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2016: The Year Pop Went Country

Lady Gaga went on a dive bar tour this year to promote her country-influenced album, <em>Joanne.</em>
Lady Gaga went on a dive bar tour this year to promote her country-influenced album, Joanne.

2016 will be remembered for a lot of things. But for me, 2016 will be the year that everyone made a country album — including Lady Gaga.

OK, so not everyone made a country album this year. But artists who you would never expect to dip into the Americana pool have done exactly that. With Aerosmith, Steven Tyler made bombastic, groundbreaking rock mashed up with hip-hop and anthemic ballads. But country music? Not until this year, when he released We're All Somebody Somewhere. Even new-wave icon Cyndi Lauper went full twang on her latest album, Detour. On "Funnel Of Love," the girl who just wanted to have fun covers rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson.

So why have all these disparate artists chosen to explore country music? Perhaps they were looking to stretch out creatively. Nashville is a professional musician's dream, with more songwriters, producers, session players and legendary studios per square mile than just about anywhere. Or maybe they were just looking to feel connected to something uniquely American. (Aaron Lewis, formerly of the hard-rock band Staind, falls into that camp with tradition-touting songs like "That Ain't Country.")


One reason artists are able to make this leap into country music is because the country audience itself is far from monolithic. For example, fans of Lewis' strident sound and mainstream message might not be the same folks who embraced Beyoncé for teaming up with the Dixie Chicks at this month's CMA Awards — together, they turned Lemonade's "Daddy Lessons" into a rootsy stomp.

Will longtime fans of these established musicians follow them down the country path? Probably. If you love the shape-shifting artistry of Lady Gaga, chances are you'll love her in a cowboy hat playing at a dive bar, which is how she spent a few weeks of 2016. Tyler's big country sounds a lot like his big anthems. And Lauper's signature hiccup is magically suited for mountain music. These artists' surprising forays into country may even win them a few new fans without alienating their loyal audiences.

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