Country Music Only Strives In America – Here’s Why
via Willie Nelson / Youtube
Traditional country music is often about southern American singers singing about love and tough times. It started as a way for people to express their struggles and evolved over time. Early artists like Hank Williams and Kitty Wells brought a raw, honky-tonk sound with twangy guitars and lyrics about working-class life. Despite its changes, country music can still be hard to relate to outside of the US.
During the 1950s and 1960s, country music shifted to a smoother, more polished sound known as the ‘Nashville sound.’
Producers like Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley led this change, adding lush orchestration and sophisticated arrangements. This new style appealed to a wider audience beyond rural America. Artists such as Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, and Eddy Arnold gained popularity with crossover hits that blended country and pop music.
In the following decade, outlaw country emerged with artists like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard leading the charge. They rebelled against the polished Nashville sound, opting for a grittier, more authentic style. Their music resonated with a countercultural movement, embracing themes of freedom and individuality. Meanwhile, artists like Dolly Parton brought a fresh perspective to country music, introducing a new generation to the genre with her unique lyricism.
Contemporary country artists continue to innovate within the genre, but its strong ties to American patriotism and ideology endure. This connection is natural given the emphasis on unity and respect for the country’s foundational principles in American values. Country music serves as a potent tool for connecting with American heritage, allowing people to connect with shared history and values. Whether conveying sadness or sharing personal challenges, country music offers a comforting reminder of America’s enduring support for its citizens.
History professor Eric Stein once explained:
“While folk, rock, and soul came to symbolise the anti-establishment politics of the New Left, the counterculture, and American blacks, respectively, country music produced artists who defended traditional American values.”
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While recognizing that much of country music extends beyond these boundaries
Its primary association remains firmly rooted in a sense of national unity. Even with country artists from other countries, such as Lucie Silvas, and the genre’s ongoing thematic evolution led by artists like Orville Peck, the overall perception remains closely tied to American culture.
For example, Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” became significant in 2001, both for Keith personally and for American culture as a whole. The song’s release coincided with a difficult time for Keith, as he had recently lost his father, and it also came shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when America was facing a period of uncertainty and mourning.
In 2001, Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” arrived during a crucial moment for both Keith personally and American culture.
After losing his father and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the song served as a rallying point. “‘It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops,’ Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones told Keith at the time. “If you want to serve, that is what you can do,’ he said, evidently recognizing the power of one of the country’s most important country artists to rally the nation and provide comfort.”
The song served as a heartfelt tribute to the United States, reassuring its citizens of their strength even in challenging times. Its lyrics conveyed a direct and uncompromising message:
“Justice will be served and the battle will rage / This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage / And you’ll be sorry that you messed with / The U.S. of A.”
Country music, including artists like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, has struggled to connect with international audiences. This may be due to limited exposure to new country music and unfamiliarity with its artists and themes. Additionally, the visual aspects of country music, like cowboy hats and rural imagery, may not resonate with people from other cultures. However, in the US, country music has been a source of comfort during uncertain times, reassuring Americans that their country will endure.