After reading “The Commercial Country Explosion” chapter from Jocelyn R. Neal’s book, Country Music (2012), I really began to think about the differences between “New Country” and “Country Pop” from the 1990s. I grew up listening to both of these country genres and never realized the distinction until now.
The ‘90s made way for a fresh batch of country music artists who wanted to make a new sound for themselves. On one end you had new country, a simple song form (verse-chorus) that involved two-step, waltz and Cajun two beat rhythms, while country-pop contains pop riffs and the short memorable hooks. The country pop sound really evolved with the changes in technology and began to feature sound effects, a full harmony backup and dense musical textures. New country on the other hand highlighted the fiddle, steel guitar, and a sharper drum sound. These genres also introduced the distorted electric guitar solos that today audience loves so much.
The instrumentals weren’t the only thing that distinguished these two genres. The artist’s voices were inherently different as well. New country included male artists like Garth Brooks and Tim Mcgraw, whose baritone voices began to smooth out the honky-tonk twang. New country’s female artists, like Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride, became known for their open throated ballad singing. Country pop featured auto-tune and took on younger and sexier sounds with artists like Shania Twain and Keith Urban.
The themes that these two genres tackled were also inherently different. Country pop was very optimistic and included concepts of personal fulfillment and independence (“Any Man of Mine” by Shania Twain). New country featured songs about societal problems, feminist concerns, and working class values (“Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks). Both themes really helped push society and country music into the 21st century.
I personally love both genres because my mother used to play both around the house while I was growing up. There are so many differences between the two genres that I could never pick a favorite. I have included some of my favorite songs from both genres below so that you can see the differences for yourself. The 90s amazing time for country music because the artists began to put on stadium concerts and really connect with their fans on a whole new level. Country music wouldn’t be what it is today without both country pop and new country.
3 Responses to 1990s: New Country vs. Country Pop
I think you did a really good job at explaining the differences between these two genres. To me these two are very difficult to tell apart because they are so similar in many ways and are from around the same time period. I think the instrumentation and style/voice of the artist really plays a big part in differentiating the two. There is a definite difference in the use of technology of the two styles, and you explained it really well. I also liked how you talked about the 1990s, because it really was such a great time for country music, producing artists like Garth, Shania, and Martina.
I agree with you in the sense that the 1990’s was a decade when great country music was made. Personally, the new country subgenre is my favorite and I love the music of Garth Brooks and Brooks & Dunn. I also enjoy some country pop, however I feel that the country pop of the 1990’s and early 2000’s got country music too far off of its track. New country was progressive, but country pop took it to a different level, paving the way for “country” artists like Taylor Swift and Hunter Hayes. I’m probably just bitter because I do not like much of the new country music produced today, but I think the pop country that emerged in the 1990’s is responsible for this trend we see in modern country music.
Like Justin, I think I can handle subgenres when they exist side by side — but not when the one I like less starts pushing the one I like more out of the limelight. Everything runs its course, I guess.