Stortz: Hate country music? You might not be looking hard enough

Country music stands as a polarizing music genre. I used to feel taken aback by it, but after some musical exploration, I figured out how the genre can be more accessible.



From left, Billy Ray Cyrus, Tish Cyrus, and Miley Cyrus arrive at the 61st Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Sarah Stortz, Arts Reporter

It’s time to grab your cowboy hats and jean jackets, we’re going to observe a unique specimen of the world — country artists.

Admittedly, I’ve felt adverse to the genre for years. I figured that because I didn’t come from a small, rural Southern town, there was no way I could relate to any of the music. It felt like a culture completely different from me, even though it came from my home country.

It took me a while to realize how expansive the genre actually was. In actuality, I didn’t hate country music; I just hated the “bro-country” sound that took over its image.

When people think of a typical country artist, their minds immediately jumps to a young, white male sporting a tight-fitting plaid shirt and backwards baseball cap. Strumming his guitar, he’s flocked with female fans as he’s singing about mud fighting with a pretty woman.

Recently, the genre has been a hot topic with Lil Nas X and his breaking single “Old Town Road,” remixed to feature country icon Billy Ray Cyrus. Before Cyrus gave his own take to the song, there was significant controversy over the first edition being removed from the Billboard Hot 100s for “not [embracing] enough elements of today’s country music.”

However, I would consider this an example of the genre simply taking another direction. While the two genres seem completely distinct from each other, the two artists manage to create a song so recognizable that it’s at meme-status.

Jeff Tweedy, who had a concert at the Englert in February, serves as a great example of a modern artist who subverts typical traits from country music. With his hoarse voice and classic guitar sounds, he creates a unique blend of both country and indie-rock influence.

Unfortunately, country music is still relatively male-dominated, similar to most other music genres. Only 10 percent of No. 1 country hits were performed by women, according to the Dallas Observer. It may be difficult to submerge yourself in this type of music without a clear sign of diversity.

Despite this, there are many great female country singers who use their art to empower themselves.

In “Mama’s Broken Heart,” by Miranda Lambert, the singer defies expectations on how women need to emotionally react to breakups. Instead of following her mother’s orders on remaining docile and controlled, the singer lashes out in this powerful ballad to express her frustrations.

Kaia Kater, another country artist who was recently in Iowa City, brings a new edge to country music. Using her banjo and deep voice, Kater uses political commentary in her music and discusses her role as a black woman in country music, something sorely needed in the country industry.

No music genre is limited to one type of sound. If you feel hesitant to listen to country music because you think it’s composed purely of trucks and beer, you need to learn how expansive it really is. With that said, after years of hesitation, I’m more than willing to put “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton on full-blast the next time I’m going on a road-trip.