Jern Siong speaks his mind on the true value of country music.
Mention names like Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, Toby Keith and the Zac Brown Band to Yankees, Brits, Aussies, and even Chinese people. You would hear a resounding cheer, coupled with the screams of dozens of fans. But drop any of those names in Malaysia, and the typical response you will receive is a blank, puzzled stare, followed by the question, “Who?”. I know, because these are the responses I usually get. I am sure most of the people reading this right now are reacting in the same way. Somehow, Malaysians are ignorant to some of the most famous country music acts in America. The reason this is happening? Mention the phrase ‘country music’ and you see people cringe right before your eyes. Local magazines scramble to assure readers that certain country-popish singers like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum do not sound too ‘country’ in their reviews, for fear that listeners might reject them without a chance. A major newspaper even went as far as to infer that Malaysians would not care for the country tunes in a certain album, thus advising people against it. What is wrong with these columnists?
Listening to the radio every day, you would probably notice how not a single country song gets played. Only crossover singles (which have more pop elements in them) are played. Maybe if you are lucky and listening to Lite FM, you might hear the once-in-a-blue-moon Rascal Flatts song, but that would be all. On the whole, there seems to be an aversion towards country music in Malaysia. Or that is what DJs assume. For never have they introduced country songs into the top charts, whereas singers of pop, rock, hip hop, R&B litter the airwaves, playing repeatedly hour after hour, day after day. After two years of listening to these types of music, I decided to stay off the radio and get the songs I wanted online instead, as I found the internet to be neither judgmental nor prejudiced against musical genres. It has been almost 4 years since I last listened to songs played on the radio, because they simply do not fit my taste in music. (I can almost feel the criticisms raining down on me as I type this, but please, keep your thoughts to yourselves for now. There’s still more to come.)
It’s not only the radio stations being presumptuous. Even television channels like MTV have developed a similar mindset. They never play any country music videos, preferring the rather more obscene, noisy, generally unsettling and at the worst of times, cringe-inducing videos of other genres. On television, we see ladies gyrating practically naked to the beat of music, men and women grabbing each other in lust, and other disturbing scenes which would not be appropriate to describe in this article. Not that I have anything against such videos, but if they could portray such obvious pornography on television (and I won’t even mention the lack of storyline!), then I ask, why not country music videos, which are generally more pleasing than such obscenities? In fact, not only are they pleasing, but moving, and with great plot (well, most of them anyway). Some even manage to be witty and poke fun at everyday life. I have seen videos that touched me deeply, while others have made me laugh out loud. What people do not realize is how meaningful most country songs are. They are not all about broken hearts, but also embody the values of family, hard work and living life to the fullest. In fact, I feel that some of the most inspirational songs come from this particular genre.
As I am writing this, one of America’s biggest country stars has already given a great performance to Australian fans, and two more following suit elsewhere. Even in Australia, the people know how to appreciate good music. Maybe it is because an Australian country singer made it big in the US and across the world (think Keith Urban), but even so, they have a larger demographic who are country-friendly. Even China produces a devout group of country music listeners. They have websites and forums dedicated to this genre, constantly keeping tab on the Billboard Country charts in the US. Is it not rather embarrassing how a country whose mother tongue isn’t even English could fall in love with such songs, while we Malaysians avoid them like the plague? Malaysians apparently dislike the country twang present in most songs of this genre (particularly Jamey Johnson) but others like Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts and Sugarland have all but abandoned the alleged twang in their songs. These are the modern types of country music, which should logically appeal to a younger demographic even in Malaysia, but oddly they do not. Perhaps it is because nobody knows they even exist, thanks to the Malaysian media’s refusal to highlight country artists.
It’s hard to believe that people used to love country music back in the good old days. Johnny Cash, John Denver and others were big names with the older generation. There was an age when country music was popular in Malaysia. That is why whenever we visit a branch of Popular, we see a compilation CD entitled ‘Country Classics’, with the picture of a cowboy hat on the cover. These are the songs our parents used to enjoy back then. What happened? Why did the love for country music in Malaysia suddenly vanish into thin air? What has turned the current generation from the beauty of country music? Did the tradition simply die off as we moved into a new century? Did modernization chase away the good old country? I highly doubt it, since this genre is still alive and well in the US, and the other countries I have mentioned earlier. So, what is wrong with Malaysians that they fail to appreciate good music? Nevertheless, I am sure there are some of you who do love country music as much as I do. If you are one of them, please visit my blog at www.countrify.blogspot.com. On it you will get the latest news about country music in America. I created Countrify for those of us who feel deprived of something good in our country. Music is a tool that brings people together, and that is what I shall strive for; the revival of country music in Malaysia.
Jern Siong is an AUSMAT student at Sunway University College. An avid reader and fan of country music, he keeps a close tab on entertainment news and supports gay rights.