Your Ears Are Right: Country Music Is Singing Way More About Trucks Now
Look, you have to have some way to get down that dirt road to the girl in the painted-on jeans who has all the beer.
Country songwriters, we need to have an intervention. I realize that the Venn diagram of people who like trucks and people who listen to country music is nearly a circle. I will even admit that some truck-heavy party songs are a good time. However, one cannot live off of tailgate moonshine-sippin' anthems alone.
Country radio's gotten stuck in a lyrical rut over the past decade, and a new Money.co.uk survey crunched the data on the lyrical trope that most pertains to this website: trucks. A whopping 6.25% of all country songs written since 2000 have referenced trucks, which doesn't sound like all that much until you realize that just 1% of all country songs that came before then mentioned trucks. Your ears do not betray you. Country music really does sing more about trucks now.
The Money.co.uk folks surveyed over 16,000 country songs for truckin' references, even catching the references in songs that aren't strictly about truckin' like Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee" and Keith Urban's "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16." Mind you, that's over 933 hours of country music, or approximately one West Texas road trip.
Of all the songs in their survey, which goes back to 1946, 4.16% talked about trucks. It would take about 43 hours to listen to them all if you wanted to have the world's longest truck-centric boot scoot.
Truck references peaked in 2019, when a whopping 11% of the songs in Money.co.uk's survey referenced trucks. The 2010s were the biggest decade for truck references, which had a prominent role in the "goin' down a dirt road, tailgatin' all night, sharin' a bottle of that real good stuff with that pretty lil' thing in the painted-on jeans" bro country sub-genre that dominated that decade. Money.co.uk found that 7.91% of country songs in the 2010s featured trucks.
The 2010s were so notoriously heavy on similar-sounding tailgating anthems that it inspired some of the most infamous viral videos on country music in recent history. YouTube country music critic Grady Smith's "Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013" video went through subject-by-overused-subject in different hit songs. Then Sir Mashalot's "Mind-Blowing Six Song Country Mashup" took that examination of mid-2010s country radio monotony even further, mashing together six different hits far, far better than they had any right to.
Even though we did get a song about a Chevy in space last year, truck references calmed down significantly in 2020, with just 5.66% of songs released in 2020 and 6.01% of the songs in the 2020s so far including them, per Money.co.uk. However, it's far too early to gather any long-term trends off of this year-and-a-month's worth of data, largely due to the circumstances we're facing.
In case you haven't noticed, this decade sucks extra hard! Vacation plans as well as album releases were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, both of which could have factored into this downturn in truckin' content. Releasing tailgate party songs when no one should be tailgating doesn't make as much sense, and that early-pandemic rush on Coronas as a joke is over, my dudes.
Smith also notes that "boyfriend country"—softer, gentler songs about lovin' a woman—has been taking over from bro country as the next big thing hogging the airwaves. Apparently no one was listening when fans said that a lack of variety was one of the biggest frustrations with the bro country era, so we're just getting a new flavor of the same problem, now with Hallmark movie soundtrack rejects. Sigh. Anyway, that change in trends certainly explains some of the decline in truck mentions last year, even if lyrics about slidin' over on a front bench seat will never, ever die.
If you're not content to let a British site speak on our own homegrown repetition, consider this recent deep-dive from viral-mashup maker Smith. Smith took the lyrics from every Billboard Country Top 30 song from 2014 through 2019—471 songs in total—to see just how often the stereotypically common words for "truck," "girl," "beer" and "jeans" showed up. You can pick through his data here.
While the most-used single word in Smith's survey beyond the usual essentials of speech was the sorta-filler word "yeah," Smith dug deeper into the stereotypical categories. Each trope had a list of reference words, such as "pickup," "Chevy," "Tacoma," and "tailgate" for the "truck" category.
Smith found the word "truck" in 46 of the 471 Top 30 songs surveyed—just under 10% of the entire list. However, his deep-dive into just the hits showed that the use of truck- and truck-adjacent words decreased every year from 2014 to 2018, with a bit of a revival of truckin' terms in 2019. This does seem to track with the height of the bro-country era, however, which really hit its stride in the middle of the last decade.
To wit, those same Top 30 songs included 32 mentions of the word "car." Many country fans love a good truck, but let's be honest, driving anything in general is good, too. (Especially if it's far, far away from an angry Taylor Swift.)
More Fun With Data
Gathering this much data on truck references in country songs also enabled Money.co.uk to dive into some other amusing stats, such as who references trucks the most and which songs were the most truck-heavy.
Money.co.uk's survey included over 200 artists, but it was Justin Moore who sang about trucks the most. Nearly a third of his songs—29.6% of them—included references to trucks. The top of the truck-happy artist list skewed heavily male, so I guess "bro country" was a well-earned moniker after all. The only woman in the top 20 (as ranked by the number of songs that mention trucks) being Miranda Lambert, who came in 16th, with 17% of her songs talkin' about truckin'. Over 35 artists in the survey mentioned trucks in over 10% of their songs.
If you want the truckinest truck song to have ever trucked, look no further than Corb Lund's "The Truck Got Stuck," which has the most truck references out of any song in the Money.co.uk survey. While the entire song is about trucks getting stuck, a whopping 6.56% of the words alone were either "truck" or some other word for a truck. There are 29 references to trucks sprinkled throughout the song.
Out of Money.co.uk's list, the most streamed truck-happy song on Spotify was a pop-country song about destroying a truck: Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," which racked up 208 million streams on the platform. It's pop-radio airplay no doubt helped pump up that number up given that it was way, way above the next-highest song with truckin' mentions: Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here," with "just" 119 million Spotify streams.
Meanwhile, the fact that Alan Jackson's "Chattahoochee" was only the fourth-ranked song on the Spotify stream list with 72 million streams feels like a byproduct of me rarely ever using Spotify.
If you'd like to search for your specific truck in a country song, you're probably out of luck if you have a Volkswagen Amarok or a Nissan Titan. Money.co.uk only included data on mentions of Chevy, Ford, Dodge and Toyota over the years in their chart. Ford and Chevy were mentioned roughly the same number of times in the survey's songs, and were both twice as likely to be sung about than any other brand. Chevy is the current king, though, making up 1.89% of the brand-specific references in the 2020s so far.
Smith's brand-side dive largely mirrored Money.co.uk's findings, with Chevy getting 15 mentions out of the 471 Top 30 songs studied and Ford getting nine. There was exactly one Top 30 song in Smith's list that mentioned a Tacoma.
Regardless, if recent history in country music has shown us anything, it's that lyrics too often play into a pretty obvious formula which feels more like it feeds an algorithm more than it does the fans. We have all kinds of data- and engagement-monitoring tools available now that didn't exist back when country released a much more diverse array of songs, after all. The data reflects our appreciation of trucks, and thus, the algorithms demand to be fed more songs that mention trucks.
Yet when one of the most enjoyable songs about trucks from the past decade is Wade Bowen's "Songs About Trucks," where Bowen begs not to hear any more shallow songs about trucks, it's time to reconsider sticking so closely to a formula for what's worked before. Get more creative about scratching that vehicular itch in song form, and actually give those more interesting songs air time when they get released.
Or at least roast us all a little more often. We can take a joke.
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