Give country music a chance

By Steven Gillard

Flickr/Jeff Newman

If you look at iTunes, you will see a variety of artists in the top charts, from Katy Perry to Drake to Luke Bryan. Hit radio stations play almost everything: hip-hop, rap, pop and rock, with one noticeable exception: country. Country music remains off the hit radio stations, save the rare crossover hits that find their way into the mainstream.

Although it can be said that artists like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan have achieved fame comparable to many big rock, pop and hip-hop names, the genre as a whole still remains in the background of the American music landscape.

I’ve been listening to country music – Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn and many more – since I was a little kid; the music always resonated with me more than the typical pop hits of the time. When I was younger, my friends told me that I liked “old people music.” A friend who refused to listen to country once told me all country songs covered one of four topics: girls, beer, trucks and God. Admittedly, many country songs do have such themes, but in my experience, many people dismiss the genre as “redneck” music, and that is the end of that.

Country music, however, goes beyond this stereotype. Country songs cover everything from broken hearts, burning love and lost loved ones to American pride, the insufferable nine-to-five workday and the excitement of learning to drive a car. And for those looking for more upbeat music, there is no shortage of songs about drinking beer and letting loose on a Friday night.

You could say that many of the aforementioned topics are covered in other genres of music, and that would be true. But other genres of music do not cover topics in the same manner that country does. When you hear a country song, you don’t listen to a song, you listen to a story. Alan Jackson’s nostalgic song “Remember When” depicts the thrill of first love, the miracle of having children and the wistfulness of growing—all in four-and-a-half minutes.

Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” captures the shock and anguish that so many Americans felt after the Sept. 11 attacks. In Eric Church’s “Springsteen,” the narrator thinks back on an old flame whenever he hears a song by “The Boss.” The Zac Brown Band’s “Highway 20 Ride” reflects on the difficulties of being divorced with a son who doesn’t understand why his parents aren’t together.

Country artists sing about all areas of life. The appreciation of home, family and friends found in country music is unparalleled in other genres. While I can appreciate Drake’s beats and clever wordplay, I can’t relate to his lyrics about spending thousands of dollars at the club and falling in love with strippers.

But I can relate to songs about finally coming home after being away for a long time. I can relate to songs about regrets, losing your best friend and losing your grandma. And the songs that I can’t immediately relate to are like reading a book – I step into the narrator’s shoes and can understand. I listen to Kenny Chesney and I’m a high school football player playing under the lights on a Friday night. I listen to Tim McGraw and I’m a dad watching my daughter grow up too fast. I listen to George Strait and I’m a man drowning in my sorrows at the bar. I listen to Luke Bryan and I’m a college student ogling the sorority girls.

Country music captures the beauty and pain of life; the fun times and the sad; the triumphs and the failures; and does so with the same overarching message: life is difficult, but life is good. So the next time you turn on the radio, instead of going straight to the hit stations, see what’s playing on the country ones. You might be surprised to find yourself viewing the world a little differently.

And no, Taylor Swift doesn’t count.

Steven Gillard is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]