Last week, it was announced that iHeartMedia radio personality Bobby Bones would be one of the newest inductees into the National Radio Hall of Fame in November. By beating out venerable names in broadcasting such as Sean “Hollywood” Hamilton, Guy Phillips, and even Ryan Seacrest with his oodles of name recognition from American Idol, Bobby Bones will become the youngest inductee ever to the Hall of Fame under the “Music Format On-Air Personality” category at age 37.
Bobby Bones hasn’t even been in national syndication, or in his current format of “country” music for a full five years. So how did he land a spot in the Hall of Fame? First, the National Radio Hall of Fame is no Cooperstown apparently, especially if they’re electing the likes of Bobby Bones at such a young age, and with so little service time. Another reason is Bobby Bones craves attention and acceptance to an incredible, and potentially unhealthy degree, and was unabashed in lobbying for himself for the distinction.
But the main reason is because Bobby Bones is in country music.
The Nashville community and devoted country listenership rallied around Bones, encouraging people to vote for him,” says a press release announcing the Bobby Bones Hall of Fame induction to occur in November. “Artists including Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley and Little Big Town donned ‘VOTE BOBBY’ t-shirts, while many others voiced their support on social media.”
This is what separates country music from other forms of music. It’s the desire to take care of your own, and come together when the competition is with other genres and industries that is one of the reasons country music has remained so strong over the years. Bobby Bones regularly loses out on broadcast personality awards from places like the country-only ACM Awards because of his polarizing nature. But if the entire country industry only has one country personality to vote for, they’ll vote for their own every time.
All the more reason that this dogged insistence to undefine what country music is should be so alarming to everyone who identifies with country music, no matter what their definition is, or their standing in the industry. We saw Whiskey Riff—a website that makes its way in the world promoting pop country—do this a while back when they felt the need to assert, There’s No Definition To ‘Country,’ So Shut The Fuck Up.
Why would someone insist, and so vehemently, that country music shouldn’t have a definition? The answer is so that they can remake country music into whatever they wish—into their own image—and call it anything they want to make it appeal to as many people as commercially possible. If country music has a definition, then it has borders, and a certain scope sonically that acts such as Sam Hunt cannot fit into.
Recently on Twitter (6-29), in a response to another user, Bobby Bones asserted, “Anyone that tries to define what ‘country’ is, has no idea what country is. And never has.”
This is a guy that the country music community just rallied behind to place in the National Radio Hall of Fame who is now cutting the legs out from under that same industry because he doesn’t want to be bound to playing or promoting only country music on his radio show and other places.
Saving Country Music already responded in kind to the assertion made by Whiskey Riff that country music has no definition by quoting the words etched into the very cornerstones of the Country Music Hall of Fame building in Nashville, spoken by country music legends themselves.
“You ask me what makes our kind of music successful, I’ll tell you. It can be explained in just one word: Sincerity.” —Hank Williams
“Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t a lyric. It’s a feeling.” — Waylon Jennings
“Country songs are the dream of the working man.” —Merle Haggard
“A good country song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts it to music.” — Conway Twitty
And these are just the beginning of the examples of how country music most certainly can be defined. Making the Bobby Bones assertion that country music has no definition that much worse is that he wants to go back and impugn these very artists and everyone else for attempting to define country music in the first place.
Without a definition for country music—without any borders or even the slightest distinguishable characteristics for country music to contrast itself with the other genres and industries in musical entertainment—then it will lose its ability to control its future. If anyone can call anything country music—which is the practice Bobby Bones wants to employ—then country music will be on the brink of implosion, hurdling towards irrelevancy because it has nothing that makes it unique in the musical marketplace.
Without a definition or defined borders around country music, Bobby Bones would never inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame at 37 years of age, if ever.
It’s not enough that folks like Bobby Bones have close to absolute control over the genre already. They must in turn rid the world of adversarial ideologies to their desire to use the term ‘country music’ to peddle whatever music or culture they choose, rewriting the history books, and making the words of past legends irrelevant. They can’t even allows us to have our stupid little true country songs and artists from both the past and present, and be happy. They must step onto our turf, and say we’re the ones who are misguided.
Country music should sound like country music. Pop music should sounds like pop music, and on down the line with hip-hop, EDM, R&B, rock, and every genre, all coming together to form the brilliant tapestry of diverse voices and contrasting forms of expression that is the vibrant American culture. Of course different genre influences can be mixed together in collaborative efforts, but only if it is done with respect to the diversity of these separate art forms to ensure the vibrancy stays in tact as opposed to diluted for the desire of mass consumption, lest music get homogenized to the point where it doesn’t matter what genre you’re listening to, all the music sounds the same, like one big nebulous monogenre.
‘Country music’ most certainly has a definition because it means something to millions of people. They identify with it. It’s their culture. It’s what gives them meaning and fulfillment. And if lost, and even worse, impugned and dragged through the mud as being irrelevant, uncool, or unwilling to evolve, it leaves them empty feeling and hollow, often with adverse things like addiction and consumerism rushing in to fill that vacuum, or their souls latching on to other cultures that are not native to their own, a.k.a. cultural appropriation. Country music is not just a format, or a genre. It is the voice of a people. And any attempt to silence that voice, or pave over it via “progress,” or render it irrelevant through words and rhetoric is an affront to all culture.
Yes, the arguments of how to define country music are endless and nauseating, and the definition is seemingly different for everyone you talk to. The fact that the definition of country music is different for everyone is not its weakness, it’s its strength. It means that country music means something personal to people. Bobby Bones tried to embody this in his comment, but at the same time discredited everyone’s definition.
We may all disagree what the definition of country music is, but we should all agree on is that there is one. Because without a definition, country music literally means nothing, and so would the desires of millions of people who for generations have identified with the music, and used its stories, sounds, and sentiments to find meaning in themselves, comfort during hard times, and spirit in the face of trouble.