When I first proposed the theory that all popular music was coalescing into one big mono-genre where even the two traditionally polarized genres of country and hip-hop would be living side by side, even I didn’t think the conversion would happen so quickly and be so indisputable. Looking at country music, the top albums, the top songs, and the top artists all have ties to the merging of all popular music. It is truly a man bites dog world out there in music these days. Here’s 7 signs the mono-genre is here.
The King of Country Rap Colt Ford’s latest album was released August 7th and debuted at #1 on the Billboard country charts, unprecedented for an artist who receives relatively no radio play and is not a huge concert draw. Sometimes albums in their debut week will cause an anomaly in the charts, starting off really high but then falling precipitously weeks after, but Declaration of Independence has remained in the Top 10 now for over a month, currently sitting at #7 on Billboard. At some point, radio will have no choice but to quit ignoring Colt.
When the reigning Entertainer of the Year for both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music releases a song and the other version is the country one, this is a pretty good sign country music is losing its autonomy. While the country version of “We Are Never…” is falling on the charts, debuting at #13 on Billboard and sliding now to #19, the “pop” version has done something no other song had done from a country artist since 1980: stay on top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 3 weeks straight. Kenny Rogers’ “Lady” was the last one to accomplish this feat, a song written by Lionel Richie (see below). And don’t forget Taylor’s “Both of Us” duet with rapper B.o.B.
Rap or country, city farm, it don’t matter who you are
It’s one thing to have an artist known for country rap to gain acceptance, or to have a pop star whose always been more pop than country go even more pop. But when a bona-fide top-tier country music franchise comes out with what is ostensibly a rap song that name drops Lil’ Wayne, talks about “subs pumpin'” and being “up in the club,” there’s no question major genre line blurring has gone mainstream. “Truck Yeah” is like the mono-genre National Anthem.
It’s old news that Aldean’s country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” co-written by Colt Ford was the best-selling song of 2011, but the song is not done making headlines just yet. “Dirt Road Anthem” was certified triple platinum in June, is up for Song of the Year at the CMA Awards in November, and Aldean is also a frontrunner for the CMA’s most coveted trophy: Entertainer of the Year. His upcoming album reportedly includes another country rap, and it’s hard to dispute that Jason Aldean is anything but a country music mega-star, with billing just as high as Taylor Swift, if not higher. It was his milktoast, softcore version of country rap that made the genre-merging music mainstream.
Lionel Richie proved that a non-country artist with non-country songs on a non-country album of all previously-released material can use country infrastructure and avenues to release an album and it can go on to be a massive blockbuster success. Tuskegee was the best selling album for the first half of 2012, not just in country, but in all of music. It had sold 912,000 copies by mid July, and has since been certified platinum. Much of this is the fault of the Academy of Country Music running an hour-long special on Lionel earlier in the year; a gesture not extended to any other country artist.
This may seem like a subtle thing, but the symbolism is significant. Country music and the CMA’s seem to be perpetually wanting to apologize for their countryness these days, and how better to do that than to move the CMA announcement to the most metropolitan part of the country? Meanwhile the Grammy’s, paying homage to the increasing importance of the country music super-genre, are announce their nominations where the CMA’s should be: in downtown Nashville.
The Grammy’s might also paying tribute in part to Nashville’s burgeoning independent scene. Depending who you talk to, Nashville is considered the epicenter of independent music, existing right under the nose of Music Row with little acknowledgement or regard. The Grammy’s recognize the indie world as one of the fastest-growing segments in music. Remember, the mono-genre is not just about all popular music becoming one, but how micro-genres and independent music will increase as mainstream listeners search for choice.
The more mainstream music consolidates, the more independent music will increase due to the listeners falling through the cracks and becoming disenfranchised with the lack of choice and diversity. Mainstream artists will also be enticed to the independent world by the lure of creative freedom and a more attentive, engaged audience. According to Nielsen SoundScan, independent sales are up 61% since 2006 to a record $26.2 million annually. Spotify is also reporting an increased payout to independent labels.