Country music has always provided an honest reflection of the virtues and vices of the common man. In this sense, Tyler Childers seems to be your quintessential country music artist. Whereas Hank Williams woefully reflects on the perils of “the lost highway,” Childers chillingly recounts the difficulty in keeping “your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills.” Love, heartbreak, vice, redemption — if the Appalachian Mountains could croon, they’d belt out in the voice of Childers.
For the many of us disillusioned with the unceasing slew of “snap-track country,” Childers’ raw and unfiltered style seems like a welcome return to country music’s roots. In turn, the red-headed Kentuckian has become one of the most popular country music artists, despite having little to do with the Nashville establishment.
As revealed by his most recent single, however, Childers is anything but your traditional country music artist. The song itself, titled “In Your Love,” sounds like your run-of-the-mill country love song. The controversy surrounds the single’s music video, which features the romance between two gay coal miners and the prejudice they must overcome. Childers has defended his chosen theme, claiming that “these are human stories, not political stories.” However, that’s hard to believe, both because of the current social climate in which feigning neutrality is hardly believable, as well as his history of political messaging.
During the summer of George Floyd, the full force of the woke regime’s propaganda machine deployed to shame white men into feeling complicit in Floyd’s death. If you didn’t go out of your way to condemn the incident, you were condoning it. “Silence is violence,” as they said. Joining this choir was Tyler Childers with “Long Violent History.” In it, Childers challenges his presumably white, conservative audience to consider how long they’d be willing to withstand police brutality. As he sings:
How many boys could they haul off this mountain
Shoot full of holes, cuffed, and laid in the streets
‘Til we come into town in a stark ravin’ anger
Looking for answers and armed to the teeth
Following this stunt, Childers seems to have redeemed himself with a follow-up gospel album titled, “Can I Take my Hounds to Heaven.” After all, what could be more conservative than a gospel album? Childers himself recognized the implication of this fact and recently expressed his anxiety about the project being “taken for some Christian nationalist idea.” To assure that it didn’t, Childers sprinkled in some subtle woke messaging for good measure.
For instance, in the song “Angel Band,” he recounts the joyful experience of a woman’s first walk with Jesus and is careful to note that it “didn’t even bother her that he ain’t a blue-eyed man.” In the next verse, you learn that diversity is the Kingdom of God’s strength and that it’s a place where “Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Catholic girls, and Amish boys” all join hands together and wonder “why exactly they been fussing the whole time.” While I’m not qualified to comment on the doctrine of universal reconciliation, I can for sure say one thing — when making gospel tunes, “I don’t think Hank done it this way.”
So who is Childers making this kind of music for?
Childers’ fan base spans two closely related but distinct music genres: folk and the burgeoning alternative-country scene. While Childers views himself first and foremost as a country artist, he has nonetheless developed a large swath of fans across both the historically conservative world of country and the historically leftist world of folk. The cross-section of Childers’ fan base is perhaps best described by fellow independent country artist Cody Jinks. In “Hippies and Cowboys,” Jinks boasts about how he has “never been a part of any musical scene” and prefers, above all else, “raising hell with the hippies and the cowboys.” That is to say, the bedrock of the alternative country scene are those who don’t “care about trends” or “songs that sell.”
Childers, along with other associated acts such as Colter Wall or Sturgill Simpson, appeal to both ends of the anti-establishment crowd, explaining why his demographic is simultaneously both young blue-collar Trump voters and granola liberal arts grads.
That said, the two sides of Childers’ fan base are not made equal. Admittedly, I’m not from Appalachia; my roots sprouted within the high-desert foothills of the Sierra Nevada. That difference, however, is more geographical than it is cultural. I have much more in common with the inhabitants of Eastern Kentucky than I do some Las Vegas yuppies. To paraphrase the great Hank Williams Jr., we hail “from the West Virginia coal mines … the Rocky Mountains … and the western skies,” but we’re all country boys. We are the last vestiges of old America, and country music is our cultural heritage.
In a recent interview, Childers criticizes modern country music for deviating from these roots. As he correctly notes, there is a “hard disconnect” between the Nashville establishment and rural America because many of the writers “didn’t necessarily grow up in a rural setting.” They can only conceptualize capturing the nostalgia of old America via “stereotypes” because they’ve never lived in those communities, depriving them of the proper “reference point.”
Coincidentally, the same criticism could be leveled at the other half of Childers’ fanbase. For the hipsters, their hollow interest in Childers is nothing more than an aesthetic, a costume they can put on to show off their diversified tastes. The plight of rural America is nothing but a voyeur for them. They don’t actually relate to the music in any meaningful way or even like country music in general. Moreover, they almost certainly hate the actual people who inhabit the places Childers sings about.
In Lawrence County, where Childers was born, Trump won roughly 80 percent of the vote in both 2016 and 2020. With songs like, “In Your Love,” Childers is enabling a false impression that those regions are actually chock-full of other hicklibs like him — more of the “good ones.” But would those fans feel the same way about his music if it were more explicitly about the trials and tribulations of a bunch of “deplorables”? It’s doubtful.
Childers has been able to maintain this rather quizzical convergence of diametrically opposed demographics within a single fan base so long as he primarily stuck to songs about Appalachia and cocaine benders. However, as he continues to lean further and further into his image as a hicklib, it’s hard to imagine he will continue to successfully be able to do so. Good ol’ boys have no interest in hearing the agenda of coastal liberals put to three-chords and a fiddle. As Childers admits, the prospect of such a backlash — “the Chicks effect” — used to scare him, but not anymore. He believes it’s his time to give his “tithing” to the world.
Contrary to whatever Childers may believe, there’s nothing bold or “powerful” about making woke country music when the entirety of mainstream culture has already gone down that path. But the bigger problem with Childers’ virtue signaling goes well beyond its banality. For an artist who bills himself as a voice for rural America, it’s disturbing that he’s so eager to alienate the people who actually relate to his music for the sake of fans who get their country music recommendations from the editors at Rolling Stone.
What Childers evidently fails to understand is that country music is so much more than its iconic sound. Rural America’s cultural heritage, and in turn country music, is inseparable from the traditional Christian values that have always defined it. It simply cannot exist without the things he believes “need to be shed.” By attempting to do so, Childers isn’t redeeming country music, he’s hastening it to its death and inviting those who have always hated the people it represents to dance a jig on its grave.