joreth: (being wise)

As a kid, I grew up on Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Crystal Gale. That was '70s country. Crystal Gale is the reason I gave to my parents, when I was finally old enough to articulate rather than just scream and throw a tantrum, how much I hated having my hair cut. I had my own 8-track stereo in the room I shared with my sister and a stack of cartridges with these '70s country icons (among others).

Then, as I started going to school and became aware of the social strata of popularity, I decided that I wanted to be one of the "cool kids". So I dumped the country in favor of Madonna, Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul, Corey Hart, and Culture Club.

Then, around 8th grade, I hit my rebellious phase and decided that being "cool" wasn't cool anymore, so I got into edgier music like glam rock, hard rock, and metal. If my mom wanted to throw the album in the trash, I thought it was great - Poison, Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, Metallica, Lita Ford, Def Leppard, Megadeath, Slayer, Skid Row, Ratt, etc.

But I still secretly harbored an interest in country. I wouldn't even admit this to myself, but it's true. And then, in my junior year, I found myself at a school dance with two guys who were vying for my attention, both of whom were total metalheads. We were standing in the courtyard as I desperately tried to make this encounter less awkward, when the Alan Jackson song, Chatahoochie, came over the speakers.

These two blond haired guys wearing ripped, stone-washed jeans, black band t-shirts, and heavy leather motorcycle boots playing passive-aggressive dominance games with each other both immediately stopped their one-upmanship, looked at each other, and shouted in unison "Chatahoochie!" and ran back inside the building together, while I stood there with my mouth hanging open.

Still under the mesmerizing sway of popular opinion (only now it was the "we're all so unique that we reject the mainstream in exactly the same way" type of "popular"), I decided that if these two rockers could like country music, that was enough permission for me to like it again. So I got into country music right then and there, with Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, and Faith Hill.

About a year or two later, I was driving my sister around (who was not *quite* old enough for her license yet to drive herself). She liked rap and hip hop, which bothered the hell out of me. I couldn't stand the lack of melody lines and complex harmonies and the overwhelming percussion to almost the exclusion of any other instrument.

But it was my car, so it was my music. I don't remember if a Dixie Chicks song came on the radio and my sister expressed an interest in it, if the song was on one of my mix tapes, or if *she* put the music in herself. But somehow or another, she ended up admitting to liking the Chicks "because they're not really country".

So I said to her, "honey, they're bluegrass! They're more country than any of these other country stars on the radio!" She insisted that she didn't like country music, just the Chicks, who didn't "count".

This is the first memory I have of noticing the inconsistencies with the phrase "I like everything but country and rap". How could anyone like bluegrass music but not "country"? And then, a popular country song hit the charts that was released as a hip hop ballad almost at the same time. It was exactly the same, except for the accents of the singers - white twang vs. "urban" (i.e. "black").

This song became huge radio hits on their respective stations, but I noticed that A) most people had no idea that there was a version in the genre that they "hated", and B) when they did find out, they were outraged and they "hated" the other version in spite of using almost the exact same backing track and being nearly identical except for the singers' accents.

That started me down the path of learning about how the different genres influenced each other, which led me to the history of music in general (well, that and I was forced to take a Musical Theory class, which didn't actually teach us much "theory" (which I got more from my piano teacher) but did spend the whole semester traveling through time showing us how music genres begat other music genres), which finally led me to the conclusion that people who "like everything but country and rap" are full of shit. Including myself.

I have never been able to articulate why this now bugs me so much. I spend a lot of time rambling about the frustration of people who just don't know their music history. But this article simplifies the whole thing. This isn't just a widespread musical ignorance, it's a deliberate marketing decision to racially segregate an industry. And we all buy into it, literally almost a century later.

"That’s when the “everything but country” comment started to bug me. I figured people just weren’t trying, heard Toby Keith on the radio, and changed the station. Still, I couldn’t understand how some of the people I knew who were deeply interested in music like I was couldn’t see the light and recognize the worth of country music."

"“Everything but country and rap” at its core is a class issue. I just needed someone else to say it, and it confirmed why it had been bugging me. ... Where there’s class issues, there are race issues. This is no surprise. But that’s where the story of “everything but country and rap” starts: a formal racial division."

"When popular recorded music was first able to be distributed and marketed in the 1920s, a decision had to be made. This is the South-- do we keep all of the blues-based music together? That would mean white and black in one category. It was an easy answer at the time: no. This created two, in Hubbs’ words, “racially distinct marketing categories:” hillbilly and race."

"While they seem completely separate, hip hop and country sit on the extremes of the spectrum of popular musical genres, and find themselves subject to many of the same criticisms. This, to me, threw open the door on why “everything but country and rap” is a bigger deal than it seems. Authenticity is important in both musical communities, both policed inwardly and from outside listeners."

“Authenticity seekers today reject modern commercial country and its market-driven anything-goes stylistic idiom, idealizing past artists and purist notions of a genuine folk idiom,” Hubbs explains. In embracing this fantasy, listeners forget that “country has always been a commercial music.”

"To admit you like country music is admitting you like something inherently and purely working class, which jeopardizes your status as middle class. ... The middle class white actively avoid identifying with country music and hip hop because it represents something they’re afraid of being perceived as: something other than white, and something lower than middle class."

"Country and hip hop are seen as extremes: one very conservative, religious, and traditional, and the other vulgar and violent. ... These blanket statement topics are how the cultural majority is taught to interpret these genres. There’s no discussion that these are very rich groupings of music, with many vibrant subgenres of their own. ... The anxiety that causes people to avoid being fans of these genres, however, prevents understanding this. It all sounds the same because it all sounds different than what you listen to."

I've been trying really hard over the last several years to describe the sounds that I like or dislike, rather than blindly listing entire genres. I prefer melodic music, even better if it's in my own vocal range. I also like catchy hooks, and I also like complex harmonies and intricate interplay among different instruments. This means that I do occasionally like some songs that fall under the "rap" and "hip hop" genre titles because these are rich and diverse genres that sometimes incorporate these elements.

I don't like "country" so much as I like the sound of fiddles, banjos, and Southern accents, specifically. I am more likely to find that in country music, but not always. I also like blues bass lines, so I'm also going to find that in a lot of country music, because what's more "white culture" than appropriating "black" art?

After my departure from pop music into rock and metal, I adopted the typical rocker arrogance (which has since turned into hipster snobbery) where I didn't like anything "popular" because "everyone else liked it" (completely oblivious to the immense popularity of my own hard rock idols who filled stadiums with thousands and thousands of fans).

It has taken me a really long time to finally admit that I do actually like pop music. When I first started admitting to it, I tried to soften the revelation by saying that I only got into it because I do ballroom dancing, and we have an aging-out problem. It's really hard to continue bringing in new dancers when the dance style is an older style associated with older music.

So, as you might have noticed if you watch Dancing With The Stars, a lot of dancers have been dancing to modern pop music, partly in an effort to attract newer, younger dancers, but also because some of those dancers *are* new and younger and that's the kind of music they like.

If someone looked at me sideways for having a pop song or artist on my playlist, I would shrug and say "I'm a dancer. I build playlists, and this is what brings people in." But, honestly? It's on my playlist because I fucking like the song. Maybe not my YouTube playlists, which are deliberately built to introduce people to partner dancing and get them to learn how to identify rhythms suitable to each dance style.

But my personal playlists on my iPod contain songs that I like to listen to. And yeah, I have music from Nickleback, Britney Spears, NSYNC, and about half the former-Disney-bubblegum-artist squad. That music is commercially successful because it capitalizes on sounds *that people like to hear*.

So here is yet another rant on why I dislike when people dismiss entire genres of music when I know that they haven't put in the time to actually experience those genres. You can't always help the sounds that you like or dislike, and that's not what I'm talking about. I don't care if you don't like the sound of a fiddle. But that's not "country music". I don't care if you don't like lyrics that "glorify violence", but that's not "rap music".

What has bothered me about the "I like everything but country and rap" is something that I didn't have the words to explain - this is an inherently classist and racist attitude that was deliberately, consciously, developed in our society by a commercial mega-industry for the two-fold purpose of increasing profits and solidifying bigotry in our society.

http://www.runoutnumbers.com/blog/2015/11/16/everything-except-country-and-rap

(One of these days, I still want to put together an audio quiz with little snippets of songs and challenge people to identify the song as country or not, because I bet that people who don't listen to the genre and don't recognize the songs won't do well on that test.

I also plan to put together a YouTube video of snippets of songs that exemplify the different subgenres of country music, to show the diversity of the genre - Zydeco sounds WAY different from Beach Country which sounds way different from Southwestern Country which sounds way different from Pop Country which sounds way different from this new rap/sing-talk/country crossover thing, and sometimes it's *really* hard to tell if a song is bluegrass or Irish folk music.)

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July 2017

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