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What is country music? I don't mean what has happened to country music these days, even though that's a good question. I mean what is country music technically? What separates a pop song from a country song? Is it the instruments used? Is it what you are singing about, the lyrics? Or is it just simply what the artist advertises the song's or album's genre as?
Too many times I listen to songs or albums country music awards nominate and wonder, is that really country? Seems to me country music has changed into two distinct categories, generally speaking -- Pop Country and Bro Country.
Much as I hate to admit it, most Bro Country is easy enough to call country. It can have a lot of rap or pop in it. But I at least see how they get away with giving it the country label. Pop Country though I think stretches the genre too much. It's such a blend that leans toward pop or even adult contemporary/alternative that I say awards shows like the ACM should make a point to create a brand new category for those kinds of songs, or avoid nominating them at all, and just leave that for the Grammy's to deal with.
The 3rd category is Alternative Country, with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers, Cody Jinks, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell, Charley Crockett and Hayes Carll. Many of these guys genre bend as well - you can hear rock, blues, folk, gospel, bluegrass and more in their stuff. But I think its far easier to call this country than pop country, and I am always always always rooting for this kind of country to win the day.