The Exciting Current Landscape of Country Music
There’s something for everyone!
On one of my recent stories I was asked an interesting question by one of my favorite writers on the platform; David Acaster. He was asking about the current state of country music, and what type of country young people in America are into. As I prepared to answer this question, I began to realize this was a complicated subject matter to give a direct answer to.
Country music is in a very strange, transitional phase right now. There is such a wide range of meanings as to what a country music fan is today.
“Country” is broken up into so many different categories in its current state, and each and every one is brimming with talent from all walks of life.
In this article I’m going to be breaking down each of those scenes and sub-cultures, and some artists and songs within each. I can guarantee that even if you’re not a self-proclaimed “country fan,” there will be something here you will enjoy.
#1- Nashville Pop-Country
Our first, and perhaps most notorious of the current genres; is pop-country. Pop-country is being very heavily marketed by the big labels in Nashville today.
The main sound of this style of country is heavily influenced by modern day pop music, and what is currently topping charts. Often times this can be identified by a synthetic clap, or snap keeping the pace, as highlighted by this video from Grady Smith on YouTube.
Lyrically, the content is often some of the more easily identifiable cliches most associated with country music. Buzz words such as, beer, trucks, mama, dirt, town, etc. However, there are plenty of pop-country songs that do break from this mold occasionally and are actually pretty creatively written.
The headlining artists of this genre would be acts like: Maren Morris, Kane Brown, Mitchell Tenpenny, Dan and Shay, and Thomas Rhett. Pop-country often gets a very bad rap, as it is often home to some of the most cliche songs — as I mentioned before, but there is still lots of good to be found in the genre.
Some of my favorite artists from this sphere of country, are Kacey Musgraves, Lauren Alaina, and Carly Pearce.
Here are some of my favorite songs from the genre: “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves, “What’re You Gonna Tell Her” by Mickey Guyton, “Getting Good” by Lauren Alaina, “Hard To Forget” by Sam Hunt, and “Therapy” by Peytan Porter.
I do believe this genre will always be around, but it does seem as though it’s popularity is declining in the 2020s. Audiences are starting to lean more in favor of our next category.
#2- Neo-Traditional Nashville Country
The hottest genre in the streets right now. The neo-traditional sound is making a huge resurgence as of late. It’s becoming more and more common to see pop-country artists taking a return to form of sorts, and dipping into the neo-traditional bucket.
This style of country really started making its impact with the rise of Luke Combs around 2018, and has only gotten bigger from there. The sound is highlighted by its 80s and 90s throwback sound. Lots of drums, guitar and fiddle are prominent, while banjo and steel guitar make plenty of appearances as well.
The songs vary lyrically, but often do include some of the cliche aspects, especially drinking. There really is too much variation to really narrow it down though.
The big players in this scene right now are headlined first and foremost by Luke Combs. After that you have artists like Jon Pardi, Chris Stapleton, Midland, Ashley McBryde, Muscadine Bloodline, and Randall King. There are some familiar faces making big returns to form in this sub-genre as well, such as: Miranda Lambert, Brooks and Dunn, and Blake Shelton.
I really enjoy just about everyone in this area of country. It is one of my favorite sounds and I’m very happy that Nashville is beginning to realize how much people enjoy this form of country music.
Some of my favorite songs include: “Houston We Got A Problem” by Luke Combs, “Heartache Medication” by Jon Pardi, “Martha Divine” by Ashley McBryde, “Hey Moon” by Randall King, “Settling Down” by Miranda Lambert, and “Cheatin’ Songs” by Midland
#3- Traditional Country
While the names are similar; traditional, and neo-traditional are two very different sub-genres. Neo-traditional adds a modern spin to the older sound, but traditional country keeps it right where it was.
This genre has lots of personality, and has began really finding its stride as of late. People always talk about the good ol’ days of music, and country is no exception. New artists are taking their passion for the stuff of old and writing new songs in the same, untouched style of the bygone eras.
The music here is just like that of the particular decade one may fancy. While there is a bit of modernization, and a noticeable lack of fuzz that used to be on all songs, they’re still as authentic as can be.
The artists here all seem to have come from some time machine. Charley Crockett with his eagle medallion, cowboy hat, and immense charisma. Sierra Ferrell, with her tattoos, 60s hairstyles, and voice straight from Patsy Cline. Jesse Daniel with his roadtrippin’, jukebox rockin’ sound. There are plenty more out there with the same authenticity as well.
Many people think Americana is its own genre, but I’m here to tell you — it’s country. Calling it anything other than country hurts the genre of country as a whole, by excluding these fantastic artists from its fold. Americana is a sub-genre of country music.
The sound of Americana is pretty much anything that doesn’t quite fit in with what Nashville likes. It’s branded as a form of “outlaw country,” filled with artists who have massive fanbases, but no real marketing behind them. Streaming has helped this form of country really take off by allowing people to discover artists they like, without needing radio to hear it first.
This sub-genre is one of the most lyrically rich of all. Any and all subjects are covered, and nothing is shied away from.
The instrumentals can vary wildly between songs. Acoustic mostly reigns supreme though.
There are so many great artists in this genre, so it’s tough to choose just a few, but some of the best are: Tyler Childers, Colter Wall, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Emily Scott Robinson, Willi Carlisle, and Yola.
The amount of songs I could put here is endless as well, but here’s some of my favorites: “Feathered Indians” by Tyler Childers, “Caroline” by Colter Wall, “You Can Have The Crown” by Sturgill Simpson, “Georgia” by Katie Pruitt, “Elephant” by Jason Isbell, and “Cheap Cocaine” by Willi Carlisle.
#5 Texas/Red Dirt Country
This sub-genre is one of the more unique ones, as it is very, very exclusive to Texas, and its surrounding states. There are dozens of artists that could easily make a living without ever leaving Texas state lines, and some who pretty much do just that. I’m just an Appalachian boy so I’m not in on this per se, but I do know a lot about it, and love listening to it, because it’s good country music.
The sound is very similar to what George Strait was doing in the 80s and 90s, but there is a tinge of neo-traditionalism as well. Not many artists opt to make the jump to a big-time career, as most just stay in Texas; although there are a few exceptions.
The Texas sound is chock-full of steel guitar and fiddle. It often features themes of the most Texas stuff imaginable, rodeos in particular. There is lots of pride for the different areas of Texas in the genre; often describing their love of the gulf, or the panhandle.
There is a very Nashville-like camaraderie amongst the Texas musicians as well, with several different artists joining to make super groups from time to time, The Panhandlers being a notable recent example.
Some of the more influential Texas/red dirt artists include: Turnpike Troubadours, Flatland Cavalry, Aaron Watson, Randy Rogers, Wade Bowen, Cody Johnson, The Josh Abbot Band, and Whiskey Myers.
Some of my favorite songs: “War With My Mind” by Flatland Cavalry, “Dear Rodeo” by Cody Johnson (feat. Reba McEntire), “Freight Train” by Aaron Watson, and “The Winding Stair Mountain Blues” by Turnpike Troubadours.
There are so many little country-spheres that it wouldn’t be reasonable to give every single one a prominent spot, otherwise the article would be an hour long read. This section is to take a look at a couple smaller sub-genres that are currently on the rise.
Bluegrass is experiencing a renaissance, being led by the generational talent and one of my favorite artists — Billy Strings. I highly recommend this live performance of “Turmoil and Tinfoil” by him.
- Country Rock
This genre isn’t occupied by anyone major full-time, but there are several artists who do it well when they decide to do it. Cody Jinks and HARDY spring to mind first. “Boots” by HARDY is one of my favorite examples.
- Country Rap/Hip Hop
This is a mostly satirical genre that became more popularized by Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, but done a few more times since. One of the less satire-based, and more consistent artists in this genre is Ryan Upchurch.
Thanks for reading! I hope you found at least one song in here you like. My goal is to show people that country is far from the one-dimensional cliche a lot of people think it is! There are tons of raw talent spread across plenty of smaller sub-genres. This is only the new stuff as well. Country has one of the richest histories of any genre, so there’s loads more to listen to from years gone as well.
The current outlook for country music is very bright and I’m extremely excited to see where the genre will go from here!
Thanks to David Acaster again for giving me this idea and be sure to give his page a look. If this interested you at all, give me a follow and check out some of my other write-ups. I’m primarily a country music page so you might just find something else you like along the way!