Country Music Is Clean…Right?
Rolling in the hay, rolling a fat one, and rolling around in 4×4’s. Along with lots of references to alcohol, those are now the “go-to” subjects for much of today’s country music.
But I thought country music was the one remaining “clean” music genre?
It may be time to question what is “clean” about country music.
Nashville, also known as Music City, is the epicenter of today’s country music. The city that’s home to the Grand Ole Opry is filled with boots, cowboy hats, and rodeos, as well as musicians who are trying to break into the billion dollar business. (ABC even has a hit show about the iconic city simply entitled Nashville.) It’s an influential city, for sure, with some saying that its product, country music, has become America’s favorite genre of music, lately.
Regardless of its rank, country’s popularity isn’t surprising. A quick scan of YouTube reveals the hundreds of millions of views that country music videos have received online. Furthermore, music lovers and concert goers have made plenty of country stars rich, even landing several of them on Billboard’s Top 40 Money Makers in 2013. And don’t forget, two of the biggest names in country music are on two of America’s top weekly TV shows. Blake Shelton is a host on The Voice (NBC) while Keith Urban sits in on American Idol (FOX).
At last month’s Grammys, country music was highlighted in several ways, one of which was Kacey Musgraves’ performance of her hit Follow Your Arrow. In case you’re not familiar with her lyrics, check out the chorus she repeats over and over again:
Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow
Wherever it points, yeah
Follow your arrow
Wherever it points
The overall gist of the song is that “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t” so “say what you think, love who you love, cause you just get so many trips ’round the sun.”
Regrettably, like most pop songs, there is no mention of the potential consequences for doing so….
This song is just the latest example of questionable material coming out of Nashville. What follows is an overview of the music that’s been part of country music’s portfolio for the past few years. Its content should probably cause us to reevaluate the cleanliness of country music.
What Happens In a Pick Up Truck….
Let’s start with Luke Bryan, without a doubt, one of country’s biggest names, right now. His That’s My Kind of Night has enough innuendos to qualify it as a country music hook up song, and that’s not even addressing the many references to alcohol in the lyrics and music video. But alcohol and hooking up go hand-in-hand as Bryan well knows. After all, his Rain is a Good Thing acknowledges the following sequence:
Rain makes corn
Corn makes whiskey
Whiskey makes my baby
Feel a little frisky
The “add beer” recipe has definitely worked well for Bryan. His latest tune is also about drinking and is actually entitled Drink a Beer. The tune isn’t country music’s gratuitous “drink to get wasted” or “get girls drunk to get with them” kind of song; it’s actually Bryan’s game plan for dealing with the loss of his brother and sister.
Still, is drinking the best strategy for dealing with life’s upsets and losses?
But Luke Bryan isn’t the only one singing about beer, though. Toby Keith has raised his glass…er, cup…in a silly sort of song called Red Solo Cup. Zac Brown, another popular young musician, also references the use of alcohol in his song Toes.
I got my toes in the water, a** in the sand
Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand
Life is good today. Life is good today
Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but a little later in the song, his drinking gets more serious:
Someone do me a favor and pour me some Jager
And I’ll grab my guitar and play
Finally, he makes a straightforward reference to marijuana use:
Gonna lay in the hot sun and roll a big fat one
And grab my guitar and play
Eric Church matches Zac Brown’s references to alcohol and marijuana use in country music songs. His song called Smoke a Little Smoke is about, well…take a look:
Kick back, gives the blues a spin
Break out the wine, forget again
Dig down deep, find my stash
Light it up, take me back
Even a quick survey of country music (like the one above) shows why the genre is ranked number two when it comes to drug and alcohol references. More than 20% of all country music songs have some sort of reference to alcohol use or drug use…or both. (In case you’re wondering, “urban” music [“hip hop, rap, and R&B”] remained at the top of the list for alcohol and drug mentions with 37.7% of that genre’s songs mentioning one or both.) That’s upsetting, on both accounts, but according to similar research conducted by The Partnership at Drugfree, country music’s “explicit” drug and alcohol references have actually dropped from 36% of all songs in 2008’s report.
The frequency of drug and alcohol references in country songs (and all songs) has some alarmed. Researchers have long worried that young music listeners may become young users, and thereby run the risk of “damaging their rapidly developing brain.”
But drugs and alcohol aren’t the only vices being peddled in today’s country music….
Tractors Are Evidently Getting Sexier
Kenny Chesney started it all when he sang She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy way back in 1999. Since then, American has been inundated with images of “getting busy behind the barn” in country music. For example – and I’m not making any of these up – we’ve heard Trace Adkins talk about ladies’ booties in Honky Tonk Badonkadonk. Big and Rich suggested that cowgirls Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy). Then there’s when Craig Morgan sings about a sultry vixen he refers to as his Corn Star.
More recently, artists like Kip Moore have put country music’s spotlight on sex with songs like Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck. In this toe-tapping tune, the backwoods Casanova talks about the lubricating effects alcohol can have on a woman’s morals:
After a few of those beers, you wanna dive on in
You don’t need no clothes, so just hang em on a limb
There’s somethin bout a creek around 2 a.m.
Using even coarser language, Jake Owens likens “after-hours activities” to riding bulls. His song Eight Second Ride doesn’t require any interpretation:
‘Cuz I ain’t never seen a country boy with tires on his truck this high
I said, “Climb on up but honey watch the cup that I spittin’ my dip inside
And hold on tight ‘cuz it’s gonna be wilder than any eight second ride”
Put the tailgate down and we made love
She said “A true country boy is hard to find
But I found one wilder than any eight second ride”
I don’t know about Jake Owens, but when I think of sex, the last thing on my mind is a big bull….
Taming the Twang
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all country music is careless, but country music has developed a reputation; and sadly, it’s a poor one. Like all others forms of media, it needs to be closely inspected, and governed where appropriate (or, should we say, inappropriate). Here are two simple ways parents and youth workers can make sure kids aren’t led astray by the twang of country music.
- Know what your kids are listening to at all times. You can no longer assume that their sense of values isn’t being assaulted just because they’re not listening to Lil Wayne. Like other songs that may pass the “clean” test on iTunes but are graphic and explicit in nature, country music has shown itself to be guilty when it comes to risqué and dangerous messages. If your kids want to download a country song you’re not familiar with, take the six minutes that’s required to watch the song’s music video and read through its lyrics. That six minutes could save them eight seconds with…well, you get the point.
- Use their music to make biblical points. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Not all country music is sexual or laced with references to drugs and alcohol. There are plenty of country songs that can be used to make biblical points if we take the time to make the connections. At The Source for Youth Ministry, we’re dedicated to wringing usable truth from all genres of music, country included. Our list includes country songs like this one about God’s sovereignty or this one about death or this one about commitment. (TheSource4Parents.comhas a Music Discussions page as well.) So, if your kids prefer country music over pop or rock, you can still engage them with the Gospel by using their musical preferences as a discussion starter.
Let’s not forget that, decades ago, Johnny Cash sang about his Cocaine Blues, and Loretta Lynn mused about birth control in The Pill. With its popularity soaring, today’s country music probably isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. We just need to do all we can to help young people enjoy the responsible elements of this genre while avoiding the ones that can lead them astray.
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.