“Life is short, make it sweet.”
It’s a sentiment that many people believe in, live by or strive to live by a little more each day. Many would agree that it might even make a great song lyric. So, why does this suddenly change when one is informed that the phrase was, in fact, already made into a song — only with guitar-string plucking, a bouncy drum beat and Old Dominion’s smooth-as-honey Southern vocals?
Country music has been a controversial topic of conversation for music-listeners for a long time now. Even with catchy hooks and verses that stick in listeners’ minds rent-free, people are so quick to reject the genre before even giving it a listen. They write off the genre completely for the sake of letting stereotypes and cliches, like the idea that it’s only sung by men or only for white audiences, decide what they think for them. Saving Country Music explains that one of the most prevalent criticisms in regard to country music today is a tale as old as time — “all the songs sound the same and say the same basic things.” This refers to the lack of lyrical content or the belief that almost all country songs offer some variation of the same story — someone “falling in love in a small town while also including the vehicle they drive, most notably a truck, and mentioning an alcoholic beverage, whether it be whiskey, beer, etc.” Other grievances take the form of disliking the Southern sound, including yodeling vocals. And, while it is easy to associate country music with old, drunk hillbillies slinging their banjos over their backs while singing about girls, booze, more girls and more booze, this is actually a grave mistake that robs listeners of an entire collection of heart-string-tugging ballads and belt-worthy anthems that they wouldn’t have otherwise known.
Country music surpasses the category of simple tunes — it’s a wide-range of stories about love and loss, lessons and relatable anecdotes that have a way of putting one’s own experience in the driver’s seat of that big, red pickup truck. The Cold Wire claims that simple harmonies and clarity in understanding lyrics are all concrete compositional benefits to the art of country music. But beyond the guitar strings and microphone, the relatability of the timeless stories behind the music proves to be the human factor that sets country music apart in the best way. Not only does the genre diversify by crossing over with others like pop, blues, folk and rock, but it also touches on several pivotal human experiences, like “love, loss, friendship, summertime and heartbreak,” according to The Occidental. These themes are not specific to one demographic of people, but, rather, they’re often universal, resonating with a small corner of every listener’s world — no matter their walk of life. Whether singing about simpler times, regrets or ambitions, country music has this undeniable way of transporting a listener to a place within themselves that triggers a level of emotion or nostalgia that is exclusive to its genre. The Cold Wire goes on to explain that, “You may hear a song when you are a teenager and feel as though it is talking about you. Ten years later, when you hear this song again, it can feel as though the song brings you right back to that time period in your life.” Not only do these simple and relatable messages contribute to a more rounded perspective on life, but they also make the music personal to every listener.
While early country music from the 1920s was structurally similar to folktales, it quickly became the soundtrack to Cowboys of the Wild West, followed by honky tonk anthems, then to the more sophisticated Nashville sound and it has since evolved to be much more palatable to the average listener. The Daily Tar Heel explains that “You don’t really hate country music. You hate surface-level post-9/11 4/4-time snap-track pop-crossover beers-and-trucks country.” And it’s true, people will sacrifice a lot of joy, whether it be in the form of country music or any facet of life, if they let others’ assumptions and preconceived notions keep them from experiencing something for themselves. It’s like they say, if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, you wouldn’t jump off because someone told you to. I’m just asking you to put in your Airpods and listen to a little Luke Combs or Florida Georgia Line on your walk back from the edge.
Julia O’Reilly is a sophomore majoring in biology.