Country music is sort of used to getting dissed among other popular genres; it’s been going on for years (anyone remember the song “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”?). LL Cool J’s recent collaboration with Brad Paisley aside, we’re getting used to watching the hip-hop crowd get snarky when a country artist wins an award (anyone remember Kanye interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech?), and we’re used to country music being largely viewed as “hokey” by the more sophisticated pop and EDM cultures.
And yet, country calmly remains one of the top-selling and most-listened-to genres of music in America today. Consider the following as evidence of this:
- On this week’s Billboard 200 chart, four of the top ten albums are country records: Brad Paisley Wheelhouse (No. 2), Blake Shelton Based On a True Story…. (No. 4), Eric Church’s new live album Caught In the Act (No. 5), and The Band Perry Pioneer (No. 6). (Compare that to only two hip-hop albums on this week’s Top Ten, and none of them are in the Top Five.)
- Live tours by country artists are consistently among the best-attended and most profitable among live shows. (Last year’s record-breaking tours by Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney/Brad Paisley come to mind.) This is an indicator of a strong loyalty factor among country fans.
- Country artists as a whole tend to have long careers. Once a country artist starts charting, it is highly likely that his/her popularity will last for many years—another indicator of fan loyalty.
- Country’s crossover appeal is growing. While country music could only be heard on country radio stations just a few years ago, now it is commonplace to hear Taylor Swift, Sugarland, The Band Perry and Luke Bryan on Top 40 formatted stations.
There are other things I could mention, but you get the point. Suffice it to say that despite being the genre people sort of love to poke fun at, it is still a well-known fact within the music industry that if you want a long and prosperous music career, country music is the way to go. Despite all the upheaval taking place in the music industry thanks to the digital age, country seems to have all the staying power of a gold-based investment portfolio in a tanking economy.
So why is it that country music remains so popular? There’s no real science behind this, but I have a few theories…
COUNTRY MUSIC IS LYRICALLY ACCESSIBLE
Contrary to public belief, East Coast sophistication is not the mentality of most Americans. The heartland is full of normal, everyday people, working hard for a living and enjoying family and friends with what leisure time they have. While hip-hop artists have made closet industry out of bragging about how much swag they’ve accumulated and how many “b**ches” they’ve bedded, country songs are far more about everyday things that real people deal with: love, loss, making a living, having a beer, missing loved ones. (And trucks. That seems to be popular these days.) While other genres are built around being bigger-than-life, and promoting the so-good “good life” everyone wishes they had…country music seems to focus more on making the most of the life most people actually do have. All that to say, country songs are highly relatable to the general public, and that makes them popular.
COUNTRY MUSIC KEEPS IT SIMPLE
While other genres like to push the musical envelope, exploring new sounds, rhythms and song structures (and there’s nothing wrong with that), country music (like its neighbor, pop music) stays pretty close to the norm: predictable chord patterns, standard verse/chorus song structures, and highly sing-able melodies. Let’s face it—we love to sing along. Country music gives us the chance to do that where other musical styles make it harder for the average person to jump in.
COUNTRY MUSIC VALUES ITS FAN BASE
One of the reasons why country fans are so fiercely loyal is that country artists are known for being fiercely loyal to their fans. I can’t tell you why that dynamic exists, but there is a well-established love relationship between country artists and their fans, which is why established country artists can keep performing well into old age. Somehow, the country music community has never forgotten that fans make it possible for the artist to make a living. So the artists continue to record albums the fans will like, even knowing that the fan will buy the record even before they know whether it’s any good. It’s a symbiotic relationship that other genres only dream of.
There are some who have predicted that country music is a dying genre, largely based on the notion that country artists and their fans tend to be a bit older demographic than other genres. However, they’ve been predicting country’s demise for decades, and every decade a new breed of country artist comes up to prove the naysayers wrong. And this decade’s stock of young country artists seem to be more popular than ever.
Bottom line: rag on country music all you want. The artists are laughing all the way to the bank.