Imagine you are back in school. Your history teacher has given you an assignment to write an essay about Paul Revere’s role in the Revolutionary War. The assignment was due on a Friday and so that’s when you handed it in. You did an admirable job and it’s the best essay you have ever written. There’s only one problem, you wrote about the Irish Potato Famine.
Had the assignment been about the Irish Potato Famine you would have easily gotten an A. You were thorough and explained the causes and effects of the Famine in great detail but you still got a D. Despite your great work, you didn’t do the assignment that was given to you. The teacher was kind to give you higher than an F.
The point of this made up story has to do with the dilemma that we now face in mainstream country music. As critics and fans, we are judging music under the country label that has no resemblance to country music.
Even when the music is good (which it often isn’t) it is usually mislabeled. If you are releasing a song to country radio and selling it as a country song then shouldn’t we judge the work based on that?
Take “New Years Day” by Taylor Swift as an example. I actually find “New Years Day” to be a quality song that is better than a number of songs on country radio. The problem is that it is a pop song, from a pop album, from a pop artist that is being pushed as a “country” single. If it is labeled as a country song it is not deserving of the grade I would give it had it been properly labeled. Also, as someone that listens to very little pop music I find it difficult to review something from a genre I know little about in 2018.
I have seen some blogs go about this problem by simply giving the song a country grade and a pop grade which can be a tricky thing to do. If it’s not a country song and actually requires two separate grades then shouldn’t the country grade be a 0/10? I mean you are admitting that the song isn’t country which is the whole reason you needed the pop grade. Another option is to just review the song/album as a pop review but if it is being labeled a country song and played on country radio should you be doing that? And finally, I have seen blogs just give the song/album a lower grade because it is not truly a country song. But, as I said if it’s not a country song how do you give it any country grade besides a 0?
To be clear I am not saying there is one right or wrong way to go about doing this. I think it’s a very tricky and difficult decision that any reviewer has to figure out for themselves. I do think that the conversation needs to be had now more than ever as country radio drifts farther and farther away from the roots of the genre.