment’ means you’re doing something great! Only Outlaws are outlawed. Welcome to the club!”
That would be Waylon Jennings of Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?

Now I'm curious to know when and why Cyrus got thrown off the charts.
posted by clawsoon at 5:28 AM on April 7, 2019 [5 favorites]

In a just world it would be for the mullet.
posted by y2karl at 6:27 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The birth of country as a genre was about drawing boundaries of whiteness. Black and white music before the 20s had a lot of similarity--then "old timey" music became a genre, the whole point was it wasn't jazz (which was too black.) It could be marketed as a genre that excluded musicians of color. Then in the 40s and 50s we all ignored Western Swing as being "real country"--well it was real country--because it was played by white people. But it wasn't jazz, no, jazz was what black people did. In the 50s and 60s the Grand Ole Opry didn't allow drums. They didn't want the rock and roll sound--that was too black. Outlaw country took from rock and roll. Then in the 90s and 2000s people complained about the influence of hip-hop.

Yes, part of this is about not wanting to see and hear black artists. Another part is that the pure "country sound" is always defined as "no black musical influences". (Even though black folks brought us the banjo, before Minstrel Shows Ruin Everything and for some reason black people didn't want to play the banjo anymore.) And the lyrics, besides the sound, have always got a pass on white privilege ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die", but hip-hop's the violent genre.)

Basically, as country music evolves and moves forward it moves into "the mainstream" of ten or twenty years ago, and the "mainstream" of American music is really, really, shaped by black artists. Some people have problems with that.
posted by Hypatia at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

The entire racial overlay used to discuss popular music of all forms depresses me to the point of exhaustion. Furthermore, the copyright-driven, lawyers-&-courts directed view of songwriting that has dominated for the past 60-75 years is gobsmackingly wrongheaded and flies in the face of even a cursory understanding of folk music history and syncretism.

I can't even go into it, because I will get seriously het up and that's no way to spend a Saturday.

Trying to trace the provenance of particular acts as though they were direct descendants on some kind of family tree as opposed to marvelously complicated cross-pollinations is just dumb, dumb, dumb. Trying to nail artists down as though they need to be properly filed into the right Tower Records bin was wrongheaded a generation ago and is even more useless and beside the point today. Trying to score points in some bullshit cultural race war by doing so is even worse.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:49 AM on April 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

You do you, Lil Nas X. America still has catching up to do.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:49 AM on April 7, 2019

"Now I'm curious to know when and why Cyrus got thrown off the charts."

I thiiiiiiiink it was for Buck 22's Achy Breaky 2 ft. Billy Ray Cyrus, a dupstep/hip hop remix of Achy Breaky Heart. It is, uh, well, it's a thing that exists in the world. And was roundly mocked. But it was getting a lot of streaming play b/c of the video (women very scantily clad) and it charted for rap b/c of the streaming plays even though it got little to no radio play, and there was some question about whether it "really" belonged on the rap charts -- but I don't recall if it was actually pulled from the charts.

I remember because it was a) kind-of ridiculous as a song and b) one of the first examples of a song charting solely based on YouTube streams and there was a lot of jibber-jabber about the downfall of music now that you could chart by putting mostly-naked women in your videos and never playing on radio WON'T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

(But Cyrus has been active for like 30 years and I have no idea what he was up to for most of that, so maybe it was something else.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:23 AM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The birth of country as a genre was about drawing boundaries of whiteness.

That's . . . kind of lacking in nuance as far as my understanding, actually, but I don't have time to dig up sources right now.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:44 AM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I mostly listen to black metal so country and rap are a little outside my wheelhouse, but the remix of this is undeniably a great pop song.
posted by bradbane at 12:10 PM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I forgot which BBC Country Music Documentary it was, but the comment that stuck with me was that a sense of nostalgia was central to the development of Country Music in the 20th Century. People leaving the farm, moving to the Big City full of strangers and isolation, watching your loved ones disappear into the distance on a train, going home on the same train either in defeat, or for the Holidays.

So wanting to go back to the old town road and leave behind the Maserati and the girlfriend with Fendi sports bras is about as country as it gets.

It may have been Lost Highway, the documentary. But I also agree with the sentiment that Country Music was aimed at and crafted for white working class Americans. That's who the target audience was, that's whose concerns, values, cultural signifiers, and ideals were sung about.

Whatever Country Music's roots may be, as an economic entity it was made for, and sold to, white folk as white folks music.

Johnny Cash was considered "not Country" and "too rock & roll" at one point. But at least he was white, so he eventually became part of the canon.

Charley Pride and Darius Rucker are both black singers, both members of the Grand Ol' Opry. And they play traditional country music. Their stuff doesn't sound far outside the existing form.

Lil Nas X rode in and took the imagery, the attitude, and *changed the form*. Because Country fans embraced it, it risks influencing young country fans who will grow up listening to it.

If you let them play on the team…

Mad props to BRC for stepping up on this.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:19 PM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

The "can't tell me nothing" line reminds me of the video that first got me to pay attention to Kanye, the Galifianakis/Bonny Prince Billy spoof.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 12:20 PM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Even before Ray Charles was recording country, Louis Armstrong laid down some country tracks - and twenty years before that, in 1930, he recorded the groundbreaking Blue Yodel Number 9 with the "father of country music".

Listen to that recording of Blue Yodel Number 9 and tell me that you don't hear blues, jazz and country all rolled into one.
posted by clawsoon at 3:46 PM on April 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

But I also agree with the sentiment that Country Music was aimed at and crafted for white working class Americans. That's who the target audience was, that's whose concerns, values, cultural signifiers, and ideals were sung about.
I would say that it was aimed at and crafted for a particular segment of white working-class America. (And working-class is a complicated concept in this context.) It was not conceived of or crafted for a Polish-American guy from Chicago who got a union job and moved out to Cicero but was still nostalgic for the old parish in Back of the Yards. There are zero country songs about how Mama doesn't know I don't keep kosher. Country music conceives of itself as the legitimate voice of the American working-class, but that's because it speaks for and to a particular kind of Protestant American who has never considered urban Catholics and Jews, let alone people of color, as fully American.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:01 PM on April 7, 2019 [15 favorites]

There are zero country songs about how Mama doesn't know I don't keep kosher.

I think we've found our new MeMusic challenge!
posted by hippybear at 4:04 PM on April 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

Old country got a sometimes deserved bad rap [hee] for musical simplicity, but even the cringiest seventies stuff was occasionally more than three chords and a back beat.

It's the genre that the phrase "three chords and the truth" was coined for. And they didn't mean that as a bad thing when they coined it, so I find this a slightly odd choice of axis on which to plot the decline of country music.

I think you're onto something in detecting a sort of whitewashed R&B influence on the drum machine and snap beats, however.
posted by atoxyl at 5:27 PM on April 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would say that it was aimed at and crafted for a particular segment of white working-class America.

Indeed. Rural, southern, Protestant, white working class people, and those identifying with the same.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:29 PM on April 7, 2019

clawsoon, I totally did not know about that Armstrong/Rodgers connection. The things you learn on Metafilter!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:45 PM on April 7, 2019

There are zero country songs about how Mama doesn't know I don't keep kosher.

"Don't Come Home Milk-Drinkin' With Bacon On Your Mind."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:49 PM on April 7, 2019 [4 favorites]

Something something ode to a cheeseburger something.
posted by hippybear at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2019

"Don't call me selfish for liking shell fish"
posted by hippybear at 5:53 PM on April 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Jokey Jewish country song titles

But also Kinky Friedman's been around this block a few times, both humorously and seriously, including Ride 'Em Jewboy, which, major trigger warning for the entire song being a Holocaust lament.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:16 PM on April 7, 2019 [6 favorites]

Anecdotally and because I feel like crafting a silly story, Texas Tech won their game Saturday night getting their team into the NCAA basketball championship. Supposedly (because I haven't watched any videos but I want it to be true) the college kids on their campus in Lubbock got a lot bit excited and they rioted and tipped over a car and played Little Nas X tracks from a karoke machine while dancing on the tipped car. Lubbock is the birthplace of Buddy Holly (sort of the father of rock n roll) but it is in BFE - the country, and other past greats like Waylon Jennings and Roy Orbison are also from nearby, so I say that event marks the tipping point (literally) that Little Nas X because a legit outlaw country artist.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:53 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

There are zero country songs about how Mama doesn't know I don't keep kosher.

Somewhat less than zero...
posted by y2karl at 9:17 AM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like this song so much more than the majority of the Florida Georgia Line / Blake Shelton / a bazillion guys named things like "Cole" that I can't tell apart that are on country radio these days. I also think Kane Brown, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Darius Rucker are making music that's far more "country" than most of the homogeneous country radio of today. I've kind of given up on radio country (after it was my primary radio for 30 years) in favor of seeking out folks like Sturgill Simpson, Brandi Carlisle, Margo Price, Valerie June, Mama Bear, and Parker Millsap on streaming services or NPR.

In the way of metafilter, I've been seeking out the women and people of color in this space more, and they all Rock (at country sounds). So glad to hear some good music making it up Despite the gate-keepers like Billboard.
posted by ldthomps at 10:21 AM on April 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

The history of race and country is really complicated.

Viz this or this or this. I mean hillbilly music was definitely marketed to white people as a conscious choice of the industry, but yeah.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Has anyone seen if Dolly or Willie have weighed in on this song? I mean, if we want a definitive opinion…
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:44 PM on April 8, 2019

a Jeep-driving dude in in a big-ass black hat remixed the lyrics to ask a girl to the prom, and she said yes. And he brought flowers.

You had your 8 seconds, Billboard. Lil Nas X has stayed on, and the judges like his ride.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:03 PM on April 8, 2019

From what I understand, that's the one that measures what country radio stations are playing? So, like, the only one Old Country Road wouldn't be at the top of? Billboard keeps making it worse...
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:49 AM on April 12, 2019

I look forward to AJ Tracey's "Cowboy Star" getting TikTok traction ;) (it's a R'n'B/UK garage stutter beat track, definitely not country, except for the lyrics).

Speaking of lyrics, let's take a moment to look the lyrics at Toby Keith's "country-rap" country chart topper.

Yeah, that's not country in the least. Except he's a white country singer, and there's some twang in his voice. Oh, and there's a slide guitar on the track.

"Old Town Road" is way more country than that.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:43 AM on April 16, 2019

If you play it backwards, do you get your job back, your woman back, your truck back, and your dog back?

(That one's for you, Uncle Ed, wherever you are. G'night.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:37 AM on April 16, 2019

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