The case against even caring about genre distinction these days is made quite often by citing how younger listeners will switch between genres without showing loyalty to any particular one. An example is Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line explaining how they grew up listening to mixtapes that included country, rap, Christian music, and rock. The result was the mismashed influences found in Florida Georgia Line’s music today.
But even though the appeal for rap, heavy metal, rock, jazz, classical, opera, and Latin music has increased over the last two decades, the favorable viewpoints for country have decreased over that same time period, even as country has incorporated the influences of other genres into its music more and more.
An Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame named Omar Lizardo conducted a study recently where he asked a representative sample of 2,250 Americans about 15 different musical genres, and whether they liked, disliked, or had mixed feelings about them. Then he took these findings and compared them with a similar study conducted in 1993 where the same questions were asked as part of a general social survey. The new study conducted its research in 2012, right as Bro-Country was coming into fashion in full force.
The study concluded that the appeal for most of the major genres of music had increased, with only blues, reggae, show tunes, and R&B showing no significant change. But country, bluegrass, folk, and religious/Christian music all saw declines in appeal during the 20-year window of the study.
The study, published in the journal Poetics, was not necessarily interested in genre specifically, but was interested in the sociology and economics behind the appeal for music, and how genres resonated with different socioeconomic sectors in the United States. The study concluded that music that is meant to appeal to disproportionately white, rural, and Southern audiences is falling out of favor. Meanwhile rap and heavy metal saw the greatest gains of all the genres.
It’s interesting to note that even though listeners are more inclined to give rap a chance, they’re not necessarily more inclined to give rap a chance in country. 2011—the year before the study was conducted—was the year country rap was at its height of popularity. Even though country has become quite popular in the last three years since the study was conducted, arguably peaking sometime between 2013 and 2014, it has also never been more polarizing. It is common to see a strong dislike of current country music in a cross section of the population through online comments, reviews, and other commentary. This new study puts statistical certainty behind those observations.
One of the potential factors plaguing country could be the narrowing of themes, eroding its appeal to the greater population. Where country music of generations before would touch on subject matter appealing to a broad spectrum of the population, Bro-Country and it’s vehemence for the country lifestyle, its lists of country-isms, and affirmations of rural living has made country music seem narrow; only speaking to a certain small demographic of people who actually live a rural existence in the South.
This new study is yet another wake-up call that country music could be poised on a precipice, and should listen to the criticisms that the mainstream has become too narrow, and too shallow to be sustainable into the future.