Country music is a genre that seems to be constantly evolving over time, conforming to new trends just to bring in big bucks, but many country stars continue to hold tight to their country roots. One of those artists that stand firm in his country values is Brad Paisley, and the title track of his ninth studio album, “This Is Country Music,” is a reminder of the country genre’s traditional roots. “This Is Country Music” was co-written by Brad Paisley and Chris-Dubois and was officially released in 2011, following its debut on the 44th annual CMA awards. An interview with Dubois revealed where the inspiration for such a unique song with a powerful message came from. Dubois claimed that Paisley casually called him one day saying he wanted to write a song, calling it “This Is Country Music,” and that it would be about “everything he had found himself saying in interviews over the years about country music – what he loves, what inspires him – all of that” (“Story). Through the song, Paisley hoped to remind the ever-so-evolving country music industry of where country music came from, what makes it unique, and what it stands for in a historical context.
Brad Paisley has a deep, passionate love for country music, and there are several aspects of his life that shaped his development into the confident, American country star he is today. Paisley was born in West Virginia and was an only child, raised by his parents, Doug and Sandy Paisley. Brad received majority of his musical education from his grandfather, Warren Jarvis, who spent nights working for the railroad and days playing the guitar and singing old songs. When Paisley was about five years old, he asked his grandfather what kind of music he liked. His grandfather responded with, “’I like country music,’ very definitively,” Paisley said (Sanneh). His grandfather is responsible for buying Brad his first guitar and really pushed him to start playing.
After receiving his first guitar, Paisley learned to play a lot of rock songs on the guitar because country music wasn’t “cool” in the eighties in West Virginia (Sanneh). His friends at school were into Eric Clapton and Van Halen, so that’s what he chose to play when he was first getting the hang of the guitar. Toward the end of his teens, he was well finally well respected by his peers because he was literally the only guy in school that owned a cowboy hat. Paisley told The New Yorker, “Here we are, with this new guy named Clint Black, and another new guy named Garth Brooks. There’s a song called ‘Friends in Low Places.’” He mentioned that the rise of Garth Brooks helped “lure in” his teenage friends to country music because he had “the theatrical sensibility of a rock star” (Sanneh). After that, his friends realized that Paisley could play and sing all of the songs that were finally new and cool to his age group. He was then a social asset and was constantly asked to bring his guitar to the weekend house parties.
Following high school graduation and being a part of church groups and a few bands, Paisley received a paid scholarship to Belmont University, in Nashville, and was signed as a songwriter nearly one week later (“Brad). Paisley was on the track to establish himself as a country artist, and he hoped to follow in the footsteps of the legends that gave him his inspiration. “I wanted to be Buck Owens and Bill Anderson and Roger Miller,” Paisley stated, and he remained true to his roots as he rose to fame over the years. Throughout his career, Paisley has created all kinds of country songs; he’s not afraid to write love songs about his wife, sing songs about partying, having fun in the woods, and even more modern pop-country songs like “Welcome to the Future.” He may stray from his traditional country roots every now and then, like in a few songs on his American Saturday Night album, but he never fails to come up with something that keeps country music alive.
The debut of “This Is Country Music” on the 2010 CMA awards is an excellent example of Paisley’s pride and respect for the country genre’s roots. He chose to open the show with a song about what country music is and how the genre can do things and go places that other genres cannot respectfully do. Singing the song for the first time, with the goal of making a powerful statement for the entire country industry, was nearly perfect timing because he was actually the star of the show after winning Entertainer of the Year for the first time in his career. Instead of singing one of his deep, sappy, love songs, he wanted to make a bold statement about country music by offering his opinion to the audience and millions of others that watched the show.
He started off his performance by thanking his fans, which he does quite often, expressing his appreciation to his incredibly loyal fan base. He mentioned in several different sources the variety in his fan base, but what he loves the most is that the vast majority of fans respect the traditional aspects of country and those that like “the old stuff” (Sanneh). After giving an appreciative shout-out to his ever so loyal fans and to country music fans in general, he began playing an acoustic twang and sang the opening lines of his new song. By the end of the performance, everyone in the audience was on their feet as Paisley added an unexpected touch to the end of the song. His closing lines were actually sung in sort of a list format, including songs by artists that were huge contributions to the country music as a whole and to Brad Paisley’s career. He ended by paying tribute to those that put the country in country music and inspired him to become the passionate artist he is today.
The lyrics of the song are broken up into segments that each deliver a message of their own about what country music is, and how country artists can cross boundaries that others wouldn’t dare cross. His obvious intention with the song was to answer a lingering question that needed to be addressed at a time where the traditions of country music could be getting away from the genre. He did exactly that in each line of the song, directly answering the question that the genre cant stop asking, “What is country music?” (Rosen).
The opening line is risky, but is exactly what Paisley wanted to prove to country fans, that the music is unique, it should be celebrated and brought back to life. “You’re not supposed to say the word ‘cancer’ in a song” is the powerful line that Paisley chose to open the song with. He is starting off immediately saying that country music is unlike anything else, and “we do” include the word cancer because “we” can, referring to country music and what all it can do. Next, he addresses religious beliefs, “And tellin’ folks Jesus is the answer can rub ‘em wrong,” which is like the first line, another topic that isn’t typically worked into other types of music. That line also supports the fact that country music is centered on traditional values, including religion. He then continues by incorporating a cliché about country music and its many stereotypes that haters base their trash talk on. “It ain’t hip to sing about tractors, trucks, little towns, and mama, yeah that might be true,” which he finally follows by the repetitive remark he closes his verses with, “But this is country music, and we do.” Paisley’s point was proven in the first 4 lines of the song. Country music is risky, it’s based on traditional beliefs and values, and it’s full of stereotypical clichés, but that’s what country music is about and he hopes everyone knows just how proud he is of that.
As the song continues, he includes several other aspects of country music that were a part of the old and the new. He makes a point to include lines about the variety of songs that country music is mad of, including songs about love and relationships, losing loved ones in war, partying on the weekends, and American pride. Each of those topics have been the subject of songs since country music was born and continue to be what songs are about in today’s country. The tracks he listed at the end of the song relate to each of the previous subjects, which show exactly how what country artists sing about this day and time is based off of songs that made country what it is.
In between each verse of the song is the chorus that really supports and ties together all the aspects of country music Paisley mentions. Paisley sings, “So turn it on, turn it up, and sing along/ This is real; this is your life in a song.” He includes the words “real,’ and “your life,” which are two things that define country music as a genre. It is “real” music, as in having substance, meaning, and relatability. That is what makes country music so likeable across genders, ages, and classes of people. In singing the chorus several times throughout the song, he repeatedly offers a theory about what country music is. Country is real, it’s your life, expressed in a song. Paisley explains to the New York times that country music is “down-to-earth, not trendy; it prizes realism over artifice; it’s steeped in traditional values – old-time religion, the old folks at home, Old Glory.” The lines that make up the song support his theory about country music and he used the song to get his point across.
The individual song is the title track of the album, This Is Country Music, and it sets the tone of what the album as a whole is intended to do. Much like in the single, he intended for the album as a whole to be a tribute to country music’s greatest legends, hoping to remind the modernized country music audience of the country genre’s traditional roots. Paisley told a source that This Is country Music is the ‘countriest’ album he’s ever done, and that every song on the album “had to be country music” to him to stay on the album (“This). Several songs on the album were included to pay respects to many artists that were extremely influential in shaping his career, including, Merle Haggard, Conway Twitty, George Jones, and Buck Owens. That aspect of the entire album is summarized in the “This Is Country Music” single, giving Paisley fans a glimpse of what the album offers and what message it is supposed to relay.
The single, “This Is Country Music,” is a definition of country music from a traditional country artist’s perspective. The intentionality of the song was to make a statement to the country industry that all the genre cliché’s should be celebrated. The album altogether is also celebration of country music, reassuring country’s oldest, most traditional fans that there are artists that hold true to their roots. “This” in “This Is Country Music” can be interpreted in many ways, meaning the song he is actually singing, speaking to the entire genre in general, or where country music finds itself at this particular moment tin history (Leftridge). However “this” is interpreted, one fact remains unchanged, Brad Paisley’s confident pride in country music is steadfast and there is no doubt that he will continue to remind the industry of its traditional roots.
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Sanneh, Kelefa. “Man of Many Hats.” The New Yorker. The New Yorker, 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.
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