There are many reasons you should be watching Nashville–Hayden Panettiere’s fierce performance, the relatively progressive politics, Connie Britton’s hair–but one of the most distinct pleasures is the soundtrack, which manages to represent almost all of the archetypes of country music. Down-home hillbilly country is mostly left out (unless the detested Vita comes back), but otherwise it has everything from Juliette’s bubblegum pop country to Zoey’s Southern soul country to Avery’s weird punk country. And best of all, most of the characters have obvious real-life counterparts who share the same artistry and/or biographical legend, and sometimes even the same face.
Rayna – Faith Hill
Rayna is a country legend, one of the all-time great female country singers with a classic, timeless appeal. The obvious comparisons would be Martina McBride, Shania Twain, and Faith Hill, but we’ll go with Faith. Like Rayna, she has a high-profile marriage to another country star, and she has almost-as-great hair.
Deacon – Randy Travis
Deacon has that low, dulcet (slightly generic) voice typical of country crooners like Josh Turner and Trace Adkins, but Randy Travis takes the cake, because his personal life is similarly a mess worthy of a country song. Like Deacon, Randy is known for getting into fistfights, rocky romantic relationships, and rehab. Deacon/Randy is the modern Johnny Cash: a tortured soul who derives his angsty country tunes from his tortured life.
Rayna and Deacon – June and Johnny Cash
Speaking of Johnny Cash, Rayna and Deacon are clearly meant to be a classic tortured country love story in the vein of June/Johnny or Hank/Audrey. It’s not a perfect analogy, since Rayna is supposed to be much more iconic than Deacon, but the overall arc of their story is the same. She waited for him to get his act together for decades, he waited for her while she was married (or almost married) multiple times. And then when they finally ended up together, he was virtually cured of his addictions. Or so it seems so far.
Juliette – Evil Taylor Swift
Like Taylor, Juliette starts off as a young, blonde, curly-haired teenybopper country-pop singer who clearly has real talent, but isn’t taken especially seriously. But then she just won’t go away, and proves to all the naysayers that she’s a force to be reckoned with. She experiments with different types of music while trying to find her sound, and eventually is such a big player in the industry that she gets the opportunity to sing proper pop music and become an even bigger star. Unlike Taylor, she ultimately doesn’t take that opportunity, so we can continue to dream that she’s the parallel-universe version of a slightly more evil, very much still country Taylor Swift.
Luke Wheeler – Luke Bryan
This may be the funniest and most obvious allusion. Luke is clearly an amalgam of all of the “bro-country” singers out there–Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton–who all sing about beer, trucks, and “girls.” They also tend to look exactly alike, since they all have that generic white-guy handsomeness, to the point that it’s a little difficult to tell them apart. And not only does Will Chase look like a Face Swap between Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, but the character’s name sounds like they just changed Luke Bryan’s name to something that would remind people of trucks.
Scarlett and Gunnar – The Civil Wars
Okay, okay, so The Civil Wars were never technically an item. But still, Scarlett and Gunnar are clearly supposed to be a riff on the indie-folk duo. Not only is their soft, angsty sound very similar (listening to a playlist of Scarlett and Gunnar songs is basically like listening to an over-produced Civil Wars album), but the first song Scarlett and Gunnar ever sang was a song by the Civil Wars.
ZAG / The Triple X’s – Fleetwood Mac
Although their aesthetic was more like The Civil Wars, Scarlett and Gunnar’s personal history was more like Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who started writing and performing as a duo before joining Fleetwood Mac. And like Nicks and Buckingham, they kept working together in a group, even after they had an ugly breakup. I kind of wish one of these groups had stayed together a little longer: ZAG, especially, had some really cool Little Big Town harmonies going for them.
Zoey – Petrella Ann Bonner
It’s a shame that Zoey was written off as quickly as she was, because she didn’t get as much of a career trajectory as the other secondary characters. Plus, since black artists don’t get as many opportunities in country music, there just aren’t that many people who are singing in her style. But anyway, when the writers were still interested in her, she seemed to be trying to follow in the footsteps of artists like Petrella Ann Bonner, also known as the “first lady of country soul.”
Layla – Carrie Underwood/Sarah Shook
Layla started off as a clear Carrie Underwood parallel–the pretty, innocent, fresh-faced contestant of a reality show who was both the most technically accomplished singer around and the most in need of street cred. But before her evolution as a character was completely derailed last season, she was clearly on her way to becoming an unapologetically alternative country singer like Sarah Shook, an openly bisexual and super liberal indie country singer who drops F-bombs like there’s no tomorrow.
Will – Ty Herdon
Before Will came out, he was basically just the next generation of “bro-country,” complete with a leather jacket and ever-present cowboy hat. But once he came out as gay, his arc resembled that of groundbreaking country singer Ty Herndon. Herndon was known as a bro-y, good-looking, traditional country singer whose attractiveness to women was part of his marketability. As a result, he stayed closeted for years, and even marrying two women (who reportedly both learned of his sexuality at some point, just like Layla). His sexuality was a subject of speculation until he came out in 2014 and started appearing in public with his longtime boyfriend.
Maddie – Lauren Jenkins
I won’t compare Lennon and Maisy to anyone, because they’re so amazing together, they’ve pretty much carved out their own niche. By herself, Maddie is more of a plucky outlaw type of country singer. The first artist that comes to mind is Lauren Jenkins, an up-and-coming young singer who told her mother in no uncertain terms that she was going to be a country star when she was eight years old, left home at fifteen with nothing but an acoustic guitar, and made her name playing in bars with fake IDs. Her entire life was basically compressed into Maddie’s plotline last season, and they both sing those defiant, firebrand,”you can’t tell me what to do” kind of country songs with similar Stevie Nicks-lite type of voices. Just like Maddie sings songs with lyrics like “I’m a bad girl, I’m a real bad girl / Gonna shoot ’em up, haha / Hit ’em where it hurts so hard / I’m a wild card,” Lauren Jenkins sings Motley Crue songs with lyrics like, “She’s got the looks that kill… she’s bulletproof,” you get the idea.