Why Country Music is Obsessed with Alcohol

Why Country Music Is Obsessed with the Healing Power of Alcohol

Songs about alcohol in country music are nothing new. Country music legend Hank Williams wrote hits such as “There’s a Tear in My Beer” as well as several other sorrowful, liquor-infused tunes. He sang about his life experiences and died from alcohol addiction at age 29. Williams was followed by an army of country singers who explored alcohol from every angle, singing of both its harms and its virtues—but mostly its virtues. Jimmy Buffett’s song “Margaritaville” is an ode to sun-soaked relaxation, but it also includes elements of tragedy that are often lost on the listener.

But a more recent phenomenon within country music is portraying alcohol as the ultimate solution to the listener’s problems. This new attitude is summed up by the chorus of Christian country artist Thomas Rhett’s 2019 song “Beer Can’t Fix”:

“Ain’t nothing that a beer can’t fix
Ain’t no pain it can't wash away  
From the moment that it hits your lips
Makes those clouds look a little less gray.”    

Other artists echo these claims. Luke Combs currently has a song called “Beer Never Broke My Heart” rising on the Billboard charts. And country acts Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney, and Darius Rucker don’t just sing about alcohol. They each started selling their own brands of whiskey and rum.

Country music has turned alcohol into Andy Crouch’s definition of an idol. In Playing God: Redeeming The Gift of Power, Crouch explains how every idol promises two things:

1. You shall not surely die.
2. You shall be like God.

Contemporary country music raises alcohol as an idol, promising it will take away human suffering and provide feelings of incredible pleasure. But, as Crouch explains, every idol eventually demands more until the idol is asking everything of its worshipers while providing nothing in return.

This idol is demanding more of musicians and fans. Several artists sing songs celebrating alcohol despite their own addiction struggles or precarious sobriety. Some artists pretend to drink onstage to maintain a particular image. Tailgating and binge drinking at country concerts are the norm. In order to belong, to be “country,” fans feel they need to drink heavily and appear they are having a great time all the time.

Christian listeners might be tempted to overlook idolatry in country music because of the many songs in the genre that use Christian imagery. Others might argue that alcohol is a good part of God’s creation. However, when humans use anything to try to avoid death and become like God, it becomes an idol. Listeners must listen discerningly and remember that while “Beer Can’t Fix it,” God is the ultimate healer.

About the Author

Micah van Dijk is a popular music expert who speaks and writes to help audiences understand the impact popular music has on their faith and identity. www.micahvandijk.com

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While I won't deny that alcohol can be an idol, there is also another reality, and that is that artists often have a predisposition to mental illnesses, and addictions to booze and drugs are considered to be mental illnesses.  When I was working on my second B.A. at the University of Sherbrooke in Québec, one of my professors of Literature had as one of his research specialties the corelation between Madness and Genius.  In other words, he studied how often artists in all fields of endeavours also suffered from one form of mental illness or other and the rate was pretty high.  Since I also am an artist and had a diagnosis of psychotic depression at the time, I shared with him any findings I came across because the topic interested me too.  So the slavery or dependence to booze can be chosen at the outset, but if the artist has a predisposition to addiction they may find that becoming "clean" is a very different matter.  You may choose your master, but its hold on you is difficult to break, and some die before they can free themselves from it.

I also won't deny that addiction to booze or drugs can make a mess of someone's relationships.  Addictions will drive people to stealing, and other crimes to get their fix, because past the stage when you drink for enjoyment and you need it just to cope with life, the dose needed to avoid withdrawal symptoms keeps getting bigger and it gets more expensive to supply.  So some of the singers may be talking about the demons that their addictions have become.  Or they haven't realized yet that they are addicted and that it will take one or more detoxification sessions before they are clean for good.  And even then, they can't afford to take another drop of the stuff or it will start all over again.  Some people who are addicted are in denial and claim that they can quit any time, which is a delusion.  Few people who could quit any time avail themselves of the opportunity.  Probably because very often, when you can do something any time you end up not doing it at all.

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