The Hodgepodge: Stop Pretending Mainstream Country is “Family-Friendly”

For years, many for its entire lifetime, country music has more or less been thought of as a family-friendly genre compared to other genres such as rap or rock n’ roll. You could make the argument that Elvis’ rise to popularity as the King of Rock n’ Roll helped perpetuate that notion. Elvis’ pelvis shaking and rowdy rock music was a culture shock to music world in the 1950s, and as teenagers rebelled and flocked to rock n’ roll halls, country music continued down a path of tradition that fit with the cultural norms and establishments. Drums were technically banned from the Grand Ole Opry until 1973, just another detail of how country music solidified itself as the antithesis of the rebellious rock music.

Enter Waylon and The Outlaw movement of the 1970s which gave country music more of an edge, combining rock music with their country music. But while the outlaws operated outside the established Nashville Sound, producers like Chet Atkins kept the reigns tight on the rest of his artists who recorded at Studio A. The control Music Row had (and truly still does have) on artists signed to Nashville labels brought forth a face and image of what country music is. Country music is three chords and the truth, cheating and drinking songs, pick up trucks, etc. But what also set country music apart was their willingness to consistently record gospel tunes, a practice that allowed country music to be viewed as a family-friendly genre.

Carrie Underwood, for example, has had numerous number one singles from songs with religious messages (“Jesus Take The Wheel” “Something in the Water” “So Small”). Garth Brooks had a number one single with “Unanswered Prayers”, and George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” hit number one. Aside from religion, family values and marriage devotion have been successful songs in country music as well. Stars like Alan Jackson (“Remember When” & “Livin’ on Love”), Brad Paisley (“He Didn’t Have to Be” & “Anything Like Me”) and Kenny Chesney (“There Goes My Life”) have had number one singles celebrating family values in songs.

Even though tides have turned and mainstream country in 2016 is very different compared to 30 or 40 years ago, even 10 years ago, I think there’s still a general assumption that country music is still considered a family-friendly music choice. That, however, is a terrible assumption because mainstream country music has become anything but family-friendly. Before I argue why, the inspiration for this post came from a recent article about how Chris Lane’s single “Fix” came to fruition. (Don’t worry, that single will be dealt with on this site soon enough). The sentence that draws my ire has to do with the original draft of the song’s lyrics:

By the time they finished it, “Fix” incorporated images of cocaine lines at a nightclub and the phrase “good shit,” all of which was considered OK because, after all, it wasn’t supposed to be a family-friendly country song.

Chris Lane FixThe implication here, is that by censoring the word “shit” and providing euphemisms for cocaine  “Fix” will then become a family-friendly country song. I call bullshit! The entire song is a three and a half-minute metaphor to drug addiction, a positive metaphor at that rate. I can’t imagine any parent with half a head on his or her shoulders wanting their 10-year-old to listen to a song with several drug references and implied sex. What about that song is “family-friendly”?

Mainstream country in the past few years has regressed from its family-friendly nature, mainly due to bro country. Sure, these bros still referenced their religious upbringing, but those were throwaway checklist mentions to verify to themselves that they were indeed country boys. “This Is How We Roll” isn’t a religious song at all, even though Luke Bryan sings “we pray on them Sundays.” Florida Georgia Line may be “all good with Jesus” in “It’z Just What We Do”, but that song is just another late night bonfire party song. And Michael Ray’s “Real Men Love Jesus” is no where close to being a song about a Christian man.

But the songs on the charts recently stray far away from that family friendly face of country music. Songs about revenge sex (“Home Alone Tonight”) and running from the cops (“We Went”) are sitting in the top 30 this week. Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” was a parade of family-unfriendly references (“If I’m lucky, yeah, I might get laid,” “wear my favorite shades and get stoned” & “stick the pink umbrella in your drink”). And does anyone think that Jason Aldean’s creepy robotic voice singing about seeing a girl naked in his bed (“Burnin’ It Down”) is something families want to listen to?

There are still artists and country singers who hold onto the traditional values and roots of country music, but those artists aren’t the ones being played on radio. Those artists don’t have a mass audience like Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line. Mainstream country and radio today isn’t the same family-friendly country music as before; it’s not even close family-friendly music. I’m not complaining about the fact that these songs exist; the complaint is that these are the songs that are representing country music to the majority of people – on award shows, radio, in publications like Rolling Stone or Billboard. My complaint is that people still refer to country music as a family-friendly genre while songs with very unfriendly content are the songs people hear the most. And that’s okay, but stop pretending you’re a family-friendly genre if that’s the direction you want to go.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Chris King has announced the date of his album releaseAnimal will hit the shelves on March 4.
  • Randy Houser provided details for his next album. The album, Fired Up, will feature 17(!) songs including Houser’s current single “We Went.” Fired Up will be released on March 11.
  • Dierks Bentley announced the title of his eighth studio album, Black. 
  • Randy Rogers Band will release Nothing Shines Like Neon tomorrow. Josh’s review for the album will also be published tomorrow.
  • Brothers Osborne’s debut album, Pawn Shop, will also be released tomorrow.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Better Things To Do” Terri Clark. Terri Clark is one of my favorite female singers in country music. She was all about girl power while keeping it country, and this 1995 hit is the epitome of her attitude. Clark tells her ex-man that she’d rather do just about anything than miss him.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

David Bowie. To say David Bowie was an icon feels like an understatement. The man was an innovative entertainer, influential in his music, leaving a legacy that will carry on for years to come. Rest in peace, David Bowie, you will be missed by many. I’ve just picked the song “Heroes” for this post, but go listen to any of Bowie’s music.

Tweet of the Week

More love for David Bowie. Rodney Crowell says it best here: “a tear in the fabric of creation itself.”

Two iTunes Reviews from Clueless Chris Lane Fans

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.28.38 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 11.27.59 AM

As I said before, “Fix” will be dealt with soon. But these two reviews are from Lane’s EP. The lines that make me face palm:

  • “If you listen deeper and can picture yourself living the song, it’s gotta be country” (because A) that doesn’t apply to any other genre, and B) that’s the end all, be all defining nature of country music)
  • “Adds a little something that I’ve rarely heard in country music…SOUL.” (who has ManOfMuzic been listening to that he hasn’t heard a country singer sing with soul? Probably only Cole Swindell).
  • “…blending bluegrass and gospel since the begining. This takes it one step further and really brings all those sounds full circle and into 2016!” (Aside from the spelling error, THIS IS A POP EP!!! ManOfMuzic must have a different version of Fix-EP because I didn’t hear any resemblance of bluegrass or gospel.)

6 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Stop Pretending Mainstream Country is “Family-Friendly”

  1. theknightswhosayni4 January 14, 2016 / 11:16 am

    Don’t forget that Brothers Osborne’s CD comes out tomorrow too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin January 14, 2016 / 11:22 am

      Thanks for the reminder!

      Like

  2. southtexaspistolero January 14, 2016 / 12:52 pm

    Sweet zombie jeebus, that Billboard article is full of so much fail that I hardly know where to begin with it. But I suppose I could deal with that when you review the song itself.

    I wasn’t too fond of “Better Things To Do” at first, but it grew on me. But I really liked her second single, “When Boy Meets Girl,” and I bought her cd because of it. Man, what a great album. Made me an instant fan.

    She opened for George Strait the first time I ever saw him, in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1996 and put on a great show. The video for “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” was filmed on that tour.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Cobra January 14, 2016 / 1:01 pm

    A new Dierks album? Count me in for that!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Raymond January 14, 2016 / 1:02 pm

    I’m definitely looking forward to Brothers Osborne debut album the preview tracks show a lot of promise.

    Dierks Bentley also has a new somg expected to hit radio this Tuesday that’s called “Somewhere On A Beach”. I can only hope it’s great. But I am nervous with the title.

    When I think of Terri Clark songs the first one that always comes to mind is Girls Lie Too. That song is such a fun song.

    I have this feeling with Maren Morris just announced as OTV and Jon Pardi Chris Stapleton Brandy Clark she has a new song out soon and Maddie & Tae music making strong strides into radio 2016 could be a great year. Besides Chris Lane Fix will probably flame out quickly since I can see radio finding that polarizing. I don’t know with Chris Stapleton rise I can see country music not quite keeping things as safe and polished as the last few years were,

    Like

  5. Kevin Davis January 15, 2016 / 1:11 am

    Derek, I greatly appreciate this discussion about country music’s relationship with “family values.” My biggest complaint, however, is different. I am a Presbyterian seminary student and theology student. My biggest complaint is the confusion of “family values” with Christianity. I am a mostly conservative sort of guy, but Christianity is about the sinner, graciously accepted, not the saint, as commonly perceived. A true Christian knows that he or she has no basis upon which to judge another person, in the way only God can judge.

    This does not mean that we do not have beliefs and standards and aspirations, but it means that we are profoundly humble.

    When I look at Johnny Cash or George Jones’ gospel output, even in relation to their “secular” output, I see men who knew their weakness and their Lord’s strength. I agree that this current generation (which is also my generation, since I am in my early 30’s) is sorely lacking in this regard. But I am hopeful that Christianity in its most profound sense can find a stronghold in country music once again. Obviously, Joey Feek and her husband are incredible examples for us. This is not a “moralistic” or “judgmental” Christianity but, rather, a Christianity of the Cross: Self-sacrifice and Love.

    In this context, I do not care about moral or social issues, as ends in themselves. That’s idolatry. The love of God is greater. As Paul said, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Everyone is equal — equally loved by God. At its heart, this has been central to country music, even when sinners (i.e., all of us) sing about our fractured desires and broken hearts and desperate substitutes.

    I am deeply broken and deeply loved. That’s the heart of country music.

    Liked by 1 person

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