In a recent live stream promoting her new talk show, pop star Kelly Clarkson dropped a bombshell of a statement. In a session of the stream where she was defining internet slang, “farm emo,” a slang term for the genre was mentioned. This prompted Clarkson to go off on a rant about the state of modern country music.
Modern country music is nowhere near the quality of what country music once was. That’s not to say there isn’t excellence in the genre; like Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile. They are all doing marvelous work within their particular lanes. However, what is being pushed out of Nashville often has more similarities to pop or hip hop, rather than country music.
Just last year, the biggest country hit of the year was from a pop star. The song itself used trap-based production and was only considered country, primarily because the featured artist was a country duo.
That’s not to say that great work cannot come from mixing country with other genres. Taylor Swift’s newest record features a marvelous collaboration with country legends, Dixie Chicks. Dan and Shay’s last album also featured an excellent collaboration with Clarkson herself. However, when you bring in trap and pop-based production and lose what made the genre great to begin with, songwriting, you lose what makes country music country.
To be clear, I am not bashing on all country music that is not just a somber ballad about lost love. I can appreciate a catchy song, regardless of genre, just as much as the next person. Both Musgraves and Carlile released two of my favorite albums of last year. However, it appears that country often seems to put its worst foot forward. Country music offers its own set of a unique sound. More often than not, artists trade those sounds in for anything they believe will get them more streams, downloads or radio play.
Another problem that I see in modern country music is the lack of airplay for women. None of the top 10 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, labeled the week of Sept. 14, are by women. While men are putting out quality country music today, women are putting just as much quality content. Even though artists like Musgraves, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini often have pop-based songs as well, they are often not given the same exposure on country radio. In fact, out of the top 20 songs on Billboards’ chart, only two belong to women.
Why is that? In the ‘80s and ‘90s, women were just as big of a force in country music as men. Shania Twain, Dolly Parton, Reba, The Judds, Dixie Chicks, Martina McBride and so many more women were at the forefront of the genre alongside their male counterparts. So, what happened?
All genres of music have their issues. However, it disappoints me that country music today has lost what once made it special. I grew up listening to artists like Reba, Garth Brooks and artists in their early days like Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. These artists and more in their prime could make you feel something in a song with unique production and storytelling lyrics. I hope to one day see the genre revitalized.