I’ve always hated country music. Despised it. For one thing, there’s something about its chord progressions that heavily bores me. Country also reminds me of the duller moments in life, like waiting for a car repair at an auto shop or drinking at a crappy bar. Then, as Entertainment Weekly writer Grady Smith proved to us last week, 2013’s mainstream country hits all centered around ridiculously cliche topics such as driving trucks down dirt roads and drinking alcohol with girls in skinny jeans.
Now I’m a big fan of electronic dance music, but when I learned Swedish DJ Avicii’s recent debut album True contained a few country/EDM crossover songs, I rolled my eyes so hard I think I went blind for a week. The last country/dance crossover I recalled was the (also Swedish) band Rednex’s 1994 rendition of “Cotton Eye Joe,” a very annoying do-si-do one-hit-wonder that best remains buried under the pile of barnyard manure where it was conceived.
However, over the summer I heard and enjoyed Avicii and Aloe Blacc’s country-ish EDM collaboration “Wake Me Up.” (For one thing, I already recognized Blacc from Wax Tailor’s song “Time To Go” and loved his R&B voice.) Last month I listened to Avicii’s more recent single “Hey Brother” on a music TV channel and found it interesting, to say the least. I decided I had to download it and give it some more attention to decide if I liked it.
I concluded that I did in fact like “Hey Brother” a lot. For one thing, it doesn’t sound like a typical lifeless country tune. Rather than just relying on a mid-tempo twanging guitar and vocals, it is supported by a (probably fake or sampled) brass section and bass drum that provides an energetic up-tempo pulse. But the presumably computerized beat and horns are supported by a more “human” sounding guitar and strings that give the urban European nightlife jam its rural folk sound.
Unlike “Cotton Eye Joe” which is annoying and about nothing, “Hey Brother” actually communicates a message. It’s about loving your siblings and always being there for them. This is a stark contrast to Grady Smith’s observations that 2013’s country music was about beer and mudding. “Hey Brother” has a touching music video too with its nostalgic portrayal of childhood summers mixed with the reality of war. I do question why it’s about the U.S. and the Vietnam War when Avicii is Swedish. Kind of feels like he sold out to give the song American appeal, but the video is still one of the most moving I’ve seen in a while.
Does this mean I’ll finally open up to country music? No. I still dislike the genre for the reasons stated at the top. But Avicii’s song is an exception. I’d also like to add that while “Cotton Eye Joe” is a silly song with no intent besides to get dancers moving, “Hey Brother” is much more than that. It’s an adventurous fusion of two rarely-mixed genres that works, and it contains well written lyrics.
As of today “Hey Brother” is #71 on iTunes and #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It could gain popularity and move up in the coming weeks but I honestly would be content if it already peaked. It’s a great song that has gained the moderate attention it deserves (including use in an NJOY e-cigarette commercial, which I find questionable). If it’s not exhausted by Top 40 radio overplay like “Wake Me Up” was, then “Hey Brother” will stay enjoyable for the years to come.