The Death of Genres & The Growth of Country

Johnny Cash Country

On Friday I attended a panel discussion organised by the Country Music Association (CMA). The speakers outlined some compelling statistics to show the growth of Country music in the UK.

  • 39% of UK adults listen to Country music
  • 30% started listening to Country music in the past 5 years
  • 64% of new listeners are UK Millennials
  • 60% of new Millennial listeners listen to Country music daily
  • 57% spend monthly or more often on music
  • 48% Female / 52% Male

Historically one of the biggest barriers to Country music was the very name Country music. For previous generations of UK music fans Country music has been perceived as naff, and hokey, associated with images of Cowboy hats, NASCAR fans and song titles like…

Drop Kick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts Of Life,  Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns In The Bed, Get Your Tongue Outta My Mouth ‘Cause I’m Kissing You Goodbye or Her Teeth Were Stained, But Her Heart Was Pure….you get the picture.

Of course, there have been a few outliers, Johnny Cash (At one point responsible for 30% of all country music sales in the UK) and his Rick Rubin-produced, American series of albums, which bought a stripped back, country re-working of artists including his outstanding and haunting reinvention of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.

The younger member of my team point to The Dixie Chicks or even early Taylor Swift but it’s hard to make too much of a case for either for mainstream country artists in the UK.

So what’s driving this impressive growth among young UK audiences? One hypothesis is streaming services, 18-21s represent approximately 30% of Spotify subscribers (their largest single age bracket). However, it’s not just their presence on Spotify that is driving the growth of Country music, that is more likely explained by Spotify’s decision to move away from Genres to mood-based playlists.

The explosion in consumption of Country music has been by osmosis. Country music has been added to playlists alongside other non-country artists. For the first time, listeners are listening with the prejudice, they are not hearing Country, they are hearing music, and when they like it, they save it and add it to more playlists.

The Spotify playlist has operated like a Trojan horse, allowing fans to listen to Country music without the baggage of the genre and it’s working brilliantly. This insight ‘When you don’t label and isolate it as Country people listen’ should provide a pretty clue about how to continue this growth. Don’t isolate Country and cling to the negative associations of the genre. (This article was conceived whilst attending the cringe fest which was the (C2C) Country 2 Country Music festival at the O2). Where everything I hate about Country Music was on show: Terrible branding, terrible hair, an abundance of hats and boots and dare I say it, some pretty average music. Ok, this might play well to the hardcore, loyalist fans…But the continued growth of Country will come through the normalisation of the genre, that means infiltrating mainstream music festivals like Reading, Glastonbury and Latitude with ‘Country artists’ allowing music fans to fall in love with the music and the artists, not the genre.