I’ll confess…I don’t know much about George or his music. However, this fine piece of writing has me considering the error of my ways.
George Strait is in the midst of his Cowboy Rides Away tour, proclaimed to be his last, and yesterday he triumphed the months-long campaign to reach sixty number-one radio singles, the most for any artist in history. The sixty-for-sixty campaign has been in full-force the last couple months, with Strait’s marketing team recording a slew of videos in the effort’s name featuring big-time artists like Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, and Carrie Underwood sharing their favorite George Strait memories and songs. Although Strait has insisted he is not fully retiring, these notions suggest that a big part of his career is being put to rest, and all efforts are being made to ensure that “King George” leaves us with a real bang. All this has got me to thinking, What has made George Strait so well respected and loved? And with George Jones’ recent passing and subsequent haunting of his hit “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” on country fans’ minds, the question arises: Has George Strait filled Jones’ shoes as the greatest living country singer?
Perhaps the most intriguing part of Strait’s appeal is its over-arching range. Few artists of any genre boast a fan base that stretches across generations the way George Strait’s does; he is the sort of musician who can appeal to every member of the family. And whenever an artist reaches celebrity-status on par with Strait, there’s always the curiosity to see what lies beyond the curtain, to see true personality, and personal details. What’s interesting about George Strait, however, is that after watching an interview with him, one should almost be disappointed at the singer’s lack of emotion. Strait often answers questions with monotonous one-liners or sometimes even a single word. The fact is, he’s just not much of a personality. Yet this has never bothered Strait fans, and has likely been a large part of his success. Strait has consistently been everything that meets the eye: A true Texas-bred cowboy whose personal choices have been as squeaky clean as his all-American good looks. He has been married to his high school sweetheart since nineteen, and has shied away from the media his entire career.
After all’s said and done, it is clear that George Strait is just an average family man—so what makes his music so appealing? The answer lies in the comfort of Strait’s music, the feeling and transcending quality it connotes to listeners. For me, listening to George Strait is comparable to the intrigue I get when going to see a romantic comedy—it makes me feel good, even though it’s not anything that requires much thought, or feels real. For me, George Strait is like going to Starbucks—it is always familiar, and no matter when you go there, you get what you want, promptly and though not everyone may agree that it is the highest quality, it is consistently satisfying, and is something I can look forward to returning to. Strait’s music is wholesome and feel-good, even when the story he tells is not a happy one. One of my favorites is his 2004 hit, “I Hate Everything”, which sees a lonely man at a bar who has become disenchanted with, well, everything, after his wife left him for another man. Yet rather than bask in the sadness of the song, I find myself transcended to the scene he projects, in a motion that is akin to watching a movie rather than mirroring it with real-life experience. This is not to say a story such as this is not a real-life experience, but Strait’s singing simply does not possess a convincing quality. His songs don’t leave me deep in thought or emotionally invested; I listen and experience one song and promptly move on to the next. Coming from a genre that prides itself on authenticity, it is ironic that rather than being hit with true life familiarity, Strait’s music just doesn’t feel real, and, strangely, this is what makes it appealing.
So, the question remains: Has George Strait filled the shoes of the greatest living country singer; does he “tear your heart out when [he sings]”? At least for me, Strait does not possess the finesse or character to tear at my heart or leave me emotionally drained the way someone like George Jones is capable of. But in spite of it all, George Strait is still one of the few artists whose entire discography I can put on shuffle without hitting the skip button. All in all, I see George Strait not as a singer or character, but as a face and a product—though not just any product, but a favorite product, and for me, that’s enough to call him one of the best of all-time.