Words were failing me in my efforts to articulate in any sort of composed and accurate manner what type of depravity country music is currently ailing from, and just what angst I feel about the current state of affairs in the genre. The 50th Annual ACM Awards left me despondent, reeling, and listless from the lack of hope for the future of the country format.
And then I saw a picture of Sam Hunt’s hair from the awards, and it seemed to encapsulate just about everything I was sensing in a way words could never express.
Look, this isn’t just about taking the low road of making fun of someone’s hair. Lord knows we’ve all had bad hair days or embarrassing eras when we tried to meet the styles of the day head on. Yes, the lines cut in the side of his head—a fashion statement usually reserved for folks of a little different ethnicity than Sam Hunt—and the strange braids or rat tails emanating from the back make the comb over from Sam’s early promo pics look halfway acceptable. But it’s the symbolism that has Sam Hunt’s haircut acting like a bellwether for where country music is today.
Let me tell you something. Sam Hunt knew if he wore his hair in this manner, he would solicit ridicule from certain sectors of the country music demographic. That’s one of the reasons he did it. He wanted some folks to feel uncomfortable. He wanted people wondering if cutting waves in his hair shouldn’t be more reserved for non whites. Sam Hunt was announcing, “I’m here. And you’re just going to have to get comfortable with it, because this is country music now. It’s stylized suits and metrosexual hairstyles. It’s EDM dance beats. And if it makes you feel uncomfortable, good. Because I’m not going anywhere.”
Contrast that with Taylor Swift, who showed up to accept her Milestone Award, even though she had sworn off the ACM’s and all country award shows when she famously made her move to pop at the end of 2014. It not that she doesn’t want to be at these award shows to soak up some more free face time, it’s that she didn’t want to come across as disingenuous to the public.
“Somebody once told me that you truly see who a person is when you tell them something they don’t want to hear,” Taylor Swift said. “You truly see who a person is when you give them news that they weren’t expecting. And so to the country music community, when I told you that I had made a pop album and I wanted to go explore other genres, you showed me who you are with the grace that you accepted that with. I will never forget it.”
Beyond focusing on the disturbing moments, the 50th Annual ACM Awards seemed to just about perfectly portray where country music is today. Here we were as a country genre, bisecting a century as a relevant force in American music, and it couldn’t have looked any more like a house divided. Country artists like George Strait, Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, and even some not-so-old artists like Dierks Bentley were taking the time to focus on one song and attempting to craft a sincere moment for the television audience. And on the other side, it came across as sheer madness in montage form, unless of course you’re a fan of some of those younger artists.
But even a Jason Aldean fan had to be a little frustrated as he sung a chorus or two from a gaggle of his hits in rapid succession, and you never really got a moment to focus your mind on anything. Maybe it’s that older generation’s fault for rearing the younger one in front of television sets full of blinking lights, wild gesticulations, and other Yo Gabba Gabba-like craziness. No wonder 18 to 34-year-olds can’t focus on anything for more than 60 seconds as ACM organizers say, and we’re left wondering where the appreciation for a good song went.
Meanwhile someone thought it was a great idea to get all these traditional, straight-laced oldtimes and old souls, and then mix them in with a bunch of kids in their mid 20’s who sing and listen to EDM and R&B songs that reference drugs and objectify women, hoping that Cowboys Stadium would be big enough for both. The size of the enormous stadium resulted in really bad sound, but it still wasn’t suitable to allow for the gulf that exists between the two sides of country music listeners to be accurately represented. It would be impossible to put enough distance between George Strait fans and Sam Hunt’s hair.
Because you see, I don’t want racist readers coming out of the woodwork to drop “wigger” comments about whatever way Sam wants to groom his curtain. Country music aside, it’s none of our business how Sam Hunt wears his hair, and I’ll say it before you say it for me: we should be focusing more on the music than on hairstyles. But that’s the problem with Sam Hunt: his music is even worse at flying in the face of what country music is supposed to be, and by trying to put everyone in the same room, you breed conflict.
What does Sam Hunt’s hair really symbolize? It’s the perfect example of why country music needs a split; a good old-fashioned divorce. Hey, people grow up, and grow apart. 50 years is a long time, and the genre has changed dramatically in that period, but possibly never more than the amount it’s changed in the last two or three years. I don’t want to hate on Sam Hunts hair, or his music. I want to hear music that is actually country, and have everything else portrayed accurately. If you listen to a song and it more appropriately fits in multiple other genres other than country, then it needs to find a more applicable home. And that doesn’t just go for Sam Hunt. Many others who made appearances at the 50th Annual ACM Awards, including some in cowboy hats and crew cuts could heed this advice.
Because I don’t want to hate on Sam Hunt for his hair, or his music. I want to be able to see every human as a diverse, interesting, and complex creature to be understood and learned from as one unique piece in a vibrant tapestry contrasted by our differences that makes up the whole of humankind. We’re all music fans first, and then our loyalties fall to certain genres. But when we attempt to resolve those differences amidst misguided notions of “evolution,” we invariably compromise our individualism and the ties to our indigenous culture that makes each one of us different in our own special way. Then there will be no differences between us to be enlightened by.
Truth be know, I think Sam Hunt and his hair are awesome. You go Sam! Wear your hair however the hell you want. But just don’t do it in a manner where it attempts to impinge on what makes me different, in a way that attempts to resolve my uniqueness as a country fan. Because then we both run the risk of losing who we are.
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“You can paint a wall green and call it blue, but it’s clearly not blue. That would go over badly, because people know. When people trust you, they believe you’re investing them with a piece of your life and their lives in turn, so you want to keep that trust at every level … I don’t really think people were surprised I made a pop album; I think they were surprised I was honest about it.”