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, Faith is known more for her charisma and sheer star power than her technical accomplishment, 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 (so maybe Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks are a better modern example), 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
Juliette is basically what Taylor Swift would be if the latter had had a classic country upbringing. She 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 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–Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, Tyler Farr–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. I don’t think they necessarily meant it as a satire of the widely-derided bro-country, but if they did, it’s hilarious.
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, slightly emo sound very similar (listening to a Civil Wars album is basically like listening to a bunch of less over-produced and more offbeat Scarlett and Gunnar songs), but the first song Scarlett and Gunnar ever sang was a song by the Civil Wars.
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 still an amazing singer, of course, and she’s also a little bit more of an archetypal plucky young outlaw 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.