Country music is easy to criticize. Opponents frequently find fault with many of its themes, looking at countless songs about beer, trucks, tractors, and girls. Take, for example, Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor,” Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” or practically anything by Florida Georgia Line. These songs are known for their fun, lighthearted lyrics that make you want to roll your windows down and cruise—or be somewhere on a beach with Dierks Bentley.
Nashville has recently been under fire for the rise of what is known as “bro country,” and many in the industry are well aware that these uptempo booze-themed songs may not have the most substantive themes. But as bro country continues to rule the business, Tim McGraw’s latest hit, “Humble and Kind” exemplifies what country music is all about, and proves that artists can still have big results with serious songs.
“Humble and Kind” is a touching, lump-in-your-throat kind of song that has a simple, universal message. The song was originally written by Grammy-winning songwriter Lori McKenna. The Boston-based mother of five wrote the song for her children, hoping the lyrics would inspire her kids to understand the proper way to treat others, growing up in an age dominated by cell phones and social media.
Besides being humble and kind, McGraw’s song includes advice about the importance of going to church, visiting Grandpa, and helping others. These themes are classic country—and closely resonate with some of the all-time greats, like the Dixie Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces,” Brad Paisely’s “Letter to Me,” and Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance.”
The song’s greatest strength is its direct message, which allows “Humble and Kind” to reach an audience well outside of country music: “Hold the door, say please, say thank you / Don’t steal, don’t cheat, and don’t lie / I know you’ve got mountains to climb / But always stay humble and kind.”
“Humble and Kind” is presented from the perspective of a parent sending his or her child off into the world, and Tim McGraw is the ideal artist to convey the song’s message to a wide-ranging audience. As a husband and father of three daughters, McGraw gives the song a voice that would not have the same effect as someone younger and less known. In fact, McGraw cried through every take recording the song, since he and his wife, Faith Hill, had recently sent their oldest daughter off to college.
McGraw’s performance of the song—his 52nd top-10 single and latest release from his album Damn Country Music—has helped McKenna’s message reach an audience of tens of millions. Part of that success has come from the music video for “Humble and Kind,” which features footage from Oprah Winfrey’s Belief series. The video shows touching clips of people from around the world celebrating faith and life, including a man dressed in an army uniform and a woman in a hijab.
In addition to the thousands of fans who’ve chimed in with their own related stories about acts of kindness, many celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Matthew McConaughey have praised the song. Even Oprah herself weighed in, tweeting “I love this song. Every word feels true.”
It’s hard to imagine comparing the emotional lyrics of “Humble and Kind” to some of the songs at the top of country charts nowadays. The business is changing—and the emergence of artists like Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line, and Chase Rice proves there’s a huge demand for bro country. Listen to Rice’s “Ready Set Roll” and you’ll hear numerous references to Fireball shots, pickup-truck dates, and sexy country girls. After releasing his latest single, “Whisper,” Rice even went as far as to write an open letter to his fans, admitting his song lacked any real substance. What kind of message does that send about country music?
As the snow finally melts and the summer concert season approaches, more and more songs about girls, trucks, beer, and drinking beer with girls in trucks are going to surface—because that’s what people want. It’s hard not to sing along with Luke Bryan’s latest single, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day.” These songs are catchy, fun, and are an intrinsic part of the industry. Plus, they dominate country radio and sell tickets to summer concert tours. So sit back and crack open a cold Coors Light, because they aren’t going anywhere.
But even as bro country rules, “Humble and Kind” has proved that there is still a place for serious songs in country music. In one of the most moving moments at the award show known as “Country’s Biggest Party” on Sunday night in Las Vegas, McGraw was joined by dozens of diverse groups of people on stage, spanning ages, genders, and ethnicities, as they sang along in front of thousands of fans and viewers.
“Every parent should make their kid listen to ‘Humble and Kind’,” tweeted one fan right after McGraw’s performance. “Scratch that. Every adult should listen too.”
Now that’s what country music is all about.
Featured Image by Big Machine