I don’t know if it’s just that 2020 has me more jaded than usual, but what are we even talking about anymore? Doesn’t matter, name the topic…. politics, sports, music, whatever…. and I undoubtedly wind up scratching my head.
The latest example, one very near and dear to my heart, comes from NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.
I’m new to NASCAR this year. When quarantine hit and it was the only thing on, I started watching and will actually admit that I’m pretty hooked. But if even you’re not a fan of the sport, you’re probably familiar with the name Bubba Wallace after the drama that surrounded him and his team at Talladega this year.
A noose was found by a crew member hanging in the garage, NASCAR launched an immediately investigation, and ultimately found that it had been hanging there for months and may or may not have been a garage door pull rope, but either way, it was a troubling situation considering Wallace is the sport’s only black driver. Either way, it’s been a solid season for Wallace and while he didn’t make the playoffs, I’m hoping for a strong finish for him this year.
Anyways, back to this country music conversation.
In a recent interview with GQ, Bubba ran through some of the things he can’t live without and one of his items were his headphones.
“I’m a big music guy, big music guy. It puts me in the zone, it gets me out of my funks, puts me in the racing mood, gets my game face on.”
Same Bubba, same.
And while Bubba’s go-to is heavy metal, he does dabble a bit in the country music world, although I’m dumbfounded as to what he considers country music.
“I listen to Tyler Childers a lot, I wouldn’t consider him country though in my personal opinion. Chris Stapleton a little bit, I love Chris Stapleton. Colter Wall… that’s kinda getting into the country a little bit, but as far as the mainstream stuff… nah, not really.”
If Tyler Childers ain’t country, then ain’t nobody on planet Earth country. And if Tyler Childers ain’t country, then what is he? Bubba did qualify it at the end right there with the “mainstream” comment, which makes me think he knows that there is a difference, but still, what does that make Tyler? Americana? Appalachian country? Folk or Bluegrass? I don’t know…
I mean, McDonald’s sells a zillion cheeseburgers a year, a shitty product designed for cheap mass consumption, but that doesn’t mean a good steakhouse burger is any less of a cheeseburger because it’s really good, ya know?
At the end of the day, I think I know what Bubba is getting at here. When Bubba thinks country music, he thinks mainstream Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Dan + Shay, Carrie Underwood etc…. and that is why he says he doesn’t consider Tyler Childers country.
It is completely ass-backwards, but that’s what we’ve created in mainstream country music. Mainstream “country” music is mostly bad pop music and now we’ve started calling actual country music other things, so much so that one of the genre’s absolute best isn’t considered “country” music by Bubba. When you say the words “Country Music” to me, right now in 2020, I think George Strait, and then I think Tyler Childers. But for many others, Bubba included, they think Florida Georgia Line and Keith Urban. So with that frame of mind, when they hear Tyler Childers, that has to be something different… like Americana or whatever.
During his 2018 Americana Music Awards acceptance speech, Tyler said this of the term:
“Americana hits him in the same place as ‘Appalachia’ and ‘Child-ers.’ It crawls up my spine. My name is Tyler Childers. I’m an Appalachian artist from the foothills of Kentucky and I play country music. As a man who identifies as a country music singer, I feel Americana ain’t no part of nothin. It is a distraction from the issues that we are facing on a bigger level as country music singers. It kind of feels like ‘Purgatory’.”
The good news is that Bubba likes good country music, real country music, even though he seems to have some trouble with what actual country music is. And this isn’t an attack on Bubba or anything, it’s just an example to frame the conversation and point out why this shit matters.