Discussion: Need to Relate?

The following quote used a country song to make an interesting political point; so I figured I would use the political point to jump-start today’s country music discussion…

Country music legend Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter, captured the America that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin touches in Lynn’s 1971 hit, “One’s on the Way.” The song contrasts the glitzy world of celebrities with the routine of the ordinary life of a woman in Topeka where: “The rain is a fallin’. The faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’, one of ‘em a toddlin’, and one is a crawlin’. And one’s on the way.”

There is a frustration extant in this country … We can’t make [the government] understand — we can’t make them, the celebrities and insiders, the important people, understand.

That’s what’s most refreshing about Palin. She is one of us. Her family is the one where the rain falls and the faucet drips and, no matter what, the family deals with it. These families go to work every day, send their sons and daughters off to fight the country’s wars, nurse their children through crisis, and walk proudly together to face the troubles that come their way.

I’m fascinated by the idea that someone would cast their vote for a candidate simply because they see themselves reflected in that candidate, irregardless of policy positions or experience. However, I’m not particularly surprised. People are intrinsically drawn to the familiar and that which they can personally relate.

Part of the reason I love country music is because it tells human stories—relatable stories—about love, loss, heartache, family and home. However, I relate to some songs and artists more so than others, and it’s those songs and artists that comprise the core of my country music collection.

The question is whether you need to relate to the song or the artist in order to enjoy (or, more importantly, love) the music?

Do you need to be a woman or a redneck to love Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman”? Do you need to be a small town southern man to enjoy Alan Jackson’s recent hit? Did you have to grow up on a farm to not feel stupid singing along to Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”? Do you need to be a teenager to be excited by Taylor Swift’s “Our Song”?

Do you gravitate towards artists to whom you can relate—either personally or musically?


  1. Great question. I guess I really don’t have to relate to the artist. I do, however, have to be able to imagine the situation that he/she is singing about. I live in Maine, so I’m not going to technically relate to much of the southern culture references, but I can still enjoy it, because I can imagine it in some strange way. What I’m trying to say, though not very successfully, is that a song can reach me without it having to be relateable to me. It depends on the song as a whole. It does have to make sense though. A supporting story will rarely convince me to like a song. The song has to be good on its own, despite its potential backstory.

  2. I don’t need to relate to the song to enjoy it. It helps sometimes but there’s no way I relate to something like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” but I really enjoy the song. There’s some like “In Color” where I think I like it better because I can relate to it. Just like there’s others that I can relate to but I don’t enjoy them, like “I’ll Walk”.

  3. I don’t think so. Especially seeing as how 90% of my favorite country artists are female and I’m… well, not. :)

    I do enjoy songs about cheating/one night stands a bit more though… not sure what that says ;)

    On a not-quite-side-note given the topic and the picture… watching Loretta Lynn on the Opry the other night, singing an ooollllllldddd song, I wondered how anyone but the oldest in attendance related to her anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a lot of respect for Miss Lynn.. and I loved the work she did with Jack Black… but between those dresses and sticking to the old material.. I wonder if anyone new(er) relates to her?

  4. While I feel that I relate to country music better because I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere Illinois, that does not mean that I relate to all songs and all singers — and for a long time I did not like country music, it was not until I was in college and on my own that I did start to like country music – I think it all comes down to the artist and the song.

  5. As was said above, I really gravitate toward drinking and cheating songs, but I partake in neither activity.:) Likewise, I’m nothing like Miranda Lambert’s persona, but I’m a big fan of her music anyway. I can relate to love, but I can be very hard on love songs. Somehow though, these songs that I can’t technically relate to end up resonating with me. I guess I’d have to get a philosopher or psychologist to figure that one out.

    Lynn, I agree with your point regarding political candidates as well. I don’t need to relate to them on a personal level. I just need to trust that they are capable of doing the job that I want them to do. I don’t need to have a beer with them, since as I already said, I don’t drink.:)

  6. I think it helps if you can relate to the music, cuz you get a deeper/emotional connection to it. How many of us when we go through a bad break up…suddenly start listening to break up songs? Or when we start falling in love…and suddenly we are cheery and listening to love songs?
    I can listen to a song and really enjoy it (20 years and 2 husbands ago was a great song that I enjoyed, but being a 24 year old male I obviously couldn’t relate to it as well as someone who is 45-50 years old and a woman), but I do believe having somewhat of a connection to the song really helps.

    Also, just on a side note, does anybody else think that the picture used of Loretta Lynn looks eerily close to what Reba will look like at that age?

  7. Leeann, I hear you loud and clear.

    Jordan, I love that Miranda Lambert gal. She’s going places. That album was one of my 2-3 faves of last year, and I’m not a female either. *I am prone to enjoying explosives and fire, though.*

    Lanibug, which small town?

    Basically, the great thing about the music is that you can stretch your imagination for it to match what is occurring in your own life. It has a multitude of meanings.

  8. Windsor, between Shelbyville and Mattoon.

    I received my Bachelor’s degree at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The world is small.

  9. It’s hard to articulate, exactly. I think a lot of the reason any music (but especially country) connects with people is because it’s easy to relate to. Maybe not in a literal sense – I think it’s safe to say most of us haven’t done a lot of the things detailed in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – but when country material is well-written, you at least understand where the characters are coming from. You have some sense of knowing them, and possibly even being like them.

    I personally tend to like songs that I can definitely see myself in a little more, just because there’s an added layer of personal significance to each listen. I think that’s natural; that’s what sells a lot of music. But I can definitely still get excited about material that differs from my experience or perspective, as long as it presents itself in a way that feels real and accessible to me as an outsider (kind of what Blake said). I’ve never been divorced, but Jamey Johnson shows me how it feels, and suddenly I see shades of “divorce” in my own life. I’ve never been a lovestruck truck driver, but “Callin’ Baton Rouge” makes me believe I could have been (or could one day be), at least for three minutes.

    The politics thing is indeed fascinating. I don’t have a comment on that bit right now, but maybe later today. Terrific post.

  10. Ok, now I am scared — most people have no clue where it is — I got my BS at Southern Illinois — but now reside in Ohio — when were you in Charleston???

  11. I was curious how others felt, because I find myself relating better to female country singers and their music. It may all be a matter of the perspective/point of view of the song – but if I’m going through a break up, I will always relate better to “You Were Mine” or “Let Him Fly” than a Jamey Johnson song. And while I appreciate Jamey Johnson’s music, I don’t feel like I get it like I should.

    I’ve also never gotten an artist like Gretchen Wilson or her music; primarily because I can’t find any connection there. Miranda, on the other hand, I understand. (I may not have her violent streak, but oh, I’ve been that crazy ex-girlfriend. (Who hasn’t?!))

    I’ve also never found it surprising that male artists like Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts have done so well commercially. Women comprise the core of the country radio audience, and these are country’s “sensitive men” for lack of a better term. Women find it easier to relate to them. A lot of guys tend to lean towards Gary Allan, Jamey Johnson, Jack Ingram, Johnny Cash, etc.

    Marc – I understand what you are saying. I’m embarrassed to say that it took “Van Lear Rose” for me to connect with Loretta Lynn and her music. That album brought her music into the here and now, so to speak, and it enabled me to go back and check our her older stuff with a new appreciation.

  12. Excellent post, Lynn.

    I think my answer is embedded in the question itself. You say that you love country music because it tells human stories. You go on to ask if one must be a redneck woman to enjoy the Gretchen Wilson song. Of course not. The whole reason I want to listen to a story is because it didn’t happen to me. If all stories precisely mirrored my own life, why would I bother with them? I already know all that stuff. I listen to learn and explore.

    While I don’t need to (and don’t especially want to) be able to relate to superficial descriptions or particular plot details, I do need to be able to relate to core emotional truths. Another way of saying this is that a song has to ring emotionally true to me… even if it’s about something I’ve never experienced.

  13. I think people relate to universal emotions. For instance, you might not be a “Redneck Woman,” but perhaps you can identify with the song’s message of self-acceptance.

  14. Lanibug, I attended Eastern from ’03-’06 and still make periodic visits. That’s why I can relate to small-town concepts in country music.

    Chris touches on a great point. Hidden beneath the surface of a number of country songs is a real message that anyone can grasp and give new meaning.

  15. I completely fell the same as Leeann. For example, I love the song “Twenty Years And Two Husbands Ago” (Lee Ann Womack), even though I haven’t lived 20 years yet, and I’m a guy. But it helps if I relate, but it’s not necessary.

  16. Jack White… not Jack Black. Although Loretty Lynn working with Jack Black could prove VERY interesting (and she would probably do it). :-)

    I don’t have to personally be able to relate to a song but it helps if it is “relatable” on some level.
    I can tell when I find one that does on a deeper level cuz it hits me like a ton of bricks.

    Even more than the song sometimes is if I can relate to the artist even in the slightest. I’ve met artists who have been total jerks and that takes away any ounce of me being able to enjoy their work.
    On the other hand, if they are at least somewhat personable, then I’m much more inclined to give them my listening time and attention.

  17. I went to Southern Illinois….. Edwardsville. But only for a year before I decided college wasn’t for computer people :) I too am Illinois raised.. but I was a suburban Chicago kid. Still knew where Windsor is. :)

    And oh yeah.. wrong Jack.. but still.. THINK ABOUT THE POSSIBILITIES :P

  18. Blake That’s what the fine people of Washington State say about Washington State and the Seattle area. Take out the Seattle area and that state’s quite ‘country.’

    As for this topic, One Flew South’s Eddie Bush talked about getting a story about his song “She’s A Gift” and how it helped a child grieve for the loss of their father and how they placed that song after he died. The lyrics are about a woman, not a man but the impact was still the same.

  19. My experience with music is if it doesn’t sound good to my ears, I don’t like it. I don’t care how the great the lyrics are, if it doesn’t entice my musical taste buds, I don’t wanna hear it. It also works on the flipside. Even if the lyrics are atrocious, if it sounds good to my ears, I’m going to listen to it again.

    That being said, I can still recognize good lyrics, and lately, I have gravitated towards song that I can relate to about love a little more.

  20. Ok – so I am now really scared that you all know where Windsor is, but yes, Chicago and rest of Illinois are two different things — I went to Carbondale — but I am sure that I was long gone to Ohio before you all even went to college – I graduated from SIUC in 1995 –

    But back on subject I agree with Kent I have to like the sound, a good reference is two artists that I like have recorded the same song, but I only like one of them, just has to do with the way it was done – but I still relate to the words, just not the way it was sung – relating to music is all about how you feel at any given moment in time.

  21. I don’t feel like I need to have lived a song word for word in order to appreciate it. What draws me to country music is the stories it tells. Sometimes I like a story because I can relate to the characters and feel like I know where they are coming from. Other times, a story draws its power from showing us how people we know nothing about act and live.

    And this is bit off topic, butwhere did the quote used to kick off this discussion come from? I must say, it’s killing me to see Loretta Lynn’s music as a segue into a discussion of how Palin is “jest folks.” Loretta sang about “The Pill” and what it could do (positively) in a woman’s life – Palin is part of group that opposes birth control even for married couples.

  22. Palin IS NOT part of a group that “opposes birth control even for married couples”.

    Apologies for the off-topic comment.

  23. I’ve tried writing a response to this post about five times at this stage but I can’t seem to put my point across properly!

    So i’ll just say I agree with all of those who said the don’t necessarily have to relate to the song to enjoy it.

    Like others, one of the things about country music that appeals to me is the story telling aspect.

  24. I apologize. Palin is a member of Feminists For life, and while some sources say this group opposes the pill, other sources do not confirm this. So I spoke out of place.

  25. As a black, gay man in a major city there are not a great many country singers I can relate to every day. But what I do relate to in country music, what I love about it, is that if it is good( a good story, a real, raw feeling, a great sense of the world)I am connected to it heart and soul. That is why I am married to country music above all others because it can hit at a real place inside of me that goes beyond my color, my background or my politics.

  26. Great topic.

    I don’t need to relate to the song to enjoy it. If that were true, I wouldn’t be listening to most country music out there (or a lot of music in general). I don’t cheat, I don’t drink, I’m not lonely.

    When I watch YouTube, sometimes I’ll see comments in which the person says “I’m going through this song right now” or “I’m feeling this way right now.” I don’t. When I hear a song, as long as it has a good melody followed by decent lyrics (not silly), I’m good with that.

    I like a song for its melody. A song can have awesome lyrics but without a good melody, I’m not going to listen to the song. That’s why I can enjoy a song no matter what the lyrics are, provided it has a good melody.

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