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Kelleigh Bannen, Shane McAnally Talk ‘That’s Not Country’ Debate in ‘This Nashville Life’ Podcast

Kelleigh Bannen This Nashville Life
Courtesy of Kelleigh Bannen

Every other Thursday, Kelleigh Bannen will provide behind-the-scenes analysis, stories and insight into Music City’s No. 1 export, with help from some of Nashville’s top songwriters, artists, executives and producers. Taste of Country will debut each new episode of her This Nashville Life podcast, and Bannen herself will introduce it as a guest writer. Thoughts and opinions expressed by Bannen are hers alone and do not reflect the opinions of Taste of Country, unless she’s talking about #TomatoGate, in which case, yeah … she’s spot on. 

We’ve made it to Episode 4 of the This Nashville Life podcast, which we’re calling, “That’s Not Country!” This week’s episode features an interview with hit songwriter and producer Shane McAnally. He’s written No. 1 hits like Kenny Chesney’s “Somewhere With You,” Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” and most recently, Dierks Bentley’s “Different for Girls.” He’s also the producer behind the song “Forever Country,” which brought together 30 of country music’s biggest acts to mark the 50th anniversary of the CMA Awards.

Have you ever noticed that people love to say, “that’s not country!”

I look up the music video for Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” on YouTube. It has over 110 million views and over 12,000 comments. A lot of the comments are people discussing Sam’s “hotness,” or expressing their desire to be his girlfriend. But a lot of the comments touch on liking it because it’s country, or not liking it because it’s country, or liking it because it’s not country and then arguing about what’s country. But that’s Sam. His songs are pretty progressive. Maybe this conversation is to be expected?

Hmm …

So I look up Blake Shelton’s video for “Boys Round Here”. Over 55 million views. Over 15,000 comments. Similar discussion. Hmm …

Now I look up Eric Church’s “Record Year” — 14,933,000 views, over 1000 comments, similar discussion. Some mention of “outlaw country” and whether this song is or isn’t “outlaw country.” But the conversation about what is and isn’t country rages on.

So, why all the time and energy arguing over what is and isn’t country on the internet? Is it just that the internet makes trolls of us all? Brings out our worst? But this isn’t just run-of-the-mill hate. This is a really specific critique. Instead of “I don’t like this,” it’s more like “this isn’t country, so it sucks!”

It got me thinking: what is country music, and what is great country music? Is it as simple as Harlan Howard’s definition of “three chords and the truth”? And why is it that people seem to love to hate on anything that doesn’t meet their definition of “country music”? I wanted to bring Shane in on this particular episode, because who better to talk about what is and isn’t country than someone who has been so heavily involved in songs that span the extremes in country music? On one end we have Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, and on the other we have Sam Hunt. I have to say, Shane really surprised me with his honesty and vulnerability in this interview. And I find his answer to “What is country music?” particularly interesting. Perhaps there is something inherently authentic about connecting over sadness. And if there’s one theme that most people claim they want out of country music, it’s authenticity.

On a comical note, my co-producer Kevin reads us some of the YouTube comments that are on the music video for my 2013 single “Famous.” It’s hilarious and makes me want to hide under my bed.

Ultimately, I think we just scratched the surface with this topic; there’s just so much to say. If you’re interested in continuing to brew on this subject, I would point you to two songs from entirely different perspectives: Walker Hayes’ “Your Girlfriend Does” and Aaron Lewis’ “That Ain’t Country.” Check them out and let us know what you think on Twitter at @KelleighBannen. And you can subscribe to my podcast at iTunes.

As always, thanks for listening.

Listen to This Nashville Life, Ep. 4: “That’s Not Country”

About Kelleigh Bannen: Kelleigh Bannen’s This Nashville Life Podcast offers an authentic, vibrant look at the journey of someone trying to “make it” in country music. Bannen is admittedly still learning what that means. After a short career as an independent artist, the “Famous” singer signed a major label record deal and recorded two-and-a-half albums that were never released. She’s honest, but not bitter about the obstacles female artists face in country music, but her blog and podcast go much deeper.

Next: Should Artists 'Shut Up and Sing'?

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