A couple of witty remarks from Haywood in The Shawshank Redemption don’t somehow turn the movie into a comedy. Nor does Phil Connors driving off the cliff with the groundhog in Groundhog Day turn that movie into an action movie. Trying to classify movies as something different than what they are, chances are, it wouldn’t go over to well. While people may still go see the movies, the misclassiications would be laughed at.
Maybe these above examples seem ridiculous, but given the current state of country music where a token banjo somewhere in the background of a song, the examples aren’t ridiculous at all. Because apparently, those minor little things automatically make a song country.
Detractors of the current state of country music are often asked “well why do you get to decide what’s country and what isn’t?” But the fact is, no one is “deciding” that music is country. I don’t listen to REO Speedwagon and decide that it’s rock-and-roll. It just is rock-and-roll. Genre is a fact – it’s not an opinion.
That’s not to say music can’t have multiple influences or even fluctuate between a couple of different genres. Often times it does. In fact, country is a genre that has often been known for including multiple influences. In fact, country and southern-rock have often been very closely linked with many great artists having music that could fit into either one of those genres. Country and folk also are very closely linked.
Kip Moore’s recent album is an example of this. The album is actually more rock than it is country, but it’s almost more roots rock. There’s an authentic feel to it. While there are a few cliché-laden songs, the album doesn’t give in to a whole lot of trend-chasing.
But country music has always had something that defines it as country. And today’s “country” music has flat-out abandoned those aspects. Yet somehow, it’s still considered country by the masses.
So, why is music special in this regard? Why is music, especially country music, so often miscategorized, both by the industry and by listeners when other forms of media, like movies, are usually properly categorized?
There are a couple of potential answers that I can think of.
1) There are a lot of music fans who classify themselves as fans of a genre. And many of these artists who are miscategorized as country would never make many waves in the genres that they should be classified: pop, rock, EDM, etc. And sadly, country becomes a dumping ground for anything and everything that wouldn’t sell elsewhere. As a result, country music is saddled with the Cole Swindells and the Florida Georgia Lines – the rejects from other genres.
Movies are a bit different. When a person sees a movie trailer, their first concern is likely not the genre, but whether the movie itself looks good. While many might have a favorite movie genre, most movie-goers won’t immediately classify themselves as fans of only one or two genres. And actors and actresses themselves also tend to move between different genres – so when a movie-goer will see anything with their favorite actor, this makes the classification of the genre much more solid – marketing it to fans of a specific genre isn’t as necessary.
2) The elements that make a movie part of a certain genre are, to some extent, much more limited, and therefore, it is much more difficult to pass off as a genre it is not.
With music, there are many elements that can and do make something part of a certain genre (e.g. country). Not every single element of the genre will be in every single song. A lot of the time, and understand its overall feel to be able to know the genre. It takes an actual ear for music in addition to knowledge of the genre and its components.
What we have instead is deceptive marketers having musicians throw in token elements to deceive the most easily manipulated of listeners.
This may shed some light on why music is treated differently than other forms of entertainment. While there may be a lot of bad movies, generally, they will be classified into the proper genre.
It’s time to give music the same respect. It’s time for the music industry to stop lying to people and start classifying music as it should be classified.