Politics In Country Music
• “Country music” is also called “country and
• It is a 20th century style of music
originating from predominantly southern
and western areas of the United States.
• It was originally called “hillbilly music.”
• The composers and performers of country
music have traditionally been white.
• In the beginning, the music focused on the
traditions of English, Irish, and Scottish
settlers in the southern states, especially in
the Appalachian Mountains.
• Ballads are the dominant musical form.
• The songs often have stories, many of
which are historically based.
• Early country music focused used fiddles.
• Country music evolved during he 20th
century, becoming more complex
• Film stars, such as Gene Autry, creatively
altered country music to have a more
• Country music was also influenced by the
swing rhythms of jazz, and new
instrumentation helped transform it into an
electronic phenomenon compatible with
modern and popular dance venues.
• Most country music has a love orientation,
as is true of most “pop” music today.
• However, a significant amount of country
music uses the traditional story format of
country music lyrics to convey political
• The result has been that country music now
represents a sub-region and its popular and
largely political culture in the U.S.
• There is representational quality to this.
• Some of the country music that departed most
significantly from the traditional country-folk
form was called “outlaw music,” and was
pioneered by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
• They blended rock rhythms with country’s
instrumentation while maintaining the intimate
and reflective nature of traditional country lyrics.
• This had connections with musical styles called
“Southern rock” and “country rock.” These latter
styles originated on the West Coast (mostly Los
Angeles) driven by West Coast immigrants from
• The political content of country music was a
direct outgrowth of country’s desire to tell
• Much country music represents an
emotional outlet for people who are
generally poor and who have relatively
lower levels of education and (importantly)
• Country music tell their stories, and these
are stories that are often filled with tragedy.
• When country music acts as a representational
venue for political content, it often has a patriotic
• This in part is due to a traditionally high level of
involvement within the U.S. military of young
people from the South.
• Country music has a tension in the southern vs.
U.S. dialectic. Thus, there is a political tension in
much of country music since it represents a people
that have historically been marginalized in U.S.
• This has changed in recent decades.
• Country music also can be used to support
specific political interests, or interests with
• A good example of specialized use of
country music is Johnny Cash’s album,
“Bitter Tears,” which is about the Native
American historical experience.
• This album is highly political, and the lyrics
strongly support Native American political
and social views.
• On the other end of the scale, country music
has been used to support ideological
perspectives of very narrow segments of
American (and especially Southern) society.
Some of these perspectives are highly
offensive to other Americans.
• Perhaps the best (or worst, depending on
your point of view) example of such
country music is the highly racist,
homophobic, obscene, and misogynist
songs of David Allan Coe.