joreth: (Kitty Eyes)
I'm hearing rumblings of people upset because Beyonce is playing or played at the CMAs this year. The excuse is that she's not a country artist so she doesn't belong at the CMAs. Other people have pointed out the hypocrisy here with other non-country artists being invited guests to previous CMAs so it's likely more about hidden racism or sexism, so I'm not going to reiterate that here (although, because of that, I think it's incredibly fitting that she sang with the Dixie Chicks, who had their own brush with sexism and intolerance rampant in the country music scene).

What I am going to do is get on my soapbox about the "purity" of music.

YOUR COUNTRY MUSIC IS NOT AND HAS NEVER BEEN "PURE COUNTRY".

Neither has your rock and roll, or any other genre of music, for that matter.

All music has evolved and blended and stolen and shared with other styles of music. That's what art does, as an expression of feelings by people who have experiences. No one lives in a bubble and we are all influenced by other people, but art itself *deliberately* influences other art and *deliberately* allows itself to be influenced.

When pressed, most people who complain about the "pop" in "country" seem to think that Hank Williams. and Johnny Cash are the epitome of "country", as if country music was invented in an isolation lab in the late 1950s and lived on an island until the 1970s, when it got "corrupted" by outside influences and money.

I got news for you - that's not how "country" started, nor is it what "country" music *is*. Even Johnny Cash listened to Nine Inch Nails and appreciated and respected the musical artistry of Trent Reznor. One of Johnny Cash's greatest songs was also one of his last songs and it was a cover of a Nine Inch Nails song. It's hard to think of two genres of contemporary musicians further apart than those two, but because they were consummate musicians, they understood the complex, intertwined relationship that all music genres have with each other.




People seem most offended at the idea of country music and rock music blending, but the two genres (including pop music - I know neither genres' fans are willing to admit any relation to "pop music", but more on that later) are inextricably linked, twisting and spinning and folding and mixing around with each other from day one.  "Country" music can be traced to its most heavily influential roots of Irish and other European folk music *strongly* blended with the cultural appropriation of jazz, which evolved out of a massive cultural appropriation of Negro music. Same with rock, btw.

"In the beginning", the music that eventually became known as "country" was a blend. They took some of the favorite musical instruments of poor white people and added the melodies, harmonies, and rhythms of poor black people. "Country" has never been "pure".  Later (but not much later), rock and roll came along, which took that poor white music mixed with poor black music and threw in a little urbanization by removing some of the regional "twang", in one sense "sanitizing" the music for popular consumption.

In other words, rock and roll was the first modern "pop" music, a white-washed, pseudo-innovative, stolen version of music originally being made by people "the masses" weren't "ready" to hear.

Don't get me wrong, I love rock and roll music. I'm merely describing it. Because I love it, I won't let myself close my eyes to its origins or its cultural impact. In spite of the controversy and the upper classes trying to ban and block the progress of rock music, it was still originally a toned-down, less creative, less musically *interesting*, more polished version of other people's "edgier" music intended for commercialization. Exactly what rock snobs complain about "pop" music.  And none of the modern sub-genres of rock, including disco, industrial, electronica, British Invasion, metal, etc. would exist if it hadn't been for that white-washed, sanitized "pop" music.

But back to country.

Country music, like rock music, isn't a single genre. I have two long-term YouTube projects on the back burner that I may or may never get around to: 1) is playing snippets of songs and having the listener attempt to guess if the song is technically classified as "country" or "rock", and if the listener doesn't already know the songs, I'm willing to bet that most people will find this challenging.  A lot of "identifying" music into their respective genres is actually identifying the singer's accent, which is in a sense, a form of racism - if there is a southern twang, it must be country, if there is an urban roughness it must be rock, and if there is a "black" voice it must be R&B or rap or "whatever black people sing" (depending on how blatant the racism of person doing the identifying is), but switch out singers and some of this music becomes identifiable as a different genre by many people, even with characteristic instruments;

and 2) is sharing sub-genres of "country" music (based on my own categorization, not necessarily any "official" categorization, mainly because I don't think one exists, although there may have been other "unofficial" attempts) and giving examples to illustrate the diversity of this genre that so many people think is a single monolithic genre or, at best, 3 sub-genres based on decade ('50s vs. '70s vs. today's "pop country" that somehow "doesn't count").

As a preview, just off the top of my head, some sub-gengres include: Southwestern country (with Native American and "old west" influences), zydeco country, bluegrass country, Caribbean country & its sister "beach" country, jump blues country, slide blues country, old-timey country, country rap, and country electronica, just to name what first popped into my head. I'm quite sure I can think of more distinct categories, as could some of you if any of you listen to country music.  If I played music from those categories for you, I guarantee that even non-country listeners could tell the difference.  But non-country listeners, by definition, don't listen to country and are likely not aware of all these different styles, even if they have actually been exposed to it at some point before.  And some country listeners are too busy trying to preserve the "purity" of whichever version they think is the One True Country to acknowledge the existence of the others or to dismiss them as a few fringe songs out there somewhere rather than a whole genre on their own.  But they exist and they have celebrity artists and cultures all their own.

So, Beyonce guest starred at the CMAs. OH NOES! What is country music coming to?!?! Well, I'll tell you. Country music is continuing on the path it has always traveled, by being an incredibly rich, diverse, and complex musical art form that is influenced by and borrows and steals from other cultures and other styles of music. Whether you *like* it or not is a different question and I'm not trying to make people *like* it, but "country" music is an amazingly colorful, intricate, heterogeneous art form, filled with hope and and anger and feminism and misogyny and racism and tolerance and anger and passion and love and deep sadness and great joy and silly fun and everything that makes up the human experience.

As we are not all the same person, so country music is not all the same sound. It is made up of the same conflicting, contradictory mishmash that we are as a species, comprised of the same capacity for transcendence and depravity, for simplicity and complexity, and influenced by the world around it, as we are.

I love taxonomy. I love categories and boxes and neat labels. But if being poly has taught me anything, it's that labels for X and Z may be necessary but that Y is something messy and in between, and *that's OK*.

So, welcome Beyonce, to the racist, sexist, yet beautiful world of country music. Where we are all different, and more the same for those differences.



The really ironic part is that, in the middle of the performance, they broke into a few bars of a Dixie Chicks classic song that literally complains about the "impurity" problem of country music:

They sound tired byt they don't sound Haggard (Merle Haggard)
They got money but they don't have Cash (Johnny Cash)

And for reference, the original song, which is quite Louisiana blues all on its own and lends itself very easily to a "country" version (if you don't count this as "country" to begin with).  Certainly the subject matter is a common country trope - lessons from daddy, guns, and women retaliating against domestic violence:
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