“Welcome to New York,” the first track on Taylor Swift’s new album 1989, is not about New York. If you’ve heard the song, you already know why. It’s about a magical place filled with wonder and delight. That place does not exist. But Taylor Swift does, and the song is about her.
“It’s been waiting for you,” she chants. She’s projecting, of course. We’ve been waiting for her.
Much has written about the rise of bro-country, a subsection of country music that consists almost entirely of young white men singing about trucks, beer, Friday nights and their beautiful, anonymous female love interests. Last December, Grady Smith posted an illuminating video tracing these cliches through the lyrics of last year’s popular hits. I’m zooming in a little closer to look at one particular cliche – the prominence of “the night” and other night-related vocabulary in the lyrics of recent country hits. A few caveats before we begin our journey into the night:
1. I’m not necessarily attacking any of these songs for being lazy. I’m pointing a trend into which these songs fit. The merits of each song is another matter entirely.
2. I’m not suggesting that this phenomenon is entirely new, or inherently a symptom of lazy writing. After all, the night is often a time of drama and excitement, and music thrives on drama and excitement. If you looked back at country hits from previous years, you might find a similar pattern. But this trend is worth noting nonetheless.
Without further ado, let the night begin.
I tell you a story. Then I tell it again. And again. And again. Never mind that it wasn’t a very exciting story to begin with. Now I’ve told it twelve times, and you’re getting sick of it.
I’m not just talking about my lackluster social skills. This is the story of country radio in 2014. Entertainment Weekly reporter Grady Smith documented as much in his convincing supercut of mainstream country’s laziest clichés, and Vulture critic Jody Rosen illuminated the phenomenon in two pieces questioning the relative obscurity of female voices on country radio.
This isn’t the only story of modern country music. But it’s become the dominant one.
Sleazier than the Grammys, stuffier than the VMAs, less legitimate than either one, The American Music Awards are the unfortunate middle child of music awards shows. The only time anyone cares how many American Music Awards an artist has won is during the American Music Awards. This is the show that gave us David Hasselhoff dancing to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” in 2011 and crowned Justin Bieber the 2012 Artist of the Year. In other words, don’t expect high art.
And yet – the American Music Awards are a fun, if frustrating, thermometer for the current temperature of popular music. Last year’s show brought us Carly Rae Jepsen and PSY, but also Taylor Swift and Stevie Wonder. You have to take the good with the bad.
Whether the awards mean anything or not (they don’t), the show should provide some interesting moments. Will Justin Timberlake do something unexpected to cap off his busy year, or will he rest on his laurels? Will Miley Cyrus descend further into mayhem or restrain herself? Will Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line demonstrate why they’re country’s two hottest superstars right now, or will they continue to make us wish for Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert instead?
Follow along starting at 8pm Eastern for my reviews of each performance on the American Music Awards, airing on ABC.
Click here to listen to Episode 9.
This week on The M&M Report, Devin Mitchell and I talked about a variety of topics, ranging from country music and sketch comedy to pop culture criticism and the concept of “must-reads.” Along the way, we learned that Devin doesn’t much like country music, Mark doesn’t much like Florida Georgia Line, and neither of us much likes how SNL is handling its race problems.
First, Mark monologues about the highs and lows of this week’s CMA Awards, from the feuding factions to the excellent hosts. (Also, check out Mark’s CMA Awards live-blog, featuring grades for every performance.)
After that, Devin and I turn once again to Saturday Night Live, which is handling criticism of its lack of racial diversity with the maturity of a nine year-old.
After that, we dive into one of my favorite segments we’ve done yet, discussing the many purposes that pop culture criticism serves and putting the spotlight on two critics we really enjoy: Wesley Morris of Grantland and Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress. We mentioned Morris’ review of 12 Years a Slave and Rosenberg’s pieces on House of Cards and Parks and Recreation during the show. Give them a read if you have a chance – we think they’ll be worth your time.
We closed with a popular segment, returning by popular demand: Devin Doesn’t Like Things. This week, Devin takes on the concept of the “must-read.” It’s a very nice rant.
Be sure to watch out for next week’s show – our friend and colleague Rachel Lomot will join us to talk about Parenthood and Gilmore Girls. In the meantime, thanks for listening!
Stick around for the time breakdown below.
I’ll be updating this blog all night long with thoughts and grades on this year’s celebration of country music, the CMA Awards on ABC. Read on for the good, the bad and the ugly.