It might be the most common phrase in all of country music right now, and at times, for good reason. Mainstream country has definitely veered pretty damn far off the path, and seems to be headed in the right direction as of late, but still, this conversation is nothing new.
In a 2019 Garth Brooks and Kix Brooks (no relation) dove deep into everything country music, but one part of the conversation that really caught my attention was the whole “that’s not country” debate.
As two of the biggest country stars of the ’90s, and subsequently two artists that many would refer to as more or less “country” these days, Kix and Garth discussed how much they got shit on in their early days for not being country enough.
Garth praised the mainstream comeback (which we’re seeing in artists like Jon Pardi, Ashley McBryde, Cody Johnson, Carly Pearce, Luke Combs and more), but then recalled his early days of being the killer of traditional country:
“Traditional country music is coming back around, you can just feel it in the tracks and in the producing.
But man, you’ll know this because you were right there with us it… when we started, we were the bad guys, we were the guys that weren’t country.
And now we’re viewed as the most traditional guys out there.”
Kix echoed the same sentiment from when him and Ronnie Dunn where making hits as Brooks & Dunn in the ’90s:
“People used tell me and Ronnie all the time, ‘wish we could get back… you guys were real country’ and I’m like ‘WHAT!’
And Garth came back:
“We got our a** handed to us when we young, man.”
“Remember when Garth was doing ‘Shameless’ and everybody was throwing fits on Music Row? It’s pretty funny.”
Kix then went on to explain how Buck Owens said he was booed off the Grand Ole Opry stage for playing a Telecaster, but these days, Brad Paisley was calling for more Telecasters in country music. It just proves that this conversation happens in every generation.
Like I said, Garth and Kix sure as hell weren’t trying to be rappers back in the ’90s like some of the crap you hear on country radio today, but the point remains the same, this conversation is nothing new. With each generation comes a new argument about what is and isn’t “country.”
“Garth Brooks is as country as sh*t. Back then it was like, “what the f*ck is going on? This guy is terrible. This isn’t country music.
I would take that any day now. That means the bar has been lowered so far that we’re like, please.
I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that’s what I could get.”
And while things have gotten MUCH better since the arrival of Chris Stapleton which more or less kicked off the decline of the Bro Country Era, and there is a TON of great country music outside the mainstream if you know where to look (Whiskey Riff, duh), the important question remains, how far are we willing to let the bar slide?
At what point have we gone too far? The debate continues…