(from Billboard.biz, September 24, 2013) In the past, country music has been seen as a “musical safe haven” for parents to play as they take their kids to school, but with the increasingly blatant drug references, this family-friendly image may be falling apart. Historically, drug references were mainly directed towards Willie Nelson’s well-known, even legendary, marijuana habit. In the latest generation of country music, however, a variety of drug references are popping up in far greater numbers than before.
While some country stations are editing most uses of the word “cocaine” from songs, many other drug references are overlooked. Top hits from Darius Rucker, Kacey Musgraves, and Chris Janson openly reference marijuana and aren’t edited or played any less. Eric Church pushes the limit with his songs “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “I’m Getting Stoned” as he bypasses ambiguity and gets straight to the point with his lyrics. In an interview with Playboy Magazine, Church reflected on how everyone said, “You’re crazy. It’s an openly pro-pot song. Radio’s not gonna play it.” Radio did play it, though; “Smoke A Little Smoke” made it all the way to No. 16 on the charts and Church sells a variety of merchandise depicting pot leaves.
Now the question is this, “Have the family-safe standards of country music shifted so much that drug references are no longer controversial from a programmer’s point of view?” Song writers continue to include references that are becoming more blatant, so are stations becoming more lenient? According to Bob Barnett of a Rochester, New York radio cluster, while community standards have shifted due to a younger listener-base and more crossover artists with pop, “That doesn’t mean the tide has shifted entirely.” The older listeners are far from embracing or accepting the increasing drug references, but those complaints coincide with resistance to the overall changing nature of country music, says Barnett.
Industry experts agree that as long as drug references don’t become a habit and the context is appropriate then this shift in country music is acceptable.