Old vs New Country: Battle between generations

todayOctober 3, 2023 35 2 5

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By Natalia Velazquez

Music Journalist


Collage of 6 different country albums from both old and new artists. Artists included are, Luke Combs, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, Morgan Wallen, Tyler Childers, Hank Williams
Collage of 6 different country albums from both old and new artists. From left to right is: Luke Combs – What You See Is What You Get, Johnny Cash – Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings – Waylon and Willie, Morgan Wallen – If I Know Me, Tyler Childers – Country Squire, Hank Williams – The Immortal. | Individuals listed

Music is ever changing and evolving. It is not a surprise that one of America’s favorite genres would shift as well.  However, as country music has evolved, so has its culture. Having originated from Black roots, with its blues influence and traditional sounds from Africa, country music has remained to be a major music genre in the southern United States. It has provided a voice for the working class and created a sense of community.

Yet, today as country music has evolved, major discourse has come with it. As any genre will change, people who enjoyed music from an older generation will naturally come to dislike the newer version. However, when applied to country music, this discourse has created a partisan effect on the listeners. I work at a retail store and the number of times I have heard “yeesh – they’re playing those new country songs” has been a surprising amount. This apparent dislike between generations has only brought me to ask the question: What changed between new and old country? How did this happen?

To begin with, change in music over generations is to be expected, as artists emerge and new technology is created, new sounds will follow. What defines this shift in country is not only the sound, but the message behind it as well. Country music since its creation, has been for lower- and working-class Americans. It has been an outlet for people to channel grief, anger and joy of everyday life. However, there has been a noticeable shift within the 90s to early 2000s that old country music listeners seem to dislike. Newer artists don’t discuss the real struggles of Americans like the old ones did, today, there is an emphasis on partying and patriotism. Sounds have also shifted to include more pop tones, and now commonly have a heavy use of bass, which is untraditional of older country songs.

The apparent change in sound and messages of country music is what commonly begins the discourse. Fans of old country feel that the genre’s core values have left, no longer grappling with the matter of the common man. It brings a sense of ingenuity to the genre. Newer fans just want to enjoy their music without being infringed on. They also may not enjoy the more classic sound of old country.

There have been a couple different suspected reasons for the change in genre. With the influence of new technology, more pop sounds may have caused it to blend with another genre, resulting in a change of lyrics as well. There also may have been an influence from large music producers that country music was not digestible for a modern-day consumer. Country has had a long history of being disliked and adding a more techno sound to it could’ve been a strategy to make it appealing to new audiences. However, one reason that you may hear often but may not fully understand is the aftereffects of Sept. 11th, 2001. Americans were distraught after 9/11 and with this grief came fear. Country artists began to channel this anger and fear into their music, unintentionally causing a domino effect. Patriotism then became a staple message in the genre, but some have found it to change from storytelling of pain to simple statements about loving America.

From Johnny Cash to Morgan Wallen, the differences could not be more apparent. But music is subjective and perhaps such variation in the genre creates room for more exploration. I personally feel that just as many things in life do, country music will shift again towards its past but in a more modernized way. The twang of the guitar will always persevere.

Written by: Cayla Soriano

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