For all of us who don’t own a satellite radio subscription or a car new enough to have an aux cord plug, we’re stuck listening the radio. The radio, which still exists as one of the nation’s most popular entertainment mediums, functions as a useful passenger if you’re keen on listening to heavily-promoted corporate singles or middle-aged men trying to seem witty and important.
However, as most of us radio-heads have noticed, one particular type of music seems to have a much higher presence across the airwaves. And that would be, of course, modern country music.
According to News Generation, there are 1,601 country music stations in the U.S. as of April 2015. Its closest music competitor, stations that play adult hits, had less than half of country music’s broadcasting outlets with 792 (for general radio stations, news talk radio and religious radio would have come in first and third with 1,621 and 1,110 stations, respectively).
So why do country music fans have the most options when their genre is among the most polarizing? Have you ever met someone only “kind of” into contemporary country music? Aside from a few crossovers hits like “Wagon Wheel” and “Honey, I’m Good”, modern country music doesn’t get much play on pop or rock stations and seems to stay in what seems to be an entirely separate universe. So why does this genre have such a command over radio audiences?
The best explanation I can offer for this phenomenon is the prevalent notion of solidarity in modern country music.
Although formulaic and often clichéd, modern country music succeeds in romanticizing the down-home, dirt-road lifestyle that many Americans subscribe or wish to subscribe to.
Unlike its sonic predecessor of outlaw country made famous by the likes of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, modern country, which currently has a lasso around the radio, gives its listeners a sense of solidarity with subject matter they can relate to and embrace: trucks, cold beer and tequila, women and love, dogs, backcountry America and, of course, big green tractors. And although the unfamiliar listener might find that most songs sound the same, that’s somewhat the point of the music: to join in the Friday night party at the lake.
The instrumentals in the music function mainly to support the lyrical content and are frankly unimportant and not innovative in most cases. There really aren’t any Eddie Van Halens or Jimmy Pages in country music. Most of them get by with a few chords and a simple bassline, which supports the theory that its audience is mostly concerned with what they are talking about. I’d argue that the style of the music could be changed to a rock or folk sound without affecting the message of individual songs.
So, it is my guess that modern country’s aspect of social inclusion appeals to such a wide variety of listeners that it requires enough radio stations to satisfy the demand, but, then again, I only ended up with a B in my sociology class. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about the genre’s ascension into the center of mainstream American culture.
But, for whatever reason that is, unless it’s Zac Brown Band, I’m turning the dial.
Luke Furman is a sophomore studying journalism and a reporter for The Post. What do you think of country music? Tweet him @LukeFurmanOU or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.