Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Lyrics Still Matter

What makes country, country? I feel like a broken record talking about the way today's artists are pushing the genre's boundaries. There's no denying it. Much of what we hear on country radio today would have been foreign matter 20 years ago. Think along the lines of Blake Shelton's Boys 'Round Here or I Want Crazy by Hunter Hayes. Taylor Swift might have created her own genre with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

While I only listen to pop, rock, and hip-hop on an infrequent basis, I do have the credibility of someone who's entered country from the outside. That is, I didn't grow up on it. So when I hear about a "civil war" in Nashville and tensions between "traditional and modern-country fans", as an Entertainment Weekly article puts it, I'm somewhat baffled. The apparent resistance to change seems illogical. Country is bigger now than ever – why the complaining from some artists and diehard fans?

Yes, there will be divisions. And yes, it is not impossible that there will eventually be a complete break between "traditional" and "modern" country. But while our sound continues to change, our lyrics don't. Not really. You see, I believe lyrics are what makes country, country. And not in the way you might think. It's true that our themes and content are repetitive. However, the real clincher is the way songs are built.

Other genres tell stories. Other genres convey emotion. But we're somehow different. Country lyrics put you into the subject's shoes in a genuine, sensory way.

For example:

"Got a moon and a billion stars/The sound of steel and old box cars/The thought of you is driving me insane/C'mon, baby let's go listen to the night train." (Night Train, Jason Aldean)

"If you still love me/Don't just assume I know." (Remind Me, Brad Paisley)

"He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar/The only one who's got enough of me to break my heart." (Teardrops On My Guitar, Taylor Swift)

Country music presents sophisticated emotions in ways anyone can understand. We use imagery – ALL the time. We sing the things we can't say in a meaningful way. We put the complexities of life in a nutshell the average Joe can crack.

No, I can't prove it. But while our lyrics and musical style will continue to evolve, the underlying structure of real emotion through descriptive story will always be there.


  1. But there was somethin bout the way/The blue lights were shinih/Bringing out the freedom in your eyes...

    That's one of my faves right now. I'm a sucker for the lyrics. Melodies can make just about anything sound right but if the words don't mean anything, the song won't make you feel.

  2. I actually hadn't listened to Cop Car yet! Haha, what an original theme.


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