Even though I live in Oklahoma, listening to its radio stations has always been problematic for me. They come in five types: Rap, Hot Country, Oldies, Christian and Top 40. The Top 40 station isn’t bad, since the Top 40 has recently been filling with techno-influenced everything (which is great, but another essay). The Christian station isn’t too bad, but the smarmy to non-smarmy ratio fluctuates with the varying seasons (during release season? not smarmy! during fall and winter? smarmy!). Rap I avoid. Oldies I listen to, but there are a lot of commercials. But anything, and I mean anything, is more palatable than listening to Hot Country.
Chuck Klosterman has a whole section of Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs dedicated to Hot Country and how he dislikes people who dislike it, because they dislike it on principle as opposed to on sound (or something thereabouts; I’m oversimplifying). I am not that guy. I dislike Hot Country because it’s oppressively the same. The old joke about playing a country song backwards and getting all your stuff back? Yeah, that got turned into an actual country song. It’s like unironic irony. Not only are there not new themes in Hot Country (honestly, there’s not new themes in any music, except maybe space-rock, but I haven’t heard any ballads for Pluto’s new lack of planet status, so I’m planning judgment there, too), but they don’t even try to use new language.
For instance, Zac Brown’s “Chicken Fried” talks about the best things of home, and you can probably guess what they are: fried chicken, cold beer, blue jeans, his woman, his kids, him mom, and America. Not kidding, there’s a verse about the military and the awesomeness of America. I am not opposed to this, but I swear at this point there’s a songwriter somewhere who should be able to sue for copyright infringement. Or twelve.
The unique part about the Zac Brown Band is that I actually like them. They’re Hot Country; there’s nothing alt about them at all. But they’re talented musically, and they’re good songwriters. I actually listened to “Chicken Fried” again when it finished. They’re a really great pop band that happens to be playing in the Hot Country genre, with Hot Country conventions (steel guitar, violins, vocal twang, etc).
I’m not sure if this means that all the Hot Country bands I can’t stand just aren’t very good pop bands, that they are just more energetic than I can stand, or if they’re more country than I can stomach. But either way, the seal is broken: I like a Hot Country band. I don’t think I like them to the point that I’ll be hitting up their ACL set, but maybe in a few years I’ll be donning a cowboy hat and drinking a Natty Light at the Wormy Dog.
Okay, I still got shivers. Not there yet.