I was actually going to focus this entirely on merle Haggard until today, when I heard of the news of Jason Aldean’s comments. Both Haggard and Aldean shared some very interesting random thoughts on country music this week, and they are made even more interesting in light of each other, so I decided to look at them together.
In an interview on September 9th, Merle Haggard said, of modern country music,
It needs a melody real bad. Not sure what they’ll have to remember. A song is defined as words put to music, but I don’t hear any music. All I hear is the same band, the same sound, and everybody screaming to the ceiling. You stand off at a distance and you couldn’t tell who they are. They are all screaming for one note they can barely get. I don’t find it very entertaining. I wish I did.
This comes after these comments on September 3rd, shared in another interview:
I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kids stuff. It’s hot right now, but I’ll tell you what, it’s cooling off.
Now, aside from the obvious fact that Merle Haggard has just said what many of us are thinking, this news is significant because these words have come from a legend. Mainstream outlets are actually reporting it; Merle Haggard is name-dropped in many of today’s songs, and yet he is calling out mainstream country. A more underrated but no less significant fact is that he said it’s “cooling off”–Merle Haggard has been around awhile, and if he says a trend is dying, we all might want to listen to him. Also, Merle points out Sturgill Simpson and
Taylor Swift, of all people, as being current artists he respects. Sturgill Simpson, seen by many people on these blogs as our biggest hope, who carries a giant torch for traditional country, and Taylor Swift, who, even though she eventually went pop and made an entire career on “kid stuff” knows how to write a melody better than most of our generation. I love that he called out Swift especially, because as I said, she made a name for herself writing “kid stuff.” By mentioning her name, Merle Haggard is separating himself from those “old” country fans who just want everything to sound like Hank Williams. He’s acknowledging that you can still write “kid stuff” and be relatable; also, as a commenter on SCM pointed out, Taylor was a kid when she wrote “kid stuff,” whereas the bros are adult frat boys.
And speaking of the bros, there’s one that actually agrees with Haggard…well, sort of. Monday, (September 14th), Jason Aldean said this when asked about the lack of female representation in mainstream country music,
I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing – and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this – a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know? A lot of times they just sound really similar to me.
Well, cluelessness of that statement aside, it does seem interesting that Aldean hears the sameness in country music that Haggard noted. However, back to the cluelessness–so he can tell all the bros apart? The females are easily more distinguishable–has anyone here heard Kelsea Ballerini sing and assumed it was Miranda Lambert? Then Aldean went on to say:
…you have some that come out like a Carrie [Underwood] or Miranda [Lambert] or somebody like that, that really has a different, distinctive sound to their voice, then it’s like, oh, okay, you can tell them apart all of a sudden. They go on to be obviously big stars, but I think it’s because you can distinguish between them … Listening to country radio, you always have these labels that are putting out new acts and it’s like, you already don’t know who this person is. So what is going to make you remember them?
Oh, okay, so he can tell two females apart on the radio: the two that are played on country radio!!! Here’s a thought; I bet, just maybe, possibly, if he heard more females, he might be able to tell more of them apart! So, in reference to females, his comments become absolutely ridiculous. However, in reference to country in general, it is interesting that both Merle Haggard and Jason Aldean, who come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, have noticed a sameness and lack of individuality in country music. Too bad Jason Aldean’s comments were only directed at women; Merle Haggard made no distinction between men and women. Still, regardless of the intent of Jason Aldean, his comments were no less honest than those of Merle Haggard, and both point to an increasing notice of, and concern for, the lack of individuality in a genre that once embraced it.
Tomato of the Week: Courtney Patton
I am going to turn my attention to the Texas scene for this week’s Female Friday–it seems Texas is just as lacking in female representation as Nashville–and I look forward to featuring Courtney Patton.
Random Country Suggestion: Josh Turner–“Lay Low”
The excellent single from the album that has yet to be released or even announced.
Non-Country Suggestion: Kelsea Ballerini–“Secondhand Smoke”
Kelsea Ballerini is a terrible country artist, and should have never been classified as such. But her debut album actually had some decent pop songs and I put this here for that reason; listen to it as a pop song. It’s a personal song for Ballerini and should not be overlooked because of the atrocious “Dibs,” “Yeah Boy,” etc.
One Last Thought
Congratulations to Lindi Ortega, who won the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) 2015 Roots Artist of the Year award Saturday night (September 12th.) This is Lindi’s second win in a row, and hope for females, independent/Americana/roots artists, and music of substance everywhere.