Tim McGraw and Pulitzer Prize-winner Jon Meacham consider the changing face of both country music and America in a new essay in the latest issue of TIME.
Titled “Country Music Should Be Political. After All, It Always Has Been,” the article accompanies the cover story featuring “Old Town Road” phenomenon Lil Nas X.
In the piece, McGraw and Meacham assert that country music “is undergoing a period of healthy redefinition and soul searching,” that’s “not so different from the ones the broader nation is asking itself in the age of Trump.”
They argue that country is “more complicated and… interesting than the prevailing caricature,” seeing “a strain of protest alongside the sentimental patriotism.”
The article also teases Ken Burns’ new sixteen-hour Country Music documentary, which traces the evolution of America alongside the growth of country music as well. It premieres September 15 on PBS.
In the end, McGraw and Meacham see Lil Nas X as “a hopeful sign” that “broad audience acceptance of artists of color may be the next big front in country,” while hoping country makes a larger place for female artists like Kacey Musgraves too.
Pointing to songs like 1975’s “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” by Waylon Jennings, they conclude that country’s current identity struggle is nothing new.
“We can embrace tradition, and… the more current sounds of the day — this is, after all, what our musical forebears did so brilliantly,” they write.
Ultimately, they believe “country is the music of inclusion and universality” and “Complexity is country’s friend, not its enemy, and more people need to realize that.”
You can read the full article online or in the new issue of TIME, which arrives Friday.
McGraw and Meacham’s book, Songs of America, is a New York Times bestseller.
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