I have a love/hate relationship with pop music. I like a lot of pop songs and artist, however, it’s easier to swallow when the music labeled as such. Country music has always struggled with what’s considered “real” country and what’s “too pop”. Many artists, such as Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, have had major crossover hits that blurred the lines. Current times are no exception and there is a lot of dialogue about the topic, fueled by the ease of social media. Yet what makes today’s dialogue different than ever before is that pure pop songs and artists are being labeled as “country” with no regard to what makes country music, country.
Labeling a pop song that has absolutely no relation to elements that have defined the country music genre is the problem with most of today’s radio hits. Longtime fans of the genre are left feeling alienated and question what happened. Within a few short years the twang was removed from every song and replaced with a dance beat. All you hear on the radio is the same clicking and snapping in one song after another as if you’re stuck in a ‘90s club.
The complete pop take over not only has infested the music itself but the lyrics and messages in many of the songs have become very diluted. Void of any real meaning (which I think is one of the most defining characteristics of country music), you hear the same shallow references over and over, slapped over a heavy dance beat and clicking. A defining characteristic of most pop music is that its easily digestible and doesn’t require much thought. The whole point is to get you up and dancing (and I’m not talking about the two-step).
I think audiences that were primarily pop music fans that are now listening to country music radio stations are drawn to the heavy beats, and now claim they are fans of country. Little do they know that most of the songs they are listening to are mislabeled as country music. These are also the same people that respond to the purists by stating that its “good” that country is broadening, that labels are useless, and other stupid excuses along those lines. However, that is exactly what is killing the genre on the commercial radio level, pop fans that are being catered to by the “hit factory”.
Even some of the traditional country music artists have “converted” to a new sound seemingly hoping to get another hit song, and sometimes they face a backlash from their longtime fans. Lady Antebellum has always had a pop country style, nobody can deny that and I don’t think they were ever misrepresented, but their style changed dramatically around the time they released the single “Downtown”. After the album release of 747 they took a break for a few years, came back this year and their newest single sounds like old Lady A (which they have admitted).
In my opinion, most singles and radio friendly songs by definition have some pop elements, regardless of the genre. Like I said, I like some pop music, especially when compared to traditional country music, such as Stevie Nicks, U2, etc. However, the music needs to be labeled as such. The idea of getting rid of labels is ridiculous, especially in regards to country, because the genre has such a definite and rich history. No other genre has a “mecca” like Nashville. Rock has moved from various major cities every so often, but it never sticks to one city for long. No other genre has a strong connection to venues such as the Grand Ole Opry House and the Ryman Auditorium, let alone the Grand Ole Opry itself. Why change that? Why erase a strong bond for the future?
I love pop music, I love country music and I love rock music. I also enjoy songs that incorporate some elements of all three genres, however, it has to be balanced correctly. If you label a song as “country” then there needs to be more country music elements than anything else and this is what needs to change with most commercial country music on the radio today. Stop calling some of these singers with thin voices that are layered over heavy beats that have nothing profound to say as “country”.