Opinion: Corporatism has ruined Country

Ethan Hunt

Country music industry has lost its way. Or, what was classified as country has changed from when its previous generations’ stars led the industry.

I have been a country music fan my entire life. However, my preference in country music is“true country.” True country is embodied by the likes of Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. These artists portrayed themselves as “outlaws,” men with no regard for the rules of society, who lived a gritty lifestyle of hardship and misfortune.

These characteristics are responsible, in part, for country music’s association with a rural lifestyle. People of simple means could relate not only to the lyrics, but the artists’ struggles.

However, the people on the Billboard top 50 country artists in 2019 are a far cry from outlaw. There are exceptions; Boone’s own Luke Combs comes to mind as an artist not carefully designed by a marketing team in Nashville. But most of the industry’s best do not portray themselves as people who live a rambling, rough and tumble lifestyle, and it is reflected in their music.

With perfect plastic smiles and lyrics to match, country music stars of today are pop stars. The classic rural themes of country music feel dishonest when delivered through artists such as Kane Brown or Dan + Shay. But, time and time again, country music executives have chosen to push artists with a more neutral sound they believe will appeal to the masses. This is exemplified in bands such as Florida Georgia Line, whose songs often slip into the pop genre. 

However, there is a rising opposition to the corporatization of country music. Artists such as Tyler Childers, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton have led a return to roots of the country music industry. They represent a new era of country outlaws and people are listening. Childers alone pulls in 1.2 million monthly listeners on Spotify without support from an institution such as the Country Music Awards. 

Country fans are tired of the meticulously marketed pop stars that Nashville produces. Give us someone flawed, someone without a perfect smile, and no $10,000 cowboy boots. Give someone real a chance and perhaps country music can regain some of the respect it once had.