Country music has, for the most part, aligned itself with what are referred to as “traditional American values.” No one has a clear cut definition of what those are, but they usually include a strong sense of patriotism (or, more realistically, jingoism), and a nostalgic yearning that things were better when families came with a mom and a dad, mom stayed at home and looked after the kids and had dinner waiting on the table, Dad drove an American-made car (preferably a truck) from his 9-to-5 job, and they went to church every Sunday. Add in that they usually lived in middle America or the south and considered New York a place they might want to visit, but definitely didn’t want to live.
While there are plenty of songs on country radio still espousing that kind of lifestyle (despite the fact that it reflects an ever-diminishing reality), what’s interesting is that country artists, who are for the most part very reluctant to discuss politics or religion, are starting to become much more vocal about embracing a broader world view. (“Vocal” is the key word here because there are plenty of country artists who are not conservative, but other than Tim McGraw, they tend not to discuss their views publicly).
Brad Paisley is the latest to counter the “good-old-boy” stereotype. On Sunday, he posted a selfie with members of Westboro Baptist Church, who were boycotting his show for reasons that aren't totally clear, but seem to do with his song “Alcohol,” a funny ditty about what happens when you are over served. (We’re guessing they’ve never heard his heartbreaking tune, “Whiskey Lullaby,” with Alison Krauss, also about over-indulging). He’s looking very bemused into the camera and his Twitter caption reads “Westboro Baptist Selfie!! Or west-Burro(ass) selfie. Hopefully, they can hear the show out here. We’ll play loud.” (Paisley, to be fair, has always embraced a great awareness of the world around him, whether in "Welcome To the Future" or his much maligned, but well intentioned "Accidental Racist.")
Vince Gill also recently tangled with the Westboro crowd: they protested his show because he’s divorced and because he married Amy Grant, who has been open about her support of gays. He came out swinging and really had some choice words for the hate mongers. In a video since taken down, Gill interacted with the protesters who wanted to know what he was doing “with another man’s wife.”
“I came out to see what hatred really looks like in the face,” he said to the protesters and then, as he got really mad, added “Don’t you know that you f**kers are lucky that you don’t have a sign that says something about my wife?” and took them to task for not preaching Jesus’ message of forgiveness and tolerance.
Speaking of tolerance, more and more country artists are speaking out in favor of gay marriage, a topic that once was very taboo and remains Westboro's public enemy No. 1. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles told the Advocate in a February interview, that the fight for gay marriage “should have already been behind us.” Keith Urban was caught on camera crying happy tears during the same and opposite-sex marriage ceremony performed during this year’s Grammy Awards and later told Rolling Stone Country, “love is love.” Carrie Underwood initially caught flack from fans in 2012, when, if not downright endorsing marriage equality, stated that she didn't want to be told who she can marry. A year later, she preached a message of "acceptance" to Allure, stating, "I feel no matter who you are, what you believe, how you live your life, it's not my place to judge." That may not be the same thing as bluntly saying, "Yes, I believe in marriage equality," but it's not backing down from the issue either.
To be sure, there’s no openly flag-waving progressive on the country charts and there’s certainly not an openly gay country act on the charts (With all due respect, for all of Chely Wright’s protestations that coming out hurt her country career, she hadn’t had a country hit in years by the time she published her autobiography). But artists like Kacey Musgraves, who got away with lines like “kiss lots of boys or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into” in her song “Follow Your Arrow” point to a greater openness (even though the song stalled at 43 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart).
More than anything, these actions create a dialogue and show that country is moving to a more moderate, tolerant position, which is likely in line with the majority of country fans.