Artist Tribune

Can a funny country song bring a conservative to the Left?

When music, comedy, and politics collide, pushing the expectations of a genre might be our best shot at bridging an ever-widening ideological gap.

Jason Messina/@surethingchief
November 13, 2018

The Wizard of Oz famously declares, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” Dorothy courageously defies this command, pulls back the curtain, and reveals a man whose only true powers are deception and fear. Earlier this year, I put on my own set of ruby slippers and set out to pull back some curtains and dispel fear through joy and laughter. I wrote and produced an album of new music called Step to the Left: Country for Liberals.

Before I got the idea for this album, I had found myself drifting away from country music. I grew up on country and I’ve always been a big fan of the genre, but suddenly it felt like it didn’t belong to me anymore. In these divisive times, it had begun to feel like music belonging to a culture of closed-mindedness, racism, and homophobia. But shouldn’t music be universal? So I decided to reclaim my beloved country music, and use the genre itself as a weapon against the closed-mindedness I abhorred.

Prior to November 2016 (when the gates of hell opened up), most of my work with my band Pop Filter was focused on satirizing the world of pop music and the egos that inhabit it. The bridge to making “political” music wasn’t a far one to cross. I have always believed that my job as a musical comedian is to expose hypocrisy, reveal truth, and spread joy. These principles can apply just as easily to the world of pop music as they can to politics. The comedy is never truly about the subject itself; it’s about lampooning the human condition.

Country music is one of the few areas of common ground where conservatives and liberals meet, so perhaps it can serve as a starting point to bridging the gap between us.

The night after the election, Stephen Colbert went on TV and said, “in the face of something that might strike you as horrible, I think laughter is the best medicine. You cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time, and the devil cannot stand mockery.” With Step to the Left: Country for Liberals, I’m laughing in the face of those who seek to stop the train of progress, and celebrating those values with joy. Some might ask, if it’s “For Liberals,” how do I intend to reach those conservatives who should hear and heed the values I espouse? Aren’t I ostracizing them with my mockery? Am I merely preaching to the choir?

Let me start by saying that from my perspective, Conservatism doesn’t seem like any fun. It’s fear-based thinking. I find great joy in being progressive, in embracing otherness, in looking at the world with hope. Country is a genre born out of red states, and so much of country music is inherently joyful; songs about the joy of driving down dirt roads, drinking beer on a Friday night, living in a small town. With my album, I’m taking this form of joyful expression and applying it to things like embracing diversity, socialized healthcare, and fact-based environmental policy. By using country tropes, I’m telling conservatives, in their own language, this is the joy you’re missing out on. While you’re sitting in the corner full of fear, anger, and suspicion, we’re having a lot of fun over here at the progressive party!

Country music is one of the few areas of common ground where conservatives and liberals meet, so perhaps it can serve as a starting point to bridging the gap between us. Comedy appeals to the mind, and music appeals to the heart. With Step to the Left: Country for Liberals, I’ve sought out to combine those elements and use them to relieve tension, to console, to inspire, to reinvigorate, and to use joy as a weapon against fear. People say arguing with Republicans is a lost cause, because they cannot hear the truth. But if they can’t hear the truth, perhaps they can feel the music—and changing one’s mind begins by opening one’s heart.

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