The Yee Haw Movement: The Rise of the Country-Western Aesthetic
For a while, country music was dismissed in popular culture. Hearing even the most avid music fan say that they hated the genre became commonplace and cliché. But that narrative is changing.
Country music and its accompanying aesthetic has now crossed over into the mainstream, breeding a “Yee haw” movement. Artists like Kacey Musgraves and Lil Nas X (yes, you read that right) have impacted listening habits as well as fashion, internet culture and perceptions about rural, western and southern life.
When Musgraves released her multi Grammy award-winning album Golden Hour, she made country music more accessible and nuanced, giving the genre some dignity. Rather than create songs centered around trucks, beer or tractors, Musgraves wrote about love, heartbreak, family and coming into her own, all of which are universal topics that aren’t isolated to particular spheres of America. Songwriting chops on full display, Musgraves showed that the only difference between her and the most respected artists in the industry is simply how she chooses to tell her stories — with a little twang and some banjos.
Musgraves has also modernized country music, which at times can be perceived as a genre that is riddled in the past and tradition. While the songstress stayed true to her roots on Golden Hour, she also toyed with vocoders, synths and other studio technologies to add dimension to her country foundation. As a result of her boldness, experimentation and authenticity, Golden Hour has infiltrated the mainstream in a way that not many country albums in recent memory have.
On the Internet, Musgraves has become the “yee haw” queen, which is fitting considering her persona, constant sharing of memes and her references to lassos, John Wayne and other aspects of western culture on tracks like “Space Cowboy,” “Wonder Woman” and “High Horse.” This yee haw queen has made country music, as well as its style and culture, cool and wide reaching. Now, no one can get enough of cowboy boots, fringe, pompous hats and other country-western elements integrated into their favorite pieces. And of course, they can’t help but say “yee haw” to basically everything.
While Musgraves infused modern sounds and pop elements into her music, Lil Nas X infused country sounds and references into trap rap production for his hit “Old Town Road.” “Old Town Road,” and its remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus, has completely blown up. “I got the horses in the back” has become one of the biggest memes on the Internet. While the track may seem like one big punchline, it’s also a big win for the country music scene, making people more open to western sounds and culture. It also adds fuel to a new ‘Black Cowboy Agenda,’ in which artists in the likes of Cardi B and Solange have also embraced western aesthetics.
Lil Nas X has no doubt influenced fashion too. On his track, he raps about his “Cowboy hat from Gucci” and his Wrangler jeans. Though the song may have only been influenced by the cowboy clothing trend, it also has the power to break boundaries, raise questions of authenticity and bridge racial and geographical divides.
The Yee haw moment in popular culture has been brewing for a few years with artists like Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Mason Ramsey trying to bring country-western sounds to the mainstream, but now, it’s alive and well. This movement demonstrates both cultural complexity and hybridity, as well as the power of the Internet. The western craze is in, and it may be sticking around for a while, so bump “Old Town Road,” drive along to Golden Hour, get your horses from the back and giddy up for the ride.