Random Thoughts of the Week: Country Music Should Move Forward, Not Backwards

Last Friday (August 28th), Maddie & Tae’s debut album became the first mainstream album to receive a ten from me in the short history of this blog. It was characterized throughout by great country instrumentation–fiddles, steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos being used for good. There were a few lyrical weak points, but overall, the songwriting was great too, displaying a maturity that Kelsea Ballerini and RaeLynn lack, while still relating to the same demographic. In short, Maddie & Tae did something no one has managed to do in years; they brought real, traditional country music, albeit slightly pop-influenced at times, to the generation that believes “country” = hip-hop beats, bad rapping, and a token banjo. The impact this album and these ladies could have on the mainstream should be apparent to all of us, and if we truly want country music to survive, this is a victory we should be celebrating.

But apparently this is still not good enough for some people.

I have seen a number of comments on various reviews of this album saying that this is not country, that this is immature, and/or simply dismissing it out of hand because it is pop country. These people can’t even acknowledge that this is progress for country music because they immediately focus on the electronic beats, which were such a minimal part of this album that I didn’t even mention them in my review. First of all, I’d definitely say this is country-pop, not pop country, but if you don’t like pop country, fine. If you listen to this album and can’t deal with the occasional electronic beat–even with the fiddles, steel guitars, mandolins, and banjos always front and center–fine. But everyone reading this knows the fans I am addressing–these are the fans that want country music to return to its “golden age” and are so close-minded that they cannot even accept progress when it is staring them in the face. I actually addressed a commenter on SCM who listened to twenty-six seconds of one song and judged Maddie & Tae for being “bleach blondes.” Comments, and fans, like this, are hurting the genre as bad as, if not worse than, Sam Hunt fans who refuse to listen to Merle Haggard or Jason Isbell for more than twenty-six seconds. Close-minded classic country fans, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but country music is not going to return to its “golden age,” and Hank Williams is not going to be reborn, nor should we wish for this. Being stuck in the past like this does not help the genre–it is not progress to move country backwards. Rather, country music should move forward, while still respecting the roots of the genre. That’s right, I’m saying country should “evolve”–and no, that doesn’t equal Thomas Rhett’s “Vacation,” The Band Perry’s “Live Forever,” or Luke Bryan’s “Strip it Down,” but it does equal Maddie & Tae’s entire album.

Many of us remember the infamous remarks that Blake Shelton made in 2013, calling classic/traditional country fans “old farts and jackasses” among other things. Granted, he made this comment to defend the false “evolution” of country music, but there is some truth to his point that was overshadowed back then by the remarks themselves, as well as by his motive. I didn’t link this article because I don’t want to focus on the ridiculous/incorrect part of his remarks; however, part of his point is indeed valid. He said that young people don’t want to listen to their “grandpa’s music” and that is generally true. I am a twenty-three-year-old country fan interested in keeping the genre that I love alive, and while I respect the talent of the country legends who came before my generation, I generally prefer to listen to good country music of my generation. I’m sure you can understand this, older country fans, since you prefer to listen to the legends of your generation. However, as I said, I do respect the talent and vision of the legends that established the genre and made country what it is today; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care what country “evolved” into. And respect is all I am asking of you–you don’t have to like Maddie & Tae or similar artists, but if you really want country music to survive, understand that it’s people like Maddie & Tae who have a chance of making that happen. Respect them as artists who can bring real country music to the generation that sees “country” as Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini, and understand that this is what it will take to change the state of mainstream country music. And don’t say their music isn’t country–just as a banjo doesn’t automatically make music country, the presence of an electronic beat doesn’t immediately disqualify music from being country.

Older country music fans, instead of dismissing Maddie & Tae or another artist like them because of looks or style, at least give them a listen. If they’re not your cup of tea, fine. But maybe your children or grandchildren could relate to them. Instead of being close-minded and wishing for the days of George Jones, try introducing your children and grandchildren to country music through people like Maddie & Tae. This will do far more to “save country music” than ranting on a blog. Please don’t be one of the “old farts and jackasses” that Blake Shelton was referring to. Don’t be someone that makes true country fans like myself, who want to see the genre move forward and survive beyond our generation, look like close-minded, uninformed people who want everything to sound like Hank Williams. As long as there are comments and fans out there like these, the artists and labels will use them to their advantage to support their brand of “evolution” and ultimately to kill country music. Close-minded classic country fans, if you truly love country music, please do your part to keep it alive.

Tomato of the Week: Brandy Clark

Many people are somewhat familiar with, or have at least heard of, Kacey Musgraves. Brandy Clark has had a hand in writing many of Kacey’s songs and is a talented singer in her own right. See her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Keith Whitley–“I’m No Stranger to the Rain”

A #1 hit for Keith back in 1989 and one of my all-time favorite country songs. See, there will never be another Keith Whitley, and why should we want one?

Non-Country Suggestion: Skillet–“Salvation”

As I say anytime I post Christian music here, if you don’t like Christian music, ignore this. If you do, this is the best song from their latest album.

5 thoughts on “Random Thoughts of the Week: Country Music Should Move Forward, Not Backwards”

  1. You’re right. There’s a grain of truth to what all the pop country fans say, even if their beloved Sam Hunt isn’t truly evolving country music. Personally, I too prefer to listen to modern-ish country music (particularly from around 1995-2005).

    And I saw how you burned that jerk on SCM. That was pretty awesome!

    1. SCM has another article up now about Maddie & Tae addressing the use of drum machines in country music. They’re speaking out against it. And still people in the comments are talking about their age and/or that they’re pop.

        1. It’s amazing how many fans on both ends of the spectrum are wrong. Very good article! The one thing that people like Trigger at SCM and you and I and so many others advocate above all else is just some freaking BALANCE. How do we know that artists like Jon Pardi or Mo Pitney can’t do well in today’s market? Radio won’t hardly give them a chance! Granted, Mo’s biggest problem is his label, and actually “Country” fared far better than I’d hoped, seeing as how it had everything going against it.

          I’m glad That Maddie and Tae have seen success so far. Love him or hate him, but as long as they’re backed by Scott Borchetta, I think they’ve got a future.

          You’re right, we can’t look backward on the evolution of country music, we must always look forward, and Maddie and Tae are a shining example of this, despite what others will say. I mean come on, “Shut Up and Fish” is one of the best songs of the year IMO, and it won’t cause you to shed one tear. It’s a fun song that is actually witty! Who knew you could do that in 2015? I really think that songs like “Vacation” and “Friend Zone” will push the line too far on Country music, and cause the genre to swing back to something more in line with Maddie and Tae’s style…….oh come on, I can dream can’t I?!?

          1. Well, if “Vacation” doesn’t singlehandedly implode the genre, I’m not sure what will…but on a serious note, if it takes music hitting the low that “Vacation” and “Friend Zone” have hit in order to restore country to its true form, then bring it on…hey I can dream too. I agree, I think Maddie & Tae have a future with Scott Borchetta. Scott Borchetta is smart; Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line prove this. He knows how to follow the trends in country, and Maddie & Tae represent the growing trend of disenchanted traditional country listeners calling for a change. I hope this trend wins out, because Borchetta will follow the money. In the meantime, we should all be thankful for the gift he has given us in Maddie & Tae.

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