A Fight Over Pharrell That Country Shouldn’t Even Be Having

pharrell-country

If you thought the story of The Band Perry over the last six months was one of the weirdest, most convoluted situations you could ever imagine coming from a mainstream country music franchise, we’re just beginning boys and girls. And where this entire thing ends up, who knows?

We’ve gone from their latest single and pop debut “Live Forever” flopping at country radio, to the endless delays of their latest record Heart + Beat, to a promised collaboration with a pop superstar on a second rebound single that has yet to be delivered, to exiting Big Machine Records under strange circumstances where “Live Forever” disappeared shortly from retail outlets before repopulating solely under The Band Perry’s control, to recently signing with Interscope Records to become a full-on pop act. Or did they?

On May 12th, Billboard reported the news of The Band Perry signing to Interscope and going in a full pop direction henceforth, and that’s the information everyone operated under for the next five days or so. But then on May 16th, it came out through The Tennessean that Interscope was opening up an office in Nashville, and as part of the story it was clarified that The Band Perry’s deal wasn’t just with Interscope, but a partnership between Interscope and Universal Music Group Nashville that would allow the group to “keep one foot in country.” Uh huh.

But the way the news was clarified was all convoluted. As Billboard said when they first announced The Band Perry’s new deal, representatives from both parties declined to comment. So even though The Band Perry and Interscope seemed to think the information was wrong, they took no initiative to correct it.

Then on the 17th of May, Saving Country Music (along with out outlets), received an email from The Band Perry’s publicity company pointing our noses in the direction of a story on Hits Daily Double where the correct information about the deal was.

Are you confused yet? Well it’s about to get even more strange and convoluted, if that’s even possible. In the Hits Daily Double piece, which is totally unattributed, it says Universal Music Group Nashville chief Mike Dungan and Interscope head John Janick jointly signed The Band Perry as opposed to a deal solely through Interscope, yet you’d probably need an interpreter to comprehend that.

Along with other strange editorial choices, the Hits Daily Double article refers multiple times to “The Bible.” It’s referred to in the subheading, “Label Heads Set the Record Straight Following Incorrect Report From the Bible.” A second line also says, “…as suggested in the bible’s story,” and the article is summed up by saying, “In a related story, the Bible is planning a seven-page pictorial on Nashville artists wearing sweater vests.”

“The Bible” is presumably Billboard. But why Hits Daily Double didn’t just say this, why either UMG Nashville, Interscope, or The Band Perry’s management didn’t reach out to Billboard to clarify matters until days later, and then left it to a snide piece in another outlet to attempt to set the record straight just makes the situation that much more unusual.

And then on Tuesday (5-24), the news broke that Little Big Town has been working with pop producer and performer Pharrell, and yet another wrinkle was added to the continuing saga of The Band Perry.

What does the Little Big Town news have to do with The Band Perry? It turns out The Band Perry has also been working with Pharrell on new music, or so was the story about a year ago when the band spoke with Cody of CMT:

“We’re being really crazy about the different collaborations that we’re diving into,” Kimberly Perry told Cody. “We got to hang out with Pharrell a couple weeks ago. He’s like a huge country music fan, and he also really loves what we do with harmony. One thing that we worked on with him was this song where all three of us sing different interwoven vocals on the verse and on the chorus.”

Kimberly Perry’s words sound very similar to the words of Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, who said about their Pharrell collaboration on Tuesday (5-24), “[Pharrell] loves southern harmonies — he’s from Virginia — and is a big fan of country music. He’s good at anything, and such a joy to be around.”

Hypothetically, the Pharrell collaboration with The Band Perry would have been Pharrell’s first appearance in country, and would have been released on the family trio’s Heart + Beat record back in November of 2015 when it was originally scheduled from Big Machine. Who knows, maybe the collaboration was slotted to be released as a single as well.

As the news of the Little Big Town collaboration with Pharrell was breaking, Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry tweeted out:

kimberly-perry-tweet

Was this tweet related to the information on Little Big Town working with Pharrell? There is certainly no confirmation of this, just like there is no confirmation that Hits Daily Double was talking about Billboard when they kept saying “Bible” in their strange piece on The Band Perry’s label deal. But it certainly fits a pattern from The Band Perry that we’ve been seeing from the outfit over the last 6+ months.

Meanwhile, why exactly is Little Big Town working with Pharrell anyway? The fact that we have two “country” acts vying over the same pop producer proves just how immersed the pop world has become in country.

“It’s not a country record,” Karen Fairchild says about the 8-song album Wanderlust being released on June 10 that came about from the Pharrell collaboration. Okay, then why does it matter if Pharrell is such a fan of country music, and born in Virginia?

Karen Fairchild goes on to say, “And it’s not like anything we’ve ever done. It’s fun to be spontaneous and put it out there to the fans, because we want to, and not to overthink it, but just because it has brought us a lot of joy, and we think it will for them as well. So why not? We’re going with our gut and putting it out there. It’s just music, you know?”

It’s just music? What does that even mean? That quote proves how valueless all of these pop/country collaborations are. It’s not even about the music. The music is just the excuse to keep these celebrity entertainment franchises in the spotlight. It’s about names, not music. Nobody’s feeling a deep human emotion and then articulating it into song. They’re just pairing hot names together like the producers of superhero movies. Demi Lovato and Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and that girl from No Doubt, Batman vs. Superman; it’s just one big effort to start off the buzz cycle in the media to hopefully stretch dwindling music relevancy into continued celebrity status.

“We’re lucky to be Grand Ole Opry members,” continues Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town. “And I don’t know if we can talk him into that, but wouldn’t that be fun, to invite Pharrell to the Opry and introduce him to Nashville? He’s gonna love everybody there.”

Yeah, introduce Pharrell to everybody so he can make even more pop records with country artists. Why not just have every single artist in the country music mainstream collaborate with Pharrell? That way nobody gets butt hurt by feeling left out, or feels like someone is stealing their thunder. At least Little Big Town bringing Pharrell to the Grand Ole Opry would mean the foursome actually fulfills some of their performance obligations to the institution, which they neglected in 2015.

In fairness, Little Big Town says they’re also working on more country-oriented material that will be released in proper album form in the future, but why even bother? By that point, pop and country will be one big blob, if we aren’t at that point already. With all the collaborations across country and pop, no matter what station you tune into, you’re hearing the exact same people, and the exact same music.

There have been pop and country collaborations over the history of both genres, so let’s not be too alarmist here or gloss over that truth. But where before the concern was pop stars with dwindling popularity turning to country to hopefully find further life in their careers, now the concern are these producers who come in and turn country pop from the inside out. That’s what we’re seeing with Pharrell, with RedOne who was behind The Band Perry’s “Live Forever,” Max Martin and Taylor Swift’s move to pop, and “busbee” whose been collaborating with just about everybody. Even Shane McAnally, who used to be thought of as a critically-acclaimed songwriter, was the producer behind the ultra-pop efforts of Sam Hunt and Old Dominion. This isn’t about blending country and pop. It’s about turning country into pop because that’s more convenient than moving the whole operation to L.A.

Who gets credit for collaborating with Pharrell first? Who cares. They shouldn’t be working with Pharrell in the first place. And nothing against Pharrell. He seems like a nice, genuine dude. But coveting the star power of pop stars is not the business country music should be in to. It should be putting its own best foot forward, pronouncing its own virtues to the world, be launching artists other genres want to collaborate with instead of vice versa, and be influencing other genres in the way it offers peerless storytelling through critical writing, and a genuine tie to the roots of American roots that is missing in too much of popular music today.

Pop music is “just music.” Country music is our tie to the land, a tie to the past, and an expression of who we are that makes us unique in the brilliant tapestry that is the diverse American culture.