Season of Discontent: A Timeline of Country’s Recent Artist Criticism

October 22, 2013 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  43 Comments

criticismCountry music in the second half of 2013 is going through some of the most historic changes the format has ever seen, with hip-hop influenced songs, albums, and artists dominating the charts, female artists being excluded like never before, and a litany of songs with laundry list lyrics or that are purposely written to be stupid garnering the lion’s share of attention. The ever-present erosion of what the term “country” defines has never been greater, and the charge of preserving the roots of country music has never been more dire.

As a symptom of all the change and upheaval, big-time artists are speaking out about the direction of country music like never before. We’re not talking about the usual suspects of country criticism like Dale Watson and friends, we’re talking about artists at the very top of the mainstream country food chain. Over the last three months, an average of 3 artists per month have spoken out about the direction of country—an overwhelming number when you consider these bouts of outspokeness would usually happen only a few times a year. And there’s no reason to believe this trend won’t continue.

So below we have aggregated a timeline of some of the music world’s top artists speaking out against the direction of country. In all likelihood, this timeline will continue to grow.

kacey-musgravesMay 10th – Kacey Musgraves

Speaking to American Songwriter, Kacey Musgraves said:

“My voice is undeniably country, and I love country. Do I love what it’s turned into? No, not all the way. It’s a little embarrassing when people outside of the genre ask what I sing and I say country. You automatically get a negative response, a cheese factor. My favorite compliment ever is when someone says, ‘I hate country music but I love your music.'”

tom-pettyAugust 5th – Tom Petty

During an in interview with Rolling Stone, Tom Petty said:

“Well, yeah I mean, I hate to generalize on a whole genre of music, but it does seem to be missing that magic element that it used to have. I’m sure there are people playing country that are doing it well, but they’re just not getting the attention that the shittier stuff gets. But that’s the way it always is, isn’t it?

But I hope that kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or any anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos. I don’t want to rail on about country because I don’t really know much about it, but that’s what it seems like to me.”

kacey-musgravesAugust 19th – Kacey Musgraves

When asked by GQ what music trend needed to die out immediately, Kacey Musgraves said:

“Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to. I thought dubstep was cool for two seconds - but that can go away now too. It sounds like a malfunction of some kind.”

Kacey also said when asked what the best-dressed men in Nashville are wearing these days, “Nothing by Affliction. Just burn the warehouse down. It’s just douchey and really gaudy.”

sheryl-crowAugust 29th – Sheryl Crow

While speaking with Reuters, Sheryl Crow, who just made a move to the country format and released a country album called Feels Like Home, said about her country move:

“The country format is more pop than pop was when I came up two decades ago,”

alan-jacksonSeptember 4th – Alan Jackson 

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Alan Jackson said:

“Right now, it seems like it’s gone. It’s not that I’m against all that’s out there. There’s some good music, good songwriting and good artists out there, but there’s really no country stuff left. It’s always been that constant pop-country battle. I don’t think it’s ever going to change. What makes me sad today is that I think the real country, real roots-y traditional stuff, may be gone. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back on mainstream radio. You can’t get it played anymore.”

gary-allanSeptember 12th – Gary Allan 

During an interview with Larry King, Gary Allan was asked if Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country, and he said

You know, I would say no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.

“Like if you want to get to the young kids, you put it on the alternative station. We’ve sort of ended up in this…we’re nicknamed the soccer mom, like 35 to 45 year-old woman I think is what our demographic is. So it’s very different. You used to be able to turn on the radio and you knew instantly it was the country station just by listening to it, and now you’ve got to leave it there for a second to figure it out…. To me, country music is still Monday through Friday, and pop’s about what happens on the weekends.”

Gary Allan later clarified his statements, saying his words were taken out of context, and that he appreciated country radio and everything it had done for his career.

zac-brownSeptember 14th – Zac Brown 

When speaking to Barbara Beam of 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada, Zac Brown said:

“I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.

“If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up. There’s songs out there on the radio right now that make me be ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artists. You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”

sheryl-crowOctober 3rd – Sheryl Crow 

When speaking to “The Barnyard Show” on 92.5 in Connecticut about why there is so few women on the country music charts, Sheryl Crow said:

“I do think that in the last ten, fifteen years art has gone the way of commerce. Whenever there’s money involved, then you figure out what’s going to bring in sponsors, and what’s going to resonate with people and what’s going to sell records….I’d love to see that change.”

jake-owenOctober 11th – Jake Owen 

When talking to Rolling Stone about his new album, Jake Owen said:

“We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that. We need songs that get ourselves back to the format that made me love it . . .  [like] when guys like Randy Travis released songs like ‘He Walked on Water’ – songs that meant something, man!”

toby-keithOctober 17th – Toby Keith

When speaking to Country Weekly about country rap, Toby Keith said:

“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and sh-t.’”

43 Comments to “Season of Discontent: A Timeline of Country’s Recent Artist Criticism”

  • Would someone please remind Mr. Keith about his own country-rap song, “I Wanna Talk About Me”?


    • Still can’t believe the great Bobby Braddock wrote that song…


    • Ok here’s the difference. That was just 1 song out of Toby’s 17 albums and 58 singles! He didn’t want so many songs on country radio to feature rap and still doesn’t. He didn’t try or want to make it a trend like it is now.

      “You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?

      Also I Wanna Talk About Me has great lyrics, story and pretty good music, unlike many of these new songs with the same bad party lyrics, synthesized pop music and overproduction. I don’t think any big artist said during a radio interview that I Wanna Talk About Me is one of the worst songs they’ve ever heard. It’s the kind of story lyrics missing from radio now that they need to bring back.

      Keith told Billboard magazine that he knew he would get “banged a little” for cutting the song. “They’re going to call it a rap, [although] there ain’t nobody doing rap who would call it a rap.”



      • The guy who wrote the song seems to think it was a country rap song and is proud of it as such. He talks briefly about it in this video along side Curly Putman, claiming “Let’s Talk About Me” was a daring release; on par with Putnam’s “The Green Green Grass of Home” in its influence on the genre and what was and wasn’t acceptable to play on mainstream radio.



        • I think Toby meant it’s not like a rap artist does it. I don’t disagree that it’s country/rap, just based on dictionary definitions of rap like “Musical style in which rhythmic and/or rhyming speech is chanted (“rapped”) to musical accompaniment.” I’m just saying it wasn’t a bro country trend starter or setter and Toby didn’t make whole albums like it or want it to become a trend or the entire country radio top 10. Another important point and difference between Toby and today’s bro country is Toby isn’t recording with rappers for pop and rap sales. Now it seems they are making songs (not just the lyrics, the music and production too) for that purpose. Also Toby’s song has very original lyrics and story while these new songs are copying each other to no end. They need to get different writers like Bobby Braddock to write better country songs. It looks like he wrote some of Blake’s early songs and those are his best and country.


          • And by “not like a rap artist does it” I’m mostly talking about the lyrics. And pop and rap lyrics aren’t as good, respectable, or family-friendly as country lyrics. In a short amount of time they’ve devolved from 3 chords and the truth to no chords and the BS.


  • You can kind of slowly see this ball rolling downhill a little bit, hopefully it gets bigger and bigger, while picking up steam. I think everybody who would like to speak out, should say what they think. If enough artists keep speaking out, then maybe things can shift a little.

    Hate to go off topic here, but I saw Eric Church released a new song today called “The Outsider”, from his new album out next year. I can’t get anything to play here at work, so I haven’t got to hear it, anybody heard it and have an opinion?

    I also saw that Zac Brown Band is going to be performing with Dave Grohl at the CMA’s. I wonder if they are gonna sing together or if Grohl is just gonna play the drums?


    • Here’s a link to Eric Church-The Outsiders—> I heart radio.

      Personally, not a fan….As far as Dave Grohl performing with Zac Brown Band, once again ABC bringing rock artists into the country “party” like at the Music Festival with Lenny Kravitz.


      • I would disagree. I would like to see Grohl perform with Zac Brown Band. I think the Kravitz thing was all wrong because Kravitz wasn’t out there playing country music he was out there playing rock. I don’t know, but I doubt Grohl would go out there and try to do a Nirvana or Foo Fighters sound. Grohl is extremely versatile and has a great mind for music and I’m sure has a great deal of respect for country music just from interviews I’ve read and seen of him. I would liken it more to Robert Plant coming over to Bluegrass than Lenny Kravitz trying to force a rock show down the throats of country music fans.


        • I think another big difference is that Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters are still big stars in the music industry. He doesn’t need new fans or anything like that. He is in a position that he can do whatever he wants to musically. I think he is the kind of guy that if he plays with you, then he probably has a lot of respect for you musically. I am curious to see what they do, because Zac Brown has stated before that Dave Grohl is someone that he would really like to work with on something musically.


        • David Grohl with Seasick Steve http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg1fZZ2eMvQ

          He knows he can do whatever the hell he wants at this point, and does it, because he’s an artist.


          • (Forgot to finish my comment, lol)

            Point being, he collaborates with a lot of people these days, and doesn’t screw around with their stuff, he’s at that point where he can try a little bit of anything, whether it’s blues with Seasick Steve, southern rock/country with Zac Brown, or whatever.

            Waylon Jennings hung out with Metallica and even played Lollapalooza in 1996.

            I have no problem with an artist wanting to do something cool with country singers they’re friends with or fans of. Just don’t try to overly change it into something country’s not.


    • Wow, thanks for the link, Brian.

      Upon first listen, I find it lyrically mediocre, but musically compelling. I get an “Icky Thump” vibe for some reason, especially in the closing minute. Not a trace of country instrumentation can be found here, but knowing Church’s foray into the Orion Music Festival and his comments expressing his dismay over 90% of acts at Lollapalooza being “pussy” and “Peter, Paul and Mary shit” in terms of never rocking out………..I am not the least surprised he has veered further into metal territory.

      While I’d rather he keep releases like this away from the country airwaves, I like this on its own merit.


      As for a Zac Brown/Dave Grohl pairing, yes, I think that would be enjoyable to behold. One of my longtime criticisms of the Zac Brown Band is that they seem to emulate one of their musical idols, James Taylor, a bit too often. And while I enjoy plenty of their music, don’t get me wrong…………I can’t help but feel they are allowing themselves to get pigeonholed as another jam band despite constant insistence among the band’s members that they are defying genre confides.

      I think a collaboration with Grohl would pump more creative oxygen into their blood as a band, or Jack White even.


      • I’m sorry man. Jack White couldn’t carry Seasick Steve’s guitar strap.
        You can’t even compare the two, and it’s a very narrow-minded opinion to even
        say the white stripes are even in the same realm musically as Seasick Steve.


        • An- you really need to do a google search of “jack white seasick steve”…he’s been carrying his guitar strap for a couple of years now.


        • Apparently, Seasick Steve does not agree with you…

          “For me, he’s (Jack White) one of the greatest players and innovators out there. I just don’t know anyone I like better.” – Seasick Steve


  • I wonder when this backlash will build to critical mass. Given how badly the country music industry has antagonized traditionalists (and lovers of good music in general), I don’t think that the backlash will be pretty. The current male “country” stars and songwriters will be purged without mercy.

    If a spring is pushed too far in one direction, it will rebound hard in the other direction.


  • Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for Dave Grohl. In fact his documentary, Sound City is great. Zac Brown Band collaborating with Grohl should be a good I’m just tired of the country awards shows bringing in other artists like Ludacris and Nelly. Reflecting now, it’s the cramming rap/rock music down our throats when “collaborating” with country artists that makes me crazy. I know that Jason Mraz will sing with Hunter Hayes and Alison Krauss will sing with Vince Gill and Taylor Swift.

    Truthfully, I’m looking forward to Triggers live blog!!


  • This Just In:


    Luke Bryan: “I F***kin’ Wanted To Kill Myself When Capitol Nashville Forced Me To Cut ‘That’s My Kind Of Night’!”

    Select Quote: “[Zac Brown] was on-point, man. Back in early April when we were nearly finishing recording [Crash My Party], out of nowhere Dallas Davidson strangled me with a gas hose and told me: ‘You are going to cut this back-handed tribute to T-Pain, and you’re going to like it!’ Apparently he invited Ashley Gorley and Chris DeStefano along to hold their CEO hostage too and force him to listen to 2 Chainz. I f***in’ wanted to kill myself when they forced me to cut ‘That’s My Kind of Night'”

    Bryan also had choice words for fellow artists cutting songs about all-too-familiar topics:

    “They’re a bunch of f***kin’ tools!” said Bryan. “What, there’s nothing else in the whole wide world besides ice cold beer, daisy dukes, jacked-up trucks, store-bought moonshine, objectifying women as ‘girls’ and overuse of the word ‘crazy’ as a lazy euphemism for being horny or drunk? Get a life and wake up, you lazy bastards! I want to speed on over to Brantley Gilbert’s place and break that douche’s legs with my tacklebox!”


    Wouldn’t that be hilarious if he attempted to latch on this bandwagon! (eye roll) -__-


  • there is not one ounce of country in any of these artists combined. They are jumping on the band wagon of putting down country, a downright joke, the pot calling the kettle black. Thanks for introducing me to brandy clark


    • In defense of Zac Brown Band, they don’t actually claim to be country. Yes, they have some hokey songs but for the most part they’re great musicians and generally play and create some good stuff. In my opinion I think a majority of what Toby Keith did before “How Do You Like Me Now?!” was pretty damn good.


    • Alan Jackson? Kacey Musgraves?

      By the way, some of Kacey Musgraves’s songs were co-written by Brandy Clark.


    • As much as we might want to portray none of these artists being country, that doesn’t mean they aren’t saying what they believe in their hearts, and what in fact is the truth. And I’m not really seeing any type of “bandwagon” worthy of any of these artists to jump on. I don’t see how any of the above quotes help further the careers of any of these artists. If it was a song that tries to be some anti-Nashville “new Outlaw” message, that’s one thing. But these are just artists telling the truth as they see it. Is it hypocritical in some instances? Of course. But that doesn’t make what they said any less true.


  • trig.. What is your take on Taylor inviting all these artists to perform with her at the CMAs? It really sounds like she is gonna do a bluegrass version of her song Red. Do you think she is just trying to show everyone how country she is?


    • I may have some thoughts on this and some other news that has come out about the CMA presentation before the awards transpire. I already gave my predictions and such, so we’ll see. There are a few interesting performances scheduled.


  • Gosh, I was really hoping to see some quotes from the guys in Florida-Georgia Line and Luke Bryan in this article…(lol)


  • Okay, I’m probably in the minority about how I perceived Kacey Musgraves’ quotes, and I admit I didn’t read the original articles, mainly because she has become quite annoying, but when you are interviewed by GQ which has a biased against anything rural and say you are embarrassed to call yourself a country musician to non-country audiences- to me it sounds pretentious. The typical reader of GQ knows nothing about the current hip hop influence in country they will equate country with a tear in the beer lyrics and traditional sounds. For me it seems her quotes hurt traditional music more than current artists.


    • I can definitely how you would take it that way. There are a lot of country hipsters out there that hate ANYTHING that is popular just because it’s popular. I honestly think she was referring to the current state of popular country music and not the traditional sounds. I think she felt embarrassed to be associated with many of the artists today rather than from past years. I mean, there have been a few country music stars on their cover the past couple years and I don’t think she wanted to be associated with them. The average person outside of country music probably doesn’t know real country music with artistic merit and depth they probably know Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan and it was embarrassing they might think she was associated with that.


  • Who is Sheryl Crow to weigh in on this?! She is as pop as it gets, and she sounds exactly the same as she did when she was doing tunes about “soaking up the sun”. “I’d like to see that change.. but in the meantime, I will just keep doing it!”


    • I don’t think her comment had anything to do with pop in country. It had to do with the commericalization of music in general.


      • Good observation, I believe you are correct.


  • I was wondering the same thing. She’s done as much to destroy country music as anyone else. I’m actually annoyed Vince Gill and Allison Krauss ageed to do this with her. I know most people dont see it but shes just as mentally warped as Miley Cryrus. 

    The worst thing is Red being played on country radio at all. If she respected country music at all she wouldnt want her pure pop songs on Country radio. Shes addictec to fame and attention and has a patological need to constantly be surrounded by other artists and celebrities.



    • I am getting images of when David Lee Roth did a bluegrass version of Van Halen’s “Jump”..


      • If Van Halen was new right now, Poundcake would probably be a #1 country hit. Ha


  • Don’t get me wrong I think Musgraves has talent, but she is still young. She’s like that high draft pick in sports with a good foundation but still untested. Her quotes have an air of immaturity about them, sure making fun of affliction shirts is easy red meat for us, but the big names in country never had to tear people down about material objects. Could you imagine Johnny Cash making fun of Conway Twitty’s leisure suites?


    • Meant to post this here:

      I’m sure that the Affliction comment was meant as a harmless joke.


  • I’m sure that the Affliction comment was meant as a harmless joke.


  • It is entertaining to witness someone who has spent a lucrative career suddenly eschew the institution (Music Row) which helped him or her profiteer for years, or the label which has become a necessary Exhibit A for any real discussion of mainstream country pop.

    They are no different than the gaggle of the current faux country would-be stars who have never climbed very far up the ladder.

    Seeing an artist pursue a career based on quality roots country music, playing to small venues with reasonable ticket prices and without hanging around Nashville hoping for a call-back from his or her recent big label audition, registers to me a lot more than the complaints of a fading Nashville scene star.

    And not seeing how far an artist can filch adoring fans (e.g. with exhorbitant ticket prices) also goes a long way.

    I enjoy reading SCM’s coverage of this trend, but I get quite a chuckle at some of the folks who are now maligning the same genre they previously have pursued.

    For the record, I like most of the artists mentioned above and a few of the artists who are regulaly featured in a not-so-good way on this site.

    Taste is personal and some of mine is, now doubt, shallow.

    I have been listening to true country music for 40 years and I don’t even know the call numbers of any mainstream country radio stations, but sometimes (e.g. at sporting events) I am, against my will, confronted with music videos of some of the pop country, rap and other genre stars.


  • Does this count?

    Miranda Lambert ‏@mirandalambert

    Remixes piss me off.

    1,444 Retweets 351 Favorites
    11:16 AM – 25 May 12


    I wonder what spurred that. Did her label ask her to do a remix? Now some original songs are worse than remixes were when she tweeted that last year.


  • […] issues, noting an “art has gone the way of commerce” mentality (as Crow points out). Saving Country Music has a nice timeline showcasing each artist’s comments. Musgraves, in particular, sums it up […]


  • Ok I’m listening and it’s ok. Someone at Waterloo in Austin liked it enough to feature it on the wall by the left door.


  • I agree that the narrative of country music in general is TIRED. Trucks, beer, tailgates, tan-legged girls, whiskey, swimming holes, etc. Yes, they’re part of the Americana that country audiences can relate to, especially those in rural America, but my goodness, can’t we add some different themes and context? Kacey Musgraves is one of the best young wordsmiths out there today and we need more of THAT kind of talent.

    And God help me, I might get flamed to a crisp in the comments here, but I’m gonna come out and say that as much as I adore Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert both, that piece of crap single they released, “Something Bad About To Happen” is about the WORST thing that HAS happened in country music lately.


  • “Bro Country” ? Are you kidding ?


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