Saturday Night Live debuted a pretty spot-on and hilarious parody of popular country music on on their October 28th show. Hosted by Nate Bargatze and featuring musical guest The Foo Fighters, Bargatze mimicked a archetypal Bro-Country singer with other members of the recently overhauled SNL cast, and legendary drummer Dave Grohl came in as a crazy uncle who’s a stickler for the rules of cornhole.
The skit does a pretty good job lampooning all the tropes of country music’s Bro-Country era, including the obsession with inane lists of everyday items, hip-hop gesticulations, and predictable and formulaic production. As you can imagine, the song and video find a favorable audience at somewhere like Saving Country Music that has been lambasting this kind of “country” music for quite a few years.
But as funny as the skit is, it also helps illustrate where we’re at and how far we’ve come with popular country music over the last couple of years. Though a song like “Lake Beach” would have been on-the-nose characterizing pop country in 2015, in 2023 it feels pretty out-of-date. When comedian Bo Burnham did a Bro-Country parody song “Panderin’” as part of his Make Me Happy Netflix special back in the summer of 2016, this is when Bro-Country was near its zenith.
There is still some residue of the Bro-County era sticking to the sides of popular country like lake sludge for sure, and list-style songwriting is something that popular country still leans on like a crutch. But the prototypical act for the kind of “country” that “Lake Beach” is lampooning is Florida Georgia Line, and they’ve been broken up now for going on two years. This style of music is quickly being relegated to country music’s past.
James Austin Johnson who plays one of the singers in the “Lake Beach” skit looks like a dead ringer for Tyler Childers. Childers is one of the artists upstaging the mainstream and selling out arenas these days without singing songs that pander to radio. If you really wanted to parody the biggest trend in country at the moment, it would be to target singer/songwriters like Zach Bryan and Oliver Anthony and their acoustic earnestness.
Some will also point out that poor rural rednecks are the last marginalized demographic you can still make fun of on a program such as SNL. It’s also fair to point out that the South actually does have actual ocean beaches. It’s called the Gulf Coast. There are beaches beyond the Jersey Shore, SNL writers. Anyone ever been to Florida?
But let’s not get too uptight here. One of the great things about country music is that it’s always been able to laugh at itself, from Minnie Pearl and Jerry Clower, to Hee-Haw. This is all fair game and pretty damn funny. And since something like this appears on SNL, it also helps underscore how the criticism of Bro-Country has pierced the zeitgeist.
But this parody also underscores just how far popular country music has come in the last few years. With Tyler Childers and Billy Strings selling out arenas, Zach Bryan selling out stadiums, and a host of other artists offering a much healthier alternative to the mainstream and gobbling up a bigger percentage of market share each year, country music is becoming much less like “Lake Beach” and a constant parody of itself by the day, and more like the kind of country we all fell in love with.