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Is Traditional Country Music Really Dying?

  • Arden is a Senior Country Music Journalist for Country Thang Daily, specializing in classic hits and contemporary chart-toppers.
  • Prior to joining Country Thang Daily, Arden wrote for Billboard and People magazine, covering country music legends and emerging artists.
  • Arden holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Tennessee, with a minor in Music Studies.

The debate between traditional country music fans and pop music fans are as old as the genres. We can just scroll through old country songs from the ’50s to the ’90s on YouTube and we can see comments like “This is real country music!” or “Country music nowadays are trash, this is better.”

Country fans are divided because on one hand, we hear people wanting to go back to the classic country vibe. On the other hand, we also see some people supporting country-pop. Whether this is just a preference or not, we will dive into the world of country music and understand why more people are leaning towards country-pop nowadays.

traditional country music, country pop
via napster.com

The Rise of Country-Pop

One might believe that the new wave of country artists might be the one who started the rise of country-pop. Well, you might be wrong because country-pop goes way before our time. Even then, music icons such as John Denver and Olivia Newton-John received backlash from other ‘purist’ country artists. They were accused of mixing country artists with pop music and rightfully so, they have a lot of crossover hit songs.

This phenomenon did not stop other country artists to play with the genre as we see more of them crossing over. In a Billboard article that I have read, the rise of female country artists in the ’90s lead the genre to a wider and bigger audience. Shania Twain and Faith Hill led the revolution of female artists in a male-dominated scene. Their big success was often attributed to their balanced appeal to traditional and contemporary fans. As one music writer and a professor of recording industry at Middle Tennessee State University explained:

“If you look at country stars from the ‘80s and even the early ‘90s, they dressed like country stars. They weren’t wearing what you’d see on the runways or on the red carpets. Faith Hill and Shania Twain changed all that. They weren’t angry like Alanis Morissette, they weren’t sexually suggestive like Madonna — they were very appealing to fans outside the traditional country audience because they seemed like ‘normal’ women.”

country pop, traditional country music
via Screengrab from YouTube

The rise of country-pop definitely helped other musicians to do it as well because they see it as marketable. The effect of this shift to country-pop is affecting traditional country music. The type of music that was done by the likes of Hank Williams Sr., Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Kitty Wells, and the ones before are becoming a thing of the past. Yes, there are still those who produce music similar to the ones made by classic country singers. The problem is that they are not being heard or played as much as country-pop music.

Traditional Country Music Today

If asked, “Is traditional country music dying?,” my answer is a big NO. Even if we see the rise of country-pop hits such as “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X or “Meant to be” by Florida Georgia Line, it does not mean that we are losing the sound of classic country. In fact, a simple google search would point us to a number of musicians who are still sticking with good ole’ country sound. One person, in particular, gives us hope that traditional country music is alive and well.

traditional country music, country pop
via Mo Pitney’s official Facebook page

If you haven’t heard of Mo Pitney, then you might as well look into the guy. Mo has been in the music industry for a while now and he has produced one studio album. He is a huge Merle Haggard fan and has one song dedicated to him. His voice stands out and he has that ‘twang’ that we don’t often hear from contemporary country artists. Other artists who have that voice of classic country are as follows: Jon Pardi, Aaron Watson, Cody Johnson, Brandy Clark, Chris Stapleton, Ashley Monroe, Randy Houser, and Midland.

It also helps that country legends such as Reba McEntire, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Willie Nelson are still making great music. They are one of the biggest names in the music community and their continuous effort to release new music helps other artists know the rich history of the genre.

traditional country music, country pop
via wideopencountry.com

Classic vs Contemporary Country Music

The debate over which music is better goes way above my head. This kind of thinking does not support the community at all and would only bring more division for the fans. People of the internet should learn that you can support your favorite musician by not dragging down someone who is doing better. The constant battle between traditional fans and contemporary fans does nothing but promote hatred towards the community.

This really became evident when artists like Florida Georgia Line, Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Dan + Shay received a raised brow when they declare that they are country musicians. Many believe that their songs are not within the idea of what they think country music is, but you know what they have in common? They are all huge and successful musicians. They have won several awards on their own and has been acknowledged by the Academy of Country Music Association.

Yes, their songs might be different from the ones that we grew up loving but they are an example of progressive music. They adapted to the music that most of the people are listening to so that they could stay relevant and continue doing their passion. This may not be what the past country music fans want but I guess they do not have any choice but to make songs that people would want to listen to.

Check out some of these country-pop songs:

Admittedly, we hear more country-pop music these days.  They also do well on the Billboard charts as compared to the country songs that still have that “honky-tonk” sound or has a strong influence of the banjo and steel guitar. There are still ways that we could turn this around and support the ones we believe can bring back the glory days of country music. It may take a whole community to do that but if there is one who can, I think it is the die-hard country music fans who have proven that they are one of the most loyal fandoms out there.

Here is a full list of musicians that you can support so that traditional country music will never die.

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