One of the older jokes I know — and I’m sure you have heard it as well — goes like this: if you rewind a country song, your truck starts, your wife returns, and your dog comes back to life. People still recite that joke as though nobody has heard it, just as artists continue to play country songs as though nobody has heard them: though the subject matter in the genre has slowly evolved in the last few decades, many blogs have highlighted the newest recurrent themes and tropes that seem to be generated from a universal checklist titled, “Things To Include In Your #1 Hit.” 

Last week, a YouTube video constructed by user, “Sir Mashalot,” garnered a lot of attention. Three different people sent the link to me during a two-day period, presumably because I am the only person they know of that listens to country: it is a stigmatized genre that seems to stand alone, attracting an isolated grouping of fans.

I even heard a five-minute spot on “All Things Considered, in which NPR’s Melissa Block confesses to liking country music prior to interviewing the man behind the mash-up. This is the highly-regarded video in question that presumably took one or two hours to construct on ProTools:

That is not an unfair grouping of six songs you might hear on the radio in a given hour. But the lyrics regarding fields, trucks, and late nights with tan-legged women offer critics a false sense of superiority — to be sure, that low-hanging fruit is certainly there if you are hungry, and many of the biggest hits these days are of the suddenly ubiquitous “bro-country” variety that deal with those tired subjects. But, ultimately, these are pop songs: they should be loved and evaluated as such. The beauty of each song rests in the word play, the punch lines, and the general feeling generated when listening to them.

Sometimes it is the sheer audacity of the continuing search for the lowest common denominator exhibited in the songwriting that makes them interesting — if a song called “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” could reach #1 a full fifteen years ago, it would be unfair to expect songwriters to do anything but try and find out exactly how little they can put into a song before the fans cry foul. If you want to hold your nose in the air at that notion, go for it: I’m sure these country artists and songwriters will be too busy banking millions of dollars to notice. And I will continue to drive around in my car listening to their songs, stubbornly finding nuances that you might not. Ultimately, what sells dictates the product that is being generated, and — like it or not — the six mashed-up songs were all commercial successes (some of them prodigiously so). You are more than welcome to blame folks like me for making that statement true.

Sir Mashalot is not highlighting anything revelatory: even popular artists from Nashville have scored hits in satirizing and attacking these repetitive motifs. Duo Maddie & Tae just reached #1 on the hot country charts with a scathing critique of the direction their genre has gone, lending a voice to the oft-objectified “Girl In A Country Song,” — that emotionless female caricature that seems to exist only in the passenger seat of a country boy’s truck on a Friday night.

“Girl In A Country Song” was released in 2014, months before Sir Mashalot made his video. But you could go all the way back to 1975 to find David Allen Coe’s hit, “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a similarly satirical attack on Nashville songwriters’ lack of imagination:

(Spoken): “Well a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote (this) song
And he told me it was the perfect country and western song
I wrote him back a letter and I told him it was not the
Perfect country and western song because he hadn’t said
Anything at all about momma or trains or trucks or prison or gettin’ drunk

Well he sat down and wrote another verse to this song
And he sent it to me and
After reading it I realized that my friend had written the
Perfect country and western song
And I felt obliged to include it on this album
The last verse goes like this here

(Sung): Well I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
And I went to pick her up in the rain
But before I could get to the station in the pick-up truck
She got runned over by a damned old train!”

Coe, via the songwriting of Steve Goodman, offers a candid outline of the topics a country hit was supposed to touch on in 1975: momma, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk.

In other words, the idea that “all country songs sound the same,” and discuss similar content, is something that has been examined and reexamined for generations, by folks both within and outside of the genre’s seemingly thick walls. To create a mash-up of six country songs that have similar structures and lyrics is a tired, unoriginal idea that functions only to illustrate something we already knew.

The more pressing issue in Nashville is that country music is desperately lacking a female perspective. Maddie & Tae’s success might prove that the genre is ready to sing a new tune, but if you look at the charts, the industry is currently being dominated by male artists — just three of this week’s top-25 country songs were sung by women. There are only two undisputed female superstars in the genre today (Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert). And, of course, there are up-and-comers like RaeLynn who are content preaching that “God Made Girls” to serve the needs of men, maybe partially because conforming is the easiest way to break into Nasvhille’s incestuous, misogynistic scene.

Yes, perhaps this is actually what Sir Mashalot — whose real name is Greg Todd — is getting at when he bleeds six country songs together: where is the diversity? Why do the genre’s gender relations seem to be trapped in the 1950s? And that is what we should ultimately gain from his mash-up: not that all the songs sound the same because it is an unrefined genre of music, but that the genre as a whole lacks a balance in perspective. And if you think that imbalance makes it an unrefined genre, you are more than entitled to that opinion.

But if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: Todd, himself, has declared that he is going to write a song that follows those six songs’ winning formula.

“At the very least, they can’t tell me it doesn’t sound like a hit,” he says.

Indeed, Todd has to like his chances of having his song made into a hit, as he possesses the most important prerequisite for being successful in Nashville: Greg Todd has a penis.

And that is no joke.