Sara Marcus

Sara Marcus is the author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (Harper Perennial, 2010). Her writing appears in publications including The Nation (forthcoming, December 2011), Bookforum, Artforum, Los Angeles Review of Books, Slate, and Salon. She is a founding editor of New Herring Press.



"'Living in a Big Old City': Can Country Music's Urban/Rural Moral Binary Survive?"

“Someday I’ll be living in a big old city,” Taylor Swift sings in a fiddle-crenellated stomper on 2010’s Speak Now, “and all you’re ever gonna be is mean.” Swift’s sweet-throated retort to her teen tormentor notably inverts the conventional value system of commercial country, in which all that is right and holy belongs to rural and small-town America (“Small Town Country Man,” “I’m from the Country”), with all varities of wickedness concentrated in urban Babylons (“Sin City,” “Detroit City”), which sometimes serve as doleful and imperfect escapes for heartbroken country folk (“Greyhound Bound for Nowhere,” “City Lights”) yet inexorably encroach on the country way of life for those who choose to stay put (“The Last Country Song”).

Perhaps the animosity is mutual: New York City, after all, has been without a country station for over a decade, and its sibling in mammon, San Francisco, lost its lone country station this year. But as American Idol’s catholic embrace of the skin-tingling voice across genres has accelerated a new generation of country crossover stars, and as the percentage of Americans who can even remember living in a small town continues its long exurbanizing decline, can the constitutive divide between city and country survive much longer? Or is Taylor Swift’s identification of urbanity with victorious redemption a sign of what’s to come for the United States’ most rural musical genre?

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

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