If you want to write a country song that gets on the radio right now, the easiest path seems to be one of those The List songs. Now, The List song in country music has a long and illustrious history. There’s the The Old Guys List where once or twice a generation, someone gets depressed about how much country music these days sucks and decides that singing a song that name-checks Johnny Cash or Hank Williams will somehow make their song not suck. Rarely, very rarely does this work. And who are you going to name-check now? “Oh, I long for the good old days when we all listened to Garth?”
You see the problem? Garth, love him or hate him, does not hearken back to country history. He’s pretty much the start of “let’s sound like 70s rock.” I think you could name-check George Strait, but he’s still kicking around. I don’t think he’s going to be happy to be put in the category of “People we used to listen to and to whom we should still show respect.” I’m sure fucking George Strait is all “Hey, people still listen to me. A lot of people. Don’t be shipping me off to the old folks’ home yet, when my songs are still higher than yours on the charts.”
So, then there’s the other The List song. In this The List song, it’s all about how we are so country, y’all. And then it lists all the ways we’re so downhome and country. Like the Naming of our Ancestors list song, there are some, a very few, actual good songs in this sub-category–“Redneck Woman” for one. But in general, if you turn on a country music station today, you will be inundated with 30 minutes of every hour being terrible “We’re so country, y’all” list songs.
And among those, you may hear a different song. A song that goes “Some day I’ll be living in a big ole city.”
God bless you, Taylor Swift. God bless you. Possibly this would not be as good a song if there weren’t so many “we’re so country, y’all” list songs out right now. But there are, so this is.