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  • Materialism is Killing Country Music

    by Charlie Spiering

    country

    Fans of traditional country music have a lot to complain about in the modern era of country music, but one of its biggest faults is the pervasive materialism seeping into the lyrics. Do the things that symbolize country living define the meaning of the music?

    Ask an outsider what country music is about and they will respond with something like this: “My girl left me, my truck broke down, and my dog ran away.” Add some whiskey to that, and you’ve got a formula for a good country song.

    Historically, this is crucial to understanding country music. If a man is suffering from a broken heart or hard times, or simply telling a story, the simple material things he owns either add to his sorrow or offer him a small bit of comfort.

    When a country music singer is celebrating the good times, these simple things add to the general feeling that life is good.

    A classic example of this is the 1951 song “Hey Good Lookin” by Hank Williams.

    Hey, hey, good lookin,’
    Whatcha got cookin’?
    How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?
    . . .
    I got a hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill
    And I know a spot right over the hill.
    There’s soda pop and the dancin’s free,
    So if you wanna have fun come along with me.

    The singer in this song owns a few things, but what would make him really happy is to celebrate life by sharing them with a good looking girl.

    Compare that sentiment with the song “Country Girl (Shake it for Me)” released in 2011 by Luke Bryan.

    Hey girl. Go on now. You know you’ve got everybody looking.
    Got a little boom in my big truck gonna open up the doors and turn it up
    Gonna stomp my boots in the Georgia mud
    Gonna watch you make me fall in love
    Get up on the hood of my daddy’s tractor
    Up on the tool box, it don’t matter
    Down on the tailgate, girl I can’t wait
    To watch you do your thing.

    (In case you had any doubt about what this guy wants, he then makes it clear in the chorus.)

    Country girl, shake it for me girl,
    Shake it for me girl, shake it for me
    Country girl, shake it for me girl,
    Shake it for me girl, shake it for me.

    I can’t imagine this guy ever singing about a broken heart, or even what would happen if she doesn’t “shake it” for him. In fact, the girl just seems to be part of a list of material things that he needs to prove he is a “country boy.” He’s no longer a man celebrating a relationship with his girl, but an idiot bragging about his stuff, so that everyone watching him knows that he’s a well-endowed “country boy.”

    The girl, it appears, is one more thing that he adds to the list.

    Here’s another example from the lyrics of the 2011 song “Somethin’ ’bout a truck” by Kip Moore.

    In this song he notes that there’s “Somethin’ ’bout a truck in field,” and “somethin’ bout a beer on ice,” and “somethin’ bout a girl in red sundress,” and “somethin’ bout a kiss,” and “somethin’ bout a creek.”

    But what is the point of this guy listing things that he likes?

    “Ain’t nothin’ ’bout it luck, there’s somethin’ ’bout a truck,” he concludes, implying that without his truck, he wouldn’t have any of these things.

    What is modern Country music about? It is increasingly becoming a list of stuff you need to possess in order to be a “country boy.” If you don’t have a truck, a beer, a girl, a grill, a boat, a porch swing, a hat, jeans with a Skoal ring, a tractor, sweet tea, and some fried chicken, count yourself out.

    That’s not to say that all modern country songs that list “stuff” suffer from the same pitfalls. For example, the song “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band. The song (admittedly not my favorite) threatens to fall into a similar rut as the singer starts reciting a list of stuff: Fried chicken, cold beer, a pair of jeans, homemade wine, pecan pie, sweet tea, and his radio.

    The difference, however, is that the singer explains where his list belongs as part of his entire quality of life. He reminds the listener that “the little things in life that mean the most” are not “where you live, the car you drive or the price tag on your clothes.”

    In fact, he reminds the audience, the important “little things” are the “love in my woman’s eyes,” the “touch of a precious child,” and “a mother’s love.” He concludes his song thanking “God for my life” and then salutes the soldiers who have died protecting his quality of life in America, which of course includes his love of fried chicken.

    The song is admittedly cheesy, but its a song about an ordinary man who not only enjoys the simple things, but celebrates them in the proper order, making life worth living.

    Furthermore, country music frequently acknowledges that material goods can actually inhibit the quality of life, which is why Waylon Jennings sang about going back to Luckenbach, Texas and the “basics of love” in 1977.

    So baby, let’s sell your diamond ring
    Buy some boots and faded jeans and go away
    This coat and tie is choking me
    In your high society you cry all day
    We’ve been so busy keepin’ up with the Jones
    Four car garage and we’re still building on
    Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love.

    That understanding is essential to a worthy country song of any era.

    The views expressed by the authors and editorial staff are not necessarily the views of
    Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.

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    • Sam

      Excellent. The question is, does art reflect life, or does life reflect art? Is country music getting more materialistic and shallow because we as Americans are getting more materialistic and shallow? My suspicion is that this is the case. We are an ungrateful people, and we never have enough. Our music simply reflects that.

      • derpington83

        MMMM YES. QUITE SO INDEED!(twirls mustache)I don’t listen to lyrics, I prefer the rhythm

    • FJ

      As a fan country, this seems a bit nostalgic – old stuff good and  new stuff not good (we Catholics and conservatives do like to see that perspective in everything dont we now!). Country has always been about simple thing, Something Bout A Truck embodies that. I dont think Kips existance is caught up in those things, or he feels like nothing without them, i think hes just saying these things are good – nothing more nothing less. Country keeps it simple. Country is starting to go the way of pop music, and all kinds of people talk and write about that but to write how it used to be so good and now its about matierialism, thats just a bit of a stretch. Sometimes even current things are good – country seems to be holding its own these days – even if its starting to flirt with pop music.

      • Geoffrey

        There is no doubt that country is flirting with pop music.  But after reading this article, it seems to me that the materialism that the author writes about is a reaction to this pop music invasion.  With a narrowing gap between the two genres, country has to point to something to prove that it is still country.  ”Look!  We have trucks, beers, hats, and good ole’ boys.”  Contemporary country seems as if it has to prove that it is in fact still country.  I think what may be a deeper question is “why IS country flirting with pop music?”  Is the country/southern/western culture so compromised by inroads of the monotonous American consumer suburban culture that it can no  longer inspire its own genre?   

        • Tiffanyerinolson

          If you take away the lyrics and the twang in the vocals, can you still hear the difference between country and pop music by the melody/arrangement? Mostly, the answer is still yes, but there are so many crossover songs which blur the lines beyond just the content of the lyrics. For the most part these days, if you can find a melody, it’s country!

    • Bhoy

      This seems to be a bigger problem with radio airplay.  For example, Luke Bryan, the artist of “Country Girl, Shake it for me,” has a number of songs (“Pray About Everything,” “I’ll Stay Me”) about just the sort of thing you were talking about as “good” country music.  The problem is that to get radio airplay, he needs to include songs like the aforementioned junk.

    • James Stagg

      Right on, Charlie!  Which is why I mostly listen either to CD’s or XM Radio, so I can SELECT the “real” country music I want to hear.  There’s too much crap on the radio stations trying to sound like rock…..or worse, rap.

    • Marion

      I’m not a fan of either country music or rap, but I recently read an interview with rapper Ice-T that dovetails nicely with your article.  He has also observed that the music industry is trending toward a  materialism which belies the state of the country and people’s actual lives. 

      He said,  “I think all music, not just rap, has fallen into this very diluted, delusional state where everyone’s singing about money, having cars and having fun when really people are losing their homes…We’ve got wars. We’ve got unemployment. But the music doesn’t reflect that. I challenge anyone to find music on the radio that reflects that.”

      Interesting, no?

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    • Thorby Bislam

       A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
      A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou
      Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
      O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!Omar Khayyam could have been a country singer.

    • Tia

      Very interesting perspective. As a country music fan , who is in a relationship with a country music dj, we have had many discussions about how the crossover into “pop-country” has affected not only the quality of songs that have come out in recent years, but also how it has strayed from its roots. While I do not totally dislike these new songs, I understand why a lot of people don’t. And occasionally, I am offended by some of the message it’s sending the “younger” generation. However, I am more offended by the pop, rap and rock of recent days. Most of those songs are just downright horrible and meaningless. At least I can change the station.

      • Bono95

        Yeah, I can’t stand most modern artists. All my favorite artists average around 60 years of age, give or take.

    • joseph martin

       Country is now flooded with philosophy of life songs that preach like a Hallmark Card. The number of syrupy positive country songs far outnumbers the beer/truck jingles. All of it, like pop now, celebrates the Good Life of materialism, yes, but also artificial balance: family, god, friends, etc. That less-materialistic mantra dovetails with the materialistic ones to encourage the “I know what life is about, everything in its proper place” ideal that compartmentalizes God into one more commodity. It isn’t so much materialistic as a result as it is wholly man-centered. God is there to bless and comfort me, I am not there to love and worship him. The beer/truck items are part of the Facebook “life is good” lifestyle, that thinks it knows what is about even as it falls for the lie of a “complete” life. It is the musical equiv. of “Desperate Housewives” or the Modern American Dream.  Hence we now have Lady Antebeluum hawking Lipton Tea. Ugh.

    • Jack

      Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” is more of a fast-beat party song for young people having a good time. I like the song, I listen to it with my buddies or my girls. But saying he’s never sang about a broken heart or anything like that is not true. Songs like “Drunk on You”, “Buzzkill”, and “Dirt Road Diary” shows his love for a woman, a woman who never had any fun, and his life and childhood with his friends and family. So this article is definitely bias due to the songs used and suggests modern country music does not have the soul and spirit it used to.

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