I have an insane amount of admiration for songwriters who go in every day trying to find a new way to say the same thing that’s already been said a billion times. Somehow, almost like magic, many songwriters are able to do this over and over again. It’s truly a gift.
I assume that all songwriters set out for the goal of making a good song. And while the definition of “good” varies widely from “number one single” to “actually good,” for every song that gets written, most songwriters are grateful just to get an album cut. I know that not every song is going to be a classic, but lately, it sounds like a lot of songs are trying to force temporary relatability, just to get a moment of attention and some cheap radio play.
So many recently released songs are referencing things that are popular in today’s society, such as Instagram, the Bachelor Franchise, and various iPhone functions. These things are all insanely popular right now, but for how long? When someone listens to these songs in 20 years, will they fondly remember scrolling through Instagram for two hours per day? Will they even know what Instagram is? Let’s evaluate a few of these songs.
First for Instagram – in Hardy’s “Signed, Sober You,” he says, “It’s so stupid, that’s what you’d be to go diggin’ through her Instagram.” And in Tyler Rich’s “Rather Be Us,” the song starts with “Baby, look at this couple on Instagram,” and continues with “That perfect filter and that perfect tan, lookin’ like they’ve got something to sell us.” Sure, listening to those songs right now, we all know exactly what those songs are implying. We know how shitty it feels to look through an ex’s Instagram feed to realize they are moving on without you. We know that every “Instagram model” has overused the Lightroom and Facetune apps so they can sell you protein powder or glorified laxatives. But is there any lasting value in these references?
Next comes the Bachelor Franchise. I could actually go on a whole rant about how annoyed I am that these now “internet celebrities” are trying to immerse themselves in the country music scene, from video appearances, award show red carpets, not to mention how many I’ve seen at actual concerts with flocks of 17 year old girls surrounding them. Anyway, in Chase Rice’s song “Lonely If You Are,” he says, “If it’s Monday and it’s over. You know the show your girls all come over for,” then makes some references to roses, etc… Now, it’s obviously referring to The Bachelor, but how long can this show go on for? And I don’t see it being binge worthy material 20 years from now. This is coming from someone who watches the whole franchise religiously.
Then we move on to iPhone functions. Old Dominion’s “Snapback” says, “midnight selfie on a balcony, a little somethin’ for my lock screen” or in “Written in the Sand,” they say, “I see those bubbles pop up like you’re textin’ then they disappear.” How many IOS updates are we away from losing the text bubbles? Or Scotty McCreery’s “Wherever You Are,” he says, “give me a call, drop a pin.” I asked my mom what she thought this meant, she said “a pen? Like a writing utensil?”
Then it ALL gets brought together in Brad Paisley’s new song, “Alive Right Now,” which is basically a summary of all things pop culture in 2019, from Siri, to Uber, to Fitbit, to Waze, and beyond. I know this song has a nice, positive message and I’m not really speaking negatively on any of the songs, but if you didn’t notice it in the others, this song truly highlights this forced trend.
To be fair though, Brad has always been the poster boy for corny songs like this.
I’m well aware that this has happened forever, and will continue to go on forever, but it really solidifies my point. How many of those songs do you remember? Of course, the trend has shifted from late night calls to late night texts, maybe there was even a pager phase in between, but again, we don’t remember them.
The most common one that comes to mind for me is Travis Tritt’s “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares).” I can’t say that I have ever used a payphone in my life, though I am old enough to understand the reference. However, my friend took her 13-year-old to a show where he played this song and she had absolutely no clue what the reference meant. Or in Jo Dee Messina’s “I’m Alright,” she says, “send a fax or send me a letter, or give me a call, that would even be better.” Can’t say that I’ve ever faxed anyone anything either. This song was written by Phil Vassar, I saw him recently, and he has changed this lyric to “send a text or send me a letter…” at least that still works, but it wasn’t the point of the whole song, which is why that song has still survived.
I know I am being really picky and pulling one or two lines out of full songs, but isn’t there a better way to be relatable without forcing in these fleeting trends? Is it worth the easy words or phrases that will catch someone’s attention for the next month compared to digging a little bit deeper and creating something that might last a little bit longer?
Personally, I am completely over this trend. Any time I hear these references, I write off the whole song completely, which probably isn’t fair, but I just think maybe we need to elevate the standard. I would rather an artist put out less music with higher quality lyrics than stuff like this. And if it’s because there’s a constant pressure in mainstream country to push out music, I would honestly rather wait for a whole album.
Either way, is it too much to ask that we all just raise the bar a little? Country music as a whole will be better off for it.