I've been writing quite a bit over the past couple of years about how the genre of country music is fast becoming--or, more accurately, has become--the most desirable place to be in the entertainment world. Heck, in addition to recruiting countless bona fide rockers and popsters, we've even called Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga over the barbed-wire fence.
That said, there are still those folks who are stubborn holdouts when it comes to appreciating country music. Although Gaga herself said "If I want to make it country, baby, it's OK," there seems to remain a fear of seeming unfashionable by liking country.
Well, never fear, my scared friends. Here's a primer of country artists that it is always okay to like, and that you will never seem unhip for listening to/admitting you dig. Even your coolest friends will nod appreciatively when you reference this golden list.
The best part about the list? It rarely if ever changes, so you can use it for several years, at least. All of the artists referenced are well-known enough that you won't confuse anyone or make them look dumb (I hope that wouldn't be your intention, anyway). And, for those who are true fans of country music, I hope you find this to be an amusing exercise. So without ado...
The country artists that it's OK for non-country lovers to like!
Vintage country, in general. I'll cite a few specific and outstanding examples in a bit, but suffice to say the entire category of "old country" is safe territory. Although you may not know the exact difference between Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr.--aside from the fact that one was older than the other--it is by and large considered hip to say, offhandedly, "I don't like new country, but I like the old stuff."
Old stuff means generally up to the early '80s. Anything originating past that is at-your-own-risk. Try this the next time you pull an all-nighter: Stagger into the room and announce to your friends, "Phew, I'm haggard like Merle." (You may have to explain the joke. Quick tip: Merle didn't do "The Dukes of Hazzard" theme. That was Waylon.)
The Dixie Chicks. After infamously dissing Dubya onstage overseas in 2003, resulting in an uproar from the conservative country community, hipsters-against-the-machine instantly decided this trio was magnificent. Everyone from the Recording Academy (which hitherto had a pretty weak appreciation of country outside of its own little boxed-in category, but still found fit to award the Chicks an Album of the Year Grammy for what is arguably not even their strongest album) to Jim Morrison's alleged Wiccan bride/widow (who, safe to say, is not country-friendly whatsoever) declared the Chicks the best thing since sliced bread.
The irony of this is that yes, the girls were and are very talented--something the country community never denied. It's just funny that it's still okay for those who roundaboutly despise Toby Keith to now find the Dixie Chicks totally rockin'.
Keith Urban. He has a cute Australian accent, is married to frosty-cool Nicole Kidman, does not wear cowboy hats, and is attractive in a waifish, indie-rock way. Plus he is a really good guitar player. He probably isn't in rotation at too many underground clubs, but he can pass by without much notice.
Taylor Swift. It's still acceptable to despise her (as many do, simply for her popularity). But it's become far more refreshing to shame-facedly admit you love her. (Good old Gaga did this--she is a real country pioneer, I tell you!) It's kind of like back in the day when you broke down and said, "Dang it, 'MMMBop' is a great song, and I'd totally go on a date with Taylor Hanson if I weren't old enough to be his mother."
Elvis Presley. Yeah, he's not really country...but sure, he is. After decades of scrutinizing the various pop-culture levels of the King--with a pronounced focus on his glitzier years--it's finally become coolest to appreciate his Tupelo roots, gospel catalog, Memphis digs, and general "ma'am"-style demeanor.
Dolly Parton. Don't play "9 To 5." (That's '80s, remember?) Play "Jolene" and nonchalantly pretend you've loved that song all your life. Oh, Jack White likes that song too? The Sisters Of Mercy covered it? Pshaw, you had no idea; you had it in your cassette deck back in high school; you have always loved Dolly.
Willie Nelson. Everyone loves Willie. He gets arrested for smoking weed at age 77. He makes Texas seem cool even to avowed Texas-haters, who will deem to enter Austin for SXSW but dismiss the state otherwise. He writes good music, and if more country-music naysayers really sat down and listened to him on a regular basis they'd realize that country music in general is well-written and well-performed stuff.
Johnny Cash. The numero-uno "it's okay to like him even if you hate country" country guy. Like Elvis, he can ease by on the fact that he's iconic and rockabilly--but, truth be told, you don't even have to listen to his music!
Hip and hot decor sites such as Apartment Therapy helpfully direct young urbanites to art sources such as Nashville's legendary Hatch Show Print, where you can buy that awesome Cash print you saw hanging on a wall right next to a Jonathan Adler porcelain greyhound and a pair of thrifted deer antlers kitchily spray-painted gold!
Again, to all readers: This was meant as a humorous commentary, not really to be taken seriously. But that said. Feel free to let me know if you think I missed anyone!
As always, be sure to: