24 Country Songs That Criticize the Genre
Is Country Music Becoming All Flash and No Substance?
Many people wonder who killed country music, but others claim the genre has never been more alive. Over the years, a shift has replaced the twangy neotraditional sound with a country crossover flavor to the extent that today's music is nearly unrecognizable from that of decades ago.
The life-hardened lyrics and unmistakable vibe of legendary musicians like Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Waylon Jennings gave way to their traditionalist brethren, such as George Strait, Randy Travis, and Alan Jackson. Then, Garth Brooks changed the genre forever with his massive following, mainstream pop appeal, and flashy stage shows. Artists like Lonestar, Shania Twain, and Rascal Flatts successfully followed in his boots and charmed country-pop crossover audiences.
Fast forward even further and bro country modified both the lyrical content and the overall sound of country music. Songs became predictably formulaic, celebrating partying and young women putting their tan legs up on the dashboard of the narrator's pickup truck. As country music found new influences from hip-hop, hard rock, and electronica, the twang disappeared.
But even as bro country began to wane in popularity, country music fans were left to contemplate: Has the genre morphed into some distorted representation of its old glory, becoming all flash and no substance? In the following songs, country artists criticize their own genre.
Which of the following most closely captures your feelings about bro country?
1. "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way" by Waylon Jennings
Lord it's the same old tune, fiddle and guitar
Where do we take it from here?
Rhinestone suits and new shiny cars
It's been the same way for years
We need a change.
Waylon Jennings didn't pull any pull punches in 1975 with this #1 hit country song, a tribute to legendary crooner Hank Williams Sr. Although Hoss mentions no names, he criticizes the shiny country stars of the 1970s who wear rhinestone suits and aren't real authentic. He's alluding to artists such as Elvis (yes, the King of Rock and Roll was also a country star) and Glen Campbell, the Rhinestone Cowboy.
In the song, Watasha refers to spending 10 years on the road with his five-piece band, traveling from gig to gig in an attempt to make it big. As he compares himself to Hank Sr. and the popular country musicians of the day, Jennings feels his young life slipping away. Lamenting the current state of country music, he calls for a change and invokes the memory of his hero.
2. "Murder on Music Row" by Alan Jackson (featuring George Strait)
If you thought Waylon Jennings was plainspoken in his groundbreaking song, then you haven't heard anything yet. This ditty was covered on the 1999 Country Music Association Awards Show by well-loved traditional crooners George Strait and Alan Jackson.
The song bemoans the shift in country music that has marginalized the neotraditional and traditional country sound in favor of pop and country-pop crossover influences. (This was the late 1990s, so it's a screaming indictment of crossover artists like Garth Brooks.) The song accuses an unnamed assailant of killing country music by cutting its heart and soul out, a crime motivated by greed:
The almighty dollar and the lust for worldwide fame
Slowly killed tradition and for that someone should hang
They all say not guilty, but the evidence will show
That murder was committed down on Music Row.
3. "Outlaw You" by Shooter Jennings
"Shooter" Jennings is one of Waylon Jenning's six children as well as his namesake, and while he hasn't yet reached the stature of this legendary father, the young upstart offered up this 2005 criticism of the state of country music. In it, he protests that the genre is overly focused on record sales and is filled with pretty boys singing other people's tunes. Shooter claims that they couldn't hit country with a baseball bat. The son of the famed outlaw musician then proclaims that he wants to outlaw the new-fangled country boys.
4. "God and Country Music" by George Strait (featuring Harvey Strait)
George Strait's six-year-old grandson, Harvey, makes a guest appearance in this 2018 tune. Although it doesn't specifically complain about what's wrong with the new sound it's clear that the neotraditional country music legend definitely wants to halt changes. Known as the King of Country, Strait is a Grammy Award winner and has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He has a phenomenal 60 #1 hits on the country Billboard charts.
The song praises country music as living in this nation's small churches and backroad honky-tonks. Country music expresses the highs of the mountain as well as the valley lows, and it resonates with us somewhere between hell and hallelujah. He claims that God and country music are two things still worth saving.
Who Ruined Country Music? Some Would Say These Folks ...
Florida Georgia Line
5. "That Ain't Country" by Aaron Lewis
The fella in this 2016 ditty is old enough to know that what he's hearing on the radio these days isn't authentic country music, at least not in his book. To him, real country is hard times and complications, broken hearts and relationship drama. But popular music masquerading as country music these days? Well, ...
That ain't country
That's a natural fact
It's full of tails of good times and happy endings.
My life ain't like that
So I'll keep listening to the old songs that my granddad used to play
Full of pain and heartache and desperation and the ones that got away.
6. "That's Country Bro" by Toby Keith
Reminiscent of Billy Joel's 1989 song, "We Didn't Start the Fire," this 2018 number rattles off the names of 57 different country music pioneers and cultural influences, all in two-and-a-half minutes:
Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline
We lost Hank at 29
Roy Acuff, Johnny Horton and dancin' Bill Monroe
Woodie Guthrie, Bob Wills
Spade Cooley, Kitty Wells
Jimmy Dean and Big John and ole' Hank Snow
The song is an obvious dig at bro country, a subgenre of pop country music that features young, attractive male singers who typically sing about trucks, romancing girls in short skirts, and relaxing with beer and friends. The fact that Toby Keith is criticizing bro country, however, may smack as hypocritical, given that some of his major hits have been "Red Solo Cup," (2011) "I Like Girls That Drink Beer," (2012) and "Drinks After Work" (2013).
7. "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes" by George Jones
A legend himself, George Jones uses this 1985 ditty to express concern about what the future of country music holds. Although several of the singers the Possum references had decades still left in them, he forecasts a future without the musicians who built country music's foundation. He's also criticizing the genre's talent bench strength at the time.
The song references greats including Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, Roy Acuff, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, and Lefty Frizzell. Long before today's bro country, Jones was concerned about the future of country music:
Who's gonna fill their shoes?
Who's gonna stand that tall?
Who's gonna play the Opry
And the Wabash Cannonball?
Who's gonna give their heart and soul
To get to me and you?
Lord I wonder, who's gonna fill their shoes?
8. "Call Me Country" by Jon Pardi
Jon Pardi puts the twang back in country music, and in this 2019 track he laments the changes in both the style of singers and the content of their lyrics. To him, today's pop-country demonstrates little resemblance to the music he grew up with, the songs of Willie and Waylon, Merle and Hank Jr.:
They did songs about freight trains and prisons
Heartaches and honky-tonks
And cowboys and outlaws
In boots and straw hats
All gone, just like that
They can't even recognize me
They used to call me country.
9. "Long Time Gone" by Dixie Chicks
This 2002 song recounts the tale of a hometown musician who ventures to Nashville in a failed attempt to become a star. The narrator sleeps in his car, and he plays for tips on lower Broadway, hoping to secure a record deal. He returns home disappointed and empty-handed. Years later, as the man listens to country music on the radio, he notes that it's now missing that secret something it used to have. That special ingredient has disappeared:
We listen to the radio to hear what's cookin',
But the music ain't got no soul.
Now they sound tired but they don't sound Haggard,
They've got money but they don't have Cash.
They got Junior but they don't have Hank.
I think, I think, I think, the rest is,
A long time gone.
10. "Lotta Boot Left To Fill" by Eric Church
In this 2010 number, Eric Church calls out modern country's cheesy gimmicks and one-hit wonders as well as its boy bands and cookie-cutter "pretty boys, acting tough." (Do you notice they all look the same?) No matter how much modern artists want it to be true, conveniently dropping the names of the legends doesn't make you authentic, and claiming to be the real deal also doesn't make it so. Church recalls how many of today's musicians fall far short in the shadows of the legends:
I don't think Waylon done it that way
And if he was here he'd say "Hoss, neither did Hank"
I ain't dogging what you're doing but boys, come on let's get real
Yeah, you still got a lotta boot left to fill, aah.
11. "Can I Get an Outlaw" by Luke Combs
Nothing's original these days, objects Luke Combs in this 2016 country ditty. The wannabe pretty boy singers are dragging down the genre with the content of their formulaic songs. They are singing canned words, not lived lyrics, he claims:
It don't have to be honky-tonks, boots, and Wrangler jeans
It ain't the banjo or the fiddle, no
It's the words and what they mean
If you gonna talk the talk, you better walk the walk
And brother that's the truth
So honestly, what would Waylon do?
12. "Life Ain't Fair and the World Is Mean" by Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill Simpson is known for doing his own thing, although his modern country outlaw sound is often compared to Waylon Jennings. In this 2013 number, Simpson takes a shot at music industry executives. They tried to make him change his vocal style and alter what he writes and sings about. They also attempted to commandeer the whole creative process. Simpson attributes not finding widespread fame yet to his refusal to give in. He concludes, "But that's the way it goes, life ain't fair and the world is mean."
13. "Put the 'O' Back in Country" by Shooter Jennings
In this 2002 track, "Shooter" Jennings perceives himself as carrying on the legacy of his Country Music Hall of Famer father. The younger Jennings namedrops a string of larger-than-life country and rock artists and asserts that he wants to dial back the changes that are ruining the music he loves:
Let's put the "o" back in country
Well I'm rollin' like a freight train
Comin' straight at you
Playing hillbilly music
Like I was born to do
You know that ain't country music you been listenin' to.
14. "Johnny Cash Junkie (Buck Owens Freak)" by Brooks & Dunn
The narrators in this 2007 song are proud of their country roots and bleed red, white, and blue. They reference growing up on Haggard, Cash, and other pioneers of the genre. Today's country seems to be pulling in the direction of pop, but this is a call for a return to the what is familiar:
We got redneck women driving ATV's
Wearing camo bikinis on CMT
I throw back a beer, I pledge allegiance to Hank
I'll take a little less pop, a lot more twang.
15. "Trashville" by Hank Williams III
Hank Williams III tried for years to step out of the long shadow of his father and grandfather. He became a punk and metal artist in the early years of his career but eventually found his way back to country music. Hank III's neotraditional vocals are hauntingly similar to his grandfather's.
In this 2002 song, he trash talks Nashville, claiming that "they" have killed country music and says he's leaving the city to returning to Texas. True to his bloodline, Hank III is a rebel:
Now playin' country music
It ain't like it used to be
I'm so tired of this new stuff
They're tryin' to get me to sing
That ain't no country music to me.
Even More Country Songs That Criticize the Genre
16. Are You Sure Waylon Done It This Way?
17. Solid Country Gold
18. F*ck This Town
19. Take This Country Back
John Anderson & Vince Gill
20. Sellout Song
Kevin Fowler (featuring
Ryan Upchurch (featuring Luke Combs)
22. Something with a Swing to It
23. Same Old Song
24. Girl in a Country Song
Maddie & Tae
© 2020 FlourishAnyway