I’m not a music guy by anyone’s standard. I like it, I consume it everyday, but I’m an expert in music the way a fish is an expert in hydrology. So if you get to the end of this piece and want to shit all over my take know that it came from someone no more qualified to comment on music than astrophysics. Fortunately for those of you desirous of my musical commentary, (prolly no one but me tbh), I’ve never let ignorance get in my way and I’m certainly not going to start now.
Recently the country music genre has found itself in a bit of a conundrum over the sudden popularity of a debut single from new artist Lil Nas X. Mr. X’s, (Nas? Mr. Nas? idfk), track “Old Town Road,” debuted and gained popularity on the app TikTok, and when it jumped to SoundCloud it was labelled country. Perhaps it was this label that caused Billboard to initially put “Old Town Road,” on the Hot Country Songs chart. Lil Nas X’s track enjoyed quite a sudden successful climb up the country charts, but was shortly removed after Billboard decided “it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music.”
Imma stop ya right there. I’ve listened to the song, albeit involuntarily, and if that’s not country enough then we need to throw away the whole genre, yesterday. What do they mean it’s not country enough? The guy’s talking about riding damn horses in cowboy hats and wranglers. Do you know how many songs are about just that? Would it have been deemed acceptable if he had just added a line about Fireball or workin in the dirt till quittin’ time on Friday? How about if in the middle of the song he had talked about finding a tan leg Juliet or turning some Crown upside down, can we let him in the Grand Ole Opry then? Is it not country enough because the lyrics are over a trap beat? Has Billboard heard Kane Brown or Florida Georgia Line or Old Dominion or Cole Swindell or Sam Hunt or Luke Combs or Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean? If the kick drum had never been invented all those dudes would be singing acapella. Are we supposed to pretend Luke Bryan didn’t sing, “little Conway a little T-Pain, might just make it rain?” You’re telling me that passes but Lil Nas X doesn’t?
It’s not like Lil Nas X is the first artist to jump the yeehaw shark either. Probably no one would accuse any of Waylon Jennings’s contemporaries of not being country enough and yet he still felt compelled to write “Bob Wills Is Still The King,” in 1974 as an observation of the changing within the genre. That was 45 years ago, and since then country’s gone through a lot of identity changes. Let’s not forget habitual line stepper Tim McGraw’s tendency to hop in a studio with Nelly. Is someone going to go get Tim’s ACMs and CMAs and country Grammys because of that musical abomination, “Truck Yeah?” How about those couple years in the late 2000s when Kenny Chesney decided he wanted to be yeehaw Jimmy Buffett and he started singing about beaches and pirates? Who’s going to go tell him to fork over his pooka shell cowboy hat?
If I had it my way the definition of country and a country song would be simple. Put a steel guitar and a fiddle in it and it’s country. Don’t have either of those? Not country. Might be a great song, I might put it on 24 hour repeat, but I’m not calling it country. But even with that modest definition I’m tossing out tons of classics from the likes of Willie, Waylon, Alan, George, Keith, Tracy, Tracy, Trace, Blake, Tim, and Merle. So how do we decide what’s country and what’s not? For that matter, should we? Do we really want to limit an artist to having to sound like Bob Wills and Hank Sr.? Hell no. I might appreciate what those two did for the sound, but you will never, ever, catch me firing up some “San Antonio Rose.” It’s outdated. There’s better out there. There are legions of people who feel the same way about Randy Travis and Tracy Lawrence and John Anderson and even Blake Shelton and George Strait and while I might personally think they should be sent to labor in a salt mine, at the end of the day that’s their opinion and they’re allowed to have it and listen to that bro country BS all day long if they want.
If Lil Nas X wants to be country, let him. Expose him to as much country and country history as you possibly can. Send him to follow George Strait’s team roping circuit for a few months. Get him ripped with Willie at his 4th of July picnic. Take him down to the Broken Spoke and let him two step the soles off his boots. You never know what might happen, he might start putting a fiddle or two in his tracks. Even if he doesn’t that’s okay, because so long as trucker flatbill bros can sing about high school, trucks, and alcoholism over one chord and a kick drum and enjoy critical acclaim, “Old Town Road” is as country as it gets.