Though it's probably no worse than current pop, rock or hip-hop, you know country music is in sorry shape when someone from Entertainment Weekly goes after it. A few days before Christmas, EW critic Grady W. Smith posted a video to YouTube that boils down dozens of 2013 country hits to a handful of topics: pickup trucks, dirt roads, girls in painted-on jeans climbing in pickup trucks (driving down dirt roads), and just the single word "girl." Then he washes it all down with the "good stuff," aka booze. It's brilliant.
But it's also heartbreaking to see a genre built on the witty and woebegone words of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and so many others reduced to this Blake Shelton couplet from "Boys Round Here": "Talkin' 'bout girls, talkin' 'bout trucks/ Runnin' them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust." Among other things, simpleton lines like that pave straight over the quiet integrity of Kacey Musgraves' Same Trailer Different Park, as clever and lovely a country album as has been released in either this decade or the last one.
As Same Trailer makes abundantly clear, there are quite a few other things country music can be writing about, so we decided to come up with a few more suggestions while Musgraves gets ready for the Grammys later this month. To make it a challenge, we left out several once-familiar topics that have now all but taken a back seat to pickups and painted-on jeans: mama, daddy, prison, workin', Texas (for those of us between the Red and Rio Grande), beaches, and sweet country girls shaking what their mama gave them. OK, we guess that one can stay.
BALLS We just wonder why dudes like Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line, who have "borrowed" just about everything else from hip-hop, haven't started grabbing their nut sack more often.
FOOD Every once in a while one will sneak into the Top 40, but considering society's obsession with cooking shows, foodie culture, and everything else, it's a little mind-blowing that the only great country song about food we can think of is Robert Earl Keen's "Barbecue."
TREES Trees give us wood. Given the locker-room mentality of most modern country acts, it's just another undervalued resource waiting to be tapped. Oops... did it again.
COAL This environmentally suspect fossil fuel is burned to make steel, which is used to make pickup trucks. It's the circle of life.
TRAFFIC All these songs about pickup trucks, and yet almost none about the crawling suburban commutes that occupy most of their time.
List continues on the next page.
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HUNTING Regular trips to and from the deer lease are a big factor in many people's decision to buy pickup trucks, so you'd think hunting songs would be all over the charts. But no. We did find this list from 2011, but half of them are AC/DC and Ted Nugent.
WRESTLING Or as some of us know it, rasslin'. Half of Nashville must have the same fond classic WWF/WCW memories that we do, and yet nothing. By the same token, we're a little dumbfounded that the WWE insists on using B-grade nu-metal to soundtrack its events and TV shows.
RETIREMENT Because most of these hacks should just hang it up.
POLITICS Just kidding.
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