What Contemporary Country Music Gets Totally Wrong About the South


When people listen to contemporary country music, they often think of the region it's said to portray: the South. As country music has yielded to pop country, though, the South has become a garish place.

If we believe what country radio tells us, the South is one big small town where girls wear Daisy Dukes, good ol' boys drive Chevys and everyone's a high-functioning alcoholic. While country does often portray a specific Southern lifestyle, it kind of encourages you to forget that this region has brought us a lot of our most quality national culture, including (but not limited to) William Faulkner and Oprah Winfrey.

Here are nine things country music has forgotten about the South.

1. Our roads are paved.

Listening to country radio, you'd think there wasn't a single paved road below the Mason-Dixon. Dirt roads may be common on farms, but visit the South and you're pretty much guaranteed to encounter pavement, and lots of it.

Need proof? Atlanta ranked No. 1 in a study of "sprawling" cities, which, unfortunately, is not a compliment. Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., rounded out the top five, meaning any muddin' expeditions will have to take place well off the beaten path. 

2. There is religious diversity.

With country songs like "Beer with Jesus" gracing the airwaves, one might surmise that every home in the South has at least one Bible or, at the very least, a Bible verse on the front door.

While Christianity is the region's dominant religion, there's still a fair amount of religious diversity. Nashville, while also serving as headquarters for both Lifeway and the Southern Baptist Convention, boasts a high population of Kurdish people, a group predominately rooted in the Sunni Muslim tradition.

3. We have major cities.

Country music loves small towns. If it only has one stoplight, there's probably a song about it.

The South, however, is home to a number of the nation's fastest-growing cities, including Austin, Texas (No. 1), Raleigh, N.C. (No. 2), Dallas (No. 4), Charlotte, N.C. (No. 8), Houston (No. 10) and Atlanta (#12). Nashville is up there, too.

4. Some people don't drive trucks.

Trucks have become as critical to pop country songwriting as guitars and whiskey. Need a storyline? Start with a truck and go from there.

Several Southern cities are actually home to booming auto industries of the non-pickup variety. Volkswagen recently set up shop in Chattanooga, Tenn., and South Carolina is home to plants for BMW, Honda and Daimler. 

5. Women do things too.

The country charts have long been male-dominated, meaning listeners are far more likely to hear a man's take on life in the South than a woman's.

According to the U.S. Census, however, there's a higher population of women than men in the region. And contrary to popular belief, most Southern women prefer to answer to something other than "girl." 

6. We don't all have drinking problems.

It's hard to find a country song that doesn't reference some kind of alcohol. This makes a degree of sense, given that Tennessee and Kentucky export most of the world's greatest spirit, whiskey (or bourbon, for our Kentuckians), but don't think we're all driving around with six-packs looking for the next riverbank.

According to the Wall Street Journal, only one (Texas) out of the top 10 beer-consuming states is in the South.

7. Most of us have never baled hay.

According to country music, hay-baling is a popular way to pre-game a big night out in a small town.

Despite the South's agricultural history, a lot of Southerners wouldn't know the first thing about baling hay — only three of the top 10 agricultural engineering programs are in Southern states. And again, most of us aren't farmers or even from farming families.

8. 'Ain't' isn't a Southern verbal tic.

If there's any word more overused in country music than "truck," it's "ain't." The oft-maligned contraction is frequently attributed to Southern speakers, but actually has roots in 17th-century aristocracy. With the South boasting some of the nation's greatest schools, like Vanderbilt and Wake Forest universities, rest easy knowing we value grammar just as much as you do.

9. The food isn't always fried.

Thanks to country anthems like "Chicken Fried," most people picture Southerners chowing down on KFC in between gulps from a jumbo sweet tea. Nashville has definitely cornered the market on hot chicken, but the South boasts a wide range of cuisines that don't always require a deep-fryer. With nationally recognized restaurants like Charleston's Husk and Nashville's Rolf & Daughters, there's never been a better time to eat in the South. Except maybe for nighttime, quittin' time and summertime. Those are always the best times.