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One of the defining characteristics of modern country music is its distinctly American way of acknowledging of class and place. Country singers have long embraced their working-class roots and expressed pride in the battles they fight to make rent; the genre’s everyday Joes and Janes are proud to be everyday, or maybe even a little trashy, as evidenced in older songs such as Confederate Railroad’s “Trashy Women,” and Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places” as well as more recent songs such as Trace Adkins’s “Ladies Love Country Boys,” Blake Shelton’s “Hillbilly Bone,” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.”
As someone from a rural area, albeit a more-than- one-stoplight town, I can see why it’s liberating to let go of the typical American pressure to try and “move up” in society. Country music has catered to that urge for a long time. But recently, a few female country singers have stepped away from this point of view, portraying small-town narratives in a more melancholy light. Instead of endorsing the country lifestyle, these artists question small-town living, the value of tradition, and the virtue in staying in one’s place. Instead of leaving life unexamined and being happy to be to do so, Kacey Musgraves’s “Merry Go ’Round” and Brandy Clark’s “Pray to Jesus” ask why people continue down the same road as their parents did. And as encouraging as many of the rebellious “embrace-hick-culture” songs were, these new songs feel more appropriate for the time we’re living in.
Read more.[Image: AP/Wade Payne and Evan Agostini]