Brock Willard editor in chief
Many people avoid country music like the plague (or like COVID) in today’s music selections. They cite the “twang” or the emphasis on certain narratives pervading the genre. However, I posit a different explanation: country music has moved primarily towards a conservative, Christian nationalist worldview and there are many for whom this is a turn off.
I want to be clear that I have no philosophical issue with country music. I’m not even saying that I dislike it. I’m also not saying that Christian conservatism is inherently bad. I firmly believe in free speech and upholding the right to believe however you want. I’m merely examining a general trend that can be traced through the country music written, produced, and marketed post-Sept. 11, 2001. I’m also not making any sort of ideological or qualitative judgement on the September 11 attacks. That is left to other far more knowledgeable people who were much older than 5 years old (as I was) when those terrorist attacks occurred.
The history of country music is a diverse one. Country evolved out of the rockabilly tradition which in turn was an evolution out of bluegrass and rhythm and blues music, primarily associated with that of black people in the United States. The appropriation and dissemination of musical genres and styles is a topic for another time, but it’s important to know that country music as we know it today owes its earliest roots to these twentieth century genres.
As the century went on, country, like many genres, saw an increase in mixture of styles. There were lines of country music that remained stable like the music of Conway Twitty (popularized to a more modern audience by a recurring joke on the show “Family Guy”), but others began to branch out ever so slightly. This includes the likes of Dolly Parton, or Johnny Cash. Even artists who didn’t have much of a bend towards country music began sampling some of the genre. However, the turn of the 21st century is where we begin to see a clear ideological split in the kinds of narrative themes being presented in popular country music.
Prior to the attacks on Sept. 11, country music was generally about problems faced by everyday people or about semi-mythical events that served as excellent parables. Additionally, much of country music was in a “honky tonk” style with moving bass and an emphasis on rhythm. Songs also had references to Christian theology but only to an extent that lent itself to the Christian dominant culture in the United States.
Post-9/11, we begin to see two strains of country begin to develop. We see a strain that leans far more into the singer-songwriter than traditional country. A notable example who got her start in this era is Taylor Swift. The other strain was seemingly marketed towards conservatives and Christians in the wake of political upheavals brought on by the terrorist attacks. Much of the music of this strain feature’s themes of increased patriotism, nationalism, as well as glorification of the armed forces. These themes are not inherently bad of course, but some of the audience that became attached to this strain harbored feelings that created a particular external perception. This perception colored this conservative Christian audience as generally xenophobic, isolated, and unconcerned with the well-being of those unlike them. Whether this perception is true or not isn’t for me to decide.