The 6 Cookie Cutter Pop Country Song Formulas

A while back we showcased the 6 Pop Country Archetypes, now it’s time to showcase the song formulas that Music Row employs to appeal to them. The cheesy love song goes without saying, these are the other templates that professional songwriters in BMI’s and ASCAP’s cubicle farms slave away at fleshing out in various forms. Any “creativity” comes in the form of mixing an mingling these various formulas. One thing’s for sure, when you crack the cellophane on a Music Row CD, you can almost be guaranteed you will see most, if not all of the formulas used as a rule.

The Country Checklist / Laundry List Song

In a machine gun fashion, with little care for creativity, these songs spew out a string of easily-identifiable countryisms and artifacts in an idioitc attempt to prove how “country” the singer and song are. Cornbread, biscuits, fried chicken, dirt roads, ice-cold beer, pickup trucks, hay fields, over and over they beat you over the head with their backroad, barbed wire, Budweiser barbarism of authentic country culture.

Since all of these “checklist” items are inane and commonplace to real cowboys and country folk, they’re not meant to be heard by them, but by the corporate country “CMT” culture who attempt to escape their mundane suburban or urban lives by living vicariously through these idiotic anthems and shallow portrayals of country living. The Laundry List formula can work by itself, but can also be found as an element in many, if not the majority of mainstream country songs today. The Country Checklist defines today’s pop country landscape.

The Nostalgia Ballad

Remember back when? Those were the good old days. Your first car, your first kiss. She was young. You were dumb. Y’all got handsey in the back seat. Let’s go back and relive it all and remind us how our lives suck now.

Using Bob Seger’s song “Night Moves” as a template, many times these songs feed the unhealthy obsession with youth, and the idea that anything meaningful ends after high school. They’re also a vehicle to bitch about economics and the changing world, how gas used to be 99 cents and small towns are drying up. But you won’t see The Nostalgia Ballad’s listeners moving out of their suburban mansions and ditching their iPhones for the simple life; they’d rather memorialize the death of rural culture in a cheesy pop song played on a $700 car stereo.

Tears From Heaven

In a radio-friendly 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, they shoehorn in the hokiest of over-sentimental sob stories that the Music Row songwriting monkeys can conjure, that usually culminate in the tragic death of some dear loved one. But that’s okay, because we’re gonna be strong. Together. Because that’s the way that little Timmy who got his head lopped off by a combine, or grandpa who slipped in the shower would have wanted it. Instead of helping you process the pain of personal loss by breeding the understanding that death is a natural process, these songs prey on making you relive your grief over and over and over again. Cancer is a big player in these songs as well. And as you begin to sob and the rain begins to pour down, the pop country crooner illuminates how that’s not rain. No. It’s the tears of your loved one falling down from heaven.

The Booty Anthem

With positively no redeeming artistic value or ties to country music’s roots, this is Music Row’s overt homage to idiotically-simplistic droning dance music, and is the soundtrack to the formation of the mono-genre. Sure, maybe there’s an overdubbed banjo in there, somewhere, way in the back, but they’ll edit that out when they use it in the Axe body spray commercial. Booty Anthems turn our daughters into whores and our sons into rapists; apparently a fair tradeoff for Music Row to keep country commercially viable…at the expense of anybody with any taste or class.

Lake Party / Weekend Warrior / Summer Song

A mix of The Nostalgia Ballad and The Laundry List formulas, this is the weekend warrior’s magnum opus. It’s okay if for 50 years and five days a week we’re slaves to our jobs, as long as we get 48 hours to develop crotch rot and drive our ski boats drunk. The beach, and vacations in Mexico and South America are big players in this formula too. These songs perpetuate the unhealthy perspective that as long as we get two days a week to act stupid, it’s okay to live unfulfilled lives and be a slave to consumerism and the corporate work week.

The Flag Waving Anthem

All of America’s service men and women deserve our highest salute, respect, and gratitude, but instead of doing it with sincerity, many times these songs take the salute too far in the sappy direction to commercialize the sentiment. Since less that 1% of the US population actually serves, these songs are a play at political demographics that instead of solidifying support behind service members, while creating a polarizing environment domestically, and sometimes painting an unhealthy picture that America wants to bomb every country full of brown skins back to the Stone Age. For many pop country stars, their Flag Waving Anthem is a rite of passage, or a requirement for their track list demanded by Music Row executives. No Toby, putting a boot in your ass is not the American way, making you think the boot is cool and then selling you the boot is the American way.

Honorable Mention:

The Jilted Female In Rage Song: Highlighted by a pop country starlet in knee-high boots starting shit on fire and perpetrating other felonies to get back at a bad lover or his new bride. Miranda Lambert started it, Carrie Underwood and many others have followed.

The Cornpone Joke Song: Run into the ground by Brad Paisley, done one worse by Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”