Which music is better: new country or old country?


Fact Box

  • The term country music replaced the original recording industry label of “hillbilly music” in the late 1940s and is based on the “ballads, folk songs, and popular songs of the English, Scots, and Irish settlers of the Appalachians and other parts of the South.”
  • Shania Twain’s 1997 album Come on Over is country’s best-selling album of all time, with approximately 30 million sales worldwide. 
  • Bluegrass-country musician Alison Krauss has received the most Grammy wins of any country artist, accruing 27 in her career so far. 
  • The worlds’ longest-running radio broadcast is Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, a weekly program featuring country music that was founded on November 28, 1925.

Bill (Old Country)

Old country music has an authenticity, depth, and timelessness that makes it superior to new country music. These days, the lines have blurred between new country and pop music--only the cowboy hats and boots in new country videos provide a helpful clue about the origin of the music. Whereas classic old country featured distinctive voices of heartache (George Jones), pain (Johnny Cash), longing (Lorrie Morgan), and traditional values (Merle Haggard), new country gives us an assembly of fresh-faced red carpet warriors that are virtually indistinguishable from one another--more teeth and hair than grit and sincerity.

Old country had no filter--it wasn’t trying to stray too far from its roots and appeal to the refined tastes of the coastal elites. The music was also unabashedly traditional in its values, with subject matter treated straightforwardly with no subtlety or sugarcoating.  

In contrast, new country is like the musical equivalent of a pickup truck commercial, homogenized and sanitized so that each song is forgotten when it’s over. It has no lingering message or meaning to connect and hold its listeners. New country is just a cult of cheerful, attractive celebrities--no outlaws like Waylon Jennings, homespun philosophers like Guy Clark, or cool country uncles like Willie Nelson.

Fans of new country will protest that the genre needs to progress, which is a valid point, but the route to sustainability need not pass through pop country, where it pays a steep toll and loses its identity. Current artists like Lucinda Williams and Brandi Carlile have found a niche by tapping into the roots and traditions of old country while speaking to a new audience and honoring the path that brought them here.

Andrew (New Country)

Modern country music is superior to classic country music because it is more diversified in terms of who is making it, what it sounds like, and what singers are singing about. The great thing about new country music is that it envelopes older, more traditional styles while embracing fresh, new faces and sounds.

New country music is so much more than the very narrow stereotypes associated with old country music, as it has splintered and diversified into many sub-genres like Americana, bro-country, country rock, pop country, outlaw country, and rockabilly. Each has a unique flavor yet retains commonalities with other types of country music, allowing fans to access vast diversities of sound under the country music umbrella.   

Further, modern country music has benefitted from an explosion of female artists. While old country produced multiple female icons such as Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton, the genre is well-known as a boys club. With an increased focus on modern and dynamic performers such as Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, and Taylor Swift, modern country has attracted a much larger audience with more female fans than ever before. 

The increase in female artists and the small but growing minority presence in modern country music have also expanded the subject matter of many of the songs, reflecting more of the whole human experience. These new topics and themes allow all listeners to find something of their own lives reflected in the music.

While classic country formed the foundation for the genre, modern country music’s embracing of new sounds, styles, and women genuinely takes the music forward.

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