The country music industry isn’t as conservative as it used to be

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Orville Peck has ignited the country world in recent years, but the genre has a much deeper history of diversity.

Rich Fury / Getty

Country music has long cast a shadow of white, heteronormative conservatism wrapped in a Confederate flag and drowned in watered down beer. His stereotypes, certainly not all misguided, have erected a roadblock around gender, provoking major objections among liberal and minority groups for years. But the truth is, country music is moving (gradually) in a much more progressive direction.

Country reviews, take note: your next favorite album could be at the top of the country music charts, and that’s okay. Because country music these days is overtly queer, includes many more people of color, and even supports Democratic Socialist and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

We can already hear the gasps.

But while there is a lot of progress to be celebrated in the country music world today, there is still room to grow.

The black community has been a vital influence on country music for the past 100 years. This month it was announced that legendary R&B singer, songwriter and songwriter Ray Charles would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, thanks to his 1962 albums. Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Volumes 1 & 2. Charles is known for his pop chart favorites like “Hit the Road, Jack” and “Georgia on My Mind”, and although he was warned of a possible career collapse by his record company, he managed to appease country music fans and bridge the gap between white and black country artists with this crossover.

Charles continued to include elements of country music in his repertoire over the years by recording music with country heavyweights Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. But that’s not where black musicians first saw their mark on country music. In fact, they helped create it.

In its commercial beginnings, shortly after the turn of the 20th century, country music was separated into two categories: “hillbilly music,” the colloquial term for country music made by white people, and “racing records.” , made by blacks. White artists were to “own” country music, creating the cultural caricature of Kenny Chesney bending to an arena of God-fearing white Americans. able to successfully and openly contribute to the genre, but there is much more black representation and credit in the country music industry today.

Lil Nas X, a gay black rapper and singer-songwriter, spent time on the Hot Country Songs Chart with his single “Old Town Road” with ’90s country pop star Billy Ray Cyrus, though a brief stint before it was dismissed for not being “enough country.” While he may not have resonated with country traditionalists because of his sound, Lil Nas X made waves and proved that black people (still) belong to the country music circuit.

Black country artist Rissi Palmer, who debuted in 2007 with the single “Country Girl” and, at the time, had three singles on the Hot Country Songs Chart, said in a Associated press article that fans are not as progressive as the industry itself.

“I used to get messages all the time on MySpace, saying, ‘I’m so sick of you,’ Palmer said. ‘Why are you trying to be white?’ Or ‘Why are you trying? you take back country music? ‘”

Earlier this year, country music star Morgan Wallen was heard on a video yelling a racial slur after a night of heavy drinking. His music was immediately taken off radio and streaming services, but his fans rallied even more to him, condemning “cancel the culture” and increase record sales by 102 percent that week.

But just as news of Wallen’s polarizing incident broke, country artist TJ Osborne of country duo The Brothers Osborne came out as gay in a Time magazine article, creating quite a cultural dissonance in the country music news cycle that day. An openly gay country star for a racial insult doesn’t make the latter any less despicable, but it shows the scene isn’t all what his stereotypes suggest.

Last June, lesbian country singer Brooke Eden, who had just spoken publicly, joined country icon Trisha Yearwood on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. During their performance, Yearwood urged the audience to accept that “love is love” and celebrated Eden’s coming out by changing the name of the song they were singing, Yearwood’s 1991 hit “She’s In Love With the Boy” en “Girl”.

Even a decade ago, country music wouldn’t have been quite ready for this kind of recognition from the LGBTQ community. Yearwood and Eden’s performance, however, was met with cheers.

Fancy Hagood is a prime example of expanding the definition of country music, as well as the culture around it. A Rolling stone item wrote that Hagood, who is gay, dubbed his country music “queer pop Southern”. Orville Peck, the masked character of Daniel Pitout, who also happens to be a gay drummer in a Canadian punk band, has also managed to cut his teeth in the world of country music, sprucing it up with a good dose of glitter and of glamor.

We shouldn’t need to champion cultural acceptance of a gender based on the sexualities of its players (who questions straight guys about theirs?) Agenda. ”

The country music industry has also seen a major shift in its political prowess, almost (but not quite) abandoning its usual hyper-conservatism. Most memorable are, of course, the Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks) who publicly criticized former President George W. Bush by declaring at a concert in London that they were “ashamed of the President of the United States. be from Texas, ”a comment made in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But more recently, country blues singer Bonnie Raitt backed Sanders, a hyper-democratic socialist, in the election. presidential election of 2016.

While not necessarily as political statements, Brad Paisley performed at a former President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in January 2013 and Garth Brooks performed at President Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier this year, sparking the indignation of his very conservative fans. These types of appearances may not mean much in the long run, but it potentially gives these artists new popularity with an otherwise “forbidden” audience.

Despite its tropes and loathing for anything that isn’t covered in red, white, and blue and stinks of Bud Light, country music today learns valuable lessons from being played. Some artists and incidents will continue to uphold stereotypes of racism and homophobia, but others will support inclusion and progress. And who knows? Maybe we’ll see the country’s next big star advocate for healthcare reform, tell fans to get the shots, and, if we’re dreaming hard enough, finally ditch light beer for craft APIs.


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