Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Country Music on the Right Way to Live

On Tuesday mornings I get to talk on WKYB, Danville's country radio station.

Peter Lewis did a semi-serious analysis of the standard themes of top country songs, from the '60s to today.  He boiled them down to four:  It's all over; It's not working out; Love and devotion (which he originally coded as Sappy love songs); and Right way to live.

The first three categories are primarily about romantic relationships, but include frustrations with jobs and a few other relationships.

The last one is the one I am particularly interested in.  In Lewis' calculation, these songs covered Things were better back then, Me and my rowdy friends (the land of the current bro-country party songs), and Let's get back to basics.  This is the category for analyzing the social structure.

Now, no popular genre addresses the social structure directly - it is too boring as an emotion, too far removed from narrative, and too big for most people to readily grasp.  Instead, these songs tend to call up the wisdom of small towns, farms and factory hard work, marriage and parenthood, and patriotism.  They are, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, against cities, elites, and status-seeking.

Lewis' analysis reveals that the first two categories - the "tears in my beer" songs - have declined, while the latter two have risen.  His conclusion: modern country fans are more interested in healthy relationships, motivational speeches, and having a good time than sadness and misery.

On the whole, this is a good development, I think.  But we do need to keep thinking critically about the macro-processes of the social structure.

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