Has country music really gone to hell in a handbag, the way classic C&W fans like to claim it has? Writer Peter Lewis decided to investigate, taking a scientific, systematic approach to the issue in a semi-comedic piece for Medium called “What Happened To Country Music?” Since purists gripe that “bittersweet songs about bad luck and heartbreak” have been replaced by “interchangeable party anthems and syrupy love songs,” Lewis analyzed the lyrics to some Billboard country chart-toppers to see whether or not that were true. To get the project down to a manageable size, Lewis says that he “decided to use every tenth year as a sample: 2015, 2005, 1995.” He then started sorting the songs into categories, assigning them tags like WCYBT (why can’t you be true) or CGOY (can’t get over you). Through this process, he was eventually able to devise the four major themes of hit country songs: “It’s All Over,” “It’s Not Working Out,” “Love & Devotion,” and “The Right Way To Live.” And since nothing is credible until it’s turned into a colorful chart, Lewis translated his numbers into a handy infographic. All kidding aside, what he found was remarkable.
Songs about the right way to live were not even a factor in 1965, but they’re a huge part of the business in 2015. Lewis explains that this type of song “had a dominant theme of pride and homespun wisdom.” This is where one finds those aforementioned party anthems, too. Hymns to love and devotion are way more popular now than they were 50 years ago. Variants identified by Lewis include themes like “They Said We’d Never Make It” and “Back Together.” On the other hand, the category that has fallen the most over the previous half-century is “It’s Not Working Out.” This group, containing songs about failing relationships, represented a huge percentage of country music back in 1965. But those songs have been virtually squeezed out of existence, at least as far as Billboard is concerned, in 2015. People would rather hear about partying, it seems.