The ten biggest tropes in country music
What makes a great country song? Well, if David Allan Coe is to be believed, the songs require a few things: mama, trains, trucks, prison or gettin' drunk. There's got to be more to it than that, though, right? Like, at least five more things. Country music draws on the same themes so often that it's almost a caricature of itself. Our team of statisticians tackled this quandary and have drummed up a list of the biggest tropes in country music. Hop off your tractors, y'all -- the corn harvest can wait. It's time for some learnin'.
True story: The first time I heard "The Night Jack Daniels Met John 3:16" was in a Pentecostal Holiness church in western North Carolina, where it was a part of the official hymnbook. Not all country music is religious (although there is an entire sub-genre of Christian country music), but it is a pretty significant theme. Plus, country music was born from traditional Southern folk and gospel music, so regardless of the modern Taylor Swift permutations, its roots are in religion.
At some point in the recent past, country musicians decided to adopt Jimmy Buffett as their spirit animal. Am I the only one who has noticed the seemingly endless Jimmy Buffett collaborations? Why can't we just send him to his own margarita-and-cheeseburger island already? He'd be happy there. Setting aside the fun-times-vibe/glorified-alcoholism of Buffett & Co., country is still a pretty booze-soaked genre. See: "Wasted," "I Love This Bar," "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer." How do country stars get anything done with all that booze guzzling?
8. The South
Okay, okay, okay. I know that technically the genre is "country and Western" music, and that plenty of country stars are from Canada (including Shania Twain), which is about as far removed from the South as you can get in North America. But lest we forget, Nashville, Tennessee, is the country-music capital. Outside of hip-hop, I don't think there's another genre that spends so much time name-dropping states. Songs about Southern life often talk about living in small towns, spending time out on the farm and, of course: leaving home and being sad about it.
To be fair, I don't think the pre-9/11 patriotic fervor in country music was quite as palpable as it is today. But with songs like "These Colors Don't Run," "Bumper of My SUV" and "American Soldier," I think we can pretty much call it: Country is the most chest-puffingly patriotic music genre.
6. Double entendres/sexy times
When T.G. Shepherd is singing about heaven, is he talking about actual heaven, or sexual relations with lady-people? Shocker: It's BOTH! Unlike other artists who don't really mince words, country musicians love to talk about sex with a sly wink. In fact, the tradition of recording songs with double meanings goes back to the beginning. Take, for instance, The Light Crust Doughboys' 1930s single "Pussy Pussy Pussy." It's about a cat, you guys -- duh.
5. Earnest reflection on the past
Rascal Flatts' 2001 single, "I'm Movin' On" is about as self-reflective as it gets with lines like "I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons, finally content with a past I regret." Damn, y'all, Rascal Flatts just dropped some honesty on the Billboard Hot Country charts. Is this song a transcription from his therapy journal? No matter, it's in good company: There are tons of country hits that focus on remembering past mistakes and yearning to make things better. I just shed a single tear. Country musicians are deep.
4. Redneck or blue-collar lifestyle
Guns! Trucks! Tractors! Huntin'! Fightin'! Country has always leaned strongly toward what you might consider the redneck/blue-collar-worker interests and struggles. But I'm pretty sure when "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" made it to the airwaves in 1998, Hank Sr.'s ghost burned down the Grand Ole Opry and made everyone in Nashville turn in their cowboy boots. This is getting out of hand! Country music couldn't wink any harder at us if it tried.
3. Relationship struggles
From failed relationships to regret to cheatin', country has a near-monopoly on airing out dirty laundry in song. They're a mopy bunch, country singers. And jealous! Jeez Louise, with songs like "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?", "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "Jezebel", it's a wonder that any country singer can maintain a relationship at all.
2. Everyman relatability
Country stars spend a lot of time writing songs that make you think they haven't forgotten their humble, country-road roots. Take Billy Currington's "That's How Country Boys Roll." You could stop by Billy Currington's place any time for a beer -- he's just like you! Except not, because even though he's singing about living hard and tough and then having "a cold one" after a long day's work, the video shows him snorkeling with dolphins. You know, just like all country boys! But setting aside Currington and his band of country snorkelers, country music is still incredibly relatable to the average Joe. Who hasn't wanted to say to a boss, "Take this job and shove it"?
Nostalgia is the one characteristic that unites pretty much every country-music song on the planet. When you pair a slide guitar with lyrics about drinkin' beer and finding young love out in the country, it just does something to you. Shut up! I'm not crying! Nostalgia sits at the number-one spot because country singers can be, and are, nostalgic about every other trope here -- from their Southern roots to lost love to religion.
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