At last I’ve found the song to surely convert my best mate to the cult of Country Music. I subtly stick it on in the background while she’s over to discuss her imminent wedding. Yes! On cue, she notices the track and asks “who’s this?”. I try to sound casual; “Sam Hunt, a country singer” I say.

“This is a great song, I really like his voice” she says, and in my head I can already see us going to gigs together, swapping cowboy boots.

“But,” she continues “what makes this country?”

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I’m stumped. I love Sam Hunt and I’d go as far as saying he should be the only artist ever allowed to speak in songs, but I struggle to defend it as country. And I’ve been struggling to find the justification for more and more songs in the country chart lately. So is this the evolution of a genre or the pollution of it?

For me, when I fell for country as a teen in the 90s, it was music where the lyrics had something to say, and found poetic and original ways to say it. For others, it’s the spine shivers from a slide guitar.

For the dictionary, it’s a style and genre of largely string-accompanied American popular music having roots in the folk music of the Southeast and cowboy music of the West, usually vocalised, generally simple in form and harmony, and typified by romantic or melancholy ballads accompanied by acoustic or electric guitar, banjo, violin, and harmonica.” Catchy.

But does sticking a fiddle or slide on just any song make it country? And does just any song being sung by someone from the deep south make that country? Should middle-aged men rapping get to be pushed on the country chart rather than the hip-hop one simply because they are white and mention a pickup truck?

Shooter Jennings, (son of Waylon) makes his views clear on who is and isn’t country:

The question “what is country” isn’t new to bro-country and the spate of recent country hits which are virtually spoofs of spoofs of country songs. Ever since Shania crossed over to the pop chart, I’ve never been able to pinpoint where the lines between country, pop, and even r’n’b lie. R’n’B got slated for the umpteen music videos where unsuspecting bikini clad women were expected to jump into the ride of any bloke who’d “holla” at her. Lately, Country can have just as much of a one-track mind.

Maddie and Tae have a dig at the chart-topping cowgirl cliches:

I’m still deciding how much the elusive lines between genre matter, but in the meantime, as long as every mindless faux-country song continues to be combatted with a gem – one which can make me laugh, cry, think – I’ll constantly be reminded of why I love the genre. And, I’ll still keep trying to convert my best mate to it.

How do you define Country?

@CheryTwee

(Image by Flickr user Gideon Tsang)