Country Music: In Defense of “Bro Country” & Other Thoughts on Musical Identity

Country Music: In Defense of “Bro Country” & Other Thoughts on Musical Identity

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I have a confession to make. I listen to Bro Country. Not all the time, not even every day, but every once in a while. Sometimes when I’m constructing my epic, over 200 songs, playlists for a long drive or a big holiday weekend, I throw a Florida Georgia Line song on there or pop on some random Jason Aldean single. I’m a woman who doesn’t wear daisy dukes or easily jump into the bed of any guys truck. I’m a woman who is independent, hard working, and incredibly driven. But, I listen to it. Is it my favorite type of music? No. Do I think it speaks to the heart of country music? Absolutely not. Do I think it has its place in the fabric of the genre? The simple answer is yes.

The complicated answer demands that I take you back in time. My channels of discovering music in my youth seem to be completely different from most people I grew up with. Their 2048x1440parents maybe listened to The Beatles and waxed poetic about Bob Dylan and the genius of Led Zeppelin. I grew up with an amazing single mother who had neither time, or much interest, for the active discovery of music. Throughout my childhood I remember her rotation of four records that really became the foundation of my musical taste. Four records, that’s it. Creedence Clearwater, Mariah Carey’s debut album, Sade, and Elton John. (To be fair to my mom, she listens to WAY more music than that, but this is what I can remember growing up. She’s actually very eclectic.) When it came time for me to discover music on my own, I was all over the map, but by my teens I was knee deep in pop music.

Yes, I’ll admit it, I was a huge fan of boy bands and popstars. Anyone who has spent any amount of time on this site probably knows that. Looking back now I can easily see that the music I was listening to lacked in artistic integrity what it made for in sing-a-long, sappy hooks. I’m well aware it wasn’t groundbreaking music, but here’s a little secret for those that discard music like it’s pointless if you (personally) don’t see the value in it. It meant something to me. I was able to take the cheesy lyrics and internalize them, they made me feel just a little bit understood at an age where almost no one feels that way. When my grandmother passed away I listened to “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” “Where You Are,” and “How Do I Live” on an incessant and annoying loop. These are songs about break-ups and being in love, on the off chance that you’re unaware or were born in the late 90’s. But I wasn’t listening to them pining for the guy I had a crush on or hoping to marry a Backstreet Boy (all the time anyway). Those lyrics transformed into something that made sense for my life, at the moment, in that time. And really, isn’t that the point of music?

Which really brings me to my point (because I do have one). Trust me, I understand the frustration with the ridiculous influx of “Bro Country” that’s drowning the radio stations and bashing us over the head with party songs about trucks. When there are gorgeous songs out there like Kacey Musgraves “Keep It To Yourself” or any number of Ashley Monroe’s smart tracks, and thoughtful songs like Kip Moore’s “Dirt Road” are being overlooked by a terribly written ditty by FGL called “Dirt,” it’s easy to throw up your arms and damn the man.

But truthfully, there’s still value in the music beyond the profit margin for the label. I’ve always held this steadfast belief that as long as someone is listening, and they’re pulling some emotional connection out of the music, then it has value. That’s not to say that I don’t wish there was more realness in mainstream country music, that we could get back to the days when songs told a story instead of resorting to vapid and played out party music. I love a great party song when I’m, you know, at a party. Or rocking out at a music festival. But I also enjoy losing myself in beautiful lyrics with timeless and thought provoking stories. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to hear Charlie Worsham do “Mississippi In July” live it has absolutely made the show for me. It’s a stunningly crafted piece of music that, if radio worked the way it should, would be released as a single and absolutely dominate the airwaves.

But here’s the thing, party music is working right now. Despite the sometimes misogynistic lyrics, the shoddy rhyming schemes, and the overuse of certain themes… songwriters have such an important place in country music and it’s equally as important that they make money. Just as the superstar artists on a label need to sell records in order for labels to support their smaller, less mainstream artists. Superstars making their money is what allows up-and-comers and songwriters to then write music with more substance and be able to afford to put it out there. The bad sometimes supports the good in the industry, as unfortunate as that might be. And I’m not ever going to deny talented writers their chance at getting a #1 hit in order to feed themselves and their families if it means writing a cliche song for a major artist. Even if I don’t particularly love the song.

There is most definitely better music out there. More well written, more thought out, more full of substance, and much more relatable. Especially if you shift your focus away from mainstream and go on an active journey of discovery, you’ll find bands like The Lone Bellow, The Saint Johns, Michealis… and so many more I can name that are not popular but make beautiful songs and use songwriting to the best of their ability. But when one of Luke Bryan’s more recent hits comes on at a party and everyone gets up and starts dancing together, like one mass of happy individuals raising up their beers to toast at one another, there’s something to be said about that as well. These are songs that are bringing people together in the name of music, more importantly, in the name of country music. And while that may not be what we want to hear on a day to day basis, or the music we find solace in, we have to learn to understand that not everyone is into the same things. To respect one another and our opinions and reasons behind why we listen to something.

I’ve been that person who was tormented for the kind of music I listened to, completely not understanding how someone could tear down what held so much value and importance for me. It’s not a good feeling to be made to feel like you’re dumb based on your emotional reaction to something. Granted, I grew older and wiser, and frankly don’t give a shit what people think of my musical taste anymore. But it took me some time to get here, and I hate to see that cycle continuously repeating itself within the country genre, because in general we’re all such sweet people.

Music really is subjective, everyone reacts differently from one song to the next, and that’s how it should be. If you loved everything, you wouldn’t really appreciate a well written and arranged piece of music the way that you should. So lets step back and let Bro-Country be what it is. If you like it, great! Keep buying those records. If you hate it, switch the station, build your own playlist, and just let it go.

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