The current state of country music has been hotly debated in recent weeks, with the legendary likes of Loretta Lynn and Linda Ronstadt speaking out about their distaste for the genre's modern iteration.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Ronstadt criticized today's country as watered-down and "suburban," colorfully describing it as "Midwest mall-crawler music" that has nothing in common with the roots-y, rural-based format with which she fell in love. For her part, Lynn offered a characteristically succinct takedown of the format's poppier leanings, saying on an episode of Martina McBride's Vocal Point podcast that the genre is "dead" and that some of the more crossover-friendly, newer artists should "be singing pop music and leave country alone."

While it's certainly true that the genre is changing, not every country singer believes that that change is a bad thing. On the red carpet at the 2019 CMA Awards -- a couple of months before Lynn spoke out against the contemporary format and sparked the current maelstrom of debate over the genre's health -- Pam Tillis told The Boot that she is excited by the rising acts who are experimenting with country music's boundaries.

"You know, sometimes, playlists are very narrow," she points out. "And everything can make you feel like you've got to play it safe all the time. I just see a lot of artists really pushing back against that, and trying to break outside of the box."

At the 2019 CMA Awards, Tillis presented the trophy for Female Vocalist of the Year, an award that ultimately went to Kacey Musgraves, one of the genre's most notable boundary-pushers. In fact, all of the nominees in that category -- Musgraves, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood -- are known for carving out their own particular brand of country music, and each artist falls at a different point on the spectrum of traditional to experimental.

"I love Brothers Osborne, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Stapleton -- Miranda stretches [the genre]," Tillis goes on to say. While all four of those artists have experimental, progressive views on country music, they all also have strong traditional leanings -- but Tillis appreciates the more genre-blending acts, too, she adds.

"Billy Ray [Cyrus] and Lil Nas X, you know, all of that -- it's important," she relates. "All the artists that really try to stretch, I think it makes our format richer."

Even though so many of today's artists experiment and collaborate outside the genre, anyone who's been keeping an eye on Luke Combs' country radio chart record can attest to the fact that traditional music still has an important home in the format. It still holds a special place in Tillis' heart, too, the singer admits.

"And then I love the good ol', you know, Jon Pardi," she adds with a grin. "The more traditional sound. I just think that the great thing about country music today is there truly is something for everybody."

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