Although country music is the most popular radio genre in the United States, it’s probably the least talked about. Because pop stars, rock stars and hip hop artists are always making headlines for being scantily clad or on drugs or for pulling guns in clubs, country singers don’t usually get much press. Outlaw country artists like Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson may have been the exceptions but normally country music singers are not front page news. But over the last few years things have changed.
Let’s go back to a previous decade for a minute: Garth Brooks was the king of country in the 1990s, breaking records for both sales and concert attendance. He is still the best-selling albums artist in the United States, a title he has held since 1991, and he is well over 7 million ahead of his nearest rival, The Beatles. Brooks was as country as you could get with his cowboy hat, boots, black and white outfits and staple songs like “Friends In Low Places” and “Rodeo.” He was old school but he had fans of all ages and still does.
Since 2000, other artists have brought country music to the mainstream without selling out. The Dixie Chicks are a great example along with Jake Owen, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson, Faith Hill and Keith Urban. After Carrie Underwood won American Idol in 2005 she started a whole new genre – Pop Country. Her voice is incredibly strong and she is very likable. She turns out hit after hit (i.e. “Before He Cheats” and “Last Name”) and her performances are always stellar. In short, she is a marketing dream come true. Other country acts that have made the genre more exciting are Sugarland, Brad Paisley, Miranda Lambert and most recently Lady Antebellum. You’ll still see cowboy hats and boots but the rest of the style is more recent, more relevant and honestly, a little more rock and roll. As a result, country artists are becoming more relatable and people are noticing.
Last night the 45th Academy of Country Music Awards show was on television and most likely you missed it. Maybe it’s because this award show doesn’t get the hype the Grammy’s or the MTV Video Music Awards do or maybe it’s because country music still isn’t as popular as it should be. The usual suspects performed – Underwood, Paisley, Lambert, McGraw etc. and they were all great. Not one screw up, no flubbing lines, no rappers coming up to steal the show. Reba McEntire, who at 55 years old looks unbelievably good, was the host and she performed. Country legends Brooks & Dunn had their final performance on the show when they sang “My Maria,” the song fans voted for online. Despite some technical difficulties with their microphone, their voices sounded great. In fact, it seems that country artists, no matter how long they have been singing, never lose their voices. Maybe it’s because they don’t use them to brag about how many records they’ve sold or when their next album drops like some other people in the music business. Former Hootie & the Blowfish front man Darius Rucker (yeah he’s a country singer now and he’s awesome) closed the show with another amazing performance.
Hopefully country music will continue to attract new blood and will continue to gain recognition. There’s a lot to be said for artists who know their genre, know their fans, can sing and play their instruments without question and who can get a crowd on their feet. Here’s to a future that brings us more great music without the drama.