Published April 05, 2012
Ashton Kutcher’s apparent lampooning of country dress and singing at the American Country Music awards certainly ticked off some country fans.
But it also provoked a response from old-school devotees who say the genre left behind its real roots years ago and has become a mockery of itself as it moved closer to pop music, rather than the kind of songs written by pioneers like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
“Ashton Kutcher is an entertainer and a comedian and he was there for entertainment. But he was dressed more country than anyone you see on the show, which is the ironic thing about it,” said country music writer and the editor of SavingCountryMusic.com Kyle Coroneos. “It is a show about country music, but there is no country music on there. Ashton, with the way he was dressed, was one of the most country music things that happened on the show."
Corneos says what he really offensive about the telecast was Carrie Underwood’s opening act and an appearance by the rock band KISS.
“As someone who appreciates the traditions of country music I found Carrie Underwood’s strip tease act and KISS coming onstage with their bit more offensive than what Kutcher did,” Coroneos said.
Indeed the uproar that Kutcher created has raised questions about the state of country music itself.
“You can’t sing about your broken down pickup truck when you are living in a $5 million house,” Beville Darden, co-founder of country website TheBoot.com and former on-air personality for Nashville’s WSM radio station, tells Fox411.com. “We have been getting a lot of backlash from fans that think country music is no longer authentic.”
Another longtime country music performer told us that the big names in country today make him nauseous.
“Country music is based on real folk with real problems, not these millionaires running around making commercials for cars they’re never going to drive because they have a Bentley and a Porsche in their driveway,” he vented.
Kutcher took fire when he presented the female vocalist of the year award dressed in over-the-top classic country attire.
"Was Ashton Kutcher making fun of country or is it just me?” tweeted singer Miranda Lambert, to whom Kutcher presented the female vocalist award.
Country singer Justin Moore backed Lambert up, calling the “Two and a Half Men” star a “douche."
Kutcher responded via Twitter saying: "I Am One Of The biggest country Music fans you’ve ever met. Wasn’t making fun at all.”
It is not the first time that popular culture and traditionalists clashed at a country awards ceremony. In the seventies, when John Denver won an accolade at the Country Music Awards, rockabilly singer Charlie Rich burned the envelope with John Denver’s name in it.
Country fans who commented on our story about the Kutcher controversy were annoyed too, but not just at Kutcher. In the more than 300 responses the story genreated, many said it's today's country music, not Kutcher, that's a joke.
“Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Brooks & Dunn are Country. This new stuff ain't Country," one wrote.
"Blake Shelton, his wife, and the 'other country stars' seem to have joined the ranks of the political correctness and forgotten the roots of their music. They have put themselves on a snobbish pedestal. Beer and cowboy hats have been a signature of country music since the beginning. When I here a song by Patsy Cline, George Jones, or Charley Pride, I want to grab a beer. I am not a fan of Aston Kutcher, but he was invited, he is an actor, and actors entertain," added another.
“Got turned off of the country scene years ago due to people like Kukukukachoo Kutcher. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up on the farm/ranch to know what a week's worth of work feels like," another wrote.
Wendy Hermanson, Yahoo! Music’s country music blogger, has seen similar comments on her music site, but she says today’s popular country acts don’t represent the entire body of country music currently out there.
“The ones who are in the spotlight are the ones who have crossed into pop like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. You can find a ton of very authentic artists if you get into the genre and get more than skin deep. I do think that Miranda Lambert is pretty genuine, and Justin Moore is pretty hardcore country,” Hermanson said.
Indeed it seems country music is in the midst of its own culture war. There are the more pop oriented acts like Swift, Underwood and Lady Antebellum who appeal to the masses with their crossover hits. Then there is what country purists refer to as “checklist country” acts.
“Artists like Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert don’t appeal to the traditionalists because they have a checklist that is inane, drawing out these artifacts of country life that don’t appeal to people," Coroneos said. "They have a list that includes corn bales, pickup trucks, and back roads."
“Less than 1 percent of America owns a working farm. Those artists are appealing to suburbia with these country checklists and attempting to live a country lifestyle vicariously," he said. "So traditional country fans are appalled by anything on the radio.”
Leroy Virgil, the lead singer of the country band Hellbound Glory, whose upcoming album Merica is about to be released, said the problem with these "checklists" is that they address lifestyles and problems that are no longer relevant to the blue collar workers and small town people who enjoy the music.
"It might be authentic sounding to people who live in the suburbs and own a couple jet skis and nice trucks. But to the people who live in the rural parts of the country, or live in small towns or medium sized cities, I don’t think it reflects what is going on in their lives," Virgil told Fox411. "That country music has turned a blind eye to some of the problems, with prescription pain killers devastating rural areas and small towns, and the harder side of what is going on."
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel for country music purists. There is a burgeoning independent music scene in the country world with festivals like Muddy Roots and the Juke Joint Festival showcasing "authentic country."
Jason Galaz, the CEO of the Muddy Roots festival, told Fox411 that he hadn’t even been aware of Kutcher’s antics at the awards show.
“Award shows like that don't celebrate the country music that I celebrate," Galaz said. "They celebrate pop music sales."