Is It Important to Draw Distinctions in Pop Country?

Brad Paisley Carrie UnderwoodWe love to paint pop country with a broad brush around here, which may not always be fair. Think about it: sure we might consider two artists like Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley pop country, but the degree of how much pop compared to country they are, or even their overall talent level can be dramatically different.

When Taylor Swift won the CMA Awards for Entertainer of the Year and Best Female Vocalist, one of the reasons it seemed like such a tragedy was that Swift couldn’t even sing on pitch in her performance on the award show itself; something that should be natural to any music performer, let alone an Entertainer of the Year.

Carrie Underwood is about as country as a New York City sewer rat, but though it pains me to say it, the American Idol product has a strong, powerful, always on-pitch voice; and unlike an act like Rascal Flatts, her perfect pitch is not due to auto tuners. Brad Paisley is pop country’s teacher’s pet, always first with his hand up to be Carrie’s co-host for the CMA’s. But he also happens to be a very talented guitar player.

George Strait and Jamey Johnson are certainly using the Corporate Nashville machine to forward their music, but the music their trying to forward seems at least attempt to respect the traditions and carry along the sound and themes of traditional country music.

There are tiers of pop country, just like there are to anything. Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Keith Urban aren’t really country at all. Neither is Carrie Underwood, but like Brad Paisley, as a musician she has some undeniable talent. Alan Jackson and Miranda Lambert are country, but still with a pop twinge and that over-polished “Nashville” sound that is caustic to many of our ears.

Some people wonder why on a website called “Saving Country Music” that I don’t talk more about people like George Strait and Jamey Johnson. It is because so many other publications already do. I’d rather write a review for an album that nobody else in the media will even listen to, than one that will just be another review out of 100. And when you live in my country music world, even listening to old school Alan Jackson is a culture shock.

But my question is, is it important to draw distinctions between pop country artists? If we don’t, do we risk being hypocrites for lumping all the music together? Or should we spread or venom in a wide, non-discriminating stream towards all who’ve given country a bad name? Or should we even care?