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Country Music Takes America

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Take a minute and think about the last few songs you heard on your favorite Top 40 radio station. If you’re reading this online, check out the most popular singles on iTunes or the Billboard Top 100. There’s quite a bit of country music on there. In fact, 28 songs on the Billboard chart are country.

From Taylor Swift and her teen angst songs to Toby Keith’s patriotic tunes, country music has secured a spot in today’s pop music. These artists have become such an enormous part of the music landscape that it’s almost hard to ignore or escape them. It’s not unusual to hear “Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum, no. 27 according to Billboard, played right behind Jason DeRulo’s “It Girl” on U93 these days.

The appearance of country music on the pop scene is recent. Before Carrie Underwood won “American Idol” in 2005 and Taylor Swift released her self-titled debut album in 2006, the only country songs most people knew were one or two Kenny Chesney and Johnny Cash tunes. Artists like Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Faith Hill had platinum-selling albums in the 90s, but their songs stayed mostly in the country genre with little overlap into popular music.

Many people associated country with hicks singing about their trucks, coon dogs and their women that left them. It was stereotyped and looked down on as a subpar genre of music by many, and sometimes still is.

I’ll be honest, I fell victim to the stereotypes. I hated country music on principle and wouldn’t even listen to Taylor Swift. When I got my roommate assignment the summer before freshman year, I freaked out when I found out one of my roommates was from Texas. Using my 21st technology, I stalked her on Facebook and discovered her love of country music and “Twilight,” two of my least favorite things. I thanked my lucky stars my other roommate was from New York — at least she was from the Northeast, she had to be relatively normal.

Four years later, I’m still friends with both roommates and have lived with the Texan for all four years. And while she’ll never get me to crack open a “Twilight” book, I’m addicted to country music.

As much I like to think I’m unique, I’m definitely not in this case. Country music used to be contained to the South, but now you can find people from all over the U.S. with a country music station on their radio presets. It’s surprising to see how far the country genre has spread in popularity — it has enveloped people you would never expect.

Maybe it’s the deep gravelly voices on the handsome male singers or the consistent theme of stubborn individualism in songs like “Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams, Jr. that make the genre so appealing now. Maybe it’s the abundance of gorgeous blonde females. However it came about, country is big now. You can buy a country edition of People Magazine and find a country music festival in almost any major city.

Sure, none of the songs on the Billboard chart are above no. 20 — though that might change when T. Swift releases her next album in 2012. And it’ll be a while before I hear one of these songs at Feve. But nevertheless, country music is making its mark on today’s music scene.

I guess the title of Brantley Gilbert’s new single, “Country Must Be Country Wide,” speaks the truth. Fittingly, his song is at no. 53 according to Billboard.