At this point, the jokes about country music write themselves. There is nothing fresh or relevant about making fun of country music anymore, especially if you're talking about the unfortunate bro-country subgenre. That doesn't mean that we'll stop joking about these inept and shirtless knuckle-draggers, but this is where we find ourselves.
After a few years of Florida Georgia Line and their contemporaries dominating the charts and the following growing disdain for what is defined as "country music," 2015 may bring sunnier pastures for fans who appreciated the genre before it was bastardized into the abortion that is its current state, described too accurately by one radio host as "Nickelback with a fiddle."
By the end of 2014, things already seemed to be looking up, especially for the female artists hardest hit by the ascent of "bro-country." Miranda Lambert took home an armful of Country Music Association awards for Platinum, including her second career Album of the Year win. Lee Ann Womack released The Way I'm Livin', maybe one of her best albums of all time. Perhaps most excitingly, bonafide pop star Kelly Clarkson announced that she would be recording her first country album.
What was old is new again in country music, and that is the most exciting news to come out of Nashville in a long time. Country music is not good when there is not a strong respect for artists past. The new year brings with it an impressive field of new albums from veteran artists and up-and-comers alike. Industry legends like Garth Brooks and Loretta Lynn will release highly anticipated, steeped-in-tradition records in early 2015. Albums from lesser-known artists like Justin Townes Earle and Allison Moorer are equally buzzworthy.
Even Scotty McCreery, made famous by the burned-out star machine that is American Idol, is reportedly planning a return to "old country" with his 2015 release. The pop-country crooner told Rolling Stone that he was finally planning to make "a real country record." McCreery dominated the country charts shortly after his appearance on Idol, but sales (and McCreery's relevance) had begun to sag as a new breed of machismo began to crowd out the sensitive balladeers that had made it big in the early 2000s. (See: Lee Brice, Josh Turner.)
Sure, the reinvention of Scotty McCreery may not seem like much of a positive bellwether, but combined with a much better year of album releases and recent trends at country awards shows, this year looks like it will bring better country music. But still, Florida Georgia Line, with no release planned for 2015, plans to tour the country, likely performing to sold-out crowds.
You are still not off the hook for this abomination, Nelly. Sorry.
Thankfully for country fans at large, all signs point to this being bro-country's final gasp. They had a good run, but these fuckers are siphoning the last few million dollars out of their fickle audience before being relegated to the musical purgatory that is the state fair circuit for the rest of eternity. This fizzle comes not a moment too soon, and means that there is finally reason to believe that they will soon be just a painful memory in the minds of country music fans.
Maybe the fact that the artists who are making some of the genre's best music, like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, flatly refuse to identify their sound as "country" was the reality check that Nashville needed. No doubt that pop-country will continue to have a presence in the genre, as it always has, but there is finally room on the charts for artists who don't feel the need to pander to the middle.
As these bands rise into the spotlight and earn their due, there is also the lingering hope that they can influence the genre from the outside in.
There is a very real chance that the releases from country legends and bright young stars could disappoint, and some likely will. Scotty McCreery's album will probably be terrible. But in 2015, there is at least a growing hope -- something that just hasn't existed in years past.
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