Obese people in tight and stripped outfits. Face tattoos. Throat tattoos. Huge and exposed chest tattoos. Nose rings. “A tiny black latex bra.” No, I’m not describing the Met Gala; I’m setting the scene for the 56th Annual Country Music Awards, now the trashiest show on earth (see here).
Now, the features mentioned above are award show red carpet staples. The show itself was slightly less gruesome as it was steeped in retro music, vintage artists, and Peyton Manning. But without these saving graces resurrected from a bygone era, CMAs, and mainstream country music as a whole, would be almost entirely characterless. Larger-than-life types of legends — think George Jones, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, the Hanks — with their distinctive voices, authentic twang, and real, raw emotions are rare these days. And what is American culture without music that celebrates its country folk and their way of life?
The pop-ification of country music is nothing new, but what recent CMAs portrayed was something beyond a certain pop influence. On display, a musical genre that has lost its identity and is approaching the point of no return. The female performers, with their ridiculous hair extensions and over-the-top makeup, looked like drag-queen versions of themselves. The excessive production, too, made “three chords and the truth” seem puritanical. I felt like the producers of the show had never listened to country music before and had never ventured beyond their city limits.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t some authentic artists and there is no more talent in country music. They can all sing (except Cole Swindell, whose static and monotonous robot voice makes me wish for a real static radio). Lainey Wilson, Jon Pardi, Chris Stapleton, Morgan Wallen and Jackson Dean all have style.
Largely, however, I think awakening – much of it spreading to Nashville from a huge influx of Californians – has continued to pour its poison into a world constructed by unassuming characters simply singing honestly about rural life, its joys and sorrows. Country music has veered off course and doesn’t know what to be, and CMAs have displayed this new identity crisis on full display.
Much like Nashville itself, which went from honkytonk capital to the “next Austin,” CMAs became increasingly focused on crossover, “inclusive” performances, and mundane cartoonish versions of songs from the era. where country was country. CMAs’ attempts at nostalgic tunes (a lot of Loretta Lynne knocks) just showed how good country was and how far the genre has fallen. Perhaps most iconic, this year, rather than burning down the house with a screaming steel guitar and accents so loud you need captioning, they included Katy Perry, the popiest of all pop stars. , further diluting a genre that is halfway to pop as it is.
I first assumed that Perry was invited to attract viewers from all corners of the country who, regardless of background or geography, love look at big boobs. But then, for some reason, Perry sang a duet with Thomas Rhett, although before the show she “had no idea who he was.”
Perry has evolved from her “Ur So Gay” days into a strong supporter of Hilary Clinton and the typical Hollywood “activist” type—anything contrary to what conventional, largely rural country music fans stand for. Maybe she recent vote for Rick Caruso running for mayor of Los Angeles indicates his embrace of gender politics. I’m not sure it deserves the red carpet rollout.
Just six years ago, fans protested a performance with Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks because of their unpatriotic views. Today, CMAs are full of politically charged dramas and out-of-country performances. someone named “Jelly Roll” wore an executioner costume — and his facial tattoos, of course — on the red carpet with his wife, Bunnie Xo. And Maren Morris, who had a seizure when Brittany Aldean disagreed with her about sex reassignment operations for children, made a social media broadcast not to walk the CMA red carpet. That told him!
Of course, like everyone else, country music singers are entitled to their opinions. But we have to wonder: Do these new Nashville celebrities have anything in common with the farmers who wear Wranglers and shop at Walmart, and the Baptists and hicks for whom they are supposed to interpret life through the music ?
Furthermore, to be awake is to avoid risk and censorship and is in essence contrary to being an outlaw. Country music themes have traditionally focused on strong opinions, good and evil, tough women, manly men, independence and irreverence. Contemporary country artists, however, are mostly afraid to sing the truth and be authentic, or they just don’t know how. Modern pop-country music is catchy (for two weeks, at least), but uninteresting. It’s not say anything.
Without an identity now, country music is floundering. The CMAs are increasingly mingling with pop music and shamelessly replaying hits and featuring artists from an era when country had soul: Wednesday’s CMAs featured a performance of “When Will I Be Loved ? by Linda Ronstadt? (released in 1974), a surprise appearance by Jo Dee Messina, who helped Cole Swindell sing an imitation of his 1996 hit song, “Head’s Carolina, Tails California”, a collaboration with Patty Loveless (she was big in the 80s and 90s), and a long tribute to Alan Jackson (the best).
Sure, honoring its history is great, but CMAs are overdoing it because they don’t have much to celebrate now. Except for the retro honkytonk flavor of the “You’re drunk, go home!” performance by Kelly Clarkson, Kelsea Ballerini and Carly Pearce, the modern elements of the CMAs were all hats and no cattle. Or more specifically, all Vegas-style pyrotechnics, distracting outfits, and a country cartoon devoid of inspiration or memorable art.
It must be hard to be creative when you’re worried about offending everyone, and hard to be imaginative when you’re sheltered from life’s hardships from the comfort of your social media apps and your THC gummies.
Amber Athey wrote for The viewer about a movement of country singers breaking the mold and taking the genre back to its roots — and thank God for that. I don’t think country music can survive more insulting Katy Perry/Beyoncé/Bebe Rexha mash-ups that drive our beloved country music further and further from its rural home. Because if blue-collar America is ever going to make a real comeback, it’s going to need country music on its side.