Song of the Day: “One of Those Lives” ~Brad Paisley

It is amazing how quickly a few words can abruptly change your mood, taking you from happy to sad or vice versa in zero to sixty and successfully changing the trajectory of your day. My feelings this week have been borderline anger, instigated by a few passing comments and imminent events that are leaving me to deal with a mix of confusing emotions. I have spent seven days self-pitying, somedays crying, other days moping in bed, and one day walking around a mall, desperately attempting to shake off the frustration and move forward. I know better than anyone that it is best to acknowledge emotions, regardless of how good or bad, deal with them, learn from them, then subsequently let the memories go. But sometimes, it seems easier to simply wallow in despair and feel sorry for yourself, never discovering solutions and never moving forward.

While all situations are different and unique, and should be respected based on the person and the way they are dealing with it, there is nothing like someone else’s misfortune to put your own blessings into perspective. I’ve been driving around town with my family all day, and with the hopes of abating my bad mood, I turned on my iPod, hoping to utilize music as a mechanism to ease my pain. The decision turned out to be smart, for when I hit shuffle, the most situational song sounded through my headphones, inadvertently teaching me a lesson with its lyrics. In “One of Those Lives”, Brad Paisley laments over the irritations of everyday monotony before receiving a phone call from his wife, who informs him of a friend’s cancer relapse. The narrator’s petty troubles are immediately evaporated, replaced by the realization of how fortunate he really is. While there isn’t much he can do to rectify the pace of rush hour traffic or his boss’s unwarranted accusations, he can change how he perceives life and the subtle blessings that surround him.

One of the things I love the most about Paisley is that his repertoire is filled with songs that preach the message of self-satisfaction and appreciation, conveying the notion of a silver lining in any situation. Life, to be frank, can suck. There are always ups and downs, and the cons are almost always magnified trivialities that are not as bad as they seem. The trick to overcoming them is to take a second to step away from the anger and open our eyes to the positive that almost always sits right in front of us. Life has an interesting way of working out the way it should. Happiness can be found in the smallest of things, but it is up to us to discover that solace.

The traditional favorite verse: And so it’s been one of those days/I let things get to me/I got no right to complain/Cause when I look around I see/ Folks that are fightin’ for every breath/And it makes me realize/It’s just been one for those days for me/But for them it’s been one of those lives. My day, my week, and the things that I have been upset about are not that bad. Eventually, I will not remember why I felt so much distress during this period of time in my life. While no situation should be disregarded as not important enough to fret or complain about, it is always important to remember that things could be much worse. It is a blessing to be able to live the life I have. If I am upset over something small enough to be forgotten in a short span of time, then I am clearly not appreciative of what I have and what is yet to come.

Song of the Day: “More Than Miles” ~ Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert has quickly risen to prominence as one of country’s brightest young stars. With his gritty sexy tone and his bad boy image, Gilbert is certainly making a strong impression on the ladies (guilty) and the country music scene. His résumé already boasts plenty of accolades, including two number one singles, an ACM Award for Best New Artist, and strong songwriting credits with his successful chart-topping singles for Jason Aldean. He’s currently on tour with superstar Tim McGraw and with consistent hit after consistent hit, he is quickly solidifying his status as one of country music’s newest hit makers.

His current single, “More Than Miles”, is another reminder of Gilbert’s ability to pen a song with a great combination of backbone and tenderness, allowing listeners to instantly fall in love with both sides of his personality. The song tells the story of an aspiring musician leaving his lover behind in Georgia to pursue his singing dreams in Nashville, questioning his decision the entire drive up as he soon realizes that he needs the girl more than he needs the guitar sitting in the passenger seat next to him.

This was the song that won me over and sent me jumping onto the Gilbert bandwagon, or as he calls his fan club, BG Nation. My connection is less romantic and more wistful, but the lyrics are spot-on. Georgia serves as a second home for me, filled with profound memories of lifelong friendships and personal growth. It is a place I look forward to visiting every year, and it is the place I always dread leaving at the end of my time there. This song reminds me of the feeling I get when our car pulls out on to the highway, tears and heaviness filling my eyes and heart as we all too quickly make our way toward the Tennessee state line. Well I’m headed north to what I swore I wanted/and trying not to buy into my doubts/but I just can’t seem to keep myself from wondering/why I’m jealous of all them headlights headed south. This song has officially become the soundtrack of that process of goodbye, keeping me semi-sane until the next time I return. My favorite line is one that sends me reminiscing every time I hear it: cause I’m on my way to Tennessee/singing Georgia on my mind/chasing what they say’s your dream/thinking maybe it ain’t mine. School, work, internships, the future, they’re all waiting for me back home. But I never feel as though I’m going the right direction as I watch the “Now Leaving Georgia” sign disappear behind me as we speed into Tennessee.

The best thing about country music is that every song, no matter how direct or metaphoric, can be construed in any way the listener wants it to. For me, this song is about environment. For others, it truly represents the story of leaving love behind, leading observers to decide whether or not they’ve made the correct decision in chasing their dreams. Whatever the meaning this song may hold for you, I hope it brings you the solace and answers it always gives me, making goodbye easier as I bring a little piece of Georgia with me wherever I go.

Song of the Day: “Check Yes or No” ~ George Strait

The one country station that isn’t staticky in our local area has a tendency to be redundant in the songs they choose, playing only a handful of hits from the eighties and nineties sporadically while making sure tunes that are trying to chart a number one are played over and over again. So instead of putting up with hearing the same songs a thousand times in one day, I’ve been switching to the other two stations in the area, dealing with a large quantity of static for the sake of variety.

Today, out of frustration from hearing “1994” for the zillionth time, I flipped to one of the not-as-clear stations just in time to hear one of my favorite George Strait songs straining through the fuzziness. “Check Yes or No” was a massive hit for the King of Country Music back in 1995, becoming his twenty-eighth number-one single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The song depicts the tale of a childhood crush that turns into a lifelong marriage, catalyzed by the passing of a note during a third grade class. Emmylou, the Juliet of the song, innocently writes her paramour a love letter, asking him to “check yes or no” as to whether or not he reciprocates the feeling. Fast-forward twenty years and the pair are still together, just as in love now as they were when they were eight. The song has withstood the test of time and is still regarded as one of the most idyllically written love stories of country music.

The strongest memory I have of this song is being a three-year-old toddler glued to the television, fascinated by music videos on CMT (you know, when CMT actually aired videos at an earthly hour). For me, the scene that stood out the most was when the man placed a cowboy hat upon his head and led his wife into a George Strait concert, making me naively believe, even at that young of an age, that love, and falling into it, was really that simple. To this day, my mother and I dance around our kitchen to this song, recalling the lyrics effortlessly as we sing at the top of our lungs.

This song is not connected to the memory of any past crush, nor does it make me daydream about a future boyfriend. However, it does render me nostalgic, taking me back in time to an era where life was as easy as passing a note in class to confess romantic feelings. I wish I possessed the courage those two children had; they expressed their love without regret or fear of being unrequited. If only love were as easy as checking yes or no. If only life were as carefree as a George Strait song.

Song of the Day: “Cry With You” ~ Hunter Hayes

I’ve been having a horrible past couple of weeks. College graduation is drawing nearer and nearer. Although seventy-five percent of me is thrilled at the notion of finally being able to take the nearest exit out of the monotonous everyday of small-town abyss, much of me is terrified at the prospects that lay ahead on the path to adulthood. All I’ve ever wanted to do is grow up and be on my own and prove to myself and everyone around me that, yes, I’ve got the maturity and knowledge necessary to take on this big ol’ world with my two small hands and my one big heart. Realistically, however, all of this is incredibly daunting: my thoughts these days fluctuate between “psh, I got this” to “holy *insertappropriatebadwordhere* I have NO idea what I’m doing”. I’ve been told that this is a normal process of emotions to endure, but that doesn’t make this situation any easier. These past two days have been particularly tumultuous, if only because that consistent stress was amplified by all of the changes that are happening around me.

Comfort comes in knowing that many of my friends are encountering the same frustrations and confusions. Nearly everyone I know is prepping for college, grad school, or the real world, experiencing nerves and fears parallel to my own. Having friends and family around to help sort out all of these emotions makes the task more manageable, providing me with the strength and confidence I need to prepare for the future. Usually, I’m not very good at expressing that something is bothering me, choosing instead to bottle up my worries and pretend that I have everything under control. Recently, however, I’ve allowed myself to open up, spilling my concerns to friends and, in turn, finding solutions. As I vented to one of my best friends last night, she reminded me, in an almost-Taylor Swift manner, that there was probably a song that reflected the feelings floating around in my mind, and that I should use that as an anchor to pull me though this obstacle. She was, of course, right. But the song I was thinking of does not relate to my problems, but rather the gratefulness I feel for having an amazing group of friends.

The incredibly talented Hunter Hayes has an impeccable knack for accurately detailing relatable emotions lyrically, making him one of the most genuine young artists currently earning airplay time. Eight tracks in to his self-titled debut album sits a song called, “Cry With You”, a tune ostensibly penned to earnestly remind a girlfriend that he would always be the pillar of strength she needed whenever she was in pain. Talk about swoon. As much as I’m celebrity-crushing on Hayes, however, I construed this song as the message I share with my friends when they are in need of support, and the way I feel whenever they return the favor: you’re not alone/I’ll listen ‘til your tears give out/you’re safe and sound/I swear that I won’t let you down. Hayes croons that no, he may not have all of the answers, and no, he can’t fix everything, but he will always be present to serve as the shoulder to sob on and the holder of the Kleenex, crying along with the person he cares about. The passion in his voice is as real as the words he is singing, making me believe not only in Hunter Hayes, the superstar, but also Hunter Hayes, the person. My favorite line is an example of the strength and love in any true friendship: what’s hurting you/I, I feel it to/I mean it when I say/when you cry, I cry with you. I know that I, and many of my dearest friends, feel helpless when there is nothing we can actively do to stifle the pain of someone we love, but being able to place an arm around their shoulder, hold them as they tear up, or just listen when they need an ear goes a lot further than most people believe.

Right now, none of my fears of the future are fully healed or solved, but having an irrevocable and devoted alliance of family and friends to guide me through this chaos called growing up is enough to remind me that love is the most powerful and positive source of medicine for any situation. So this song is dedicated to my best friends, my wingmen (and women), my board of directors, my brothers and sisters. I love you guys. This one is for you.

Five Reasons to Tune In To the 2013 CMT Music Awards

No plans tonight? Craving some good entertainment from all genres of music? Here are five reasons why you should tune in to tonight’s CMT Music Awards:

5. Jason Aldean and Lenny Kravitz

Aldean has done collaborations with Ludacris, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and his buddies, Luke Bryan and Eric Church. So it only seems fitting that he add Lenny Kravitz to the list, right? Sure. It’ll be interesting to see which Aldean song the pair performs and how creatively they’ll execute it. I’m not worried about how Kravitz will be received; he is currently in the spotlight for his role as “Cinna” in the Hunger Games movie trilogy. The exposure to the country world will be nothing but positive for him.

4. Florida Georgia Line and Nelly

If I’m going to be honest, I am PUMPED for this performance, if only because in my opinion, the remixed version of “Cruise” is WAY better than the original. Nelly is no stranger to the country community: he had a number-one hit with Tim McGraw in 2004. I’m expecting his performance with Florida Georgia Line to be one of the highlights of the night.

3. What’s T-Swizzle gonna do?

Once upon a time, award shows like these were jokingly renamed, “The Taylor Swift Awards”. Now, with Swift assimilating into the pop realm and having only released two singles to country radio during the five-single Red era, country fans and Swifties are anticipating what Swift will do next. I’d tune in, because knowing Swift, she won’t disappoint.

2. Jason Aldean and Kristen Bell

Aldean’s biggest duet of the night will be his co-hosting collaboration with actress Kristen Bell, who single-handedly held up the award show hosting duties despite being paired with the cringingly-awkward Toby Keith during the 2012 ceremony. It’ll be fun to see how Aldean fares next to the charismatic Bell, as he usually conveys one continuous facial expression during his performances, music videos, photo shoots, and basically everything else he does (love you, Jason!). I’m looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

1. Carrie Underwood

The nation is still healing from the catastrophic aftermath of May’s tornadoes that swept through Oklahoma without mercy. Announced yesterday, Underwood will be performing a moving tribute to her fellow Oklahomans with her latest single, “See You Again” (the video of which was just released today; check it out here and be prepared to bawl) backed by the Nashville Christ Church. Better pull out the tissues, folks. This is bound to be one heck of a performance.

The 2013 CMT Music Awards airs tonight on CMT at 8/7c.

CMT Music Awards 2013 ~ Predictions

Summer is officially here, and that means the CMT Music Awards are upon us once again! On Wednesday, June 5th, country star Jason Aldean and actress Kristen Bell will take the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena to host country’s party of the summer, celebrating the year’s biggest hits and the videos that brought them to life. With star performances from Aldean, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Hunter Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves, Pistol Annies, Darius Rucker, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban, the evening is bound to be spectacular.

While the performances at a country music show are always something to look forward to, it is the winners that viewers anticipate. Who will take home the coveted buckle? Since this show is entirely fan-voted, picking a winner can be a tricky business. But I’m going to try my best. Here are my predictions for this year’s CMT Music Awards:

CMT Performance of the Year:

  • Dierks Bentley- “5-1-5-0” from CMT Unplugged
  • Eric Church- “Homeboy” from 2012 CMT Artists of the Year
  • Luke Bryan and Ryan Tedder- “Drunk on You/Feel Again” from 2012 CMT Artists of the Year
  • Miranda Lambert- “Over You” from 2012 CMT Artists of the Year
  • Rascal Flatts and Journey- “Don’t Stop Believin’” from CMT Crossroads: Journey and Rascal Flatts
  • Toby Keith- “Bees Ago” from 2012 CMT Artists of the Year

Who should win: Luke Bryan and Ryan Tedder

Four out of the six nominees in this category are from the 2012 CMT Artist of the Year show last December. While each performance was stellar in their own right, it was Luke Bryan and One Republic’s Ryan Tedder who conveyed the most unique and entertaining performance of the evening with a mash-up of Bryan’s number smash, “Drunk on You”, and One Republic’s “Feel Again”. The duet may be the least country act in the category, but it is the most fun. And Bryan is currently in the hot seat, fresh off his surprising Entertainer of the Year win at the ACMs in April. If anyone should sneak the buckle, it’s him.

Who will win: Miranda Lambert

Look, I love Blake Shelton and, especially, Miranda Lambert. I cannot express that enough. It’s been an incredible joy to watch them go from little recognition to extremely deserving critical and commercial acclaim within the last three years; their status as country’s cutest couple solidifies their mutual and separate superstardom, making them one of music’s hottest commodities. However, I feel as though it is this couple-y concept that is prompting voters to continuously hand them awards that other artists should be winning; the “Over You” era is a perfect example of this block voting. When I first heard the co-written, “Over You” and the story behind it, I cried my eyes out, feeling the pain of Shelton’s premature loss of his older brother through Lambert’s beautiful execution of the song. It was this tune and its backstory that carried both Lambert and Shelton into even greater success, scoring them Song of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, and, for Shelton, Entertainer of the Year at the 45th Annual CMA Awards. Nearly the same pattern occurred at April’s ACM Awards, with “Over You” taking both Song and Single of the Year, and Female Vocalist of the Year. While I don’t deny the Sheltons deserving success, I can’t help but point out that many of these awards should have been handed to other artists, such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Carrie Underwood. My point is that it seems as though award show voters are desperate to maintain this idyllic superstar couple status by over-elevating Lambert and Shelton to the top, with fans jumping on the bandwagon, as well. That being said, because of the song and its significance, Lambert will take home the buckle, adding one final award to cap off the “Over You” era.

CMT Collaboration of the Year:

  • Brad Paisley and Joe Walsh- “Rocky Mountain Way”, from CMT Crossroads: Joe Walsh & Friends
  • Jason Aldean with Luke Bryan and Eric Church- “The Only Way I Know,” from 2012 CMA Awards
  • Kelly Clarkson featuring Vince Gill- “Don’t Rush”, from 2012 CMA Awards
  • Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw- “Feel Like a Rock Star”
  • Rascal Flatts and Journey- “Changed,” from CMT Crossroads: Journey and Rascal Flatts
  • The Avett Brothers and Randy Travis- “Three Wooden Crosses” from CMT Crossroads: The Avett Brothers and Randy Travis

Who should win: Brad Paisley and Joe Walsh

Five words: Brad Paisley and Joe Walsh. THE EAGLES’ Joe Walsh. That man can play a guitar like no other, and Paisley does nothing less than hold is own against this legendary guitarist. “Rocky Mountain Way” is a classic, a song Walsh released in 1973 with his initial band, Barnstorm. To see it recreated in a modern era while simultaneously maintain its deep-rooted bluesy feel is a testament to Walsh’s musical longevity. The two should take this award simply because of Walsh’s presence.

Who will win: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church

Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church represent the new male faces of country music, successfully racking up hit after hit and award after award. The three of them together on one song packs a superstar punch, a cleverly executed move by Aldean and his camp. Because of their popularity, they are bound to take home this buckle.

CMT Breakthrough Video of the Year

  • Dustin Lynch- “Cowboys and Angels”
  • Florida Georgia Line- “Cruise”
  • Jana Kramer- “Why Ya Wanna”
  • Kacey Musgraves- “Merry Go ‘Round”
  • Kip Moore- “Beer Money”
  • Randy Houser- “How Country Feels”

Who should win/will win: Florida Georgia Line

There is no denying the whirlwind success Florida Georgia Line has incurred during the past six months. “Cruise” is a song that will forever remain on summer playlists, and the video is a testament to the current all-American culture: beer, bonfires, boys lovin’ on girls, and the American flag symbolically positioned in the background of a concert in the middle of a field. The song’s success has been further solidified by the newly released remix featuring rap sensation, Nelly. I have to admit I like this version better than the original. Moral of the story: I can’t see anyone snatching this award away from these guys. They’ve earned it.

CMT Duo Video of the Year

  • Big & Rich- “That’s Why I Pray”
  • Florida Georgia Line- “Cruise”
  • Love and Theft- “Runnin’ Out of Air”
  • Thompson Square- “If I Didn’t Have You”

Who should win/will win: Florida Georgia Line

See: Breakthrough Video of the Year

CMT Group Video of the Year

  • Lady Antebellum- “Downtown”
  • Little Big Town- “Pontoon”
  • Pistol Annies- “Takin’ Pills”
  • Rascal Flatts- “Come Wake Me Up”
  • The Band Perry- “Better Dig Two”
  • Zac Brown Band- “Goodbye in Her Eyes”

Who should win/will win:

Little Big Town has had a much-deserved year of critical and commercial success catalyzed by this song and its video; “Pontoon” became the song of the summer of 2012. The group usually finds itself as the space-filler in most awards show categories, but as of late, they have scored a total of three awards from both the CMA and ACM Awards and have garnered an increasingly strong fan base. I don’t see that streak ending anytime soon.

CMT Female Video of the Year

  • Carrie Underwood- “Two Black Cadillacs”
  • Faith Hill- “American Heart”
  • Jana Kramer- “Why Ya Wanna”
  • Kacey Musgraves- “Merry Go ‘Round”
  • Miranda Lambert- “Mama’s Broken Heart”

Who should win: Carrie Underwood

I speak on behalf of all Carrie Underwood fans when I say: What more does this woman have to do to win an award?! With the haunting third single, “Two Black Cadillacs”, Underwood and director P.R. Brown created a chilling video based on author Stephen King’s thriller Christine. Who is the mistress? Who is the wife? Which one of them killed the adulterer? Or was it the car? Everything about the video screams creepy creativity, substantiated by a fantastically penned song. The CMA and ACM Awards have unfairly snubbed Underwood during the last six months; luckily, the CMT Music Awards are a fan-voted show, so I’m crossing fingers that the Care Bears rally behind their gal and get her the buckle deserves.

Who will win: Miranda Lambert

In the past few years, Lambert has deservingly snuck the buckle for Female Video of the Year while either Swift or Underwood snagged Video of the Year. Fresh off her win at the ACM Awards and still riding on the success of “Over You”, I don’t see Lambert’s Ran Fans abating their voting support for their girl. Plus, “Mama’s Broken Heart”, co-written by fellow nominee Kacey Musgraves, is an incredible song backed by a very well done video. Swift has a small chance, but her fan base seems to have followed her to the pop world, giving Lambert the edge.

Male Video of the Year

  • Blake Shelton- “Sure Be Cool If You Did”
  • Eric Church- “Creepin’”
  • Hunter Hayes- “Wanted”
  • Jason Aldean- “Take a Little Ride”
  • Kenny Chesney- “Come Over”
  • Luke Bryan- “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”

Who should win/will win: Luke Bryan

Bryan is on fire, and there’s no stopping him or his fans. Although “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” is a fairly mediocre song, the video is fairly strong. Plus, it’s Bryan. He’s country’s It Boy right now, and that popularity will only increase as the year progresses. While Bryan seems to be a shoe-in for the buckle, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hunter Hayes stole a win in dark horse fashion.

Video of the Year

  • Brad Paisley- “Southern Comfort Zone”
  • Carrie Underwood- “Blown Away”
  • Erich Church- “Springsteen”
  • Florida Georgia Line- “Cruise”
  • Hunter Hayes- “Wanted”
  • Jason Aldean- “1994”
  • Kenny Chesney- “Come Over”
  • Little Big Town- “Tornado”
  • Luke Bryan- “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
  • Miranda Lambert- “Mama’s Broken Heart”
  • Taylor Swift- “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
  • Tim McGraw- “One of Those Nights”

Who should win: Carrie Underwood

2012/2013 have been Underwood’s years, driven by a strong fourth album and one her most successful singles to date. “Blown Away” is supported by a phenomenal video, showing off her acting chops (take that, you Soul Surfer haters) and boasting a darker side of Underwood. The allusions to “The Wizard of Oz” are subtle, yet effective, and the aesthetics of the video are visually enticing. This year, Underwood has earned this award more than any other year she’s been nominated for it.

Who will win: I have no clue.

Usually, a clear winner stands out amongst the nominees, with Underwood and Swift claiming the top prize for the last six years (six!). But this year, all ten of the nominees are extremely deserving of Video of the Year, giving fans a difficult choice as to who they want to vote for. At the beginning of the show, the hosts announce the top five contenders for the buckle. If I had to guess, the top five this year will be:

  • Carrie Underwood- “Blown Away”
  • Florida Georgia Line- “Cruise”
  • Hunter Hayes- “Wanted”
  • Luke Bryan- “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
  • Taylor Swift- “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

Most would predict Swift as the winner, given her immense fan base and her cunning ability to round up swarms of Swifties into hardcore voting mode with a quick send of a tweet. However, both Underwood and Bryan’s fans have proven that if they vote hard enough (and crash their servers in the process), ousting Swift for the top spot is no problem at all. Florida Georgia Line and Hayes have a pretty good chance of taking home a win, given the undeniable amount of success each act has had. If I had to give the edge to anyone, I’d say Underwood, if only because her fans are still furious about the award show snubs earlier this year. However, it’s anybody’s award to lose.

The CMT Music Awards airs tonight at 8/7c on CMT.

 

Song of the Day: “The House That Built Me” ~ Miranda Lambert

Kid Rock once sagely said, “If it looks good, you’ll see it. If it sounds good, you’ll hear it. If it is marketed right, you’ll buy it. But if it’s real, you’ll feel it.” He is absolutely right. Much of the time, people turn to music to find a friend or discover an escape; songs and their lyrics have an impeccable ability of touching our hearts and changing our lives when the words are just right. Knowing that there is an artist who sings or writes songs that parallel our personal experiences is comforting, reminding us that even in the most difficult of situations, we are never alone.

Tragedy has hit our country in multiple ways during the past year; the most recent incident was the devastating tornado that destroyed much of Moore, Oklahoma in very little time. Homes were swept away, schools were flattened, trees were uprooted; but most heartbreaking was the twenty-four lives that were lost, ten of which were innocent children. The recovery process began immediately after the storm abated, proving just how admirably resilient Oklahomans are. The rest of the nation has pitched in to assist with relief efforts, exemplifying that despite unresolved differences, in times of disaster, Americans have and always will unite to support one another.

The country music industry has done an excellent job of donating time and funds to the recovery effort. Toby Keith, a native of Moore, flew to his hometown to evaluate the devastation and lend a hand as a volunteer. Carrie Underwood, who was already donating a dollar from every ticket purchased on her sold-out Blown Away Tour to the Red Cross, gave one million to the recovery process in her home state. Most public, however, was the musical telethon Blake Shelton pulled together at the last minute. Healing in the Heartland, the all-star fundraising special that aired Wednesday night on NBC, boasted incredible performances from some of country’s biggest artists: Shelton’s wife, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, Vince Gill, and Reba McEntire. The concert was held in front of a packed crowed at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in the United Way of Central Oklahoma, giving its natives a wonderful distraction from the incurred tornado damage while simultaneously helping the area heal.

One of the highlights of the evening was undoubtedly Miranda Lambert’s moving performance of the song that launched her successful revolution, “The House That Built Me”. The song reduced me to tears when I first heard it, a period in time during which I had finally adjusted from our sudden move and just as quickly had to accept that my new friends and I were graduating from high school; creating a sense of home became a tricky task, until I finally learned that home is wherever my heart is. This song became the support I needed and has proved time and again to fit any situation, lyrically paralleling the needs of the listener. Wednesday night, “The House That Built Me” successfully reasserted that role, consequently bringing Lambert to tears as she hit the second verse and jutted out her microphone for the audience to sing the words while she quickly composed herself.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it/this brokenness inside me my start healing. Many of the victims of Moore, Oklahoma lost the houses that built them; their personal belongings and fond memories were turned into materialistic carnage by the impact of the tornado, forcing them to suddenly rebuild their entire lives. A fresh batch of twisters has just hit the state as I write this.

Healing in the Heartland raised six million dollars to benefit the tornado victims, and thousands were touched by the poignant performances. Now more than ever, our country craves the normalcy that music provides. Music has the power to heal, the power to lift spirits and connect hearts at the most tragic of times.  It is music that will guide the state of Oklahoma back into security, bringing the country together to help its neighbors rebuild.

Song of the Day: “Step Off” ~ Kacey Musgraves

You know what I hate? Gossip. And people who gossip. The person who smiles to your face (or at least sardonically smirks) and then proceeds to giggle and taunt you the second your back is turned. I have been mocked by these types of people my entire life for a multitude of reasons: I wore Harry Potter-esque glasses, my clothes were mundane, my parents weren’t doctors (they are now!), and culturally (I’m of Indian descent) I faced a lot of barriers that prevented me from participating in activities many of my Caucasian friends did, such as late-night parties, dating, and school dances. The result was derogatory murmuring behind my bony back from “friends” I naively believed would attempt to understand my various predicaments. This issue did not abate when our family moved from our conservative suburban home of ten years to a town that was more multiethnic-friendly. If anything, it became worse.

If you are unfamiliar with Indian stereotypes (believe me, they are true) or are blind to prejudice by choice (God bless you), allow me to explain. When a part of an Indian community, you are automatically subjected to intense scrutiny from all of its members, even those who belong to your immediate and extended family. False friendship begins at a young age and does not change as adults “mature”. Teenagers and young adults in your age bracket speak kind words to your face (or completely ignore you), then proceed to judge every aspect of you: your skin tone, attire, beauty, and most significantly, your performance in school and the standing of your grade point average. Adults are no better, snootily regarding their frenemies’ cooking, saris, jobs, and children with pure jealousy and unyielding nastiness, if only because their family is “better”. If your child is not a doctor, an engineer, or, to an extent, a lawyer, you and your family are disrespected socially and mentally by the entire Indian clan. I do not exaggerate. This problem probably exists within all different cultural spheres: being both American and Indian and attempting to balance both worlds, I have been at the short end of each stick many times. I am proud to say (and I swear, I’m not just saying this to seem like a goody two-shoes) my parents have raised both my brother and me with an open mind, teaching us to be good, genuine, and real to all people who cross our paths. “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, they’ve always insisted. Great things come to those who are kind. This isn’t to say I haven’t gossiped before or found fault with people who are not like me, but I try every single day to be a better person and walk in the shoes of others before judging their book cover. I’m guilty of making mistakes, of accidentally hurting people who did no wrong, of creating messes instead of cleaning up, but I always try to learn and grow from those hiccups. Luckily, wonderful friends and family who maintain the same goal surround me. Finding people like that can be very rare; I am blessed to have discovered several.

The reason I am bringing this up, however, is because presently, there are a few people in the Indian spectrum of my life who are causing me grief with their actions. I apologize for turning this into a therapy session; I’m just going to express my frustrations and eventually get to the song of which the lyrics emulate my emotions exactly. In a brief summary, the people who encompass everything I despise, as written above, have made dinner parties miserable with their ostracizing treatment, ruined my holiday season (four years running, I hope they’re happy, because September through December is my favorite time of the year); turned seemingly unbreakable friendships into shattered pieces of bitter memories; left me uninformed on matters that are essential for me to be informed upon because of personal vendettas, and, most annoyingly, have taken advantage of me on several accounts, then proceeded to regard me as a nonexistent piece of nothing. Don’t worry; I’m not having a self-pity party.

My mother, strong as she is kind, has also taught me to never be a doormat, a position I’ve found myself in countless of times. But recently, I’ve decided for myself that sometimes, it’s okay to be a brat right back to those people. Sometimes, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and not be the punch line of everyone’s jokes. And all the time, it is okay to take the negativity and the gossip and the bullshit and turn it into something positive, rendering yourself a tougher person, one whose exterior and interior is ironclad enough to watch the crap and nastiness of others simply bounce off your shiny armor. After all, your worst enemy is yourself, and the only person whose opinion should be of any importance is your own.

I fittingly happened upon a particular song while driving home from school today. I’ve sung my praises about Kacey Musgraves in the past (see: Artist Spotlight); her album is a permanent fixture in my CD player, and her tunes serve as the current, and almost irrevocable, soundtrack to the confusing era called my early twenties (I’m only six months in, but boy, am I lost). The song that paralleled my vexed feelings is, “Step Off”, a direct command to whoever pissed off Musgraves. Stop your fake smiles, stop your fake friendship, and stop thinking that you’re better than me, because you’re not. You’re getting too close to me/with all your negativity/just get lost. Let me wreck my own reputation. Musgraves condenses all of my erratic irritations into three minutes, admirably avoiding the “beat around the bush” technique and going straight for, “in the nicest way possible, get out of my face”. This song inspires me to speak with that directness, that succinct and clipped manner that conveys the point with little words and a strong sense of authority.

So this song is dedicated to everyone who has made my life a living hell recently: to the people who sneered and scorned, who took advantage then threw me away when I was of no use; to the ones who believe they know everything about me based on what they see from the outside and choose to judge my insides with that same frame of reference. To anyone who has nothing better to do with his or her life than to hate me for no rhyme or reason: Wipe your feet on your own doormat. Step off.

Song of the Day: “Back When” ~ Tim McGraw

Nostalgia is hitting me like a temperate ocean wave: warm to the touch but chill-inducing when the water evaporates. I mark my days by the school calendar, and it has been a year full of bittersweet memories and a cyclical turn of phases. I’ve entered my senior year of college; my brother is ending his senior year of high school. Many holes in my heart were healed by the presence of a new group of friends whose stay was temporary, but profound. Two of my best friends got into grad school, my mother received her Ph.D, and my dad upgraded from stern father to lovable friend. As the summer draws nearer and my brother’s graduation comes frighteningly closer, I find myself growing increasingly reminiscent, reflecting upon childhood memories of lopsided snowmen, countless baseball games, late-night firefly hunts, and sweet-smelling bonfires so strong it took days to wash the smell out of my coat. Our young lives have flown by so quickly and some days, I want nothing more than to grab the nearest clock and stop time.

Mostly, I’ve been missing the simplicity that is the past. Maybe it is because the world is becoming a more daunting place to live in or maybe I am just growing up, but life when I was younger seemed much more idyllic and enjoyable. My brother and I were allowed to stay out and play with our neighbors until the streetlights blazed; my parents never worried about who we were with or what we were doing. Now, in light of the domestic attacks within our own country, I’m nervous about the idea of letting my future children out the front door without my careful eye upon them at every second. Back then, programming such as Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, Boy Meets World, and old family sitcom reruns of Full House and The Cosby Show dominated the television airwaves, setting good examples for the generation that was attempting to grow up and learn about the world. Now, the phrase, “sex sells” is the motto for all producers and creators, giving viewers role models such as The Kardashians and mothers from Teen Mom to look up to. Music also seems to follow that particular tag line, and it is difficult to find an artist that does not sell his or her body in order to garner public attention and gain sales. Kids much younger than me are undeniably attempting to act adult-like with each passing day; they dress older, they talk older, they behave older, some beginning this progression at the age of eight. I was fairly left-of-center compared to my peers while growing up, but I don’t remember my classmates ever feeling as though they needed to leave their youth behind too quickly.

It would be hypocritical of me to regard myself as societally conservative, because I do understand that with the passing times and the rapidity that generations age, the American customs and cultures will change accordingly. However, I miss the safety and security I felt when I was younger. These days, I find myself hopping on YouTube, searching for old cartoons and theme songs that are comfortingly familiar, and DVRing shows on Disney Junior that I enjoyed fifteen years ago (yes, I unashamedly admit to this). I miss the innocence that comes with being a child, roaming around with a carefree attitude and running straight into the arms of my mother if ever life threw me a hurdle. Now I know that the world is a very difficult place, full of enigmas and obstacles just waiting to throw you a loop; my mother won’t always be around to wipe my tears and smooth my hair.

Tim McGraw has always been great about choosing tunes that fitfully acknowledge the bittersweet memories that come with the past, such as, “One of Those Nights” and “Something Like That”, but “Back When” is by far my favorite. McGraw sings it best when he claims he misses back when, capturing the essence of the problem with his directness and his conversational voice: Back when a hoe was a hoe/coke was a Coke/and crack’s what you were doing/when you were cracking jokes. McGraw wistfully reminisces about the good ole’ days of Mayberry, when families would gather around the table for dinner and vinyl records were all anyone enjoyed. He longs for peanuts in a bottle and the old and outdated way of life over slang vernacular and pop in his country. I can’t help but agree. So while the world moves forward around me, I’ll follow in suit, only I’ll bring my past with me and hold it close as a reminder of who I was back when and how that has shaped me today.

Song of the Day: “This One’s For the Girls”~ Martina McBride

There is an unspoken rule that in this crazy world of unattainable standards and one-track minded men, girls have to stick together. That isn’t to say that all guys are horrible, but the majority of the time, dealing with them and their idiosyncrasies can be quite frustrating. We girls may never be able to please everyone or completely figure out why boys think and act the way they do, but it is better to have someone to go through all of that confusion with someone rather than face it alone.

A couple of my best girlfriends are enduring rough patches simultaneously in their academic spheres and love lives. They both are experiencing the struggles that arise with higher levels of post-secondary education (one is in her sophomore year of college; the other is completing her first year of medical school). Love is causing each of them a significant amount of stress, leading them to question not only their choices of guys, but also their personal esteem and worth.

Many of you have already been down this road. You may presently be on this unfortunate highway, stuck in a horrible mess of obnoxious-boy traffic until you have enough clearance to take off on the nearest exit (I apologize for the road metaphors; it was just too easy). I’ve been there, still am to an extent. Eighty-five percent of the time, I strut with a confident attitude of a woman who does not need a man to make her happy, but during the fifteen percent, I wonder what life would be like with a guy to share my accomplishments with, someone who would rub my feet and allow me to pay for dinner once in a while. Someone I can fight and flirt with and enjoy all of life’s experiences with. But if there is something I have learned at my young age, it is that things happen the way they should when they should, and life always works out the way it is supposed to.

But that doesn’t negate that idea that being a girl sometimes sucks. We endure periods and mood swings and uncontrollable acne during said periods and mood swings while men are left to enjoy the freedoms connected to this patriarchal society (I promise, I’m not a hardcore feminist, but admit it, our world is very much archaically male-dominated). Women are still expected to bear the weight of domestic responsibilities, and if ever there lay a problem within the household, it is a women’s duty to manage it. There is unyielding pressure for females to conform to societal stereotypes: maintaining a certain weight, avoiding gray hairs, adhering to certain fashions- the list is endless. The point is, women deal with a myriad of stresses and, much of the time, work twice as hard as men; yet our contributions to the world are rarely acknowledged, and if they are, it is always compared to the successes of men.

Many women in country music broke through the barriers that stifled female progression into the genre. Loretta Lynn paved the way for all women, lyrically opening up discussions on topics that were considered taboo, such as unaware mistresses, philandering husbands, and even birth control. Reba McEntire continues to serve as a pioneering voice, discussing prostitution, feminine empowerment, and the controversial subject of AIDS. Today, the majority of country music’s women preach stories of comeuppance from men and the significance of supporting fellow females in all of their endeavors.

One of my favorite songs that laud strong women is, “This One’s For the Girls by Martina McBride. The song emphasizes with all generations, from teenagers to mid-twenties to forty-year-olds, understanding all of the issues that come with those ages, but patiently reassuring every girl that no matter how overwhelmed they feel, they are beautiful for who they are and the dreams they dream.

So tonight, I dedicate this song to two of my beautiful best friends and any girl who reads this. You’re beautiful the way you are. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.