Rodney Atkins – “It’s America”

Jim Malec | December 4th, 2008

Rodney Atkins - Its America Rodney Atkins’ “It’s America,” which he debuted on last month’s CMA Awards broadcast, is presumptuous and without substance. More importantly, it makes poor use of subjective personal pronouns.

The first single from Atkins’ upcoming project, “It’s America” boasts a chorus that rattles off a list of very pleasant nostalgia meant to conjure the warm and fuzzies in all of us country bumpkins, with all of “it” finally climaxing into the supposedly lump-in-throat-inducing catch phrase “it’s America.”

But wait…what’s America? What is the “it” that supposedly represents this nation of millions? Is “it” really, as the song suggests, “A man on the moon?” Think about that: A man on the moon is America. That sentence doesn’t even make sense.

And that is exactly why this song represents both the worst of contemporary country music and the worst of contemporary patriotism. It’s not because of bad grammar (a crime all its own), but because here syntax and meaning have both been displaced by symbolism. The actual words don’t mean two shakes of a dog’s tail. The “it” Atkins is singing about has nothing to do with Springsteen or lemonade stands or technological advances or anything else mentioned in the lyrics—these things are only tokens meant to reaffirm an image of what some consider the pure America, the wholesome America, or the ideal America. It is not a song meant to define what America “is,” it’s a song meant to reinforce what a slice of the population already believes—that “real” Americans are essentially the same, that there is some set of “core American values,” and that patriotism means never complaining, never asking questions, and never challenging the ideas we’ve acquired through our political socialization.

It doesn’t matter that the “it” in “It’s America” doesn’t mean anything, because we’re not supposed to actually turn our brains on and think about what’s coming out of Atkins’ mouth. “Just listen to the song and enjoy it,” people will say. Or, “It’s just a song.” The reaction it is meant to elicit is a gut reaction—“it” is what we believe to be true because of what we feel, not because of what we know. “It” is what makes us say, “America is the best country in the world, dadgummit.” And if the song were boiled down to its elemental parts, if most of it were removed or altered, it would not make a single bit of difference, because what matters is not what “it” is, but what “it” represents. Atkins could be singing about high school football games, hanging out at the lake on a long hot summer day, or two old men playing checkers at the courthouse square (none of which appear here)—it doesn’t matter, because the images utilized are only relevant in that they serve as confirmations.

But it isn’t just a song. And it isn’t harmless. It’s a three and half minute message that’s going to be blasted into millions of homes and cars from coast to coast for the next three months or more. And to imply or expect that we shouldn’t think about what it means (and doesn’t mean) is absolutely absurd.

That’s what mainstream country has become, however, to a large degree in 2008—a place where symbolism trumps everything else and where any song that asks us to think is an outlier. Mainstream radio reinforces that we’re country, that we love God, and, of course, as is the case here, that America is a land of milk and honey where everyone who is willing to work gets a fair and equal shot at the American Dream, and where everyone pitches in to help out their neighbors.

To that end, the only acknowledgment this song makes to any part of the complex nature or nuance of our great nation comes in one line of a two line bridge that passes so quickly it is not only expendable but almost unnoticeable if you’re not listening for it, one line that declares that “We don’t always get it right,” and which is immediately thereafter canceled out by the proclamation that “There’s nowhere else I’d rather build my life.”

We don’t always get it right” is a line composed of the same mass as the rest of the song—zero. It’s designed as a counterweight to those who might criticize “It’s America” for being too positive, thereby giving critics like myself an easy out, a way to say that Atkins does indeed acknowledge America’s imperfect nature.

While Atkins is singing about Springsteen songs, he fails to tap into any bit of the dusty Americana that makes the Boss’ music enduring and quintessentially American. While Atkins is singing about lemonade stands, he seemingly fails to recognize that they are, by and large, a thing of the past, that we live in a society where parents are so protective of their children and fearful for their safety that there’s no way most of them would allow their kids to set up and sell drinks to strangers on the street. The “Picture perfect postcard” Atkins sees is one printed in black and white, and is one which is perfectly incomplete and sentimentalized. It’s not that anything he’s singing about is incorrect—it’s that all of these things are discussed only topically, as if the character of America can really be summed up by “Fireflies in June” or by saying “One nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance.

That may be what Atkins or his audience wants America to be, but that’s not what America is.

That’s not to say that a song of this nature should neutrally discuss the state of the nation–this is, after all, a positive proclamation and there’s nothing wrong with that. But “It’s America” pretends that the images it presents as fundamental exist in isolation, which simply isn’t true. And it makes no attempt to discuss why those images are personally relevant or important to the singer, which just advances the idea that personal relevance is irrelevant and that these symbols of America are universal.

“It’s America” is a symbol not a song, an advertisement not art. And maybe in that we find the most true metaphor relating to this discussion: When it comes to mainstream contemporary art, perhaps this song is America.

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Listen: Rodney Atkins – “It’s America”

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  1. [...] This review by the fabulous Jim Malec over at the9513 and the ensuing comments got me to thinking about how [...]
  2. [...] (a crime all its own), but because here syntax and meaning have both been displaced by symbolism. - The 9513 In the end the mix drowns out the lyrics and to be frank, Rodney Atkins isn’t a great technical [...]
  1. Kelly
    December 4, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    When he performed this on the CMA’s, I was disgusted, frankly. I do not get how a writer or writers can sit down, come up with this and think it is anything but elementary school garbage. Even more, I dont get the people that will inevitably come on here and say things like, “hey, my kids love lemonade, so this song speaks to me”.

    I am not so sure that this song isnt more dangerous than the bobbing head song from Rascal Flats. “Bob That Head” was an obvious joke of a song, insanely hideous and didnt seem to make much of an attempt at legitimacy. This wannabe heartland anthem, however, is dangerous as it has a real shot at becoming a hit and having people treat it like gospel and claiming that they “agree” with the song, simply because “It’s America”

  2. Katie
    December 4, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    I found the second verse especially irritating: he watches on TV as people flock to help out the victims of a natural disaster and thinks, “I’m so glad I live in America.” Because the rest of the world spits on their neighbors? This stuff is so tired.

  3. Mike Parker
    December 4, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I actually really liked most of his last album- but if this is an indication of what’s to come I think I’ll pass.

  4. Steve M.
    December 4, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    That has to be one of most laziest songs I have ever heard. The songwriter used every cliche possible.

  5. roger
    December 4, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    …i still can’t figure out why Curb has stood behind this guy for so long…he is an awful live singer, i feel sorry for him struggling to sing on awards shows.

  6. CraigR.
    December 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Rodney Atkins wants people to like him-really like him! He is not an artist or a great singer. He is just a guy trying to gain fame. This guy is being lead around by an industry that just wants to sell him- and he is so greedy or immature or obtuse that he is following the lead. And if he fails they will replace him with another guy looking for fame. But they are not in it for art. Or for that matter for America. They only want what they can get out of America. Not what they can leave it.

  7. Mike Parker
    December 4, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    I’ve Rodney live several times and think he puts on a good show.

    Short story- I’m in a band with a childhood friend of Rodney’s. A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I was backstage at the Opry and Rodney was there. I introduced myself and the first thing he said to me was, “hey weren’t you the guy who wrote ‘insert the name of one of my many little heard, lightly traveled songs here’.” Immediately I knew something was up and that I’d been set up. We talked for awhile about several different things before he went out and played. I’ve met Rodney since on a few occasions with my bandmate, and he’s about as down to earth and personable as they come.

    I’m definitely rooting for him, but I think he’s taken a giant step back with this song.

    As for the reason I think Curb has stuck with him- is that he had (and has) the potential to make them a lot of money. He had four #1s in a row with an album the was made for nothing. Seems like a good enough reason to keep the guy :)

  8. Bobby
    December 4, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    I really don’t think that Rodney is that bad a singer at all. He sounds like the 1995 version of Tim McGraw with a potato chip stuck in his throat, but eh. I’ve heard worse.

    Sure, his producer mixed Angela Hurt’s background vocals too loud [i]yet again[/i], and sure, the lyrics are the typical “list anything” variety, but besides the awkward, contradictory bridge I can’t really find a reason to dislike it. Maybe I’m too generous; after all, I *did* sorta like “Bob That Head”.

  9. Kelly
    December 4, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    I will say that I think he is a fine vocalist and performer for the most part. I just wish this song had never happened….

  10. Barry Mazor
    December 4, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    As an alternative, just listen to Waylon Jennings’ “America” and recall that country can (potentially) deliver a smart, heartfelt, specific, nuanced patriotic song like THAT.

  11. Guy
    December 4, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    Atkins, again, seems like a nice guy. But what everyone here is in effect wondering is how do such average talents like him keep getting record deals and major promotion?

    Don’t we as fans deserve more? Why do we have to “settle” and say “well … it’s not THAT bad …”?

    Why not sign and promote someone REALLY GOOD??!!?!

    Instead we get fed a steady diet of Kenny Chesney and start to think it’s good (because it’s on the radio).

  12. Mike Parker
    December 4, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Guy… that’s a really good question. Some answers could be: nepotism, good self-promotion, right place/right time, just good looking, just well writ, just entertaining, just a good voice, just persistent, just has money, good with DJs, etc.

    There’s also the question of defining “Really Good.” My definition is different from your definition is different from Mike Curb’s definition is different from America’s definition (see American Idol).

    A lot of the most creative and talented people just don’t want to deal with the muck of the business or don’t know where to start.

  13. Drew
    December 4, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    I understand the review and can see your points, but still really like this song… just good simple fun. Can’t wait for his new album.

  14. Guy
    December 4, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    No, Mike. We all know “really good” when we hear it. And saying it comes down to personal preference only is not quite accurate, and muddying the waters where mediocrity swims.

  15. PaulaW
    December 4, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Lately I’ve been listening to the songs and making my decisions and comments BEFORE reading the review or any other comments.

    On this one I say …. I LIKE IT!!

  16. Rick
    December 4, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Could someone please explain why most of the live vocal performances I’ve heard from Rodney on the Opry (and other venues) have been borderline horrific while his studio work sounds good? He is like the male country counterpart to Taylor Swift!

    What I really want to know is that by the end of January 2009 will he release a revised version rooted in “Change” and “Hope” titled “It’s An Obama-Nation!”? Hmmmm………

  17. Drew
    December 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Yes, Rodney is very bad live. He just can’t sing without studio help.

  18. Clemson Brad
    December 4, 2008 at 9:35 pm

    Rodneys best album was his VERY underated first one that produced the top five hit, “Honesty” (Which he doesn’t even play live anymore) Get that album out of the dollar bin if you ever get a chance.

  19. Matt M
    December 5, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I’m fairly easily moved by these patriotic songs, but the lyrics in this song are too generic, cliche, and dumbed down for me to like it at all.

  20. Mayor Jobob
    December 6, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    He sounded better live last time than the time he did that medley with his cracking screachy voice. when was that?

  21. lee
    December 7, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    I actually like this song. I might be alone here but I heard it and loved it. And Rodney isn’t any different than most the country singers out there. All of these new comers to country music really suck live. They use studio help on the albums. Rodney does put on a good show occasionaly however. At least when I saw him live he was good.

  22. Marilyn Brown
    December 9, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    I am from Greensburg, KS a little town that was was blown away from a tornado on 5-4-07. All I can say is thank GOD we live in America. That night when we crawled out of our houses we had neighbors from both Haviland and Mullinvlle, KS at our sides to help us. Then as that night turned into day we had more neighbors from KS helping. Now rebuilding we have had neighbors from all around the USA and Canada to help. We would not have made it if no one had came to help.
    I like Rodney’s song please keep singing they way you do!!! Thank you America for helping, us in a little town in Kansas. And I am sure my grammar is bad too.
    Thanks again and Merry Christmas
    Marilyn Brown

  23. Sylvia
    December 10, 2008 at 9:48 pm

    Wow! I’m blown away with all the negative comments. I love this song so much I can’t wait for it to finally come out on Itunes. Rodney is soft on the eyes and I think his voice is great.
    Merry Christmas!
    :)!!!

  24. Katie
    December 11, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    I like It’s America and I love Rodney for the man he is! He is a great atist and has a heart and soul only a true fan can see! There are way worse songs on the radio and this one actually means alot!

  25. Brian Cornelius
    December 12, 2008 at 4:43 am

    why is everyone so quick to over-analyze this song as if it is going to redefine our country or something? the purpose of the song is simply to appreciate and compile simple aspects of American life into an upbeat song. Would it be a great song if he talked about skyscrapers and lawyers trying to sue everyone they can? cause thats in America too, but no one respects that kind of person. Just enjoy the intentional cliches, and dont worry about the fact that its simple. He’s not comparing the US to anyone else, just appreciating. Enjoy it. learn to live with a smile on your face

  26. J.R. Journey
    December 12, 2008 at 11:50 am

    The real problem with this song – and the host of others like it – is that it is going to take away airplay time from the deserving songs. And as was just discussed in the Jo Dee Messina interview, the Curb promotional dollars are going to this crap instead of to a real artist and someone who can actually carry a tune like Messina. So, that’s what I think is the biggest nuisance with cliche’ list songs in this ilk – particularly in this case.

    But a great read and fabulous review, Jim. My sentiments on the track exactly …

  27. Micala
    December 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    i cant believe all these negative comments about Rodney!! he’s awsum!! i luv all his songs, and i luv “It’s America.”! i cannot wait for his new album!!

  28. Val
    December 23, 2008 at 10:16 am

    I don’t understand why everyone is so negative? I was raised in a small town (about 200 people). Now that I am a big city girl, this song is almost nostalgic for me. It just makes me think of home. Nice people, helping each other out of the goodness of their hearts, friends and neighbors enjoying picnics and little league games. The American Flag blowing proudly on every front yard and street corner. If you focus on every word of the song…of course it is not all going to be grammatically correct, etc. Very few songs are these days. What’s wrong with feeling patriotic, and being thankful that we are Americans. What’s wrong with acknowledging that although America has it’s flaws and we’re facing touch times, there is still no other country that we would rather live in. I find that songs like this remind me to appreciate those that serve our country (regardless of political beliefs, they put their lives on the line for our freedom). For the people that had such terrible things to say about the song, I think you should check your compass, you may be a little lost in life. The song is not trying to brainwash anyone into thinking that change is bad, or that America has to be a certain way or it’s un-american. It’s merely showing appreciation. I am proud of the small town I grew up in, I am proud to be married to a US Marine, and I embrace America as the land of the free. America is constantly changing and evolving, and that is one of the things that makes it great. However, that doesn’t mean we have to stop appreciating the picture of small town life that many of us hold close to our hearts.

  29. MW
    December 26, 2008 at 11:14 am

    To Val, well said! I agree completely.

    I can’t understand the negativity either.

  30. Meagan R.
    January 15, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    What’s wrong with you people who don’t like his song. Its a fricken song! it’s makes people smile and feel good about Amercia. Do you think you could have the rights you do living outside of America? If America’s song writers stink everytime the sit down & write a song about her, then deal with it. If you don’t like what song writers write and only can bitch about it then stick your head in the toilet. Move out of America or go and write and perform your own song of what you think America is and see how far the song gets. You negative people are just stupid people. Go find music you like and leave a positive comment. If you even now how to do that!

  31. Bobby
    January 16, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Wow, Brett James and Angelo Petraglia wrote this? It’s so unlike Brett James to do a vague list song.

    As for Meagan R.— What we’re doing is called criticism. We’re entitled to our opinions. “It’s just a fricken song” holds no weight.

  32. rachel
    January 18, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    i’ve heard rodney atkins live and i think he’s a great singer!! he’s way better than taylor swift that everyone claims is just amazing. why has she made it big when all of her songs are about the exact same thing. i’m proud of rodney and the song writers getting back to real country. this review sucks and i will continue to request this song on the radio and can’t wait till it’s released!!!

  33. Angela
    January 19, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Seriously… i guess i dont understand why people think this is such a bad song. i love this song. it has a really good country feeling to it. im sorry but i feel he is what country music should be. not some pop country. im tired of hearing taylor swift being played all over the radio. i want to hear some good old country music. plus it is about America. The best place on earth. I guess some of you really dont know what good country music it is and thats sad. rodney is a great singer and love his music sooooo much.

  34. Jim Malec
    January 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    i dont understand why people think this is such a bad song.

    Read the review.

  35. Bobby
    January 20, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    As I said earlier, I don’t think the song is THAT bad. I agree with most of the points in the review, and I think the Rodney fanboys/girls on this listing are pretty thick, but I don’t consider the song offensively bad. It’s pretty weak for a Brett James/Angelo cowrite (hint, hint, Jim) though.

  36. John
    January 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Rodney Atkins is a really awesome singer, and this song is awesome, too.

  37. northtexas
    January 22, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    “i’ve heard rodney atkins live and i think he’s a great singer!! he’s way better than taylor swift that everyone claims is just amazing.”

    There’s two current country singers that cause me to instantly switch radio staions whenever one of their songs start to play…Rodney Atkins $ Taylor Swift!

  38. MIDWEST BORN AND RAISED
    January 23, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I think this song is awesome. I understand the points being made by the review writer, but all of this doesn’t make it a bad song. Yes, it is going straight for that “gut feeling.” That is what makes it such a good song. No matter how you feel about the little picked-apart details, when you listen to this song it illicits a sort of inner pride to be living in this country. I live in Western Kansas, where helping out your neighbor in hard times isn’t an accomplishment, it is something that is done without hesitation. This was never more evident than in the Greensburg tornado aftermath. That event was a prime example of what this country is all about at its very root, and what I believe this song is trying to bring about within us…”It’s America.”

  39. G.Seroka
    January 25, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    Wow, what the heck is wrong with half of you? I thought this song is awesome because it does point out many of the good things about America. As a great man once said “America is great because America is good…” When we lose sight of the fact that we don’t deserve what we have, we start a downward spiral. I think Mr. Atkins is trying to call attention to this fact. Sure, we may not all be downhome, laid-back country boys, but we can all appreciate the things this song talks about. And if you want to grade him on his diction or grammar, become a newspaper editor. Sheesh, just learn to appreciate fun music…

  40. Bubba
    February 2, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    those out there that hate this song must have not grow up in the REAL AMERICA. Why does it matter when he stunk at a live concert? It’s is stupid that you don’t care that this song is telling us the the way america should be. This song reminds me of this small town in Iowa where they actually have fun.
    AMERICA IS AWSOME!
    Rodney Adkins rocks live and studio edited.
    Yee haw
    It’s America

  41. Melinda
    February 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    Rodney is the nicest and most down to earth person you will ever meet. I have seen him five times in concert and he has ALWAYS sounded GREAT!! And by the way this song is awesome and is climbing up the charts. Another #1 for Rodney!!!!!!

  42. Alessa
    February 10, 2009 at 11:18 am

    I agree I think that this song is great. I grew up in a small town, and that what this song reminds me of. I love this song!

  43. Andrea
    February 15, 2009 at 5:52 am

    I am an American military servicemember currently deployed overseas. Sitting here in the middle of this barren desert, in a country of censorship that denies its citizens many of the freedoms we take for granted, I can easily applaud the message that Rodney is sending with this song. We really don’t know how blessed we are. It’s the simple things that Rodney mentions in his song that I miss the most. It’s those things that I think of when I think of America. “It’s a kid with a chance it’s a rock and roll band, it’s a farmer cutting hay, it’s a big flag flyin over a fallen hero’s grave”… if those things aren’t symbols of American, please tell me, what is?

  44. Razor X
    February 15, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Andrea, thank you for all the sacrifices you’ve made to keep us all safe and free.

  45. Seriously people?
    February 28, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Wow, way to take a song so personal people. Its a song..a simple song, thats Rodney sings good. It’s also written good. Yeah, lets go take every song we here break it down and find the stupidest reasons to make it a bad song. Wow.

  46. Flower Power Muzik
    March 31, 2009 at 1:09 am

    Honestly this song is garbage. I think he sat there and thought oooh I’ll write a song about America. The people will eat that up. And judging by the charts, they have. But Rodney its still not a good song. And whats worse than the song? It’s the singing. When I saw him sing this on the awards show I thought I’d die! He sounded horrible. I’m not even sure why Curb signed him let alone stood by him. He can’t sing. I liked some of his other songs. Although I’ve always thought his voice sounded bad, almost forced.

  47. Marisa
    May 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I was just wondering… since the lyrics are “one nation under God” right before “It’s America,” doesn’t the “it’s” refer to “one (nation).” I do speak fluent English, but I’d have to admit that I’ve never been good at picking out grammar mistakes.

    I do agree with you in that the other symbols in the song are not supposed to be referred to by “it’s.” I also think they are fluff to just reassure the listeners that “America” is indeed referring to the United States, and not other places in North or South America like Canada, Mexico, etc.

    Thanks for the post! It made me really think about whether I liked the song or not.

  48. Blaine
    June 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    You just spent more time thinking about this song than Rodney Atkins ever did. On the one hand, I agree: I think the guy’s music is pure crap. But at the same time, I can agree with the people who’d tell you you’re thinking too much about it. It’s Rodney Atkins, not Nevermore. If you’re looking for deep ideas, or any ideas, you’re looking in the wrong place. I can tell you, fans of this kind of music aren’t into thinking too much about it. It’s like antidepressant for the ears: makes you feel good, but in a numb kind of way.

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