What has happened to American country music? How did we get here? What diabolically bad state of disrepair has befallen the country genre where someone would even be forced to interface with a song like Kane Brown’s “Weekend” as a country music fan or critic? It’s not even that the song is bad. As radio pop, it’s probably fine, despite being vacuous and utterly pointless as an effort at artistic expression. It’s that “Weekend” is so unbelievably not country, it could be categorized in every other popular genre before it fell to being cataloged as country music.
Yet here we are in the country world talking about it. Are we shocked that such a non-country track like “Weekend” is the latest single from Kane Brown? Of course not. It’s what we expect from him. What would be shocking is if he released a song that actually sounded country. They can’t even tell us anymore that a song like this pushes boundaries or is country music “evolving.” Songs like “Weekend” have already been done in country music so many times over the last couple of years, it’s par for the course.
This is why the acceptance of Sam Hunt was so devastating. Now a song like “Weekend” is just seen as yet another R&B single released as country music, as opposed receiving stiff opposition and audible groans for being a gross overstepping of bounds, and being editorialized via think pieces about what it all means for country music moving forward. Nobody even bats an eyelash anymore. All criticism feels redundant. We’ve been desensitized.
But we shouldn’t be. As the lines between popular genres become indefinable—and a wave of pallid music permeates nearly every playlist on the radio and streaming services regardless of format—the listening public is woefully underserved in choice, regardless of anyone’s personal opinions on quality or taste. This issue stretches far beyond country. Every genre is affected when there is no choice between any of them. It devalues music, and diminishes the music listening experience across the board. It takes music from a vehicle to express and inspire to simply becoming background noise. “Weekend” is called country music because its origination point is Nashville instead of New York or Los Angeles. But in truth it’s just the latest offering from the monogenre—indefinable in style and influence from any other mainstream single regardless of format.
Slowly we’re seeing the bulldozing and whitewashing of American music culture, making it devoid of any unique influences or differences. Kane Brown’s “Weekend” should be just as troubling to R&B fans as it should be to country ones, because it’s an incursion and incorporation of their turf by what is supposed to be distinctly rural music. But they’re not shocked either. They expect it, and are resigned to this as the new musical reality, just like country fans.
But they should be shocked. We all should be. Because music is one of the ways we can express ourselves uniquely, either through listening or performing. And by bleeding the local, regional, and ethnic dialects and influences out of the music, we lose a little bit of ourselves in the process. We lose a part of our identity—what makes us unique to ourselves, and interesting to each other. Making country music sound like urban music is not a celebration of diversity, it’s the death of it.
Yes, Kane Brown’s “Weekend” is just one in a growing line of R&B songs released as country. And it won’t receive the same type of vociferous condemnation as Sam Hunt’s first singles or other copycat efforts by mainstream country stars. But it should. Because regardless of the appeal it might find in certain segments of the popular audience—country or otherwise—it has absolutely nothing to do with country, aside from being just the latest step on the slow, downward spiral attempting to destroy country’s unique sounds and style in the name of mass appeal.
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Now, let’s all go shopping at Wal-Mart…