Despite having been released as a single nearly a year and a half ago, in June of 2010 (I will never understand or care how these things work), The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young” was named Song of the Year at last night’s Country Music Awards. It spent some time at number one on the Billboard country charts, managed to reach number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100—important since that particular chart tracks the listening habits of people who generally don’t care about country music—and it has sold over 2 million copies digitally. So yeah, while you’ve been listening to, like, a Balam Acab remix of something or other, most other people have been listening to this.
As far as recent mainstream country songs go, it’s pretty standard—super clear, breathy vocals, gentle but effective dynamic shifts, with a really pleasant, subtly aching melody that eventually, albeit predictably, offers a pretty nice payoff. Lyrically, though, it’s a strange one. As the title suggests, the narrator waxes hypothetical about dying young, as a virgin, of course—when she arrives in heaven, she’ll be “as green as the ring on [her] little cold finger, [having] never known the loving of a man”—and she’s mostly ok with it. She’s bummed that her mom will have to bury her, of course, but she’s also banking on the Lord making her a rainbow, the colors of which will console her mother. So, you know, that should all work out totally fine. She seems reasonably certain she’ll experience a good deal of posthumous success, too. “Funny,” she sings, “when you’re dead how people start listening.”
So, given the current environment in the country—high unemployment, growing outrage over financial and political corruption—it’s essentially just another escapist anthem, thumbing its nose at the reality that has set in for so many people across (and especially in, ahem, the middle of) the country, insisting that, well, it was a life well lived and that everything would ultimately be ok for the people left behind. The music of the Great Depression it ain’t, but for better or worse, maybe it still really is The People’s Music. Also, if you watch the video above, you’ll see that despite all of her hand-wringing about it, even after a scare, she doesn’t actually seem to die at the end!