Something strange happened to music at the dawn of the second decade of this century. The sort of pop-rock “alternative” music that had been wildly popular on Top 40 radio since the late 1990s suddenly disappeared from the airwaves, to be replaced primarily with electronic dance music (EDM), r&b crooners like Bruno Mars, and pop divas like Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and Lady Gaga. This change happened so fast I can pinpoint the year and month it happened: January of 2010. “Halfway Gone” by the band Lifehouse is the very last generic alt-pop-rock song I remember getting any airplay. There may have been others later, but evidently they never caught on and quickly disappeared. We went from zero to sixty, or should we say Green Day to Gotye in just one year.
What happened to Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Matchbox Twenty, Daughtry, Seether, Lifehouse, The Killers (who are actually really good), and all the other generic (but mostly insidiously catchy) pop-rock bands that dominated the airwaves throughout the first decade of the 21st century (particularly from about 2005 – 2009)? Were they abducted by aliens? Did they all suddenly get sucked into a black hole? Did their generic brand of “rock” become illegal?
No, of course not. I imagine they’re counting their millions, but they’re no where to be found on the airwaves anymore. Those guys are older now, probably building ranches in Montana and raising their kids, with the occasional tour thrown in to let their diehard fans know they’re not dead yet.
But as for the music they made, their catchy pop-rock fake-alternative sound hasn’t gone anywhere–it just found a new home. On country radio.
That’s right. Around 2010-11, about the same time “rock” disappeared from Top 40, a new genre of “country” music appeared: Bro-country. Luke Bryan with his radioactive smile leads the pack, and everyone else seems to be trying to sound exactly like him. What is bro-country? Basically, it’s generic pop-rock with a banjo and a twang. The lyrics, unlike true country (but a lot like much generic rock music) is about sex, drugs (weed and coke being replaced with beer) and partying hard. If you listen to a few bro-country songs, you’ll notice they describe the exact same scene: a hot girl (always referred to as “Girl”–she never has a name) wearing short shorts (Daisy Dukes) or tight cutoff jeans and a bikini top, dancing on the tailgate of a pickup truck, and it’s always summer, always at night, always under the moonlight, and the party’s always taking place by a river or other body of water. Oh, and there’s beer. Lots and lots of beer. An entire ocean of beer.
Now, on to the sound. A few are made by legitimate country stars, who have jumped on the bro-country bandwagon, but most are by newcomers to country–guys who were more likely listening to Green Day back in 2005 than Tim McGraw. And, as in the rock music of the recent past, women are largely not welcome. It’s definitely a boy’s club. But women can and do listen to the music.
Some bro-country songs do lean more on the country side of the fence, but the vast majority of bro-country songs can be more accurately described as pop-rock. Take away the token banjo and the twang (which may or may not be genuine), and what you have is a driving pop rock beat, heavy production, electric bass and guitars, a melodic chorus, and rock-star-like posturing. There’s often a rap bridge too, as there is in Cruise by Florida-Georgia Line featuring rap artist Nelly.
Listen to this other enormously popular song by the same band (without Nelly this time) and tell me which mid-2000s pop-rock band it sounds like.
If you said 3 Doors Down, you’d be right on the money.
Here’s another song from earlier this year by a Luke Bryan ripoff band Parmalee. While I can’t identify which Top 40 pop-rock band they sound like (probably because they all sound the same), it definitely doesn’t sound country to me.
It also sounds almost identical to this song by Blake Shelton and this song by Luke Bryan, who’s become the template for this hopefully short lived genre. It’s kinda spooky–all three of those songs (and countless others) have the exact same melody, the exact same guitar riff, and are about the same thing. I suppose record labels can save money by recycling the same song to different artists, with minimal changes and pass it off as a new song.
Country music concerts (well, bro country concerts anyway) have also been getting wilder–a lot more like rock concerts, complete with screaming young girls, arrests, open-air sex (probably on the tailgate of a pickup), drunken tailgate parties after and during the shows, and even people making the “devil horns” hand gesture usually associated with rock music. I recently attended a bro country concert (my daughter is a huge Luke Bryan fan and I went with her because my guilty little secret is that I think he’s hotter than Miami in August and his songs are catchy) and was shocked how much it reminded me of the rock concerts I used to attend–most of those attending were under 25, and everyone was shitfaced. And in keeping with the theme, most of the women were wearing daisy dukes or cutoff jeans with skimpy tank tops, sometimes a plaid unbuttoned man’s shirt hanging over the whole shebang or tied at the navel.
I read the other day that bro-country is wearing its welcome, and there’s been a demand by pure country fans for more authentic country music without all the pop/rock influences, and with more meaningful lyrics (I guess it’s more authentic to cry in your whiskey because your cheatin’ woman is doing you wrong than it is to have a beer party on the tailgate of a Chevy truck in the moonlight). There’s also a lot of country fans complaining that except for the Big Three female country singers (Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift, who ain’t even country anymore), no female artists get airplay on country radio anymore. I believe it. And I don’t blame them for being mad. It’s time for country divas with something to say to burn down the boys’ clubhouse. I remember not too long ago, women used to have this same problem in the rock music industry.
I’ve read somewhere recently that a lot of rockers who were evicted from the airwaves a few years ago have moved to Nashville. So maybe the guys from Nickelback, Staind, and 3 Doors Down are now penning songs for Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell and Dustin Lynch.
Hopefully all those drunken tailgate parties taking place down by the river have a designated driver.