Country music is a hard genre to define and the truth is our beloved genre is constantly evolving. Over the decades we have leaned towards a mainstream sound with rock, soul, hip-hop influenced country music. Country music went from honky-tonk to outlaw country to country wide pop influenced country.
Bro-country, or “hick hop,” as its sometimes called, has been unstoppable on the charts, and the cross-over appeal of stars like Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan and other has helped put the genre back in the spotlight. Country music even returned as a radio format in New York City in 2013 after a 17- year absence.
Outlaw country had a grittier sound and sparser instrumentation and arrangements. The lyrics were on the surface of simple but the depth kept listeners listening. Artists such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams Junior were the key players in this genre.
Country music has rarely been stronger commercially but is the crossover country making the genre lose its identity. When times change music has to change with it, country music has beat-heavy grooves that has nothing to do with traditional country. Patsy Cline added strings in the 60’s to change up the sound and Kenny Rogers and Ronnie Milsap experimented with more contemporary elements of the 80’s. Why did the music have to change so dramatically? It’s lost its sense of depth and meaning. Country music has had its subject matter change in rural areas because the paradigm has shifted away from family-owned agriculture. Country music is the music of people’s real lives, and those real lives often used to be difficult, which is why classic country lyrics include themes of hard work and sorrow. Today music is still about people’s real lives but its just that those real lives are more about partying with your friends, cruising around town or getting a girl compared to music about losing a crop to early frost or family member dying from cancer. Traditional country music use to touch people’s hearts with deep lyrics but now with bro country, the genre is more popular. Modern day country music has brought in a wider range of listeners and made radio stations numbers much better.
Merle Haggard had number one country album in June when he and Willie Nelson released “Django and Jimmie.” Christ Stapleton recently took home three Country Music Association awards, including best album for “Traveler,” a traditional country collection and Maddie and Tae took the award home for video of the year for “Girl in a Country Song.”
Traditional artists like Sturgill Simpson and Jamey Johmson, who preceded and has now taken himself out from the Nashville machine, they are drawing ever larger crowds and making successful and acclaimed albums.
Bro Country has been around for ten years now, longer than people expected, it’s just become more popular since social media. So is country music finally going to change its format to mix the two types of country music or bro country continue to sweep country music radio?
Traditional country might just be on it’s way back, the cycle says its time.
By: Melanie Hicks