‘Dirt Road Anthem’ and Country’s Identity Crisis

Courtesy of cmt.com
Courtesy of cmt.com

On the surface, “Dirt Road Anthem” by country artist Jason Aldean is another Southern ode to escaping to a simpler time in his life. Cashing in on the enduring buzz word “dirt road” and transporting listeners to a nostalgic, rural setting, this song was bound to be a success. But Aldean throws something extra into the fire — listeners will immediately pick up on the fact that his verses are spoken rapidly, almost as if it were a rap.

In her Wall Street Journal op-ed, Taylor Swift stated “another theme I see fading into the gray is genre distinction. These days, nothing great you hear on the radio seems to come from just one musical influence.” Today’s country music is one of the biggest examples of a genre having an identity crisis. Current country music has morphed immensely from what it used to be in, say, 2004, when country greats like Alan Jackson and Martina McBride dominated airwaves. Fast-forward to over a decade later when most country music would be characterized as pop if not for the artist’s southern drawl or a well-executed “country” guitar solo.

“Dirt Road Anthem” paved the way for the fusion of country and rap, prompting many to follow Aldean’s lead, but especially justifying whatever Florida-Georgia Line is up to conceptually. Florida-Georgia Line has even taken it to the point where they will release two versions of a song for country radio and pop radio with respectively featured artists. Examples of this include their breakout hit, “Cruise,” which they re-released months later featuring Nelly, and their summer hit, “This Is How We Roll,” which featured Luke Bryan for country fans but Jason Derulo on the re-release for pop radio. Few will forget the 2014 Country Music Awards show performance where both Bryan and Derulo showed up to sing with the FL-GA Line boys, ended up dancing to Derulo’s “Talk Dirty,” and ultimately left viewers thinking “…what?”

It looks as if Swift’s comments on the lucidity of genre are shaping up to be correct — there are countless ways artists can peddle their craft, even if it means employing a different genre to give themselves a boost. “Dirt Road Anthem” was the first of country songs morphing into country-rap and it definitely won’t be the last.

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