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Invasion of the Music Snatchers: Mainstream Country Music

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What do Sugarland, Rascal Flatts, Lady Antebellum, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood have in common? They’re all impostors. Somehow these folks, and many many others, slowly and quietly infiltrated our radio stations and took over the airwaves. It’s an invasion that’s taken decades, but they’ve finally conquered, and the world is theirs.

country tombstoneThe internet is rife with websites and forums devoted to uncovering the mystical secret behind “why country music sucks”. Unfortunately, most people who put down modern mainstream country music end up sounding like old men unwilling to accept change, who only listen to Hank Williams, and who only consider a song ‘country’ if a wailing steel guitar can be heard behind a southern accent singing about beer, women, and trucks.

Well I’m not a closed-minded country fan. I do like Hank Williams, but I also like a plethora of other singers, bands, and genres. I listen to classical music, swing, country, rock ‘n’ roll, hard rock, soft rock, indie rock, folk, bluegrass, blues, jazz, and the list goes on and on. One thing I cannot put up with, however, is fake music with fake emotions sung by fake people who neither wrote their own music nor their own lyrics, and rarely even play the instruments on their own albums.

When someone writes a song, they are calling upon their own experiences and their own feelings. When they perform that song, they know exactly how they feel. One of the biggest problems with bands who don’t have anything to do with the creative process is that they’re singing and playing someone else’s thoughts and feelings, and 99% of the time, it is incredibly apparent. Watch them as they squint their eyes, and lift their hands in the air or place it over their heart just to try and portray some emotion to the audience that they’re really not feeling at all. It’s pathetic.

Country music has become a new form of karaoke; the kind where people with little talent can take over the radio, push real country into the underground scene where few people ever hear it, and make millions of dollars simply because their music is backed by massive marketing campaigns. Part of their advertising campaign, by the way, includes their songs being played on the radio twenty-five times a day, where the D.J. is paid to praise their ‘new single’ or to encourage us all to check out this ‘amazing up-and-coming new band’. Repetition is their friend; it makes us buy into their hype, and in turn buy their albums.

I’m not going to take a stab at people who do enjoy mainstream country radio. It’s not my position to tell others what to like. If you are a fan of mainstream country, please just do one thing for me; admit that it isn’t country. Go ahead and enjoy it, as long as you can admit that what you’re listening to is pop music, and that 99% of it has no business being aired on a country radio station.

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About AudioDog

  • Jan

    I hate Taylor Swift… but I like all the others you listed. And it isn’t pure country, it’s country-pop

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’m about as far from a fan of Taylor Swift as humanly possible, but she most assuredly has written her own songs.

    Carrie Underwood, too, has written most of her songs. Lady Antebellum, same thing. Sugarland? ‘Fraid so.

    It seems to me that most of your gripe actually concerns the stylistic direction country music has been taking as of late. Your attempt to cast these artists off as phonies who don’t write their own songs and speak about their own experiences is just not true.

  • Yes, Taylor Swift is well known for writing her own songs. However, she is the furthest thing from country music that I listed there. It is also very likely that she writes a skeleton of a song, which is finished and polished by someone else. In the end, I’m sure she has little to do with the final sound and feel of the song.

    Carrie Underwood (who came from American Idol, which is as Karaoke as it gets) isn’t far behind.

    Also, most country artist’s who actually get credit for ‘writing their own songs’ have little or nothing to do with the process. Maybe they had some input, maybe they added a line. But 99% of mainstream country artists are taken into a room, a cd is played for them with a dozen songs written and performed by someone else, and they get to choose which song they’d like to cover. Big and Rich made their living this way… before they ever recorded, they just wrote songs so big names like Brooks & Dunn could walk in and just pick a few songs that they liked.

    I wonder if we’re all aware of how tiny a contribution an artist must make in order to get writing credits on the back of their album.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’d ask you to prove your assertions, but I think that’s a pretty useless idea. Your mind appears made up, even if album and writing credits state that Swift is the only writer on most of the songs from Fearless.

    What you’re essentially suggesting is that certain artists, namely the ones you don’t approve of, aren’t writing their own music (or are writing very little of the actual songs) even though the credits suggest otherwise. It’s a hefty accusation, one that obviously must spread to other genres of music as well and calls into question the credibility of artists everywhere.

    So in light of that dazzling revelation, how do we know which artists are legitimate? Or, in your words, not “fake?”

  • As I did admit, Taylor Swift is one of the few known to write her own lyrics. She writes lyrics that appeal to teenage girls, so their is a huge market for her music.

    However, if you peer at the inside booklet of most country cd’s you’ll see that most artists have only ‘co-writing’ credits, which doesn’t mean much of anything. Chances are they contributed very little to a song that was already written by someone else.

  • It’s no secret that there are very few mainstream artists who write their own music. Even the great Garth Brooks from the early 90’s heyday of country music had very few of his own songs on his albums, and most often when his songs did appear, he was a co-writer. I’m not sure why it’s coming as such a surprise to everyone. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the reality of Nashville country music.

  • Jordan Richardson

    It’s not a surprise that artists of any stripe have varying degrees of authorship. But that’s not what my comment was about, AudioDog.

    Frame this in the context of your argument: you chide artists like Swift for being “fake,” for not writing their own songs or having “anything to do with the creative process.” This doesn’t hold much water, though, and I maintain that your critique is largely stylistic. You said yourself that Swift is “the furthest thing from country music” that you listed, yet you did list her and for good reason. She represents the “mainstream country” vibe you dislike so much.

    The point is that it’s not about fake artists or imposters at all. Your comment about Garth Brooks confirms this. It’s all about the “pop” direction country music is taking. This implies a loss of purity or intent, I think, and that’s what this is really about.

    Artists like Swift and Underwood disprove your thesis of “fake” artistry. But they are taking an unwelcome direction, in your view, and that is what “muddies” country music.

  • The word ‘impostor’ that I used was not ‘just’ about people who don’t write their own lyrics or music. I am aware that Swift is a fairly talented guitarist, and that she’s been writing poetry and lyrics most of her life. When I say ‘impostor’ I’m also talking about bands and singers who purport to be country when in fact they are not.

    Country music has always had a difficult time keeping up with the sales of pop and rock music. In order to boost sales, the folks (mainly the nashville music machine folks) have decided that if country music sounded more like pop music, they may be able to compete with pop music sales.

    Sure, country music has always been popular among a certain demographic. But there’s no doubt that the demographic has shifted now. When I was a kid, people were embarrassed to admit that they liked country music. They’d scoff at it because it wasn’t ‘cool’ to like it. Not anymore. Country music isn’t marketed toward the same people it was before because country music is now pop music. Some of it has a semblance of country (like Brad Paisley), but the majority of it can’t even be called country-pop, because it left it’s roots a long time ago.

    All in all, I’m not merely complaining about those who don’t write their own lyrics. I’m complaining about the big picture. The fact that country has amalgamated with pop music to such a degree that most of it can be played on a pop radio station without anyone batting an eye.

  • Also, I just wanted to share this. Carrie Underwood writing credits:

    “Some Hearts” album

    “Wasted” (Troy Verges, Marv Green, Hillary Lindsey) – 4:34
    “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” (Morgane Hayes, Kelley Lovelace, Ashley Gorley) – 4:00
    “Some Hearts” (Diane Warren) – 3:48
    “Jesus, Take the Wheel” (Brett James, Lindsey, Gordie Sampson) – 3:46
    “The Night Before (Life Goes On)” (Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher, Jimmy Olander) – 3:54
    “Lessons Learned” (Warren) – 4:09
    “Before He Cheats” (Chris Tompkins, Josh Kear) – 3:19
    “Starts with Goodbye” (Angelo, Lindsey) – 4:06
    “I Just Can’t Live a Lie” (Steve Robson, Wayne Hector) – 3:59
    “We’re Young and Beautiful” (Rivers Rutherford, Steve McEwan) – 3:53
    “That’s Where It Is” (Melissa Peirce, Robson, Greg Becker) – 3:35
    “Whenever You Remember” (Warren) – 3:47
    “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” (Carrie Underwood, Trey Bruce, Angelo) – 3:21
    “Inside Your Heaven” (Andreas Carlsson, Pelle Nyhlén, Savan Kotecha) – 3:45

    “Carnival Ride” album

    “Flat on the Floor” (Ashley Monroe, Brett James) – 3:18
    “All-American Girl” (Ashley Gorley, Carrie Underwood, Kelley Lovelace) – 3:32
    “So Small” (Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, Underwood) – 3:47
    “Just a Dream” (Gordie Sampson, Steven McEwan, H. Lindsey) – 4:44
    “Get Out of This Town” (Sampson, McEwan, H. Lindsey) – 2:59
    “Crazy Dreams” (George Barry Dean, Troy Verges, Underwood) – 3:36
    “I Know You Won’t” (Wendell Mobley, Neil Thrasher, McEwan) – 4:19
    “Last Name” (Laird, Lindsey, Underwood) – 4:01
    “You Won’t Find This” (Cathy Dennis, Tom Shapiro) – 3:19
    “I Told You So” (Randy Travis) – 4:17
    “The More Boys I Meet” (Scott Kennedy, McEwan) – 3:33
    “Twisted” (Laird, H. Lindsey, James) – 3:56
    “Wheel of the World” (H. Lindsey, Chris Lindsey, Aimee Mayo) – 4:42

  • Chuck Aly

    Impostors? Like people who hide behind screen names instead of signing their own names to their writings?

    Look, Audiodog, you’re traveling well worn ground in trying to run down today’s country music. “Critics’ have been doing it for decades. And hey, you don’t have to like it. You could find many justifiable reasons for questioning the quality and honesty in some of today’s country music. (You could do the same for a lot of country music from the ’60s-’90s.)

    But this “argument” of yours is kind of all over the place and, frankly, irrational. Country music was built almost from the beginning on the songwriting profession … it’s one of the genre’s greatest strengths, not a weakness. Does anyone question the authenticity of Johnny Cash singing “Sunday Morning Coming Down?” He didn’t write it, you know. Kris Kristofferson did.

    Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember about popular acts (country or otherwise) that you don’t happen to like: You can’t fool large numbers of people for very long. Artists, whether they write their own material or not, will prove themselves by standing the test of time. If they can’t do that, they might have been an impostor. If they can build a fan base in the millions and sustain it, they’ve touched something honest that resonates with those fans. For you, I or anyone else to belittle that artist and the fans who love them is condescension of the highest order.

    Maybe it makes for good blogging and gets you lots of comments, but it’s intellectually bankrupt.

    All my best,

    Chuck Aly
    Nashville, TN

  • Actually, country music was built on people writing their OWN songs. In fact, it came from folk/blues music, originally. People living off the land, working hard in an inhospitable place. And of course, Johnny Cash did not write all of his own music, and I’m well aware of Kristofferson’s writing ability. However, there’s something a little more respectable about an artist covering another artist’s songs (an homage) as opposed to a pretty face with little talent aside being used to sell albums full of other people’s songs.

    As far as this ‘condescension’ remark; as I’ve plainly stated, all I’m looking for is for people to start admitting to themselves that what we’re listening to on country radio today is not country music. I’m not telling people they shouldn’t like it. I’m not insulting the people who do. I’d just like to hear a little more country on country radio.

  • By the way; there’s a lot of ‘real’ country still pumping out of Austin, Texas. It’s sad that we have to use search terms like ‘alternative country’ to find anything real these days.

    And Chuck, I know you feel it’s your duty to defend Nashville, since you live there, so I won’t take your words too much to heart.

  • doug m.

    How many songs did Patsy Cline write and play on?

  • Very few, but I’m not much of a fan. I’m certainly aware that this trend started long before today. However, unlike today, at least her music was ‘country’ music.

  • Robin

    To make the “oldies” but goodies sound as if they were more authentic is just plain ignorance of the truth of the way “commercialzed” country music has always been and was born into. AP Carter traveled the country “looking for OTHER people’s music” for The Carter’s to PERFORM.

    The HIT MAKERS (not singers) of Nashville were as successful Willie and Waylon in their time. Just ask Bobby Braddock how “authentic” George Jones, Taymmy Wynette, Little Jimmy Dickens< Lacy J Dalton, T.G. Sheppard, Johnny Paycheck, etc. are. He wrote for them ALL. There's your fakers. Look in the mirror dude - your ideas aren't the "world view" and certainly doesn't make you right.

  • Robin

    And, contemporary country is as much country as traditional country is. It’s just a different “brand”. Does R&B sound like it did 20 years ago? Does rap sound like it did 20 years ago.

    The heart of the music that IS country whether it be traditional or contemporary (or any other sub-genre) is STILL there. Swift annoys me, but she is contemporary country.

    Barbara Mandrell and Dolly Parton put out more non-A-typical country music than any of the one’s you listed (except for Rascal Flatts).

  • Chuck Aly

    If writing the songs one performs is your criteria for authenticity, no problem. (Though I’m not sure why you cite the artists you do to make THAT point.) Nevertheless, you’d be better served comparing today’s percentage of self-penned country material against the percentage found in another era or in another genre. Do you KNOW that it’s changed significantly or is very different from what is found in pop, rock or urban, or is this just conjecture?

    If the point is that we don’t hear “real” country on the radio, I’d point out that what’s heard on Urban radio isn’t good old fashioned R&B, either. And they just don’t make pop singers like Frank Sinatra anymore. What’s your point? Things change. And, apparently, for pop, urban AND country, in a way that still manages to resonate with their continually large audiences.

    You want to be the ultimate arbiter of good and bad? Real and fake? Authentic and impostor? Fine. You are. FOR YOURSELF. You might be better served, however, treading lightly on music other people love. It’s okay we all like different things. Really.

    If you love the music coming out of Austin, how about a column that highlights some of the best and gives me some information I can actually use? You don’t have to tear down contemporary country to be a champion for something you like more.

  • Robin

    Also, I find it pretty odd (yet convenient) for you that you left off Carrie’s latest album of which she co-wrote seven songs. Did the other two albums fit your desired scenerio better. All of the singles she’s released from the last two albums have been her co-writes with the exception of two. So, the Carrie she gives to the public through radio is the artistic Carrie she is DEVELOPING.

    She started out a singer that found songs that told her story and in her success has created a songwriter in herself and it’s getting much much better. Were you born an adult? This artist did not start out her career as mature as she will be when she retires or that she is know. It’s called growth.

  • I don’t recall saying that George Jones or Jimmy Dickens were favourites of mine, or that they were the ‘real’ country that I’ve been missing.

    Problem is that music (no matter what genre) has never been as commercialized as it is now. Marketing and psychographics have come a LONG way since the 50’s and 60’s. The fact that I chose to speak about country music in particular is simply because country music has long been a part of my life. A lot of people I know listen to mainstream country, and therefore I am forced to listen to it, even though I don’t care for it. That’s why I wrote this article… because I’m sick of listening to all these whining angst-ridden pop stars, and because I’m surrounded by it so much, naturally it was at the forefront of my mind.

    Fact is, this was an opinion. It’s obvious that this article was an opinion. It’s not going to change the way music is made, and it’s not going to change anyone’s mind and convert them into country-pop haters.
    I’m just sick of hearing overproduced music (from all genres, not just country) full of autotuned vocals, and seeing overproduced videos on tv.

    And believe me, the makers of country music know that we want to hear about family, drinking, boating, trucks, God, church, etc… which is why those core elements can still be found in mainstream country; not because Nashville believes in those things, but because people buy it.

  • And to Chuck, I have a few reviews up already. One only has to click on my name to find them. There’s even more on my blogspot blog. This is, in fact, the first ‘opinion’ piece I’ve put up, and it’s merely because I’m inundated by country music that I can’t stand on a daily basis. A kettle has to have some way to let off steam.

  • Cathie

    AudioDog, you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but so are many of the greats in the Country Music industry.
    To include Carrie Underwood in your “imposter comment” would be widely disagreed with the likes of:
    The Grand Ole Opry who proudly inducted Carrie into their family.
    Randy Travis who saw his “I Told You So” single hit #1 again when Carrie re-recorded Travis’ song on her Carnival Ride album.
    Loretta Lynn who personally hand picked Carrie for her Nov.9,2010 tribute album for 50 years in Country Music.
    Randy Travis also celebrates 25 years as a singer/songwriter in Country Music and has asked Carrie to record a duet on his upcoming tribute album.
    If you don’t mind, I’m going to side with the opinions of the true icons of Country Music.
    Carrie Underwood represents the genre with grace, humility, graitude, love and respect.

  • Jordan Richardson

    When I say ‘impostor’ I’m also talking about bands and singers who purport to be country when in fact they are not.

    Ah, so this is about little more than genre diddling.

    This is as I suspected, in fact. Your issue with “country” is with how the term and genre has evolved, much like another discussion I had recently with a hip hop fan about how that musical form has evolved over the years.

    The notion of what’s “real” is what actually lies at the core of your argument and that is an idea that can’t be supported by evidence at all because it’s mere conjecture. Much like the recent hip hop discussion I had, the argument was that what was currently out there in the “mainstream” wasn’t “real hip hop.” It was, as you state about this “mainstream country,” a brand of overproduced fraud.

    The problem is that it isn’t fake and these artists aren’t “impostors.” They’re just different, coming at the genre with new angles and new ideas. And we shouldn’t, as critics and writers, be so deathly afraid of the new as to cling to what’s “pure” with closed minds and cold hearts.

    You may be sick of listening to “all these whining angst-ridden pop stars,” but that’s the message they’re conveying. It’s not as fake as most people suggest, yet there’s a prominent throng of music writers that continually practice oppression against “pop music” in general – one particular writer here had the audacity to suggest that pop wasn’t actually music – and a sort of ignorance as to the building blocks of songs and musical experiences we can all collectively find value in.

    Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Anne Murray, Reba McEntire, Johnny Cash, Shania Twain, and Willie Nelson have had no problem selling records right along with pop/rock superstars. Why is that? Is it because they grew up on farms? Or is it because they grew up in the city? Or is it because they wrote their own songs or had others write for them?

    Irrelevant. The reason they sell is because they connect with people through the wonder of music. We can and will piss and moan about genres and the “purity” of certain musical forms until the end of days. Old, boring critics will fidget with the idea of there being nothing “new” or “good” under the sun, while others will ignore the value of pop music and, yes, that damned mainstream when it comes to drawing people together in collective joy. But those critics, as far as I’m concerned, do music a disservice.

    And this article, in my view, does the same disservice. When you say things like “all I’m looking for is for people to start admitting to themselves that what we’re listening to on country radio today is not country music,” it makes me wonder why the hell you actually listen to music at all. Is it to own a piece of it? Or is to share something, perhaps an experience, collectively? Do you listen to music because it means something? Or do you listen to music because it’s “country?”

  • I have nothing against ‘new angles’ at all. But from my point of view, that’s not what I’m seeing here. Where I used to hear music, I now hear advertising that simply sounds like music.

    By the way, I appreciate those of you leaving constructive comments. There’s nothing worse than people intentionally trying to start an argument just because they disagree with my point of view. While I may disagree with some of what has been said here, I still respect your opinions.

  • Also, just to point out, my original title to this article was “Invasion of the Music Snatchers: An Opinion on Mainstream Country Music”. It was altered in editing, unfortunately, and the title likely has been giving people a false sense of what the article would be about.

  • punkrocker

    So what youre saying is youre one of these
    “Unfortunately, most people who put down modern mainstream country music end up sounding like old men unwilling to accept change, who only listen to Hank Williams, and who only consider a song ‘country’ if a wailing steel guitar can be heard behind a southern accent singing about beer, women, and trucks”

    Because Taylor Swift who you use as the ultimate example of not country both writes and most definitely feels her music which is why she connects so completely with her millions of fans who are not all teen girls thanks for generalizing.

  • melissa

    I like that for the most part Sugarland has been kept out of this argument especially since they write every single one of their songs. Yes, they are genre bending and they make no bones about it, but bands like them bring more people to country music, which is why it is one of the only genres making any money these days! At least these people can actually perform live. They are not products made in a studio with no real talent whether that be writing or singing.

    You can hate mainstream all you want, but you should definitely have offered a better example in your argument.

  • Dr. Richard Kimble

    Didn’t I read this article in the ’90s complaining about Garth Brooks and Shania Twain?

  • Michael

    Look, any country song that makes it too a non-country station is usually revised with some pop beat which usually ruins the song. I know for a fact that taylor Swift writes mostly all of her lyrics maybe she does not compose them but she definetly writes all of her songs. Rascal Flatts do not write all their songs but only pick songs that they truly beleive in and have a true meaning to them. I think country music has the best fans in the world and another is that country music is one of best generes that actually have real talent and it is definetly not karoke by a long shot. If you think country is karoke than you have never been to a concert or watched a CMA awards because you may think differently after you watch.

  • I dont care for mainstream modern country music. However, Country “Going Pop” is nothing new at all. It was something called the Nashville Sound that people said was the death of real Country Music. And if you dont like that, you probably dont like Patsy Cline or Jim Reeves- both considered “Classic Country”. Country music changes. I think the problem now is lack of authenticity. Patsy Cline didn’t write her own songs, but she sang them with conviction. I think Modern Country was really good in the early 1990s. It balanced traditional sense, but sounded fresh and new. I like Country , but I wont listen to Country radio , unless its Oldies.

  • mark

    i agree 100 percent with audio dog. i wont be lengthy about it, simply ALL music is being invaded. and its being done with groomed stylized FAKE people, who likely dont even understand they are puppets on a string.

  • Indy

    Country music is supposed to evolve. You can’t sing about the usual topics all the time. You cannot expect an artist or an art form to remain as it is. The human spirit wants change.

    There is room for both forms to co-exist. I don’t think that new country music negates the old country music form. If it weren’t for the older artists paving the way for the new, country music wouldn’t be as it is now.

    I hope that country music fans give artists a chance to write what it on their minds.