What happened to country music?

By Gray Hughes

Hill City Prevailer News Editor Gray Hughes stands on a stack of hay in October of 2014 wondering what happened to country music.

Don’t get me wrong — I love country music.

Country music is the music I listened to with my dad. It is the music I listened to with my friends when we were having a bonfire. It is the music that one of my favorite professors in college described as “America’s music” — and I agree with him.

Country music is as American as blue jeans, apple pie and baseball. But something has happened to the genré.

I guess it all started in 2004 with the song “Over and Over,” a song performed by the rapper Nelly and country music star Tim McGraw.

The song came out when I was in fifth grade, and the anticipation for its release was real. My friend, we’ll call him PJ, and I, talked about it for weeks. The song came out during the first week or so of school, so we were on AOL Instant Messenger during the summer discussing how much we both were looking forward to the song.

PJ and I both loved country, but we also loved rap (rap is still my favorite genre of music to this day). This cross-up between the hottest country star in the game with the hottest rapper out there was almost too much for our 10-year-old hearts could handle.

But then the song came out. And it stunk — at least in my opinion.

It got played and disappeared quickly. I thought nothing of it for years — until the day, in my opinion, the country music died.

A band called Florida Georgia Line burst into the country music scene when I was a senior in high school in 2012. Their song, “Cruise,” in my opinion, was the start of the pop-country mash up that has warped the genré.

There were already bands such as Rascal Flats, a band that — to this day — I detest with every bone in my body. Their poppy-country mash-up just wasn’t for me.

Me personally? I like country music artists such as Johnny Cash, George Strait, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty and Hank Williams, Sr. More contemporary country artists I like include Brad Paisley, McGraw (who is the son of former Phillies great Tug McGraw), Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Eric Church and Billy Currington.

Now, Florida Georgia Line’s appearance in the country music game has forever changed the genre. Now, you have artists such as Luke Bryan, Dan + Shay, Jon Pardi and Chris Stapleton.

Don’t get me wrong — their songs are fun. I like listening to them, and many of their songs take me back to when I was in college and hanging out on my fraternity house’s porch without a care in the world.

But these songs and artists aren’t true country. They are pop — and there is nothing wrong with that.

I love all types of music — pop, country, rap, rock, alternative, indie, folk, classical. I’m not really picky when it comes to music. But to call this new wave of country true country music, in my opinion, is doing a disservice to the genre.

To quote Jo Bennett from the classic TV show (and my favorite TV show of all time) The Office, “Don’t give me gravy and tell me it’s jelly because jelly ain’t sweet.”

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s probably a duck.

Well, this new brand of country music walks like pop music and quacks like pop music. To me, that makes it pop music.

And then there’s the controversy surrounding the song “Old Town Road.”

“Old Town Road” is a song performed by Lil Nas X. I love it. Right now, it’s one of my favorite songs. It’s fun, it’s catchy and it’s really, really good to listen to loud.

It features many of the same qualities of rap — strong bass, more spoken words rather than sung, strong drum sample in the background — but it has the same theme that many country songs have — dirt roads, horses and cowboy hats.

But is it a country song?

Billboard didn’t think so, and they removed it from its top country chart.

Me personally? I don’t like to editorialize or give my opinion, but I would have to agree with Billboard.

That doesn’t take away from the song, though. It’s still a great song, but I don’t think it’s a country song.

People disagree with me, though. I did an unofficial poll on my personal Instagram page, polling my friends and family from around the world, and the results came back that 75 percent think it is county and 25 percent think it isn’t.

Members of the country music establishment — mainly Billy Ray Cyrus — have come out and supported Lil Nas X and his song, saying that it is a country song. Cyrus even did a remix of the song with Lil Nas X that is just as good as the original.

But me? It falls in the same category as Florida Georgia Line and Dan + Shay songs. They’re fun songs, but they aren’t true country songs.