[Editor's Note: Fuck Guilty Pleasures celebrates the over-produced, commercial, artless, lowbrow music that we believe is genuinely worthwhile. Like, among the best music ever.]
For a true country aficionado, mentioning Tim McGraw in the same breath as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard or any country great is the holiest of sins. It's like mixing your moonshine with Sprite.
Fans of country before 1992, which was McGraw's introductory year, reserve every right to harbor ill will toward a man from the bowels of Louisiana who's now better known for being the title of a Taylor Swift song. Along with Shania Twain and Garth Brooks, McGraw bears much of the responsibility for melding country and pop , contributing to the former genre's dark and confusing period in the early '90s and resulting bastardization. (In the eyes of some, anyway.)
We're talking about a guy who's known for not only collaborating with pop-rapper Nelly, but who was recently likened to Coldplay. He's also married to Faith Hill, who's culpable herself for watering down the grit and snarl of old school country.
It's understandable why some want McGraw chased out of Nashville by a pitchfork-carrying mob. (And why the Pitchfork crowd has no interest in him at all.)
But while McGraw is, admittedly, about as country as Gwyneth Paltrow, he nonetheless deserves credit for paving the way for many of the most enjoyable country acts of today. Without his influence, artists like Blake Shelton, Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban would likely not have gotten their props, as their sugary hooks are but an evolution of McGraw's musical underpinnings.
Meanwhile, there's much to be said for the way McGraw has utilized country's stripped down ability to make us feel 17 and infatuated again. “Something Like That” — which is built around a toe-tapping melody and is the most-played radio single of the 2000s — is far more than a typical country ballad of young love lost and found. (Spoiler alert: the boy runs into his high school crush years down the line.) If you're looking to get nostalgic and want to feel some butterflies again, this song does the trick.
Sure he can be saccharine, but there's a sensitivity to McGraw's work that heightens his appeal. Rather than lament over stolen tractors and infertile land, McGraw offers us his heart on a platter with tearjerkers like “Live Like You Were Dying” and “Red Ragtop.” Find me another country artist who's artfully made a regretted abortion reference, as he did on the latter track, and I'll buy you a drink. McGraw's done groundbreaking stuff, but it's often overshadowed by the candy coating of his production.
In truth, it's hard to deny the vast body of work that he's laid down in twenty years of hit-making. He's not really pop and he's not really country, but he's just enough of both to satisfy fans of either genre. So long as you're not stubborn, that is, or had your tractor go missing.