Friday, April 10, 2009

One writer sees end of traditional country music, another says Swift brings young people back to it

"Country music just ain't what it used to be," Steve Tuttle writes for Newsweek Xtra, the magazine's online add-on. Writing before this week's Academy of Country Music Awards, he said, "If past concert appearances are any indication, the nominees for vocalist of the year will be dressed in skintight, revealing tops, some with long, flowing blond hair and deep golden tans. And that's just the men."

The description also fits Carrie Underwood, who was named both vocalist and entertainer of the year. "Women ruled the awards show," writes Shannon Mason Brock of The Anderson News in Lawrenceburg, Ky., noting among others the Crystal Milestone Award to Taylor Swift "for selling CDs and bringing young people back to country music." To read the column by Brock, a recent University of Kentucky graduate, click here.

Tuttle calls the 19-year-old Swift, left, "today's Nashville 'it' girl" and an example of the trend he doesn't like. But he notes that the definition of country music has been debated since the Carter Family made their first recordings in 1927, but in recent years the genre has blurred beyond recognition. He dubs Garth Brooks "the final nail in the honky-tonk coffin. His pop-sounding megahits and his wacky flying over arena stages on a wire in his way-too-tight Wranglers made my skin crawl. Almost two decades later, and by today's Rascal Flatts-ian standards, I consider him almost a modern-day Hank Williams."

But Tuttle says he's learned to accept the world as it is. "Today's producers are just giving people what they want, navigating the market as best they can," he writes. "It's a business, after all. Today's suburban music buyers don't labor in coal mines or cheat on their wives. Well, they don't work in coal mines, anyway. Songwriters and hit makers write about what they know, just as their forefathers did, except now what they know is driving the kids to Target in the minivan, or staying at home because they're unemployed. So maybe country sounds and lyrics veering a little toward spit-polished pop music aren't a sign of the end of the world, but something gritty and real has been lost. They borrow the vernacular of country music, the genuineness and masculinity of that hard-knock life, but they morph it into something that's barely recognizable. The rough edges and authenticity have been sanded off." (Read more)

We also recommend watching the article's slideshow of country stars from the beginning, including Patsy Cline, above, who some argued was too "pop" and was one of Swift's early favorites. We've seen most of the photos before; the better parts are the captions by Sarah Ball. To watch the show, click here.

1 comment:

GAIL HAGANS TOWNS said...

Hi Al:

I'm not a big country music fan, but as a Gen X black woman raised in Atlanta, I like the "new" country a lot better than the traditional music I heard growing up back in the day. And yes, I pile the kids in the Sequoia and drive to Target, Walmart SuperCenter and the likes ;)


Although "Coal Miner's Daughter" is one of my favorite movies ever, I think I was always more drawn to the stories in country lyrics and the stories behind the artists, rather than the sound.

Tuttle makes an excellent point of today's singers/songwriters giving listeners what they want to hear and what they know. I think as a culture, we're seeing the same thing in R&B, hip-hop, blues, even gospel. Heck, we could probably say the same about journalism.

But times change, as do the environments that musicians come out of---making the sound and feel different for users across generations.

My husband, 5 years older, refuses to listen to holy hip hop or gussied-up Christian pop. Instead, he still wants to hear Albertina Walker, the Oak Ridge Boys and Shirley Ceasar on Sunday mornings.

But what we feel, what we write and what we record comes out of our own experiences. With the recession and all of the other uncertainties out there these days, it'll be interesting in about, oh 2-3 years, to see what kind of music comes out of this.

BTW: I got to your page from a link on the obit of a former newsroom colleague--Rich Whitt.