I've heard a lot of country music in my day. And having come back to it after a few years of mostly hiatus, I confess to being somewhat appalled. It is not uncommon for literally half the songs to be songs, by men with very irritating voices, about driving around in trucks. This, which began as a source of bafflement to me, has been sharpened to the point of distaste, when I realized over time that a number of these songs about driving around in trucks have since been replaced by new songs about driving around in trucks. The montony is broken up only by songs about men leering at women or Brad Paisley's disgruntled "Southern Comfort Zone".
Now, country music has always been an unusually self-aware genre of music; its two major themes are (1) Family and (2) Country Music. And thus we have lots of classic songs about people in bars and honky-tonks listening to a jukebox or a band. It is not surprising that there are country songs about people driving around in trucks; a lot of people listen to country music while driving around in trucks, and country music will thus make songs about people in trucks. But the thing of it is, you can pretty much guarantee that people listening to music in bars have some kind of story, sometimes very emotional, behind their being there, which gets into the deep center of what it is to be human, and that there is a practically endless diversity in those stories. The primary reason for driving around in a truck, though, is that it's what you have to do to get somewhere else, usually the grocery store or school or home; I defy anyone to establish that people typically drive around in trucks for profoundly emotional reasons that speak to the human condition. Yes, it happens on occasion; there used to be some very good songs about truckers who just wished they could be home, or whose occupation just made loving and living too hard. I haven't heard a single song about the genuine and genuinely human hardship of a trucker, though; it's all about people going around in pick up trucks. And after a song here and there about driving by your ex's place, or about the fun of driving around with a hot girl riding shotgun, or (I will grant you that it shows a little ingenuity) driving your dad's truck because you miss him, you've pretty much used up the human interest potential of that storyline.
I will also concede to you that country music has a long history of being the only popular music genre that has a significant sense of humor about itself. Unlike pop, rock, or hip-hop, country music has always made fun of itself by parodying itself, or by shooting for a kind of fun silliness. There are plenty of serious country songs, but it's not at all surprising that among the classics are "All My Ex's Live in Texas" and "(I've Got) Friends in Low Places" and more recent favorites include "Redneck Yacht Club". Silly songs like this show up elsewhere, but in country music they're a constant tradition. But to the extent there's any joke in these songs, it's pretty unimaginative; there's only so many ways you can joke about how the hot girl riding shotgun is making it hard to drive before it becomes pretty obvious that everyone is telling the same joke over and over again. But a lot of them don't seem to be joking at all; you start realizing about the middle of the song that the dork who can't come up with a topic other than 'Pick up trucks are cool' is not having fun with the idea but actually thinks singing it makes him cool.
I will also concede that country music has never stopped experimenting, sometimes controversially. That's also irrelevant. It stops being experimenting when so many people are doing it that 'it seems like too many people are doing it' becomes a common complaint.
The irony is that it seems to be the men who are phoning it in. The women seem to produce songs that are pretty decent. You just never hear them, although occasionally Carrie Underwood or (more rarely) Miranda Lambert or (more rarely still) Kacey Musgraves will actually be played. This imbalance is also very strange: country music has always been one of the genres of music in which women do extraordinarily well. How in the world the genre could have so changed that repetitive songs by men are repeatedly outdoing obviously higher-quality songs by women (and, one hopes, by men, as well, although the only higher-quality work by men that ever gets played seems to be old classics, at very rare intervals), and in a matter of a handful of years, is baffling.
I had begun to wonder if this was just a peculiarity of the radio station I happen to listen to, but listening around a bit, plus this article have made pretty clear that this is quite typical:
These days, pop-country is more popular than ever — but also more despised than ever. Stars like Brown, Alan Jackson, Kacey Musgraves, and Gary Allan have begun publicly expressing unhappiness with their format, which this year has become an increasingly homogenous platform for men (a few weeks ago, Carrie Underwood was the only solo female in the Top 20) singing about trucks and beers and girls and then more trucks.
Trucks and beers and girls and then more trucks. Yes, that pretty much sums it up; it's only a matter of time before someone writes a song about driving a truck, drinking beers, with a hot girl "all up on me", all at once, which country music stations will blithely play fifteen hundred times a day. Did all the country music songwriters get replaced by teenage boys? How many songs about trucks do you need?
When asked what musical trend needs to die out immediately, Musgraves responded: “Anyone singing about trucks, in any form, in any song, anywhere. Literally just stop – nobody cares! It’s not fun to listen to.”
So that in itself is proof that not everyone in Nashville has gone completely looney-tunes. Sensible musicians need support. I might have to listen to more Musgraves; online, apparently, since the radio will barely play her because it's so important to play a long line of songs about men leering at women and/or driving around in trucks.
ADDED LATER: I think we can put it all in a simple sentence that should be intelligible even to the idiots who sing these songs. If all you can think to do with a woman is have her ride shotgun, you need to meet one.