So wait, Kenny Chesney changed the name of his new record and delayed the release … for this? Don’t bother shaving your legs or changing out of your sweatpants for this one ladies, “Setting the World On Fire” is a non-plussing, generic, lame, cliché, afterthought of a song, not worth the paper it was written on, or the undivided attention of anyone aside from critics who wish to urinate on it and those who enjoy watching.
This song can’t make it five seconds without trainwrecking, when the terrible generic electronic drum beat comes stealing through the adult contemporary guitar tinklings to drain your life force and break your country music spirit. You can go through the entirety of “Setting the World On Fire,” comb through it with fine detail, dissect it every which way, break it down to its most basic chemical components, blast it with a proton microscope, and you won’t find one kernel, one rice grain, one sand spec, one molecule of anything that even remotely resembles anything relating to country music with this song.
“Setting the World On Fire” is not ragingly offensive for any specific transgression. Many of its adverse elements—like the electronic drum beat and sub-par lyricism—are commonplace for these kinds of radio tracks. It’s more about how aggressively generic it is that makes it so offensive. It’s the song’s safety that makes it so dangerously benign.
What you have with “Setting the World On Fire” is a pop star pushing 40, and country star pushing 50, clasping onto each other in fear, hoping the combined glimmer of their dwindling stars will cast enough light for someone in the mainstream to pay attention to them before they’re pushed towards Vegas as nostalgia acts. Chesney’s previous single “Noise” failed to crack the Top 5 on country radio after his friends in the biz bestowed him five straight #1’s from his mediocre last record The Big Revival. Chesney’s one of the few country acts who can still sell out stadiums, but clearly some are looking to edge him out for new blood as the top of country music continues to get more crowded.
It’s because of this impending ageism facing Chesney that he’s trying to convey youth through a song set on Southern California’s La Cienega Blvd—mere miles from George Strait’s “Marina Del Rey,” yet worlds apart in maturity and substance.
“Said ‘Do you think we’ll live forever?’ As we killed another beer
And you wrote I love you in lipstick on the mirror
We were laughin’ until we were breathless
Never felt anything so reckless…”
Even Taylor Swift has moved on from writing such frivolous, juvenile “live forever” pap.
And look, it’s understood that some listeners whose tastes range beyond country music might have an affinity for Pink and her ability to contort herself and pick her nose with her pinkie toe on a Cirque de Soleil tapestry while still staying in tune. I appreciate that she did a sedated, folkish-style record a few years back and has some decent songs. You’re a closet Pink fan, or she’s a guilty pleasure for you? Hey, that’s awesome. But whatever talents and attributes she possesses, they sure didn’t come through with this song, or at least were wasted on its genericism. If this was Pink feat. Kenny Chesney and was released to pop radio, perhaps the story would be different. But if you bring this weak sauce onto the country turf, you’re setting it up to get reefed in the privates.
Chesney’s continued support by country radio hides the fact that he’s grasping for a direction in his career, and for the attention from common fans to maintain his top flight status as opposed to bowing out gracefully and adding to his more long-term legacy with memorable songs. His latest move is to follow the trend of the pop collaboration, and we’ll see if it has any effect, aided by Billboard’s flawed system that will give Chesney credit for spins of “Setting the World On Fire” on pop radio through Pink. But in the end, the question is if “Setting the World On Fire” has enough pyrotechnics or star power to push it to #1, and give Chesney and his label the radio hit their looking for ahead of his next album release.