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Nashville Bash: 8 Celebrities Who’ve Openly Criticized Country Music

The biggest disses of the genre, from Tom Petty’s disappointment to Howard Stern’s F-bomb fest

Tom Petty

Tom Petty caught heat for his strong words against country music.

Daniel Knighton/WireImage

When it comes to music, the popular kids are picked on most. According to research by the Country Music Association, 42 percent of American adults (more than 98 million people) are country music fans. And country is the Number One radio format among adults ages 18 to 54 — statistics that might make a lot of jaded rock stars jealous.

When My Morning Jacket's Jim James told Rolling Stone this week that he finds modern country music to be, in short, stupid and racist, he was joining the likes of Tom Petty, Ryan Adams and Natalie Maines in publicly expressing distaste for the genre. We count down (and shake off) the harshest words ever barked at contemporary country music.

Jim James

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 18: Jim James of My Morning Jacket performs during Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall on April 18, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/WireImage)

Olivier Douliery/WireImage

Jim James

In 1999, My Morning Jacket, a four-piece band from Louisville, Kentucky, was widely praised for their alt-country-leaning debut LP, The Tennessee Fire. But the group's leader, Jim James, doesn't mince words when it comes to his take on today's country music. "I feel like modern country is deliberately dumbing down the human race," he tells Rolling Stone. "They're deliberately making people take glory in being uneducated and racist, and it's just sad. I think it's absolute mind control." James, whose band has had just one single, "Holdin' on to Black Metal," in the lower reaches of the Top 40 on the Alternative chart, doesn't have much affection for pop radio either, calling it "such a waste of time."

Howard Stern

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 17: Howard Stern visits "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" at Rockefeller Center on June 17, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Howard Stern

In his 1997 biographical movie, Private Parts, Stern explained that he doesn't understand country music, "because I went to college and I never drove a truck [or] had sex with my daddy's sister." So it's no surprise that he was bummed out by American Idol Season 10's finale, when two country singers, Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, took the top spots. "Horrible fucking country music is for people who are not that good," he barked on his Sirius/XM show. "Country fans accept mediocre shit. Those songs can't possibly move you. You're soulless if you think that's music; you're seriously fucked up if you think that's music. . . It seems racist to me, that cowboy hat. I see that and I see a guy who wants to lynch a person of color." Stern's own Idol pick that year? A female singer he deemed "good looking." How soulful.

Natalie Maines

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 14: Singer/songwriter Natalie Maines onstage during The Drop: Natalie Maines at The GRAMMY Museum on May 14, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)

Mark Sullivan/WireImage

Natalie Maines

Back in 2003, Natalie Maines' controversial comments about President Bush and the impending Iraq War instantly put the Dixie Chicks on country radio's blacklist. Since then, the outspoken singer has routinely been asked about her thorny relationship with the genre. In 2012, she tweeted: "I haven't been aware of country music in at least six years. It's not my thing." A year later, when her solo rock LP, Mother, was released, Maines told Rolling Stone, "I just didn't like how blatant country music was. Nothing seemed poetic or subtle. Nothing could be interpreted two different ways! It's all very spelled out. James Taylor can write 'Fire and Rain' and tell you it's about a mental institution and you listen to it, and you're trying to decipher it all. And a country song would be like [sings twangily], 'I'm in a mental institution!'"

Tom Petty

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 09: Tom Petty at The 11th Annual Golden Heart Awards held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on May 9, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/WireImage)

Alexandra Wyman/Wireimage

Tom Petty

Halfway through a residency show at New York City's Beacon Theatre in May 2013, Tom Petty introduced a cover of Conway Twitty's "The Image of Me" by comparing the country music of the Sixties and Seventies to the current stuff, claiming that most modern-day country "sounds like bad rock with a fiddle." He later clarified his opinion in an interview with Rolling Stone, elaborating, "I hope [contemporary country] kind of swings around back to where it should be. But I don’t really see a George Jones or a Buck Owens or anything that fresh coming up. I’m sure there must be somebody doing it, but most of that music reminds me of rock in the middle Eighties where it became incredibly generic and relied on videos."

Merle Haggard

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 06: Recording artist Merle Haggard attends the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on April 6, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christopher Polk/ACMA2014/Getty Images for ACM)

Christopher Polk/Getty

Merle Haggard

Last summer, the Okie From Muskogee had a particularly blunt — and ornery — answer when asked about country radio in an interview with Raleigh, North Carolina's News & Observer.  "I'll scan it and I don't understand what they're doing," Haggard said of the songs that come through his speakers. "I can't find the entertainment in it." The country elder statesman went on to characterize today's hits as "too much boogie boogie wham-bam and not enough substance." It wasn't the first time the Hag sounded off on the matter. In 2009, he was equally to-the-point, telling the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: "You have to get past the belly buttons and the videos and somewhere in there there's some kind of music."

Ryan Adams

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Singer Ryan Adams visits the SiriusXM Studios on August 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Ryan Adams

As the leader of Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams was one of alt-country's most celebrated (and controversial) frontmen of the Nineties. The songwriter truly cranked up the twang during the first half of his solo career, though, duetting with icons like Emmylou Harris on his debut record, Heartbreaker, and diving into classic country with 2005's honky-tonkin' Jacksonville City Nights. One year later, he produced an entire album for Willie Nelson, proof that even the architects of the genre trusted their music in his hands. These days, however, Adams has changed his tune. "I hate HATE country music," he insisted in a 2008 blog entry, claiming he only listens to it when "the Grateful Dead are messin round with it." A half-decade later, his stance hasn't softened. "There's this wrong idea about me being identified with things that are Southern or country," he told Buzzfeed last fall. "I do not fucking like country music and I don't own any of it."

Shooter Jennings

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 01: Musician Shooter Jennings attends the Ovation Presentation at The Television Critics Association Summer Tour at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on August 1, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/WireImage)

Jesse Grant/WireImage

Shooter Jennings

When Shooter Jennings released the scathing "Outlaw You" in 2011, he fired a direct shot at what he perceived to be country's poseurs: "Hey pretty boy in the baseball hat/Couldn't hit country with a baseball bat," he sang. While never shy with his feelings about populist country music, Jennings said in a 2013 interview with the Charleston City Paper that the homogenized modern sound made him come around on someone he previously disliked: Garth Brooks. "I would listen to only Garth Brooks all day if that's what I could get," he said. "Back then it was like, what the fuck is going on? This guy is terrible. This isn't country music. . . That means the bar has been lowered so far that we're like, please." As Jennings summed up: "All the music sounds like Nickelback."

Zac Brown

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 18: Tom Morello (L) and Zac Brown speak during the 30th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Hall on April 18, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Legato/FilmMagic)

Scott Legato/FilmMagic

Zac Brown

Zac Brown's comment on Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night" in 2013 — "the worst song I've ever heard" — all but set off a country music civil war, as it was the first time in recent memory that a modern-day country star so publicly criticized a peer's music. While the two were never personally at odds, they hammed it up and hugged it out during a CMA Awards skit. Still, Brown stood by his comments. In that same interview with Vancouver country station JRFM, the leader of the Zac Brown Band maligned the genre's tropes: "If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, Daisy Duke song, I want to throw up. . . There's songs out there on the radio right now that make me be ashamed to be even in the same format as some other artists." But Brown added that country wasn't doomed: "There are still great artists in the country format. There are still artists that do a great job with a song and they care about the lyrics, and it's not just mindless drivel."