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What Exactly is “Country Music”? [OPINION]

Taylor Swift, George Strait, Brantley Gilbert
(Getty Images)

I was raised to have an appreciation for all music. When I was growing up, there was good music, and there was bad music. But it was all just music to me. There was some that I liked, and some that I didn’t.  My dad was a Marty Robbins / Hank Snow / trucker music kind of guy.  My mom listened to oldies, which back then was music from the ’50s and ’60s.  I listened to everything in between.

Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time understanding the whole “that’s not real country” argument. I’m sure a lot of people will not agree with me on this post, but I have a bit of a different opinion when it comes to that statement.

Please don’t misunderstand any of this though.  One thing that I want to make very clear is that I love country music as much as you do.

But just because a song doesn’t sound the same as country sounded in the ’60s and ’70s doesn’t mean that it’s not country…to me.  The way I’ve always looked at it is that country music is a spectrum of different types of music.  It’s kind of like the political spectrum, where there are conservative people on one side and liberal people on the other.  The difference is that our spectrum in the country music genre includes a rock element on one side and a pop element on the other side.  Those two sides of country music have been there for a very long time.  They didn’t just show up to the party now.

Spectrum of country music

There’s no doubt that the reason that I have to have this conversation the most is the “Taylor Swift is NOT country music” argument that I get.  However, when I follow that statement up with, “OK…then what isn’t country about it?” people can’t seem to put their finger on it.  I just get, “It just doesn’t belong on country radio.” OK…why not?

So what IS country music then?  I would argue that if you asked 10 people what country music was, you’d probably get 10 different answers.  To me, the one thing that stands out in country music is the relatable story.  This is also the reason that we have different answers to the question.  Relatable is a pretty subjective term.  If you love to drink, maybe you relate to Toby Keith or Eric Church’s music.  If you’re a young girl who struggles with relationships, Taylor Swift or Lady Antebellum might be your cup of tea.  Maybe you’re a parent, and Trace Adkins and Gary Allan make you cry because they sing songs that seem like they’re about YOUR family.  Regardless of the artist, they all sing songs about things that we’ve all been through.

Here’s where the “not country” part comes in. When people can’t relate to certain music, they tend to think that it must not be country.  Because if you love country music and you’re not a little girl struggling with relationships, then of course you wouldn’t relate to Taylor Swift.  So of course she MUST NOT be country.

Country music is bigger than ever.  By that I don’t mean that it’s more popular (although it is).  I mean that country music is a blanket phrase that encompasses a whole lot of music.  It’s kind of like religion in a way.  Religion is the blanket term, but there are many faiths represented by the term “religious”. We’re lucky that way because we have a whole lot of country to choose from.  Yes, Taylor Swift may be much more on the pop side of country, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a place in the genre.  In the ’90s, people were saying the same thing about Shania Twain.  The same argument could be said for artists who are more rock.  Brantley Gilbert is a whole lot more on the rock side of country, but I haven’t had a whole lot of people arguing that he’s not country because he sings about partying in a field.

Maybe it’s just not your kind of country.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  In all honesty, Taylor Swift isn’t my kind of country either .  My kind of country has a bluegrass feel to it.  It has to have a fiddle.  It’s songs that make you feel something.   Whether it’s happy or reminiscent or songs about raising my kids, that’s what I like.  But I understand why people relate to her music.

So what is country?  The answer to that is that it’s different for everyone.  The good thing is that there’s also something here for everyone.  Just like in everything, there will be some that you love and some that you don’t like as much.  Regardless of what your kind of country is, we’re glad to have you along.

Gary Allan Says Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are Pop Artists

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