Pardon me ladies and gentleman for the bravado and grandiosity, but apparently it has fallen to me to be the master of the obvious, and the voice of country music’s conscience and point out that . . .
LIONEL RICHIE IS NOT COUNTRY!!!
So why then exactly is country music paying more attention, and pulling more resources towards promoting Lionel and his new duets album Tuskegee than any other project in its history? This supposed “tribute” album to his hometown in Alabama is no more than a rehash of his greatest hits LP interjecting pop country vocal talent as willing accomplices to help smooth out Lionel’s “go country” transition. What this “tribute” album is, is a tribute to Lionel himself, and even though this album is less than a week old, The Academy of Country Music Awards is planning a full blown “tribute” to Lionel Richie tonight on their 2012 awards show.
Country music’s complicit and overly submissive posture towards Lionel Richie has been nothing short of miraculous. The media coverage of Lionel has been second to none, at the expense of more deserving country artists. The dialogue of Lionel’s country move, or whether the music on Tuskegee is even country and what impact that might have on the genre long-term has been non-existent. On the 2011 CMA awards this last Fall, Lionel Richie, LIONEL RICHIE received more face time than any other artist that wasn’t a host; over 6 minutes, an awards show eternity.
But the truth of the matter is that Lionel Richie isn’t using country music, country music is using Lionel Richie. Just like Jason Aldean, an Entertainer of the Year contender for this years ACM Awards said to CMT, country music needs to erase “negative stereotypes” that country music is, well, indeed country, and he hopes the ACM Awards help do that.
Country music still kind of fights the stereotypes a lot of times. And here we’re having a country music show, and it’s in one of the glitziest cities in the world, so it just shows you that were not still sitting on hay bales passing out awards at these shows.
So instead of using awards shows to show why country is country, and why that is something people should be proud of and thankful for and something they should be interested in, country is trying to prove why it is not country, and that is where Lionel Richie, the Tuskegee album, and his ACM tribute come in. They are an apology to the rest of music by country, a plea for relevancy and attention to the outside world, a submissive move by country music that elucidates that country music’s identity and traditions as weaknesses.
The amount of artists more worthy of an ACM tribute before Lionel Ritchie measure in the hundreds, maybe in the thousands. It will be interesting to see how the ACM’s handle their tribute to the recently passed Earl Scruggs, the man who performed the theme song to The Beverley Hillbillies, in relation to Lionel’s tribute and the idea that country needs to apologize for itself for being so country.
If Lionel Richie wants to do an album of duets with current country stars to re-ignite a career and open up his fan base to a new audience, then great. And hey, if that ends up turning Lionel Richie fans onto some new music they love, then even better. But let’s call a spade a spade, and instead of being conflicted and embarrassed about what country music is, a genre whose name will always define what it is and where it came from, let’s be proud of it, unapologetic, and instead of being submissive to the rest of music in an attempt to stay relevant, showcase our best and brightest talent to create our own relevancy and have the popularity trends shape around us.
Lionel Richie may help country music achieve some short term goals, but he will never save it, and may set it on shaky ground, because…