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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Trends: ‘Coastal Cowgirl’ and Country Music

Recent country music trends reflect political tension, nostalgia and the romanticization of rural life.

Country Music

“I listen to everything except country,” is a phrase I often hear people use to describe their music taste. But why does the country music genre seem to be so frequently disliked? Now, there are several country music artists that have gained popularity among non-country fanbases. Zach Bryan’s songwriting pulls on listeners’ hearts with country themes of rural America and family. Kelsea Ballerini plays on traditional country themes, with a girly, glitter-pop slant. Cowgirl boots and white flowy dresses are decorating popular fashion sites, and the new aesthetic term “coastal cowgirl” can be found on social media and streaming platforms.

This popular aesthetic and simultaneous country music revival has been a long time coming, largely due to the pandemic and the subsequent romanticization of rural life. During the pandemic, similar aesthetics to “coastal cowgirl” gained popularity like “cottagecore” and “coastal grandmother.” Despite aesthetic fads like these typically being temporary, these three aesthetics embodied feelings of yearning for a slow life, surrounded by nature, while people also felt sick of being stuck at home during quarantine. Music has followed the sentiments in these aesthetic trends, as songwriters who showcase sincerity and authenticity have risen in fame. So, when Noah Kahan’s album “Stick Season” captured home and homesickness surrounding the pandemic, it exploded in popularity. 

As Noah Kahan’s fame skyrocketed around 2022, Zach Bryan’s music also gained immense popularity. While Kahan is more of a folk-infused, pop musician than Bryan, their music has some overlap in that it provokes themes of nostalgia for home and family. For example, Bryan and Kahan both sing about the complex emotions surrounding being home in their small towns. Kahan’s album “Stick Season” and Bryan’s self-titled album tread the border between alternative, country, folk and pop. This begs the question of whether Zach Bryan is popular among non-country music fans because he transcends the country genre, or rather because country music as a whole is reaching new audiences. 

Perhaps country music is, in fact, reaching new audiences, and streaming platforms may be the culprit of this. Spotify, in particular, has picked up on the “coastal cowgirl” trend, curating playlists featuring country artists, such as Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton, along with folk artists like Maggie Rogers and Caamp. Spotify’s playlist named “coastal cowgirl” perfectly encapsulates this aesthetic aura, stating, “put a little yee haw in your laid back.” It also feels necessary to mention Taylor Swift — whose record-breaking Eras Tour took fans through her 17-year discography, which includes her four country albums. Swift has brought global attention to the country genre, making popular culture primed for a country music revival, especially with the expected rerecording of her self-titled debut album. 

While the “coastal cowgirl” phenomena may represent a shift in the country genre’s political bent from traditionally conservative to more liberal, country music today still primarily focuses on working-class American life, giving a voice to blue-collar worker issues and feelings. Inspired by rural Americans, country music originated around the 1920s in the Southern and Southwestern United States and gained a reputation for being catered to working-class Americans, who are typically conservative leaning. In fact, country artists who have recently strayed away from traditional themes have occasionally faced consequences from conservative fans for doing so. 

When Kelsea Ballerini performed at the 2023 CMT Music Awards in April 2023 backed by four drag queens, she faced backlash from conservative country music fans. However, people on social media rallied behind Ballerini, bringing new audiences to her music. She has since released “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat (For Good)” which has received more listeners than the original “Rolling Up the Welcome Mat.” In July 2023, Tyler Childers received backlash for his song “In Your Love” because his music video portrayed two gay coal miners in 1950s Appalachia. The video told the story of the couple who stayed together, despite discrimination, until one fell sick. The video went viral with some conservative fans claiming, “We lost Tyler.” But, Childers has received praise from some for remaining outspoken in his beliefs. 

Country music seems to highlight some of America’s most polarizing issues: It has been, and will continue to be, a reflection of working-class American feelings, while the current trend of “coastal cowgirl” reflects distaste for some aspects of urban life, likely provoked by the pandemic. This romanticization of a rural life exposes a shared feeling of nostalgia and homesickness present in current American consciousness. 

Elle Muller

Elle Muller is a ’24 from Tucson, Arizona. She is double majoring in English and creative writing & theatre. At The Dartmouth, she served as the news executive editor for the 180th Directorate. Before that, she wrote and edited for Arts. In addition to writing, Elle is involved with dance and theatre at Dartmouth.