These people don’t know whether they’re coming or going.

Point — Keith Urban:

Too often, what we’re seeing in modern country is, like, frustrated ’80s rockers posing as country artists, you know? (laughs) When that’s the case, you can tell instantly. You aren’t country just because you’ve exhausted all your other options, and now you’re wearing a cowboy hat!

Counterpoint — At a recent performance of Carrie Underwood:

…late in her 100-minute concert Saturday night at the sold-out Mystic Lake Casino amphitheater, she stepped out of her showy but conviction-impaired, made-for-TV performance mode and cut loose. It was a Carrie-okie moment as the “American Idol” champ from Oklahoma threw herself, body and soul, into a medley of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.”

I’m not sure what to make of all this myself. Would Keith Urban characterize Carrie Underwood as a frustrated wannabe ’80s rocker? It would certainly seem that way to me, except for the fact that Keith Urban has defended his pop leanings only God knows how many times by citing the periodic pop sounds in country music’s history. One wonders what Urban thinks of the likes of, say, Dan Seals — who on the one hand was partially responsible for “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight” but on the other hand brought us “Everything That Glitters (Is Not Gold).” Would Urban have accused Seals of “going country” (in the Bob McDill sense, that is), or would he praise Seals’ country records as broadening the horizons of ’80s country and its listeners? Who the hell knows?

All of this brings up the question: Why is making pop-country music bad when you previously made your mark in another genre but good when you start out making pop-country music? Why isn’t one kind just as bad as the other? I suppose it could be more of that provincialism I talked about a while back, but I expect that sort of thing from blog trolls. I expect better from people who fancy themselves as country artists, even if they’re really not. I expect them to have better confidence in their artistry and more pride in the genre. I think of Natalie Maines, back when they were trying to get the Dixie Chicks to do a pop remix of “Wide Open Spaces,” saying, “We like those other artists, and we’re fans of that other music, but we don’t want anyone thinking we’re trying to not be country….We’re trying to bring country back to country.”

(Granted, the Chicks did allow a remix of “Landslide” a few years later, but it should be noted that was quite a gross aberration in their catalog up to that point.)

Not to leave Carrie Underwood out of this, though, because she’s just as contradictory in her own way as Keith Urban is. You see her often profess her love and respect for traditional country music, yet on the other hand polish the grit and soul right out of G’n’R and Aerosmith and say stupid things like “I personally don’t want to hear the same song over and over again.” And then there was her reading of Randy Travis’ “I Told You So,” which was, as C.M. Wilcox at Country California said, “a poppy cover of a poppish detour by a solid traditionalist.”

Come to think of it, it really is pretty consistent. Just like Sugarland citing Johnny Cash as an influence, this talk about respecting and defending the traditions of country music is just that — talk, with not a damn bit of substance behind it. Just like the music.

(h/t Country California)

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