Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Swift commentary on Country Music

Remember when this happened a little while back? I remember the outcry for poor little Taylor Swift, and what a jerk Kanye was for doing it. And indeed I too felt a twinge of pity for Ms. Swift who afterward stood on the stage in mortified paralysis like a 19 year old girl (which, well, she is). I had listened to her album before, and it hadn't done much for me, but she was a nice girl and all, so maybe Kanye was a jerk.

But then the more I thought about it, like a jerk myself I found myself chuckling a bit. Then it went further. Every time "Love Story" or "You Belong With Me" came on the radio, I would find myself immediately switching to NPR or listening once again to my burned CD of the soundtrack to "Streets of Fire" to keep from hearing her saccharine sweet warble. What was it? Why was the sweet young girl quickly climbing to a place of disdain on my list which featured such nemeses as Paris Hilton, Fred Durst, Julia Roberts, or she who will one day fall to my wrath, Celine Dion? Then it hit me- I hate modern country music, and Ms. Swift was the final step in the nefarious plot of Nashville execs who made me hate country in the first place.

You see- she's a "crossover" star; perhaps the ultimate. Country, once the refuge of real people singing about real emotion had since the late 60s been slowly morphing under the hands of Nashville producers toward the pop arena. Pop music in general is fluffy, non-offensive, fake happy moments as sung by pretty people. This was why legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Alan Coe, et al made a break for Luckenbach, Texas in the 70s. They weren't pretty nor poppy- neither were a lot of the classic Country stars. Once, Country stars looked like this:

Faron Young

Kitty Wells

Hank Williams Sr.

Patsy Cline.

Legends. Not pretty people. Now?

Jake Owen

Faith Hill*

Keith Urban

Sara Evans

That's what you basically have to look like to make it in Country Music today. Don't believe me? Ask Shelby Lynne:

This is Shelby's first album, "Sunrise," released in 1989. It's solid country. This is Shelby's sixth album released ten years later:

This is how Shelby showed up to accept her Grammy for "Best New Artist" for that album.

She broke the code.

Truly talented yet physically unattractive people aren't going to get far in popular music today- and country is going after that pop crowd. Look what happened when the adorable Kelly Clarkson went up (gasp) three dress sizes? Magazines, websites, etc. dropped the f-bomb: FAT. Pop music requires pretty and if country wants in, it must be pretty. Taylor Swift is that last step, getting completely equal play on Pop and Country Radio, crossover awards, etc. She's singing pop songs, made country firendly by nothing but a steel guitar. Is she talented? Somewhat, but she's no Patsy Cline.

But who's going to look better in this outfit?

Sorry Taylor, you're on my list with Paris and Celine. Go get 'er Kanye (though he's still a jerk).

* I am going to grant Faith Hill one small piece of reprieve; the song "Cry" is full of heart-wrenching emotion as the singer covets pure schadenfreude from the lover who jolted her. "Show me you feel a little more pain..." That's old fashioned Country right there.

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