George Strait is no stranger to style changes in country music. In his nearly four-decade-long career, he’s seen the format constantly phase in and out of pop trends. In a recent interview with the Dallas Observer, Strait shared his thoughts on modern country music and shed some light on the cyclical nature of the genre.
“The country music scene is always changing, and the music is always changing,” said Strait. “I’ve seen the pendulum swing this way and back this way. It’s very country, and then not so country. I think right now it’s kind of trending back to more traditional country music, which is what I like and I like to do.”
Strait also said that he doesn’t discourage anyone who is achieving success in the country music business today because it “is just tough.” No doubt.
Strait’s comments on how country music was changing in a similar way when he began his career in the early 1980s were the most illuminating in the interview.
“I think it’s just a natural thing, I don’t know why it is. When I got signed at MCA records in 1981, you had all kinds of things going on, shows like “Pop Goes the Country.” The thing was to get a crossover hit, and that would sell more records. They wanted a pop sounding country song to get the pop music lovers and country music people to buy it. And I never was into any of that. But I came around at the right time. Traditional country music kind of came back and there were a lot of artists who started doing it, like me, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis.”
Country music is rooted in tradition, but, like all major commercial formats, needs to make a profit to survive. Mass audiences demand trendy sounds, but they also eventually become disenfranchised by those trends.
The natural transition from pop-saturated eras in country music is to push for a return to styles that captured the spirit of the genre’s traditions. There’s no doubt that is what is happening today. The era of bro-country is over. While the pop-heavy sound remains dominant, audiences are yearning for a return to the spirit of country music.
Strait added that he doesn’t see much of his “influence out there in country music today.” However, there are a few artists who are clearly inspired by Strait’s music and style. William Michael Morgan recently scored a No. 1 with “I Met A Girl,” a song that sounds like it could be from Strait’s catalog. Neo-traditionalist and newcomer Mo Pitney also has a sound that harkens back to the sound and style of Strait’s music.
I’d wager there will be a few more artists like them on the radio in the near future. I’d also bet that mainstream country music will keep circling around and around in this natural pattern as long as it’s around.