I Pretended to Like Country Music Even Though I Didn't. Here's Why.
Updated: Apr 17
Outside of Kacey Musgraves and Carrie Underwood, I cannot stand anything to do with country music. I understand that for some it emits a romantic fantasy of strong charming men with Southern accents or slow dancing in a barn to an acoustic guitar song. I get the appeal. (I don't). But for me, all it brings up is old white people waving Confederate flags and being fearful for my life.
But if you’d asked me my sophomore year of college what I was listening to, I would’ve told you I loved Jason Aldean and Brett Eldredge. That I was bumping the new Lady Antebellum (which means pre-Civil War south by the way) and it was my absolute fave! Really, all of that was a lie I had created to convince myself, and my majority white friends, that I could be one of them and not something “other”.
After growing up in the ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse New York City, conformity wasn’t something I’d learned to do. We had kids from the Upper East Side in English class with kids from Bushwick. I was on the cheerleading team with girls from Rockaway and Brownsville. There was a mutual understanding that people were different and none of us were in any place to judge. It’s not that I hadn’t been one of few before, because that was certainly not the case. It was that for most of my experience, it had never been an issue with my peers. Of course there were people with prejudices. But they were so easy to ignore when everyone else was so culturally educated. None of that interfered with my ability to connect with the people around me. From my naïve high school point of view, racists were only really in the South and I had no fear of running into them after graduation.
So to say that my primarily white and not-as-liberal-as-you’d-think college gave me culture shock, was an understatement. I hadn’t learned that minorities had to cluster together in order to find one another. I’d always been surrounded by minorities. I didn’t know that there was such a harsh distinct racial barrier between clubs and groups on campus. Almost anyone could join anything at my old school. And I certainly didn’t know that whiteness was The Standard for everything at this school.
When I found myself surrounded only by white women (which was partially my own doing for not seeking out women of color) I wasn’t initially alarmed. I had been in spaces before where I was one of few before, but it hadn’t done much to make me feel smaller or less than. Not until then.
I realized that the way I spoke, the way I dressed, the things I was interested in didn’t align with the people I had surrounded myself with. They forcedly tried to relate to me i.e telling me that they loved rap music, that they had so bravely travelled into Brooklyn once, or their parents had taken a vacation to a Caribbean island (not the one I was from but it's all the same right). This feeling of otherness was confusing to me. How could I, the most painfully outgoing person, feel like she didn’t belong?
Feeling like I lacked any other options, I started to conform. I did the things the girls around me did, or at least I tried. I shopped at the same stores even though I didn’t particularly like the clothes. I talked about the boys that my friends thought were cute, even though I found them boring, unattractive, or both. But the big ringer was listening to country music.
I didn’t realize at the time that what I was doing was going out of my way to lie. I couldn’t care less for the guitars or the drinking in parking lots or dreams of finding a true Southern gentleman. But I was so desperate to relate to these girls, that pretending for a little while didn't seem so bad. I thought it was a price I could handle.
Until one night, I went to a party with my roommates instead of my normal group of friends. I didn’t really know where we were going but it was obvious upon arrival it wasn’t one of the house parties I had grown so accustomed to going to.
There had to have been at least a hundred people there. And I was surprised when I heard dancehall blasting from the speakers. I remember smiling thankfully to the heavens that I wouldn’t have to muffle the words to another Brad Paisley song I didn’t know.
As I danced outside with my roommates, I felt more like myself than I had in a long time.
One of my roommates looked at me and said, “I wish we saw this side of you more often”.
It was then that I had to acknowledge that the mask I had been wearing for two months was slipping and I felt no desire to put it back on. So what if I hated country music? Who really cared if I did not want to tailgate in a dusty parking lot while people drank beers?
So I stopped. I deleted all of the Zac Brown Band from my playlists and haven’t looked back since. And guess what? My friends were still my friends. They just went to tailgates and I didn’t. We found other things to talk about. We aligned ourselves in ways outside of their norms, and sometimes out of mines. And if we couldn't find anything to talk about now that I was done playing pretend? Then that wasn’t someone I needed to be spending my time with. At the end of the day, I was honest with myself about the things I didn’t want to be apart of. And learning that who I am in any and every context is perfect acceptable is a lesson I’m thankful I had as a sophomore, and not as a full blown adult. Who I am now is nonnegotiable, and I have no fears of telling anyone that now.
I guess all I have to say in conclusion is: stream Old Time Road, because it is the only exception for country music that I’m going to make.