Country music’s nostalgia factor still dominates Nashville



NASHVILLE — On any Thursday night in Nashville, you can stand on a neon-soaked tourist block of Lower Broadway and hear Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart” blast from a band at Layla’s Honky Tonk. “Red Dirt Road” by Brooks & Dunn of Legends Corner. “If I Could Make a Living” by Clay Walker at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson from a passing car. Big & Rich’s “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” from the loudspeakers of a pedal tavern full of brothers, who boo loudly when they pedal and you refuse to give them a high-five.

And just up the street, if you step out of the party zone and into the historic Ryman Auditorium, you can hear the mind-boggling screams of the audience at Carly Pearce’s. October 28 concert When Trisha Yearwood stops to sing “How Do I Live,” Ronnie Dunn arrives to sing “Cowgirls Don’t Cry,” and Kelsea Ballerini shows up to cover the Chicks’ 1999 classic “Cowboy Take Me Away.”

No matter where you are: In country music, the genre’s iconic hits of the ’90s and early ’00s — and the acts who sing them — continue to reign supreme. After all, that was the time when the country greatest deeds became chart-topping, stadium-filling superstars, bringing country music to its widest audience – so it only makes sense that singers, songwriters, executives and even fans alike would hang on to this era.

“It might be the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” Martina McBride said to the roar of the sold-out crowd the following night across the street at Bridgestone Arena, where she was. the first part of Wynonna Judd. McBride appeared suffocated as thousands gave her a standing ovation after she sang “A Broken Wing,” her famous 1997 ballad. “God, I love Nashville,” she said.

“You have no idea what you mean to the world,” Yearwood, the concert’s special guest singer, told Judd, who garnered 14 No. 1 hits between 1984 and 1991 with her mother and duet partner. , late Naomi Judd. The noise level at Bridgestone was not matched until the following night when the tour stopped at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, where Judd’s guest vocalist was Faith Hill. Her husband, Tim McGraw, watched the show from the floor seats and briefly entertained the audience by dancing between sets to Brooks & Dunn’s 1991 line-dancing anthem “Boot Scootin’ Boogie”.

Spend time in Nashville and you’ll see this obsession with nostalgia play out repeatedly and eventually be televised. on a national platform at the 2022 Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday. The three-hour ABC show was brought to life for about half an hour when Jo Dee Messina walked onstage during Cole Swindell’s performance of his five-week No. 1 single “She Had Me At Heads Carolina.” , a reimagining of Messina’s 1996 smash “Face Caroline, Face California.” (“She’s a 90s country fan, like me,” Swindell sings approvingly in his song about a girl he meets at a bar karaoke.)

“You give up for Jo Dee Messina!” Swindell shouted at the end and bowed to Messina, who beamed and waved at the screaming crowd. A similar reaction came later when Chris Stapleton collaborated with Patty Loveless on “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” which she recorded in 2001. Stars dance in the audience, as various artists perform her hits ranging from “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” (1990) to “Remember When” (2003).

Looking at all of this, the question arises: if a genre is so obsessed with the past, what does that mean for its future? After talking to many people in the industry, as well as those who consider themselves superfans, the answer is complicated.

First, it should be noted that the country is far from alone in obsessing over the past. The wider culture is going through a craze for 90s and 2000s nostalgia, from rewatch podcasts to TV and movie reboots and band reunion tours. But country music stands out as a place that has been already fixated on his past.

Countless songs hark back to the good old days, like McGraw’s “Back When” – and wonder why things can’t be as simple as they were, even if it’s reminiscent of a fictional trouble-free town that never existed, like “Mayberry” by Rascal Flatts. As a result, country music’s determination to constantly pay homage to legends of the past and celebrate its history can make it difficult to move forward, especially now that the industry that likes to present itself as one big family is more divided than ever as it grapples with complex issues like the rest of America.

The inconvenience that plagued Nashville was successfully swept under the rug during the CMAs broadcast. Nominees Jason Aldean and Maren Morris were both in the audience just two months after a rare social media outburst when Aldean’s wife Brittany posted an Instagram video that Morris slammed as transphobic.

About six weeks later, Aldean dwelt on the controversy as he sarcastically tell the crowd at a Bridgestone concert that he could bring Morris up on stage, and smiled as fans booed – then later welcomed Morgan Wallen, best known to the general public as a singer who was caught on the stage, to the stage TMZ video last year saying the n-word and only became more popular when fans (and some Nashville singers and industry executives) grew concerned it was unjustly “cancelled”.

Both controversies made national news and highlighted the larger issues that the format has yet to fully address, from the extreme of the predominantly white genre. lack of diversity the way LGBTQ singers have been marginalized by the industry for decades. Such incidents are discussed at length behind the scenes and have caused much soul-searching in Nashville, as some have realized they have to work closely with people whose opinions they despise – while others wish everyone can concentrate only on the music, because they are unable to solve these problems.

In other whispered conversations — where people peek over their shoulders at events and restaurants, because you never know who might be standing right behind you in this industrial city — there’s an added worry about how to respond publicly to these issues. Several people in the industry were unimpressed with CMA co-host Luke Bryan. defensive statement last month after seeing backlash for inviting ‘very polarizing’ (his words) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on stage at a concert, apparently trying to argue that it wasn’t a political statement because he was promoting hurricane relief awareness.

And of course, it’s all made worse by the fact that country music, like all genres, is struggling to adapt to the future of streaming, in the face of a touring industry that has been crippled by the pandemic and has struggling to break new music stars other than advising that they somehow go viral on TikTok – a frustration that has spilled over into the public how the musicians express themselves of this new pressure exerted on them.

It’s no wonder, then, that the day before the CMAs at the BMI Country Awards (a star-studded private event that honors songwriters), everyone preferred to bask in nostalgia. Toby Keith received the BMI Icon Award, and stars from Eric Church to Carrie Underwood performed covers of his hits and raved about his rise to stardom. The discussion of the struggles songwriters face as royalties dry up in the age of streaming was left for another night.

“It was artists like you who taught kids like me that greatness is possible if you work hard, give it your all,” Underwood said before putting his spin on “Should’ve Been a Cowboy”, Keith’s first No. 1 single in 1993.

It was much the same the following night when CMA voters bestowed Artist of the Year (for the second year in a row) on Luke Combs. He’s the genre’s newest megastar who frequently speaks of legendary ’90s duo Brooks & Dunn as one of his biggest inspirations – and has found huge success combining modern production with (you guessed it) sound. traditional 90s country.


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