I have one very strong opinion on country music. It’s also a very specific one. That is, handsome men typically make very bad country music.
This theory developed when thinking about how people wax nostalgic for the country music of the 1970s. I understand it, that was arguably the peak of the genre, and I also noticed some similarities between the men who made it: they were all ugly. Willie Nelson looks like a hippie burnout, Johnny Cash looked like he got in a fight with a truck and lost, Merle Haggard lived up to his last name and Conway Twitty was basically the spitting image of the drunkest of your dad’s friends. The handsomest of the Highwaymen, Kris Kristofferson, still looked like a guy who didn’t understand the words “skin care regimen.”
But where it actually is helpful is with modern country music. Wilco is not quite mainstream, but lead singer Jeff Tweedy isn’t exactly the image of beauty, and one of the most acclaimed country artists of the past several years, Chris Stapleton, is pretty much just a mountain of hair.
As a result, I developed my biases in the genre, that being that handsome men make bad country music. It doesn’t apply to any other genre.
There is actually logic behind this. It’s not that handsome people can’t make good country music, they probably can. Instead, it’s that handsome men have access to resources that the ugly ones don’t, and those resources actually make their music worse.
They are granted the keys to the kingdom, and one of the rooms those keys unlock is the room filled to the brim with songs that will definitely be hits. Songs that hit a checklist, hopping between a conservative Christian faith, farm equipment and getting drunk in barns. Songs, and entire albums, that feel written by committee in order to sell to target markets. Songs that have been market researched to the end of their life, giving you by-the-numbers albums that are boring and, quite frankly, bad.
And those albums of bad songs are marketed with a fresh faced young man with a good voice and impeccable skin. They’re easy to market, look at this nice boy, wouldn’t you like to drink beer with him?
The reason ugly men make better country music would not be due to their looks, but because they aren’t easily plugged into a machine. If Stapleton was plugged into the cover of a Luke Bryan album it would look absolutely bizarre. They can’t be marketed as nice young men you can have a beer with, and they aren’t going to get the committee approved songs because they’re not going to be the ones that can sell them.
As a result, they have to rely on their skills as writers and musicians to have a career. They can’t rely on having a good marketing team and a pile of songwriters to give them singles that will hit all the key demographics for a country music hit. They make better music because they have to, since they don’t get access to the same machine.
The best music is by people who did not have an easy time getting on the radio. That’s not because you need to suffer to make good art, but because they are the people who had to make exceptional art to get noticed. Sometimes it seems like it’s a bit too easy for a handsome man to make a country music album.