Brace yourself dear reader. I’m about to do something I’ve never done before: I’m about to praise country music.

When I was 10-years old and starting to become cognitively aware of what music was, it was 2013 and country music was arguably bigger than it had ever been. I was hearing country music on the radio more often, and it became my favorite genre for a while, to the point where no other genres mattered to me. Unfortunately for me, 2013 was also arguably the worst year for country music. 2013 was the year that the biggest names in country music were Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, Hunter Hayes, and Cole Swindell. In other words, this was the ‘Bro Country era’: upbeat, mid-to-high tempo music with heavy pop influences and lyrics about attractive young women, copious amounts of alcohol consumption, partying and pickup trucks. Exclusively in that order.

Don’t get me wrong, there was good country music during this time, but radio sure as hell wasn’t playing the good stuff. They were playing the popular stuff. Thankfully, in the middle of eighth grade, one of my friends introduced me to Green Day, and ever since then pop punk/alternative was the genre that took over my life. Bands and artists like Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, Sum 41, Paramore, Good Charlotte, Weezer, and, later on, Machine Gun Kelly, Mod Sun, Youngblud, Linkin Park and Korn became my music of course, and I rarely gave country music another thought again. When I did give country music a thought, it was never a positive one.

So, what changed? Why am I writing this column about country music when I haven’t liked it for years? Well, over spring break, my family and I took a trip to Denver, and on the way there, I started listening to the ‘Song vs Song’ podcast hosted by Todd Nathanson and Alina Morgan. In an episode from Oct. 14, 2020, they put “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line against “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean. Both of these songs were nostalgic for me because both of those songs were in heavy rotation for me when I was in my country phase. Listening to the hosts – along with guest host Grady Smith, a country music YouTuber – talk about both of these songs got me reminiscing about how much I used to love country music. It also made me wonder if country music had gotten any better. Like a guy stalking his ex-girlfriend on social media years after the break up, I decided to check on country music to see if it had improved itself by listening to the ‘Country Rising’ playlist on Tidal. Listening to a few songs, I had a massive realization: I didn’t hate what I was listening to. Every song didn’t sound the same. It was no longer all about girls, trucks, beer and jeans. It was diverse and interesting and really awesome.

Does this make me a true-blue country music fan now? Am I gonna have to trade in my Blink-182 and Korn t-shirts for flannel button ups? My red Converse for brown boots? My black beanie for a 10-gallon stetson? My Corolla for a Tacoma?

Not quite. You see, aside from the fact that pop – punk and alternative music will always have my whole heart – my favorite type of country music is the type that doesn’t sound like traditional country music. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions (Chris Stapleton for example), but during my dive into country music, the songs that stood out the most to me were ones that took inspiration from other music genres. The first song I heard that made me realize country music is actually really awesome now was “Cottonmouth” by country newcomer Rvshvd (pronounced Rashad), which features the lead singer of Ice Nine Kills, a heavy metal band. It’s an absolutely killer combination of country and hard rock, with one of the best choruses I’ve ever heard in any song.

The other type of country music I like is country music with hip-hop influences. I know this may be the bane of the existence of many “true” country fans, and it can sound cringe when it’s done badly, but when it’s done well, it’s done really well. The best examples of this come from Morgan Wallens’ new album “One Thing At A Time”. Tracks like “Ain’t That Some”, “I Wrote The Book”, “Sunrise”, “You Proof”, “180 (Lifestyle)”, “Neon Star”, and “Thinkin Bout Me” were the most captivating and fun to listen to. There are some great traditional country songs on that album too, but the ones I just listed are the best in my opinion.

I could honestly keep going. I didn’t even get into how Jelly Roll is doing some of the most exciting things in country music right now, or how I even found songs from people like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line that I liked even though I still don’t really like them as artists. But for the sake of time, I’m going to refrain myself.

What I’d like to say in closing is this – if you’re the type of country music traditionalist who is disgusted by my opinions on the genre, I understand. But for me, if taking influences from other genres is what gets people like me interested in country music, where’s the problem? Country music needs to evolve, and I’m proud of it for taking the time for self improvement.

Mason Poepperling is a Buhler sophomore studying journalism.

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