Five years ago, I would have laughed at the thought of writing this article. Country was one of my least favorite music genres. Though I’d hardly listened to it, I knew one thing for sure — country wasn’t for me. Country was for white people who lived out on farms, who had been “American” for countless generations. It was not for a daughter of Indian immigrants.
When people mocked country music saying it was just about men who loved their trucks, I took their word for it. When people said they liked the genre, I laughed and said “how?” but didn’t wait for an answer. When country songs came on in a grocery store, I tuned them out.
One day, one of my country-loving friends told me I had to listen to the song “Wanted” by Hunter Hayes. “Listen to the lyrics,” she said, “they’re so cute!” Sixteen-year-old me listened, and couldn’t help but agree. At that age, a voice saying “I wanna call you mine / Wanna hold your hand forever” was exactly what I wanted to hear. In fact, all of Hunter Hayes’ songs had a sweetness to them that seemed tailor-made to my longing for a wholesome romance. I decided to make an exception to my “country is not for me” rule, and became a fan of Hunter Hayes.
It was only when I started at Georgetown that I started exploring country music outside of Hunter Hayes’ albums. One of my best friends was a country fan, as were several other people who lived on my freshman floor. As I spent time with them, I started to develop an appreciation for the genre – I found country music wasn’t just about men who loved their trucks. Sure, there were songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” but I couldn’t reduce the genre to being just about any one thing. Hunter Hayes was my gateway artist, and soon I was listening to Thomas Rhett and the like, even when I wasn’t around other people.
I found that country love songs resonated with me more than those of any other genre. The country love songs sung by both male and female artists seemed to come right from the heart, and the scenes they painted with their lyrics were beautifully uncomplicated. My country playlist on Spotify grew steadily: I added not only love songs, but also breakup songs, party songs, just chilling songs, and everything-in-between songs. What united the genre, I realized, was the straightforwardness in the songs’ lyrics, and the earnest feelings in the artists’ voices.
Then one night I heard Josh Turner’s “South Carolina Low Country.” I was really getting into the relaxed vibe of the song, until I realized that one of Turner’s verses praised Confederate generals for fighting for “a way of life.” All my doubts came flooding back. What was I doing, listening to a song that celebrated “a way of life” which included oppressing others? What was I doing, listening to the same genre as people who thought America would be better off without immigrant families like mine? What was I doing, listening to country music?
I told my best friend about the thoughts that hadn’t stopped running through my mind since I’d had my realization about the “South Carolina Low Country” verse. “So just don’t listen to that one song,” she said, “but you can still be a fan of all those other songs about loving deeply and living a simple, happy life.” After some more thought, I realized how silly it was to consider giving up on an entire genre because I’d come across one song with a few problematic lines. If that was the right thing to do, I’d have to stop listening to Pop, Reggaetón, and Bollywood music as well!
For every one song that makes it seem like country music is for an exclusive group of white people, there are hundreds of songs that anyone can relate to and enjoy. Most country songs know no demographic bounds, and even those which describe a specific lifestyle can be enjoyed by all who focus on sentiment rather than specifics. Take Luke Bryan’s “Play it Again” for example – I’ll probably never be sitting in the back of a truck sipping from a dixie cup, but I can still fully relate to the artist’s portrayal of how it feels to hear your favorite song at a party or on the radio. More importantly, I can fully appreciate the theme of wanting to do everything possible to make the person you love happy!
If you don’t like country because you don’t like the music or the vocals, that’s fine by me. But don’t run away from the genre in fear of the stereotypes about the content, or in fear of not fitting the image of a country music fan. I’m the daughter of Indian immigrants, and country is one of my favorite kinds of music – you can make it one of yours, too.
Image Credits: RAF Mildenhall