The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Exploring the evolution of the country music genre

4 min read
LINDSEY BROWN Staff Writer Country music is changing, but the change is not sudden.



Staff Writer

Country music is changing, but the change is not sudden. The genre began using more elements of pop when Shania Twain made her way into country music. Rap is being incorporated into the genre now, and so many artists have done crossover albums. “Bro” country is its own subgenre now, and it is pretty popular on its own.

Country music is conforming to what the general public wants. There are those who have appreciated the change and welcomed it with open arms. Then there are also those who have felt betrayed by the genre in general for even putting it on the radio. These are the people who have always loved the traditional country in all of its glory. And then there are those like myself, who can appreciate both kinds, and understand both sides of the argument.

Shania Twain revolutionized pop country music in 1995. | Billboard

In 1995, Twain released her second album, “The Woman in Me” and it revolutionized the crossover of pop and country. She was not the only country artist dabbling in the pop genre- Faith Hill and LeAnn Rimes were doing the same thing. Hill and Rimes both had singles on pop radio, and they did really well.

As the pop sound was incorporated into country music in the 90s, pop country was born. The power-house vocals of each of these artists started out with albums that had a good twang. Even artists like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney came out with first albums that had a lot more twang than their later albums. Every artist evolves over time, but why do these famous artists change their tune as the time goes on?

Toby Keith is credited with the creation of rap country. | Billboard

The more recent artists that have emerged into country music seemed a little more fearless than their predecessors. For example, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, and Thomas Rhett all came out with music that pushed the limits in what was acceptable in country music. However, some would say the initial change in the sound of country music helped pave the way for the new artists to be different without judgment.

If you were to analyze the sounds of famous country artists within the last 10 or 15 years, you would notice the change in their sound from the beginning. Normally, their first albums have a significant country sound to them. As they produce more albums, the country sound starts to fade away a little bit.

Are these subtle changes the reason the newer country artists were able to introduce their new sound? Or did the introduction of pop country get the ball rolling in the direction of the new country music? Toby Keith’s hit “I Wanna Talk About Me” was probably the earliest song in country rap. It’s unclear of when or what was the cause for the shift in the genre.

Taylor Swift is known for moving between country and pop genres. | Billboard

Taylor Swift came into the music scene as a country artist. She found her place in the genre, won awards, and called country music home. Swift came out with her first single in 2006, and by 2014, she officially had switched over to pop. While traditional country music fans have felt betrayed over Swift turning her back on country music, it could be argued that she was never really country in the first place. Her music has always been played on pop stations, and pop country was always her genre. Taylor Swift may have started out under the country music umbrella, but she was always going to be a pop artist.

Traditional country will always have its place, and the fans that love it so dearly would say that it should play a big part in the music that is produced today. George Jones hit the nail on the head with his hit, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”. The song talks about all of the pioneers of country music, and how there aren’t younger artists to fill the hole they have and will leave. Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and many others helped shape country music and made it what it is today. Artists of the 90s and 80s like Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Randy Travis, all stayed true to the traditional sound of country music.

Brad Paisley is known for his poetic songs that speak the truth, and are witty at the same time. He released two songs that talk about the true country music, the sound, and what it stands for. Paisley’s song, “Too Country” talks about the sounds of country music being too country and the fact that there is no such thing. Brad Paisley released his controversial hit “This is Country Music” in 2011; the song is about how country music pushes the limits in music as a whole.

Songs like, “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, and “The Fightin’ Side of Me” by Merle Haggard pushed the limits with controversial topics. Paisley’s song is about how country music is not always popular, but it is what it is, and anyone who loves country music feels a sense of pride when they listen to this song.

No matter how much the genre evolves over time, it will always push the limits. The artists in the genre will always stand up for what they believe in. Country music is not going anywhere. Changes will come and go, but the true, raw and emotional roots of country music will never go away.