Is it just me, or does Kenny Rogers think way too highly of himself and his contributions to country music?
Right or wrong, I hit Nashville and did some pop songs. I worked with Lionel Richie and Barry Gibb. But I feel like I drew a lot of people to country music who wouldn’t have gone there without me. Country music couldn’t ever understand that not everybody’s history goes back to Hank Williams. For a lot of people, it starts with Alabama or Dolly. And now it starts with Taylor Swift. That’s healthy for country music. I think I took a lot of flak for taking country pop, but I broadened the audience. Country has always been too country for a lot of people.
Honestly, the way he talks, you’d think he was a Garth Brooks-level superstar in his day. Yeah, he had a few multi-platinum albums and No. 1 singles and that’s nothing to sneeze at, but most of his biggest hits came in the late-’70s and early-’80s, before the New Traditionalist movement ushered in a return to the roots of country. The only reason he’s popping back up now is to defend what country’s turned into anymore. And it’s pretty sad, too, because I’d be willing to bet none of these modern-day Nashville hacks Kenny Rogers is defending gives a damn about him beyond the extent that he gives their shit music an air of legitimacy.
And there’s another reason I don’t understand it — namely, the fact that the music Rogers defends anymore isn’t just pop or rock with a token fiddle or steel guitar, but that it’s bad pop or rock with a token fiddle or steel guitar. And none of this is even taking into effect the constantly recycled “country” cliches. I mean, say what you will about the likes of Eddie Rabbitt, Ronnie Milsap, Earl Thomas Conley, or even Rogers himself, but at least they weren’t constantly singing about “sittin’ on the tailgate in the mud hole drinkin’ Lite beer with mah honehh in her cutoffs” or some such bullshit. This isn’t just about pop vs. country. It’s about deep and genuine vs. shallow and fake. Say what you will about the pop-country stars of the past — and believe me, I’ve said my share and then some — but at least they had the advantage of sounding genuine and sincere. All that comes out anymore seems to be music by assembly line, put together (you’ll note I didn’t say crafted) for little more than the sake of mass appeal.
And yeah, I do understand wanting country music to appeal to people — but the question is, where do you draw the line? That question is even more pressing when you consider the fact that, unlike past decades, there seems to be no room for the kind of music liked by the people who have been listening to country up until now. Back in the ’80s for every Ronnie Milsap you had a George Strait, in the ’90s for every Shania Twain you had Alan Jackson, and in the 2000s you still had the likes of Strait and Jackson balancing out Keith Urban and the like…but what now? Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean can hardly be considered a counterweight to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. So Kenny Rogers can sit there and talk about how pop country needs to be as much as he wants — as disgustingly self-serving as it may be — but his ramblings certainly don’t help us get any closer to answering the question of whether (let alone when) country music is going to get back to being a distinct genre of its own as opposed to a mishmash of everything else.
(h/t Country California)