As a native New Yorker, I don’t think I’ve met another soul from my area who likes country music. This recent realization got me thinking about possible reasons for this trend. There’s no way that that many people have the same anti-country tastes ingrained in them just by nature.
When I Googled the question, I found myself sadly informed that it’s not just in New York that country music is hated. A 2012 study by the University of Notre Dame uncovered that college-educated young adults are, more than ever, especially likely to dislike country music. They’re also especially unlikely to listen to classical music and a variety of other genres.
But how do we differentiate between genres, anyway?
Here’s a mental case study I did: What makes classical different from pop? Is it that classical music is entirely acoustic and pop uses technology to achieve its sound? Ed Sheeran’s music rarely uses non-acoustic instruments, but is still popular. Meanwhile, electric violins were an extremely popular instrument in my high school.
Genres could also be separated by the types of instruments that they employ, but “Skyfall” by Adele features the French horn, an instrument so aggressively classical that I, a nerd, chose to play it.
There are some pieces that really walk the line; even classical music non-listeners love John Williams, an unambiguously classical film-score composer (putting aside his modern non-film work). He wrote the “Jurassic Park” theme (a meme a few years ago, I might add), “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars” and “Hedwig’s Theme” from “Harry Potter,” just to name a few of his works.
Since they’re so hard to define, I argue that the difference between genres is all in intended demographic.
“Highly-educated young people associate classical music essentially with the high-status music of their parents and grandparents,” said Omar Lizardo, the Notre Dame study’s co-author, in an article in WQXR.
This is in line with New Yorkers not listening to country music. It seems that we don’t listen to genres like country because we feel that they’re not “for us.” And that needs to change. Not only does this practice limit our musical exploration, keeping us from finding something we could love, it inhibits cross-cultural understanding.
One notable example of a crack in a demographic wall is “Hamilton.” “Hamilton”’s soundtrack is in large part rap, a genre extremely disliked by young college-educated Americans just 20 years ago. “Hamilton” was packaged as a Broadway show, allowing Broadway’s demographic to believe for the first time that rap was “for them.”
As we all know, the musical was an absolute sensation. As comedian Hasan Minhaj jokes, “It even reached the Upper East Side … That’s what it took for old, white people to embrace rap.” Even Upper East Side Manhattanites discovered that they really do like rap, a revelation that likely never would have happened without the crack in the wall.
When I ask people why they don’t like country music, the most common argument I hear is that it reinforces gender stereotypes. This argument is a thin excuse. Every genre of music with lyrics has sexist pieces.
Here are some examples: “Under My Thumb” by The Rolling Stones in rock, “Don Giovanni” by Mozart in opera, “Bitches Ain’t Shit” by Dr. Dre in rap, “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke in R&B, “22-20 Blues” by Skip James in blues, “Borró Cassette” by Maluma in reggaeton/Latin, “Dear Future Husband” by Meghan Trainor in pop, and yes, “God Made Girls” by RaeLynn in country (though I really love the song itself).
Not all country is sexist, just like not all rock, opera, rap, R&B, blues, Latin and pop music is sexist. So no, sexism isn’t the reason you hate country music. Whatever reason you can find you justify your avoidance of a genre can probably be applied to almost every other genre, if genres exist at all.
So keep an open mind, and listen to everything!
Probably the most obvious exception to the “staying in your musical lane” rule is white suburban kids listening to urban styles of rap and hip hop. According to Todd Boyd, a professor at the University of Southern California known colloquially as the “Notorious Ph.D.” for his pioneering work in hip hop scholarship, says “Hip hop is inherently political, the language is political. It uses language as a weapon — not a weapon to violate or not a weapon to offend, but a weapon that pushes the envelope that provokes people, makes people think.”
Hip hop, like most music, has a message. It’s important that the people outside of hip hop’s demographic hear that message.
Hip hop’s wider demographic is what is allowing it to be today’s civil rights movement. In short, listening outside your demographic spurs understanding. We should all do it more.
So break out the Spotify playlists of genres you never thought you’d love. Pick a part of the world you’ve always wanted to visit and listen to the music from that place. Push the envelope, step outside your comfort zone and there’s no telling what could happen.
One day you might be a reggae connoisseur, seek out Sibelius and know every word to every Garth Brooks song. Just know that when you play that different, funky music, you’re expanding your mind and making the world a better place.
Margot Rosenblatt SC ’23 is from the Upper WEST (upper BEST) Side of Manhattan, New York. She knows almost every word of Hamilton and has the same birthday as Chance the Rapper. This, clearly, makes her a rap expert.