My best friend came out as a country fan four months ago.
It was an unplanned confession, pulled only from her lips after a series of unplanned circumstances and events. If Sarah had it her way, I probably never would’ve found out at all — the secret would have stayed buried in her iTunes library and stoplight singing sessions for years to come.
But luck had its way that night, and the veil of secrecy she’d always worn didn’t stand a chance against it. Sarah was picking me up for a party and, by multiple twists of fate, I didn’t take as long to get ready as I normally do: less traffic on the way home from the gym, reheating leftovers instead of cooking, setting out my outfit earlier in the day. It was a series of small shortcuts that shaved about 10 minutes off my going-out prep time — Sarah was expecting to wait 15-20 minutes, but for the first time in our friendship, I was ready to go in five.
And it was dark — darker than a typical moonlit night in August, and too dark for her to see the outline of my body advancing down the driveway to her car. She had no idea I was coming, and by the time I opened the door and climbed inside, it was already too late. She had no time, no warning, no opportunity to switch the radio station before Luke Bryan’s “Country Girls” flooded my ear canals.
“Sarah, are you listening to country right now?”
Before you write me off as a pretentious, melodramatic asshole, let me briefly explain my friendship with Sarah. We had been nearly inseparable for about 10 years. That’s an entire decade of shared secrets, embarrassing middle-school memories and enough blackmail opportunities to banish either one of us into a lifetime of hiding.
Yet in all that time, her longtime passion for country music hadn’t come up once — in fact, the two of us regularly trashed the genre, from our 14-year-old “sk8er” rock days all the way through inexplicable obsessions with System of a Down and mainstream radio rap. Our music taste may have changed a lot in that decade, but there was always one thing we could agree on: Country sucked.
But there we were in her Buick, soaking up more fiddles and “big truck” references than I’d experienced in a lifetime.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
I think I already knew the answer, though. It wasn’t that she wanted to conceal this part of her life — the Brad Paisley CDs, the cowboy boots, the Garth Brooks concerts — or that she was embarrassed about it in the slightest. Her reservation lay more in the fact that I was a judgmental jerk — and honestly, if I were her, I wouldn’t have told me either.
Up until that point (and admittedly, some time after), country was one of those other genres of music, something dirty and unrelatable that defined its listener in a way no genre of music could. You can listen to indie, hip hop, jazz and bluegrass and just be someone who enjoys music, but if you like country, that’s it — you’re a “country listener.” And “country listener” was a foreign category of person that I was sure I couldn’t relate to, whose only prerequisites were interest in the CMA Awards and knowing the words to at least one Keith Urban chorus.
But all of this was arbitrary, as was my contempt for country in the first place. There was nothing inherently bad about the music, yet I was building walls and bitter judgments between myself and something I didn’t know the first thing about.
We listened to a lot of country music together that summer, and while I was reluctant at the beginning, I’ll be the first to admit that I almost enjoyed some of it. It wasn’t my genre of choice by any means, but it wasn’t the anti-Christ of the music world, either — I eventually learned the words to “Red Solo Cup,” swayed to the pensive keyboard keys in Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over” and (hesitantly) tapped my toe to Greg Bates’s “Did It for the Girl.” And I barely flinched when, three weeks later, my mom admitted to being a country fan, too.
Because you know what? Once you swallow the fiddles and twang — along with your own music elitism — country isn’t all that bad.
Just don’t tell anyone I’m saying this.