THE NEUTRAL ZONE
In the wake of protests for racial equality following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, stories of experiencing racism in the U.S. have sparked a discussion around race and country music. On June 2, a number of music labels participated in the “Blackout Tuesday” campaign, as well as the #TheShowMustBePaused campaign, however some artists, such as Lil Nas X, expressed disappointment due to the movements “not helping” the efforts of protesters gain visibility. In 2019, Lil Nas X’s song “Old Town Road” was removed from the Billboard country charts after many decried the song as “not country enough.” This stirred controversy after many highlighted the fact that popular country was borrowing many elements from hip-hop while muting black voices in country.
A young black woman named Rachel Berry recently went viral with an Instagram post detailing her fear of experiencing racist attacks at country shows. Berry writes, “Before you buy tickets to a show, have you ever looked up the name of the town/city and then “racism”? I have.” She continued, “There have been a few shows that I have had to pass on because the first 2 or 3 links that popped up were about acts of racism that have happened there.”
Journalist Elamin Abdelmahmoud authored a piece in Rolling Stone detailing his experience as a black country music fan while also diving into the genre’s origins in black culture. Abdelmahmoud stated “I’m never more aware of my blackness than when I’m rambling on about my love of the genre, receiving quizzical looks back. The unspoken onus in the moment is: Explain yourself — how do you like country?” The piece also highlights singer Mickey Guyton, who recently released a song titled “Black Like Me.” Guyton recently spoke out about her inspiration for the song, stating “for some reason, it’s taboo to say, “I support black lives,” and people are scared of it. But if you care about animal cruelty, you should care about human cruelty.”
There’s One Music Genre That’s Thriving During Coronavirus – Bloomberg – 6/9/2020
Country in particular has thrived. U.S. residents have listened to an average of 11.1% more country since mid-March—an increase of 127 million streams a week. And while growth in kids’ music has subsided as more people return to work, country has only accelerated. Country music streaming climbed 22.4% in the final full week of May.
How the country music industry responded to George Floyd’s death — and faced its own painful truths – Washington Post – 6/9/2020
Berry, a 28-year-old from New Jersey, described the fears she often feels as a black woman at country shows and festivals: Being worried that if she stands up to dance, someone will yell a racial slur. The uneasy feeling walking through parking lot tailgates and seeing Confederate flags.
‘A reconsideration of the white male cowboy’: the rise of ambient country – The Guardian – 6/9/2020
Country songs traditionally tell stories, but Suss and Chuck Johnson are part of a new crop of artists who emphasise abstract expression over linear narrative and conventional structures. These musicians continue a legacy that joins the dots between country and post-rock, experimental music and world-class pedal steel pioneers such as Susan Alcorn, Robert Randolph and Sarah Jory.
FOX 46 Charlotte on Twitter, 6/9/2020: It was a simple offer: ‘Black or white, relax and have a beer.'” Best friends Benjamin Smith and Marcus Ellis set up in their driveway hoping people would stop by. Their message caught the attention of country music legend Brad Paisley.
cmt on Twitter, 6/7/2020: Early black country artists like Charley Pride and DeFord Bailey helped open the channels for the stream of black recording artists, songwriters and producers that would permeate country music throughout the first two decades of the 2000s.
Grady Smith on Twitter, 6/2/2020: I’d like to share some great country music by black artists today. Feel free to leave recommendations in the replies, too. First up, The Pointer Sisters “Fairytale,” which won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal by a Duo/Group in 1974.
NPR on Twitter, 6/9/2020: a country music industry willing to embrace hip-hop sounds — but not black artists. Her new song “Black Like Me” is a statement: She’s ready to do things her way.