This post is largely a reaction to the growing criticism around Luke Bryan’s latest single, “Light You Up” where he’s essentially obsessed with his phone and the hope that his lover might text him. Now, while what I’m about to say may sound like I’m defending Luke here, keep in mind I’m only seeking to play devil’s advocate (that is, give Luke partial credit before I go back to being against his song later on). Anyway, the absolute biggest complaint I’ve seen about this song is that it’s being sung by Luke Bryan. A song about being obsessed with a cell phone is not something a forty-one year old married male with children should be singing about. It’s immature.
Now, to branch off a bit, I’m going to talk a little more about “Light It Up” and offer some more chatter on the song before I get to my point. First of all, let’s face it – being obsessed with your cell phone these days isn’t limited to an age. Hell, I’m sure most people reading this are likely reading it from a cellular device, and most may have even clicked on the link to this piece from when I shared it on social media. It’s just the world we live in today, and that’s okay. What’s weird about this particular song is how overwrought it is. He’s obsessed with his phone because he’s hoping his lover will text him back. I mean, I get it I guess, but again, you don’t need to be in this situation to be obsessed with your phone these days. It’s not quite that dramatic.
Anyway, let’s move on. When it comes to age in country music, I think we’re looking at it all wrong. With the way modern mainstream country music is heading, it seems like different parts of your life coincide with different events that should happen. Childhood or pre-teen years? Forget about them. They don’t exist. Once you hit twenty-one it’s all good in the hood at country radio. Even though many male country artists are well above this age group, you still often hear songs sung from the perspective of a younger person looking to well…do what all twenty-one year olds obviously do – party their brains out. After twenty-one you jump right to forty-five, which in country radio terms usually means you retire and become an old fart.
Obviously real life doesn’t play out this way, nor is it the fancy lifestyle that so many artists love to clamor it up as. Still though, I’d argue that someone like Luke Bryan or Cole Swindell singing from the perspective of a younger age isn’t the problem. Really, when it comes to age in music, I view it the same way I view authenticity – we’re all just mixing it up regular old taste.
Is Luke Bryan really obsessed with his phone because of a woman? Of course not. Again, he’s married. Come on though, let’s not try and hold every artist’s feet to the fire for not living out the songs they sing. I’m going to get so much shit for this, but think about it, did Johnny Cash actually shoot a man in Reno? No, but it made for a great song. We’re coming down harder on Luke because his song simply isn’t a good song. It’s as simple as that.
Still, this age thing does make for a fascinating case study. I mean, how can someone as young as twenty-five year old Kacey Musgraves (I know she’s twenty-nine, I’m simply referring to her age at this time the following event happened) write a song as compelling and brutally honest (and dark) about small town life with “Merry Go Round”? You’d think if someone as young as her could write a song with as much depth as that then all twenty-five year olds should be able to, right? So why is it that I hear the 2011 version of Hunter Hayes (19 at the time) singing about typical topics at his age such as young love, and well….young love? Surely all young artists should be able to write a song about small town life in the same dark and depressing way as Kacey did. I do want to point out too that these artists are being used solely for the sake of example. There are many more that I could substitute in instead.
If we were to go by the “artists should act their age” model, then hell, I wonder when we’ll be getting that new George Strait song about him popping his Viagra pills. When we think of age in country music, we’re thinking of the current situation they’re in at their lives and the limitations they face at their respective ages. What really makes for a good country song isn’t necessarily one that comes from someone who acts their age, but rather someone who reflects on their experiences. In other words, someone who uses hindsight rather than the here and now.
So to answer our question about why Kacey was and is such a compelling writer at a young age, it’s because she’s obviously got a lot of experience and observations about life to craft more than just a simple love song or party song. At the time that I’m writing this, I’m twenty years old. I don’t do what a lot of people my age do. I like country music of all shapes and sizes, I don’t like parties, I like to read, I like to write, and I like to do a lot of other esoteric stuff. What can I write about?
Well, I could write about the death of a friend of mine that I experienced in my senior year of high school. Cody Jinks has a song about losing a friend called “David”. I could write a song about helping to take care of a grandmother with dementia and watching her slip farther and farther away everyday. Kenny Chesney has a song like that called “While He Still Knows Who I Am”. Both Cody and Kenny are far older than me. What’s the difference? Nothing. Age is nothing except for a number, my friends.
One rising artist who I’m extremely excited about is a guy by the name of Christian Lopez. I like his music because he knows how to write a good melody and incorporate some meatier instrumentation, but his writing does leave some to be desired. He was nineteen when he released his debut album, Onward and will be twenty-two when he releases his upcoming album, Red Arrow. So far, a lot of what he sings about are simple themes such as young love. Am I going to knock him for that? No. I’m sure he’s got better experiences to draw on, but maybe he’s also experiencing life the normal way a person his age does. I don’t know. We’re all different people who come from different backgrounds and face certain events in life much quicker than others. An artist like Koe Wetzel draws a ton of flack for being a party guy, but for a guy in his young twenties, maybe those are the experiences he’s most comfortable with. Who knows. As always, it should all come down to “is the song good or not” rather than, “are they acting their age?”
Now, when I say artists should speak from experience, I guess I’m asking them to be real and honest about their life, eh? It’s as if I’m saying these artists should be authentic and only talk about themselves. Not exactly, although it might be a peculiar paradox I’ve set up here. Experience comes in many shapes and sizes, and some may communicate that through stories or some other deep metaphors. That’s the power of a song really. What I’m ultimately trying to say is that artists should use the tools they’ve picked up in life to help shape who they are and the music they want to make, not what’s going on right here and now.
So in the end, did I defend Luke’s song? Well yeah, I guess a little. I’m sure that Luke, like all of us is probably a little too engrossed in the technological culture that we reside in, however at the end of the day, I still think it’s a bad song. Again, that’s all it should come down to. Don’t worry if Luke is acting his age, worry about whether he made good music or not. I can’t decide that last one for you. You have to make up your own mind on that. However, I ultimately view age the same way I view authenticity – something that’s stupid, petty, and ultimately should be eradicated in a discussion about music.
Author: Zackary Kephart