In Culture Shook, hosts Mia Mamone and Maia Brown dive in deep to random parts of the current pop culture zeitgeist. This week’s topic – Yeehaw or Yeenah? What is country music? Special guest Jake Liker joins to be quizzed. Also, we analyze "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X.
Mia Mamone: Hello everyone, thank you for joining us for the inaugural episode of Culture Shook. I’m Mia Mamone.
Maia Brown: And Maia Brown, and we are way too invested in the lives of famous people that we don’t know.
Mia: That being said, our expertise on very niche topics in the zeitgeist inspired us to start this program, where we will go way more in depth than anyone probably should when it comes to entertainment.
Maia: This week’s topic – Yeehaw or Yeenah? What is country music? We are joined by an esteemed guest, L.A.’s greatest, Jake Liker. Jake, would you like to introduce yourself briefly?
Jake Liker: Wow. Wow. L.A.’s greatest. I’ve never felt so honored. I’m excited, I’m intrigued, I listened to Kacey Musgraves’ album, like, the other day. Basically I'm a country music expert now. By the way, I was not given a script, I don't know what the rundown is here at all. I'm finding this out with you, the listener.
Maia: Okay, so country music gets a bad rap, but the genre has a very special place in both mine and Mia's hearts, as Southerners.
Mia: For those of you who don't know, I spent the first 18 years of my life in the great state of Oklahoma, where I was subjected to listen to country music against my will every single day. I like to think I can recognize good country when I hear it. I have to admit it's not all bad.
Maia: So I'm pretty sure my dad was playing the Dixie Chicks in the delivery room when I was born. There really wasn't a chance of me not having a special relationship with country, despite the constant ridicule and character assassination that I receive from my Northwestern peers, I refuse to turn my back on the genre that raised me.
Mia: Like "The House That Built Me," if you will.
Jake: I was just about to say that. See, I am prepared for this! My mom loves that song.
Mia: Julie Liker likes Miranda Lambert?
Jake: Just that one particular song, she just loves that one particular song, it always gets her.
Maia: It's a fantastic country song!
Mia: Speaking of country music, we clearly have to talk about the country bop of the year. In your words, Maia, what happened with “Old Town Road”?
Maia: Well Mia. On Dec. 3, 2018, Georgia native Lil Nas X birthed the song that shaped a generation. “Old Town Road” the most seamless blend of hip-hop and country since Hannah Montana's “Hoedown Throwdown – became a viral sensation months later.
Jake: I'm not convinced that that was either hip-hop or country.
Maia: She said “country-fy then hip-hop it.”
Mia: Put your hawk in the sky...
Maia: Move side to side! The hoedown was the country, the throwdown was the hip-hoppin’. Anyway, “Old Town Road” eventually reached number 19 on the Billboard country songs chart, and then they disqualified it because Billboard hates Black people, and you may quote me on that. Then Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on the remix, and now everyone's arguing about whether or not the song counts as country because a white man's on it.
Mia: There's lots of drama. But Maia and I personally think that it’s clear is a country song.
Maia: If "Red" by Taylor Swift can be on the country charts, then so can this song.
Mia: I mean, “Old Town Road,” it literally uses every single buzzword of country music. Horse, boots, tractor, porch, baby, Wrangler.
Jake: Okay, you have your first culture shook moment of this series.
Mia: Yes, yes?
Jake: I didn't – I never really considered “porch” as a country staple.
Mia: Oh my god, yeah.
Jake: But as soon as you mentioned it I was like, wow.
Mia: Yeah, sitting on the porch.
Jake: They love their porches.
Mia: Drinking, hanging out with your sweetheart, or what have you. Porches are a big thing, because it's always hot outside in the South, so.
Maia: And you drink your tea, you wear those floppy hats.
Mia: You drink your sweet tea...
Jake: Out of your mason jars that have been apparently culturally appropriated by the good people at Cupitol.
Maia: I'm about to tell you the crux of this issue, which is that country music is all about connecting to rural nature, and the concept of home. We talked about "The House that Built Me" minutes before – that's what country is. And what could fit that more quintessentially than the phrase 'I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road'?
Mia: It's definitely more of like, a state of mind or an attitude. It's, like, the general vibe that the song gives off.
Maia: At the end of the day, “Old Town Road” is a country and a hip-hop song, and I don't know why we have to force it into one box. Hannah got to have the best of both worlds – yes, I did – with “Hoedown Throwdown,” so why can't Lil Nas X? Alright, now to our main segment. We realized that none of your Northerners know what country truly is, so we decided that we'd invite Jake, as one of our most citified friends, to play a little game with us. Mia, would you like to explain it?
Mia: Absolutely. We like to call this game "Yeehaw or Yeenah." Basically, we'll play a very short clip of a song, and Jake will have to tell us whether or not he thinks it is a proper country song.
Maia: Would you like to talk about your relationship with country music...
Mia: Or lack thereof!
Maia: If you have one?
Jake: My relationship with country music is Carrie Underwood.
Jake: I know some of her songs.
Jake: They're good. I like them.
Jake: Also, “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum.
Mia: Oh HELL yeah.
Maia: Alright, so we've got the first song ready to go. Jake, are you emotionally prepared for this?
Jake: As emotionally prepared as I'll ever be, yeah.
[Music: "Happy and Sad" by Kacey Musgraves]
Jake: Yeah. She said “yee.” Kacey said “yee.”
Mia: She didn't say fucking yee!
Maia: She did NOT say fucking yee.
Jake: She did there. That's country music.
Maia: Jake Liker, I have to disagree with you. I do. This songs like a straight-up pop song. This doesn't sound like country to me.
Mia: I think it's fair to say, you know, maybe because Kacey obviously does have – and this is Kacey Musgraves for everyone wondering, “Happy and Sad” – she does obviously have the country vibe, because she is partially a country artist. I think this song is just, I don't know if it crosses the threshold.
Maia: That's valid.
Jake: There's a twang! If there's not a twang, it's not country.
Maia: It's all about the twang.
Jake: Or rather, if there is a twang, it is most likely country.
Jake: The tempo fits – I picture this is a sort of weird, like, light red and purple-soaked, inside of a barn, or, I don't know, where do Southerners have proms?
Maia: In the gym!
Mia: In the high school cafeterias or gym. Which, sometimes, are the same room!
Mia: I think there are arguments for both sides.
Maia: So we're ready for the next song, which is something I feel very passionate about. Are you ready?
Jake: Let's do it.
[Music: "Daddy Lessons" by Beyonce]
Jake: I heard “rifle,” I heard “Bible,” this was performed at the American Country Music Awards, I believe. That is a country song. That is – the word “daddy” was in it.
Maia: The Dixie Chicks are on the track.
Mia: He's not wrong.
Maia: No, he isn't, he isn't, he's a hundred percent correct.
Jake: So really the question was, do you define country as whiteness? Because that's the only reason someone could say no.
Maia: And a lot of people did!
Mia: A lot of people do.
Maia: People were upset that Beyonce was there, that she performed that song, that she was trying to "steal" country.
Mia: I mean, the same issue with Lil Nas X, as we discussed earlier. There's a lot of social issues.
Jake: That's fair, that's fair.
Maia: Beyonce is from Houston, Texas. She has the right to make whatever country song she wants. And that is that on that.
Mia: For those of you at home, that was Beyonce's "Daddy Lessons".
Maia: And if you didn't know it...
Mia: That's embarrassing. But just in case.
Maia: You should feel ashamed. Back on track, are you ready for this song? It's apparently very meaningful to Mia, so you better get it right.
Mia: Let's go.
[Music: "You and I" by Lady Gaga]
Maia: Jake is getting it.
Mia: You looked pretty confused there for a second.
Jake: Because I had no idea what song it was.
Maia: So, for those of you at home, that was "You and I" by Lady Gaga.
Mia: One of the best songs of all time.
Jake: You shouldn't have told me that. Because now I have to think about my answer to this. I was convinced kind of that it was like, oh, this was early Carrie Underwood maybe, or something. But you gotta realize that if I hear a female country vocalist, I'm going to assume it's Carrie Underwood.
Maia: No matter what.
Jake: And I set this from the onset. Usually.-
Mia: So you think this is country?
Jake: So, I did, but then you said it was Lady Gaga, I was like, 'Oh no, nevermind.'
Mia: Have you seen A Star is Born? Is that music, is “Shallow” a country song?
Jake: We saw that movie together, Mia.
Mia: Okay, wait, you're right.
Maia: But is “Shallow” a country song?
Mia: That was more of a rhetorical question, to be fair.
Jake: So this is where we get into this weird sort of, like, alternative, indie...
Mia: That's fair.
Jake: I feel like what we've – what I feel like I have reached an epiphany with this round of this game is that it is a country song if the artist says it is. It has to be somewhat reasonable.
Maia: It's on Born this Way, believe it or not.
Jake: She wasn't born country, so… So it's not a country song.
Maia: Okay. So do you think “Shallow” is a country song?
Maia: See “Shallow” is complicated, because I feel like, I'm actually on the Jake train now, like the twang does a lot, because the thing about “Shallow” is I feel like it is a country song when Bradley Cooper is singing...
Mia: Until Gaga goes off.
Maia: But it's not when Gaga starts singing.
Mia: I absolutely agree.
Maia: It's not country but it is a bop. I mean, my girl said “Ahhhhhhhh.”
Jake: That was more, like, rock, if anything.
Mia: That's – “You and I”?
Maia: That's fair. It has classic rock, like, influences. But she also says "Nebraska" several times.
Mia: And "daddy." She says, "Only three men I'll serve my whole life: my daddy, Nebraska, Jesus Christ." That's pretty damning toward the country train.
Jake: Wow. Points might have been made. I mean, once you say "daddy," as in many other scenarios, once you say "daddy," everything's off.
Mia: Oh no!
Jake: So, what's the verdict then?
Maia: I think we're going to have to – I think we're going to have to change our minds. I think this is a yeehaw. Alright. We've got one last song. I feel like if you know either of us, you should've seen this coming.
Mia: You should know this song.
Maia: It's very important.
Jake: There's only one song...
Maia: You know what it is.
Mia: Do you know?
Maia: You know, you definitely know what it is.
Jake: Show me, vehicular vandalism!
[Music: "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show]
Mia: Oh! You thought it was...
Jake: That's not "Before he Cheats"!
Mia: I was like, wait, vehicular vandalism?
Jake: Fun fact about Darius Rucker...
Maia: This is NOT Darius Rucker.
Mia: WOAH WOAH WOAH WOAH WOAH.
Maia: WOAAAAAH. Woah. This is NOT Darius Rucker.
Mia: The point of this, for those of you at home, and Jake Liker, specifically, this is the Old Crow Medicine Show version of "Wagon Wheel."
Maia: The original, the only valid one. If you listen to Darius Rucker's version of this song, don't ever approach me in the streets; I will fight you.
Mia: Because a big point to be made is I think they're very different based on who performs it.
[Music: "Wagon Wheel" but performed by Darius Rucker this time]
Jake: Yeah, I don't know which one it is you're playing right now. I'm gonna be honest.
Maia: This is Darius.
Jake: Did you play a different song earlier?
Maia: Yes. Oh my goodness. Jake.
Mia: I posit that Old Crow Medicine Show's version is Americana and it is not country.
Jake: I mean that song, I don't know, I heard a banjo, so it's country in my mind.
Maia: The difference is that folk is a more overarching term that includes a lot more. Country music is a style of folk music. So it's like how a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.
Jake: Yeah, got you.
Mia: I can't think about that for too long.
Maia: I mean, I think that Darius's version is just more performative. He's trying harder to make it country pop. I feel like I could hear the Old Crow Medicine Show version being played at, like, a Woodstock revival, and if someone played the Darius Rucker version I would be upset. I feel like he removes...
Jake: The rural nature?
Jake: Okay, I believe at the beginning of the show, you did say that country music was about rural nature.
Maia: It is about rural nature.
Jake: And you did just say that Darius Rucker removed the rural nature.
Maia: Maybe Jake is right.
Maia: Maybe Old Crow Medicine Show is country, and Darius Rucker is not.
Mia: No. No. No.
Jake: Darius Rucker's version was less country, because it was more pop.
Mia: No. No.
Maia: It's less country, it's more pop, he's right!
Mia: Okay, but I think a hallmark of recent popular country music is that it's pop country. Like, think about Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.
Maia: "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line was a good song.
Mia: No, I'm not saying it's a bad song. When you say country, you really mean country pop, for the really popular country music these days.
Jake: Nah, that's – I disagree.
Maia: I mean, the theme of the episode is that country can be a lot of things. And I actually think that we should call this a draw. Because I see what Jake is saying, and I also see what Mia is saying. And I think that it's a fine conclusion to say that Old Crow Medicine Show's version of “Wagon Wheel” is the biggest musical paradox in existence.
Mia: I would say that that's fair.
Maia: It's the biggest one, just as you are L.A.'s greatest. There's no arguing.
Jake: Woooow. She said “I'm gonna flatter you so you shut the hell up.”
Maia: You're welcome!
Jake: And I said, "Okay. That works for me."
[Music: “Old Town Road” remix by Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus]
Maia: Alright, well, that is that on that. That was “Yeehaw and Yeenah.”
Mia: We have been Mia and Maia. We hope this episode left you properly shook, and that you will tune in next time. You can find this and all other NBN podcasts on iTunes, the Google Play Store and Spotify. We're everywhere. You can’t escape us.
Maia: Our theme music was composed by Tenny Tsang. This is NBN Audio.
Mia: I don't know if we can keep that in. No, we can keep that in the podcast.
Maia: We can keep it, we're keeping it.
Mia: We're not The Daily, it's fine.