Several months back, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend and Fraternity Brother who I hadn’t seen in over ten years. My buddy and I have very different tastes in music, but we both respect good music and artistry in music: musicianship and professionalism; talent in the field.
So, what does all of this have to do with country music?
Well, in a word, everything.
It struck me right away that this is exactly the attitude that musicians and artists need to have when making their music. Not just in country music, but in all of music.
Look at some of today’s most popular “country” singers. Go back and listen to some of the early work by singers like Jason Aldean: his debut album and even his second album are actually pretty solid. Listen to some early work by Luke Bryan, even prior to his major label debut: he had some really solid songs and there seemed to actually be some real depth to his music. Even listen to some of the earlier work by Brantley Gilbert off of his independent release. It’s not all good, but he had some real potential on that album.
Then there came a point where it seems like these guys just said “fuck it,” and decided to chase whatever the current trend was, act like complete giant douchebags and put out the shittiest and most generic music they could possibly find. And as this music became more and more popular, the listening public became more and more inured to it and thought basically began liking it because it was popular and it was being marketed to them as the thing to like.
This brought about the emergence of more and more artists who just sucked outright, but were able to follow trends: artists like Chase Rice, Florida Georgia Line, and Sam Hunt. Many of these artists became indistinguishable from the other and the idea that they actually appreciated any kind of artistry in the music they were performing became more and more ludicrous.
There used to be an artistry to music: it used to be that musicians truly cared about the music they made. They may have been hungry for fame, but as illustrated by my friend’s story about Rush, there were more artists who cared about their music first and the fame that came with it second. Josh Ritter sang in one of his songs “I’m singing for the love of it, have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”
When music is treated as a business first and an art-form second, then it ceases to be an art form at all, at least to those who see it first as a business. If an singer’s primary concern is having hits, then they are working to be heard by the most amount of people, not to speak to as many people as they can. And the loss of that art form is a true tragedy.