The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Country music’s comeback: A genre renaissance finding its footing

Maya Oclassen

Despite its most recent trends, country music has struggled to secure a lasting foothold in the mainstream spotlight in the past couple of decades, but with prominent artists venturing into the genre, it may be making a comeback. Heralding a potential modernization of the art form, recent trends signal a developing shift.  

On Superbowl Sunday, Beyoncé dropped two country-influenced singles, “16 carriages” and “Texas Hold ‘Em,” and announced the upcoming release of her country album “Renaissance Act II” available March 29. She’s dabbled in the genre before, as she previously ventured into it with her song “Daddy Lessons” on her 2016 album: “Lemonade.” A few weeks prior, Lana Del Ray made headlines when she announced her debut country album “Lasso,” releasing this September. 

Phillip Cerza, an employee at Reckless Records, said mainstream artists’ desire to create country music may be rooted in the commodification of popular music by many social media platforms. Reckless Records is a vinyl record store that was founded in 1988, and has grown to have three locations in Chicago, with one right off of the CTA Belmont stop.

“I do think that country music has always thrived as a genre because of its inherent truthfulness,” Cerza said. “Perhaps with the commodification of popular music by TikTok, YouTube and Spotify algorithms, which seem to be as bad as it’s ever been, the public’s desire for more authentic counter-programming has increased.”  

Due to the heavy marketization of pop music on social media, Cerza said it makes sense that pop artists such as Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey want to mine some inspiration from the genre, not just in terms of sound but also on a spiritual level.  

“I have noticed sales for country artists trending higher, in line with recent Billboard chart successes,” Cerza said. “Modern country has so much crossover appeal … The demand for legacy artists like Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, John Prine and especially Tracy Chapman has gone up too.” 

As a fan of the genre, Cerza is excited about hearing how these artists take inspiration from classic country influences, and continue to expand the boundaries of the genre. 

Cerza said country music vinyl records sales have recently increased at Reckless Records in the past few years, showing Chicago’s willingness to return to the genre.  

While there are two clear financial factors at play in the resurgence of county music, Daniel Bashara, a media studies professor at DePaul, said cultural elements contribute as well.  

“I think one major factor is the desire to reclaim country music on behalf of marginalized identities, to show that these age-old musical stylings can speak to a much broader tapestry of what we know as ‘American,’” Bashara said.  

Bashara cites “Renaissance: Act II” as a case in point for this reclamation, observing that the record aims to redefine and reckon with being from Texas, and broadening what we know as American country. 

“It promises to scramble the simplistic assumptions many of us, wherever we land on the political/cultural spectrum, have about the country we live in and the people we share it with,” Bashara said. 

Bashara claims that popular artists are reclaiming country to broaden the scope of what constitutes country music culture.  

Whether country music’s modernization stems from the fatigued commodification of pop music or the artists’ desire to redefine and broaden American country, the question remains: how will it be received?  

DePaul sophomore and music connoisseur Jay Lape shared his enthusiasm about country music’s comeback and his admiration for the genre’s storytelling aspects.  

“I think country and folk music is generally disliked in our generation,” Lape said. “I think the lyricism in country is top tier, and with our generation loving artists like Taylor Swift or Kendrick Lamar, I’m surprised more people don’t appreciate the storytelling present in country music.”  

The fatigue induced by the overuse of pop music on social media, the recent alignment of Billboard’s success with increased sales of country records and the concerted efforts of well-respected artists to redefine country’s cultural landscape all signal the widespread resurgence of the genre. 

“I’m personally really happy artists like Beyoncéand Lana are shifting in a country direction for their next projects…I’m excited to see what they will do with it,” Lape said.

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