Country Music

Even Bro Country Has Its Bright Spots

The subject matter that makes up “bro country” includes but is not limited to such country-music staples as tailgates, Friday nights, cold beer and overall good times. These subjects, when taken individually or collectively, are not particularly bad things. In fact, many would consider a Friday night on the tailgate, drinking a cold one among friends, to be the very embodiment of good times.

And yet, “bro country” is about as negative a term as you’ll find in music today.

The subgenre has gotten itself quite a negative label over the past few years. And while bro-country princes like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton have all fared well commercially, a certain sect of country fans have come to regard the genre as all that’s wrong with mainstream music today. Even country legends like Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson and the late Ray Price have voiced their disdain for bro country. Hell, Zac Brown took it a step further and labeled Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” as “the worst song I’ve ever heard." (Brown, apparently, has not yet heard the new Macklemore and Ryan Lewis album.)

Point being, a civil war is brewing in country music today. But this doesn’t need to be the case. While contemporary rebels like Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Sturgill Simpson have certainly made their presence known in recent years – and with good reason; these artists are phenomenal – bro country has its place in the pop stratosphere as well. So with Luke Bryan scheduled to play what will surely be a packed house at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion this Thursday night, as part of his Kill the Lights Tour 2016, here are some of the more positive identifying aspects of the genre known simply as “bro country.”

Look, no one is going to mistake bro country for the Beatles or Bob Dylan in their primes. Folks like Bryan and Florida Georgia Line rarely sing about matters of consequence. Rather, they devote much of their catalog to what many constitute as a good time. This includes odes to Crown Royal, Dixie cups, short-shorts, pickup trucks, and late nights by the river. For the record, country classics like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishin’ in the Dark” are composed of pretty much the same material. See, country music is among the most diverse genres you’ll find in terms of topic. Few genres can run the gamut from happiness to melancholy, from drinking away a lost love to happily drinking with a new one. For the most part (see below), Bryan and his bro country comrades have opted for the more festive side of the country spectrum. Anti-bro types don’t take the genre seriously, but that’s the point — a lot of bro country isn’t mean to be taken seriously! It’s simply the music you listen to while getting ready to go out with friends, or while downing shots of cheap whiskey at the local honky-tonk. It’s the fast food of music — not particularly nutritious, but pretty damn tasty in moderation.

Bro country predominantly centers on good-timing topics like cold beer, tailgating and hook-ups, but that’s not to say the entire genre is disposable pop-country fare. Take Bryan’s “Drink a Beer,” for example. Based on title alone, the track sounds like just another ode to late nights and casual flings. But listen to the song and you hear about how someone deals with the loss of a loved one. The song is particularly insightful when delivered by Bryan, considering dude has lost two siblings during his relatively short life (he’s only 40). It doesn’t end there. Taken with singles like Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here” and Chase Rice’s “Jack Daniel’s and Jesus,” a common theme emerges — bro country doesn’t do heartfelt often, but when it does, it does it well.

Just as it takes talent to craft a moving country song like Margo Price’s “Since You Put Me Down” or Chris Stapleton’s “Fire Away,” it takes talent to craft bro-country pop hits like Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got.” It may even surprise you to learn that Stapleton is, in fact, the guy who wrote Bryan’s aforementioned hit single, “Drink a Beer.” Point being, different fan bases have different tastes, and it takes talent to identify and deliver what each fan base wants. That holds true whether it’s Chance the Rapper putting out another socially conscious track, Justin Bieber going platinum by expressing how “sorry” he is, or Bryan encouraging his lady to pour some more Crown in a Dixie Cup. Just because a genre isn’t for you doesn’t mean it lacks merit.

Garth Brooks, with his funky shirts, über-cheese factor and pop crossover appeal, was once decried by some as the downfall of mainstream country music. Brooks not only was and is awesome, but he expanded country’s fan base and opened up doors for a number of deserving artists who otherwise might not have gotten the opportunity to have their voices heard. Perhaps Bryan and crew will do the same.
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Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale