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O'Riordan ’27: Country music is evolving — and we should, too.

After Beyoncé’s announcement of her new album “Act II: Cowboy Carter,” one thing is certain: if country music weren’t already on the rise, it certainly is now. The trend of country songs and artists becoming mainstream began in the early 2020s, coinciding almost perfectly with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some may joke that COVID made us lose our collective taste in more ways than one, the truth is that the rise of country music is a good thing and has greater implications than we might expect.  A quick look at the long and remarkable history of the genre shows that, at its core, country music is true “American” music. It represents the confluence of cultures, the progress of society and a celebration of the underdog. 

Country music’s history, like that of most genres, is complex and defies a straightforward timeline. But where country music stands out, even among the oldest genres, is in its range of influences from cultures all over the world. From Celtic folk to the German polka and Mexican corridos, country music is, as described by famous folk singer John McEuen, “everything about the immigrant experience brought to America and Americanized.” Country also takes inspiration from genres that were already established in many American communities: jazz and blues from Black Americans, Southern gospel, Cajun, Appalachian and even Indigenous music. There are few genres and parts of the world that haven’t enriched country music. Nowadays, however, as the genre reconnects to its roots and produces more diverse sounds, it has led to disagreement in music communities about what is considered country music at all. More often than not, these conversations highlight existing  issues within the genre. 

Country’s complicated history doesn’t just include its geographic influences, but also its political ones. For years now, country music has been seen as the genre of old Southerners and Republicans when, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Country icon Johnny Cash released an entire album, “Bitter Tears, about the plight of Indigenous Americans. Loretta Lynn released “The Pill” in 1975, which became an anthem for women’s reproductive rights. While the genre was never as left-leaning as it is right-leaning today, there was certainly more diversity of thought. It was used as a medium to discuss serious political issues with far more tact, intelligence and songwriting prowess than Jason Aldean’s infamous “Try That in a Small Town.” While this shift is hard to place, it’s undeniable that there was one. 

While country music has historically been the genre of the underrepresented, its biggest flaw today is its lack of diversity. People of color make up less than 4% of the industry, and female artists make up about 10% of airplay on country music radio. The community has rarely been kind to Black Americans or women, often holding them to different standards than their white male counterparts. In 2003, The Chicks were blacklisted from the country charts for criticizing George Bush’s actions regarding Iraq, only making a dimmed comeback years later in 2020. Meanwhile, Morgan Wallen was recorded saying a racial slur in 2021, and went on to become Billboard’s #1 country artist of 2023. Beyoncé herself is being told that she cannot call herself a country artist, even though she has always experimented with country music throughout her career


But as music often does, the genre is changing. Just last year, Tracy Chapman became the first Black woman to write a song that would end up as a No.1 country hit . Beyoncé became the first Black woman in history to top the Billboard Hot 100 Country Songs. Artists like Kacey Musgraves and Lainey Wilson are slowly but surely winning more awards and gaining popularity, carving out their own space in the heavily male-dominated industry. 

I was born in Texas and spent most of my life in Tennessee. The only artists my mom would let me play in the car were Reba McEntire, George Strait and, if we were lucky, young Taylor Swift. The first song I learned to play on guitar was “Travelin’ Soldier” by The Chicks. The essay that got me into Brown was about country music. Over the past few years, I’ve excitedly watched the music so important to me go from guilty pleasure to one of the most popular genres in contemporary culture. But even now, especially after coming to Brown, admitting to listening to country music often feels not like admitting to liking something others find corny, but that others find offensive. Regardless of the issues in the music community, I still believe country music is one of the most heartfelt, well-crafted and hopeful genres of music. When we all open our eyes to  what the genre is meant to stand for, we will understand that it's the exact type of music we need to bring us together.

Mary O’Riordan ’27 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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