Music is funny thing. It can bring all sorts of people together, whether it be in the form of a collaboration between two very different artists or uniting those who may not have much in common when it comes to their musical tastes. Music also changes over time. New artists bring new sounds, existing artists collaborate with artists nobody would have thought of, new sub-genres are created, and new dances are invented. Each decade has brought us something new different and distinct. The 60’s took us from from dancing the twist and the mashed potato at sock hops into the 70’s where we danced along to the hustle as we watched Saturday Night Fever for the 100th time. The 80’s gave us the YMCA so that you literally just had to stand in place and move your arms, while the moon walk and the cabbage patch were for those with less rhythm and more robot type moves. Then the 90’s came and brought with them the instructional dances, including the electric slide and the Macrena. But wait, we also had Hammertime, the infamous Carlton Dance, and thanks to Billy Ray Cyrus, country was taken to the mainstream and everyone and their mother learned how to two-step. Oh and yes, how could we forget one of the most memorable trends of the 90’s. Thank you Madonna for bringing out the inner model in us all by teaching us how to Vogue.
Then the 2000’s happened and the wild and crazy reached a whole new level. Bumping, grinding, twerking….things you probably shouldn’t be doing in public became the everyday norm. Suddenly there’s YouTube videos getting more attention than actual music videos because of someone, whether it be your nine year old daughter or your middle age parent, who wants the world to see them doing the latest dance craze. But it doesn’t stop there. No, now you’ve got people taking off their clothes because Nelly claims, “it’s getting’ hot in here,” and girls showing off their underwear because Sisqo made his fortune with “The Thong Song.” We’ve got parents yelling “Call me on my cell phone” because of Drake and his “Hotline Bling,” and drunk girls telling random guys to “Call them maybe” because gosh darnnit that Carly Ray Jepsen chick makes it sound just so damn cute.
Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake, the Stanky Leg (I still don’t get how that one caught on; the title alone is awful), the Wobble, Lean Back, Walk It Out…these are all the latest dance fads of the millennium. Someone piss you off or are you having a bad day? Man, just take a page out of Jay-Z’s book and “Get that dirt off your shoulder.” Got an ex who’s pissed you moved on? Tell that jerk he “Should have put a ring on it.” Do you want to know how to “Ride the pony”? Ask any girl who grew up in the 90’s, or better yet just watch Magic Mike. Do you want to know how to “Whip and Nae Nae”? Ask your nine year old, she probably already has a YouTube video up of her and her friends dancing it.
Language has changed over time as well. With new music and new dance moves comes new terminology we all have to learn. The last few years alone have not only brought us some interesting terms and dances, it also raised the bar on the collaboration scale. I myself only learned what a “Trap Queen” was just recently. Everyone suddenly began using “YOLO” as an excuse to do dumb shit, and thanks to his new album, everyone now has the Bieber fever again. Nelly helped Florida Georgia Line “Cruise” to the pop charts with their remix of the already popular country hit. Before them, Ludacris and Jason Aldean turned up the hip hop on “Dirt Road Anthem.” Taylor Swift taught us how to “Shake it Off,” while Adele gave new depth and emotion to the word “Hello.” The Weeknd taught us how to really get our feelings across with “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you.” Meghan Trainor taught us how to appreciate the bass, and thanks to Luke Bryan every girl on planet Earth wants to show him how country girls shake it. Thanks to guys like Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, Jason Aldean, and fraternity brothers across the world, a new sub category of country music was inspired, and thus the term ‘Bro Country’ was coined. Of course, the shift in country music hasn’t really helped the term fade away, unlike Billy Ray’s career.
These days, popular country stars are covering more pop and hip hop songs in their concert set-lists, while some are even changing the sound of their own music all together. It seems more and more of Luke Bryan’s music has a pop, hip-hip or R&B vibe to it. And he, most of all, is infamous for covering pop and hip-hop hits during his concerts. In fact, some country artists you wouldn’t expect are even covering these popular jams you wouldn’t normally expect them to. Almost every country artist I’ve seen in concert does some sort of pop/hip-hop cover medley to please their fans. And ya know what? It works. Man, does it work! Though it may not be popular among the old school, hardcore, outlaw or traditional country artists and fans, the rest of the world seems to be on board with it. In fact, I think it’s what inspires the mash-ups and collaborations that we’ve seen over the last few years. Just this morning I watched a YouTube video of Luke Bryan and Jason Derulo collaborating (via Skype) on Derulo’s popular hit “Want to Want Me.” Watch any country music awards show and you’ll see any number of artists from other genres lining up to perform alongside our favorite country stars.
I think some people are under the impression that country artists only listen to country music, and that they absolutely do not like any other type of music. Well, I’m sorry to burst your little bubble but you people who think that are idiots. I’m sorry, but I’m just calling a spade a spade. I know some of us like to see ourselves as music snobs who only listen to the best music, and no way would we ever be caught dead jamming to something as ridiculous as “Whip Nae Nae,” but let me tell you something. Everybody has guilty pleasures when it comes to music. Whether it’s the songs you dance to at weddings and parties, the songs you secretly dance to in your bedroom when no one else is around, or the songs only you and your best friends sing along to in the car, EVERYONE has guilty pleasures when it comes to music. Am I saying some of these songs are actually good quality music? No, not at all. But let’s face it. If it’s catchy and makes you wanna groove, then how can you ignore it? Especially when it’s literally everywhere.
My point is that like everything else in this world, music has to evolve. If it stayed the same we wouldn’t have any kind of variety at all. Each decade of music is influenced by what came before it. Every artist is inspired by their predecessors. If we only listened to one type of music we would go nuts. I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally have different music for different occasions and for different moods. You have to; it’s just not possible to listen to one kind of music all the time. And why would you want to? So yes, country artists, like everyone else, listen to other music besides country. Remember that many of them have children, so of course they’re going to listen to what their kids are listening to as well. They likely hear something they like and try to think of a way to bring that to what they’re doing with their own music. And really, what’s wrong with that? It keeps things fresh and new. Granted, experimenting with alternate types of music doesn’t always work for every artist, but it’s worth trying.
In 1995 Shania Twain released her debut album and made her mark as female country artist. But in 1997 she made her crossover into pop music, breaking records and winning herself four Grammy awards. Taylor Swift started out as a country singer and made her official crossover into pop music territory with the release of her record breaking album 1989. Artists can cross over into other genres. It isn’t unheard of and they shouldn’t be crucified for it. Thomas Rhett, for example, announced ahead of time that he was going in an entirely different direction on his sophomore album Tangled Up. He explained himself by admitting he likes to dance and wear suits, and he likes music that lets him do that. If you listen to the album you can clearly hear his influences of Bruno Mars, R&B, and even a little bit of hip-hop. But there’s also a little bit of country on there as well. Overall, it’s a good album and was definitely a shocker when he revealed his first single off the album, “Crash and Burn.” What TR did right, though, was not calling it a country album. He made it very clear that it would have a very different sound than his first album did. As long as he’s not trying to call it something it’s not, who cares what kind of music it is or what genre it falls into? It’s good music and that’s all that matters.
I get certain traditional country artists not being happy with the direction new country music is headed in, but the genre is going to change just like anything else. Artists and fans need to understand and accept that as long as the world around us is changing, everything in that world is going to change as well, including music. If you spend your time fighting change then you’ll never move forward. You’ll stay in the same place you’ve always been. So do yourself (and the people around you) a favor and expand your musical horizons. Go download the new Fetty Wapp song, learn the Whip Nae Nae dance, go out and do something worth yelling “YOLO” for, and go get it on like Marvin Gaye because God only knows what new fads 2016 will bring us. It’s like Bono once said, “Music can change the world because music can change people.”