Each week in God and Country Music, Nick Rynerson gives country music a chance and examines the world of Americana, folk, alt-country, and popular country music.
The most recent ACM awards have a whole slew of popular Country Music fans (and musicians) with their saddles in a bunch. Some articles have begun to do what I have been doing for years: questioning the state of Country Music today. With KISS performing, Carrie Underwood getting raunchy and Ashton Kutcher getting harassed on Twitter for dressing appropriately for a country music function, can the sanity of FM honky-tonk even be in question any more?
When you begin to look at the bizarre landscape that is popular country music it’s apparent that there is a comical disconnect between the superstars and what they are singing about. As this article from Fox News reminds us,
Less than 1 percent of America owns a working farm. Those [contemporary country] artists are appealing to suburbia with these country checklists and attempting to live a country lifestyle vicariously,
And from this obvious treason of Country Music’s first rule- authenticity, has stemmed breakaways, animosity and cynicism within the culture. It’s not as if this is new (Nashville has been the Death Star of Country Music for years) but it’s getting worse. With the advent of the Internet the radio has become less important and more homogenized. Now subgenre country stars (Drive-By Truckers, Alejandro Escovedo, Hayes Carll) don’t even have to intermingle with the Nashville scene.
Naturally this leads to a looser definition of “country music”. When someone asks me if I like country music I instinctively say, “yeah…but not what you’re thinking”, I then proceed to try to explain my music tastes without sounding like an elitist (it’s harder than it sounds).
I find myself doing the same thing when I talk about being an evangelical. Being an evangelical Christian is a lot like being a country music fan: it can mean a thousand different things. Like Country Music, there is a long list of things within evangelicalism that I am ashamed of (sex scandals, offensive psudeo-evangelists, intolerant hatespeech, terrible theology, media presentation, politics, etc). As a self-indentified evangelical and country music fan there are a lot of caricatures that get thrown on me by association alone.
Yet evangelicalism, much like country music, has a beautiful history and source. The history of the church (and specifically the evangelical movement that popped up in the 18th century) is amazing: it literally shaped the social and economic landscape of both England and The U.S. for centuries. We (evangelicals) have a great message to share! A message that says Jesus lived a perfect life and then died a substitutionary death on behalf of wicked people like me. It’s this gospel message that is the backbone of Christianity, a message of mercy and forgiveness. And yet the evangelical culture so often does things to kick the gospel out of its rightful place.
Just like the gospel, the essence of country music- authentic American working class music, is betrayed those who just look to capitalize off the culture of it and those who don’t understand it.
Yet take heart! In both cases there is hope. Since the gospel is still true and there are still working class Americans sharing their struggles through song, both Evangelicalism and Country Music will survive. And not to say everything on FM country radio or everything said at your typical mega-church is bad (I like parts of both!), it is the job of the individual to cut through the clutter and see what is genuine and what is not.
Behind the thickets of commercialism of Pop Country and the unbibilical oddities of the evangelical culture there is a fountain of truth, beauty and authenticity that should not be ignored.