FAULT Feature: ACM Nominations start a new conversation about Country music

The Academy of Country Music recently released its list of nominations for the 2014 ACM awardsairing on CBS in the USA on April 6. Chances are that you’re familiar with both the artists and the songs. The truth is that the record industry’s noticed that you think country music is “good” music’s backwoods cousin, and has been steadily working to infiltrate country into mainstream music fandom.

sheryl crow
Sheryl Crow

Take Sheryl Crow, nominated for female vocalist of the year. No one would deny Sheryl Crow’s talent, especially not any of us who grew up humming along to ‘All I Wanna Do’ in the ’90s. Her music incorporates pop, folk, rock, country, and blues elements, but, as Crow told Billboard in 2008, she found herself drifting towards the Nashville scene because “there is no room [in the music industry] for people who are just singer/songwriters or who are in between rap, dance and straight-up country.”

So Sheryl Crow is a country musician now. Or a crossover musician. Or, let’s say, just a musician.

It’s no coincidence that the ACM chose to introduce its 2014 award nominees through a series of YouTube videos featuring “mainstream” artists and entertainers like Katy Perry, Beth Behrs of ‘Two Broke Girls’, and the cast of ‘Duck Dynasty’. They’re insisting that audiences take country music seriously, and for good reason.

Yes, scanning the ACM nominations list still gets you an overwhelming number of songs about vehicles and highways: ‘Same Trailer Different Park’, ‘Two Lanes of Freedom’, ‘Cruise’, ‘Highway Don’t Care’, ‘I Drive Your Truck’, ‘Wagon Wheel’, and ‘Two Black Cadillacs’. But Kacey Musgraves‘ ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ is a good song. Kacey Musgraves’ voice slips up, down, and around a series of unexpected chord changes and rhythmic shifts. You’ll keep this song in your head even as it surprises you on every listen. To dismiss it purely because it’s another country singer singing about cars and trucks and broken hearts would be to carry a level of music snobbery that few listeners would want to admit.

So, here’s the question: are you going to watch the ACM awards, or not? If you skip it, you’ll be missing out on the newest conversation in music: how to establish country music as a legitimate genre, and how to convince the hipsters and trendsetters that ‘Same Trailer Different Park’ is just as good as its indie cousin ‘Ho Hey’ [by the Lumineers] and deserves the same level of attention.

Country music got a good chunk of a new demographic last year by launching the overwhelmingly popular ABC drama ‘Nashville’. written by ‘Thelma and Louise’ screenwriter Callie Khouri and starring primetime favorite Connie Britton, who originally won hearts playing Mrs. Coach on ‘Friday Night Lights’. ‘Nashville’ gets it right; it presents a series of country music singers who you have to take seriously simply because their jobs involve serious work; you see the sweat and practice that goes into getting a show into an amphitheater or setting a vocal track on a record.

ABC's Nashville is a Stateside hit
ABC’s Nashville is a Stateside hit

‘Nashville’ also works because it steps away from the “trucks and guns” aspects of country music and gives us new, fresh, country songs that could slip right in to any indie Pandora station. Call it alt-country, if you will, but don’t dismiss it outright. Not until you’ve watched Hayden Panettiere sing ‘Undermine’, or heard Claire Bowen launch into ‘Every Time I Fall In Love’, or seen Mrs. Coach herself belt out ‘Wrong Song’.

You have until April 6 to get to know this year’s ACM nominations. If you don’t think country music is worth paying attention to, you’re already behind. Time to join the conversation…