Ever since the term first appeared in 2013, it seems like all people want to talk about when country music comes up is "bro-country" – whether it's really a sub-genre, whether it's good or bad and who fits in the category. But for artists like Jake Owen, whose new single "Real Life" is pushing country into modern-rock territory and who's working on a genre-defying new album, the conversation is getting old.
"It's so annoying," he tells Rolling Stone Country. "I get so tired of hearing these people ask, 'So what do you think of bro-country?' I don't care."
Once just a tongue-in-cheek missive used to poke fun at the explosion of songs about trucks, beer and women, the term now seems like it's here to stay. The Cambridge Dictionary gave it an official definition in early 2015, and even Wikipedia has an in-depth page listing it as a true branch of country music, just like alt-country or country pop.
Artists making music that fits the "bro-country" definition will have to deal with the label going forward — and keep answering questions about it — but to Owen, part of the reason country is so popular is because it has room for so much stylistic difference.
"On the same radio station you can hear 'What We Ain't Got,' which was a slow, broke-down country song, or Jamey Johnson's 'In Color' or Kacey Musgraves, it's the same station that will play Sam Hunt's songs that sound more pop-oriented," he says. "I love Sam Hunt’s stuff, I think it's awesome, but I also love Sturgill Simpson, and I'm comfortable saying that."
To him, good music is just good music, and he thinks the fans feel the same way.
"I was out at [Big Barrel Country Music Festival] in Dover, Delaware, and what's so cool about it is the Oak Ridge Boys played that day [along with] Merle Haggard, Kacey Musgraves, myself and Carrie Underwood, and none of us sound the same," Owen recalls. "All the people out in the crowd listened to all of us, and not one of them left. No one was like, 'This isn't country, I'm leaving.'
"People are there for the experience and for the music, and they're there for the way it feels to relate to a song that you just like. There's not much more thought to it than that, and if you try to put more thought into it than that, you're a dick. I get so tired of people who try to put everything into a box."