Country Music Makes a Comeback

Hayden Pannettiere and Connie Britton star on ABC's Nashville.
Hayden Pannettiere and Connie Britton star on ABC's Nashville. // WEEKEND

Last Wednesday, season 2 of “Nashville” premiered on ABC. Needless to say, it was definitely the highlight of my day/week/year, and they didn’t let me down. In case you were unaware, I love Nashville. The concept is fascinating, casting is spot on, and the music is fantastically written.

For those of you poor unfortunate souls who have never had the pleasure of having Connie Britton and her perfect auburn locks grace your screen, Nashville is a country music-themed drama centred on two rivalling country stars: young, she’s-so-hot-right-now Juliette Barnes (played by Hayden Panettiere of “Heroes”) and Rayna James, a fading legend (played by Britton, of “Friday Night Lights”).

Rayna is loveable from the get-go. Though a big star, we’re exposed to a very real woman; a woman who stares too long at her wrinkles in the mirror, rebels against her father’s constricting influence and worries about how her words and actions will affect her family. Ultimately, we find ourselves identifying with Rayna, if not for her emotional vulnerability, then for her quick, cutting asides to Juliette — a relatable impulse of denied jealousy and nostalgia for what once was.

Though comparisons have been drawn between Juliette and superstar Taylor Swift, their country-pop style seems to be the only similarity between the two singers. Harnessing her knife-sharp edge, extreme ambition and seductive drawl, Juliette finds herself quickly scaling the ranks of country music legends, if not just for her ability to sleep with the industry’s right men. It’s a persona that culminates in the perfect foil to Rayna James — the entitled, shiny young bombshell pitted against the elegant, storied, and down-to-earth country legend.

A secondary storyline focuses on budding musicians/lovers (sorry, spoilers) Scarlett (the niece of Rayna’s lead guitarist and non-marital love interest — sorry, more spoilers) and Gunnar as they build both their songwriting and romantic bonds. Though I often question the quality of this storyline with its constant inconsistencies and flawed plot logic, it has produced some of my absolute favourite songs of the show. Scarlett and Gunnar — in stark contrast to Rayna and Juliette’s big names in bright lights, the epitome of stratospheric success — represent the scene unique to Nashville, untouched by worldwide renown. While we watch the two female leads wow us in powerful stadium shows, Scarlett and Gunnar’s stage is the much cozier Bluebird Café, a 90-seat songwriters’ performance space and Nashville staple. While Rayna and Juliette ponder how to stay on top, Scarlett and Gunnar merely struggle to be signed.

From the first episode, I was completely blown away by the quality of the music. That and the perfection of Connie Britton’s hair (you just have to look at her gorgeous tresses to understand that she’s a goddess among men). From Juliette’s country-pop chart-toppers like “Telescope” to Scarlett and Gunnar’s quieter, shiver-inducing numbers like “If I Didn’t Know Better,” each song is a standout among the many subgenres of country music. Not only does the show manage to cover this wide range of country styles – from country-pop crossovers and honky-tonk to more intimate acoustic pieces – it does so with a skill and elegance unparalleled in the world of musical television.

This, of course, is no surprise given some of the powerhouse names behind the creation of these songs. Though pieces are often written by real-life Nashville up-and-comers, having music producer T Bone Burnett (husband of the show’s creator, Callie Khouri) has definitely helped in drawing industry heavyweights like Elvis Costello and current country crooners like Trent Dabbs and Kacey Musgraves. In musical television, where songs seem to take on the inevitable shelf life of a High School Musical brand, Nashville has readily defeated the odds, its music consistently finding slots in the Billboard Top 100 in the last year.

Moreover, Nashville is unique in its fairly accurate representation of the country music industry, along with its mantra of using only newly composed, not previously released, music, giving exposure to songwriters over recording artists. This in itself adds to Nashville’s grounding in reality, as the show’s operations closely resemble those of a true Tennessee record label, making the producers of the show go straight to the roots of the country music world—that of music writers and publishers — to sift through the dirt to uncover the true gems.

Ultimately, however, the key to Nashville’s success is found in its ability to portray characters with distinct and relatable voices, a depiction unfortunately lacking in television today. Despite their comparability to the real-life personas of country music stars, characters like Rayna James and Juliette Barnes maintain a rawness and vulnerability with which we all can identify. For Nashville’s producers, in tapping into these roots, their fiction reads like reality.

So now I leave you with some parting words:
1. Season 2 came back with a bang (or a crash? potential spoiler alert?) with two new excellent songs. I see great things in this show’s future.
2. You should go watch Nashville. Right now. Go steal your friend’s Hulu Plus account. You have my blessing.
3. Nashville has changed my life’s goal. It is now to become a Southern country singer. Only problem? I’m British. No matter. Small detail.

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