Imagine Taylor Swift wrestling with Dolly Parton for the title of queen of country music. Sounds like fun? You need to catch up with all the drama down in Nashville.
This grand ole soap opry revolves around Rayna James (Connie Britton), the reigning matriarch who’s starting to fade and whose latest album isn’t selling; and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere), a brittle, bubblegum star beloved of America’s tweens.
When Rayna’s record company suggests she opens for Juliette to revive her career, the stage is set. It’s All about Eve with steel guitars and a ten-gallon hat.
Britton and Panettiere elevate condescending niceness to an art form as the rival songstresses, their bright white teeth clenched tight, trade barbed pleasantries such as “My momma was one of your biggest fans.” The focus is on the cut-throat music biz, with other storylines neatly featuring all the tropes of country: cheating spouses, drunken lovers, heartache and pain.
Glee showed that combining drama with earworm tunes is a ratings winner — and highly profitable too, thanks to spin-off mp3s.
But where the pupils of McKinley High relied on covers and mash-ups, Nashville showrunner Callie Khouri got her husband, soundtrack maestro T-Bone Burnett, to curate a bed of proper, bespoke songs from the likes of Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams.
There are no high-falutin’ ideas or themes here, just good, honest entertainment that delights in the stereotypes of country: everyone says “y’all” and characters do indeed sit on the back of pick-up trucks, strumming guitars and singing of loss and regret.
Not a fan of Nashville’s greatest export? Put your prejudices aside. This is a musical drama where the music, from belligerent pop stompers to heart-breaking ballads, informs the drama — and vice versa.