2014 has been a year of great flux in country music, with some legendary successes by independent artists and new mainstream artists, and the shuffling out of other artists and the fumbling of what once were legendary, high flying careers. Here’s a run down of the five biggest winners and losers in the greater country music world in 2014.
PLEASE NOTE: Calling someone either a “winner” or a “loser” in no way should be taken as a ringing endorsement or an absolute admonishment of any artist, organization, or the music they are a part of. It’s simply meant to illustrate the trends they’ve been a party to, and the decisions they have made in the last calendar year.
WINNER – Scott Borchetta
The only question now is what slows Scott Borchetta down? It’s his Music Row-based independent label that is responsible for the biggest blockbuster album not just released in 2014, but in the last decade plus in Taylor Swift’s 1989, and that doesn’t even delve into the rousing success of Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line, and lot of his other artists in his expanding empire which now accounts for five total imprints and a ridiculous roster of commercially-successful talent. Add on top his recent partnership with American Idol which will bring Borchetta out of the shadows to become a prominent figure in pop culture, and we may be looking at the most powerful man in the recording industry, if not now than in the coming years.
WINNER – Sturgill Simpson
What can be said about Sturgill Simpson that hasn’t already been said before? The man has been on an absolute tirade in 2014, defying all the odds for an independent artist. After releasing what has become one of the most universally critically-acclaimed albums in recently memory in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill played Letterman and Conan, was picked up on the Zac Brown Band tour, won Emerging Artist of the Year from the Americana Music Association, and now has been nominated for a Grammy. On his current headlining club tour, he’s selling out every single night and causing incredible local buzz. His next tour will have to graduate to the theater level, and we may even she Sturgill on a major label moving ahead, whether he wants to or not, simply to accommodate the demand. He’s still many steps from being a household name or receiving mainstream radio play, but he’s captured the imaginations of many fans as an artist who can take the independent spirit to a mainstream-caliber level.
WINNER – Brandy Clark
The reason Brandy Clark’s ascent is even more spectacular and promising than Sturgill Simpson’s is because she’s doing it within the Music Row mainstream system. She’s now signed to a major label, and is being named as a nominee for major industry awards like Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards, and Best Album at the Grammy Awards. What she doesn’t have as of yet that fellow songwriter and critical darling Kacey Musgraves has is a presence on mainstream country radio. But with a major label now behind any future projects, this becomes even more of a possibility. And wherever you stand on the contentious “gays in country” issue, you can’t help but give Clark credit for integrating the format in the most passive and respectful way. And even more promising is that you get the feel Brandy Clark has years of upside potential ahead of her in the industry.
WINNER – Brantley Gilbert
What has Brantley Gilbert done right in 2014? Why would this Bro-Country knucklehead be characterized as a “winner”? Because while you weren’t looking he quietly has amassed the most loyal fan base in mainstream country music this side of Carrie Underwood, and has the towering sales numbers to prove it in an environment where such sales numbers were thought to be in the past for a second-tier country star. Brantley’s Just As I Am has sold over 640,000 copies. That’s more than the recent albums from Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton combined, or more than the albums of Keith Urban and Brad Paisley combined. Gilbert has sold nearly twice as many albums as Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, 3x the amount of Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley’s recent releases, and 4x the amount of Brad Paisley’s. Many gave sideways glances at their televisions when Brantley Gilbert was given the American Music Award for “Favorite Country Album,” but by definition, it was deserved. Brantley is the mainstream star with grassroots support, and with that kind of structure, he’s become country music’s great underrated commercial powerhouse.
WINNER – Sam Hunt
In an industry where launching a female artist seems nearly impossible these days, country music’s rising male talent faces the opposite problem of an overcrowded field at the top. But songwriter Sam Hunt, who decided to saddle up with Shane McAnally and attempt to become country music’s EDM superstar has done just that with the mega single “Leave The Night On” and surprising sales for his debut album Montevallo. Where another, more-established country artist in Jerrod Niemann attempted to go EDM with and have a very successful #1 single in “Drink To That All Night” to back it up, Niemann still only garnered album sales of 14,000 for his latest release. Meanwhile Sam Hunt saw a debut week of 70,000 sales, and subsequently has seen strong reception for his country/EDM concept, including surprisingly from many critics. A charmer who can actually speak well for himself who hit on an idea that however vomit-inducing for country music’s traditional listeners has resonated with the wider public, Sam Hunt has revealed himself right out of the gate as a long-haul country star we’ll be hearing about for years, like it or not.
LOSER – Garth Brooks
Without question Garth Brooks has proved his touring muscle did not atrophy one bit during his nearly 15-year retirement. But what was supposed to be the biggest comeback in country music history has fallen completely flat in regards to album sales, radio play, and overall cultural impact. The selection of singles and the rollout of Garth’s new album was critical, and the momentum and intrigue surrounding his comeback couldn’t have been fumbled any more, resulting in sort of a “ho hum” reception from consumers. He can still sell out five consecutive concert dates in 30 minutes, but without any radio support for his new music, and his insistence on attempting to create his own trends instead of catering to the new era of media, he’s put himself at a distinct disadvantage. Take out the touring success, and right now it is “Machine” one – “Man” zero.
LOSER – Jerrod Niemann
If you want a cautionary tale of what not to do with your country music career, look no further than this once critically-lauded artist who decided to go all techno and appears to be paying the price for his country music transgressions. When the EDM-landen single “Drink To That All Night” was cresting #1 on country radio’s Airplay Chart on its way to certified platinum status, it was all high fives in the Niemann camp. But since the release of the second single from his latest album High Noon called “Donkey,” Niemann has been hard to find. Where “Drink To That All Night” apparently walked right up to the line and titillated the country music public enough to become successful, “Donkey” crossed over it, and now the question is if Jerrod Niemann will ever be able to recover. His latest dreckish single “Buzz Back Girl” doesn’t appear to be making any buzz at all, stalling at #35 on Country Airplay. All the attention for “Drink To That All Night,” and the album High Noon only sold 14,000 copies upon its release. Those are Sturgill Simpson-like numbers with no major label, no name recognition, and no radio play. Subsequently High Noon has only sold around 60,000 copies at last count. Meanwhile the high-production video for “Donkey” apparently showing Niemann awe-struck by the size of his own genitals remains on the shelf.
LOSER – Blake Shelton
Forget that NBC’s The Voice most prominent judge has won the CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year for now five years straight, there has never been an artist who has been so quizzically ensconced as the face of the genre who has delivered so little in regards to commercial or critical success, or cultural impact. Shelton’s 2014 album Bringing Back The Sunshine might go down as the biggest dud of the year. As of this moment, it has only sold just shy of 208,000 copies. Compare this with Brantley Gilbert, who has never even been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, and has sold upwards of 640,000 copies of his latest release. And because of his commitments to The Voice, Blake Shelton’s touring revenue is also paltry compared to his peers. At this point, Blake Shelton is more famous for being famous, not for country music.
LOSER – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)
Bluegrass. Sweet, wholesome bluegrass. One of the most inspiring, inclusive, sustainable scenes in not just country, but in the greater music world, with festivals, children’s workshops, prestigious awards, and worldwide appreciation for the artform. But somehow in 2014, this environment of togetherness and organization has been shattered by unbelievable turmoil in the IBMA’s Board of Directors. The not-for-profit first showed signs of problems when the board gave their Executive Director Nancy Cardwell a vote of “NO Confidence” and moved to replace her the very week after what appeared on the outside to be a very successful 2014 IBMA Awards and World of Bluegrass gathering in Raleigh, North Carolina in October. Now there has been multiple resignations from the Board, many open letters back and forth to and from IBMA members as the drama that can fester in a music “scene” emerges for all the public to see in all of its confusing ugliness.
Bluegrass, and even the IBMA will be fine in the long-term, and maybe there were some systemic issues that needed to be addressed in the recent and ongoing turmoil. But from of all places, the bluegrass world gave us an example of what can happen when behind-the-scenes drama overrides the passion for the music.
LOSER – Brad Paisley
Every artist faces that moment where their commercial relevancy begins to slip through their fingers, and 2014 was that year for Brad Paisley, and in a big way. Earlier in the year saw Paisley touring around with no name for his tour, no designs on the sides of his buses and semi’s, in a symbolic marker of his lack of direction in his undeniably-successful, but twilighting career. He came out of the gate with his new album Moonshine in the Trunk already complaining that of all things, the flack he received for the song “Accidental Racist” had somehow torpedoed his career, and the sense of bitterness from what is supposed to be mainstream country’s happy go luck superstar tarnished the sentiment of a man that won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year just four short years ago. Sales for Moonshine In The Truck have been abominable for an established, mainstream star, coming in at 107,000 at last count. Every artist faces the eventual fall from prominence, but Brad Paisley’s has been especially precipitous.
As first reported on Tuesday (12-3) and then confirmed Wednesday afternoon, President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta has partnered with American Idol to become the show’s new “mentor”—a position that was held for years by producer Jimmy Iovine, and then last year by Randy Jackson who moved into the position from a judge spot on the show. Jackson announced earlier in the year he was leaving the show after being a part of all 13 seasons.
Today we get confirmation of the Scott Borchetta addition, but even more intriguing is what the partnership will entail. Borchetta will not only be American Idol‘s mentor, he will also sign the eventual winner of the show to Big Machine Records—the home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and many others. This extra layer of commitment between Borchetta and American Idol could have big implications for both parties. And as arguably the most influential label in country music currently, it could have a big impact on country music at large with American Idol potentially becoming a proving ground for Nashville-based talent moving forward. Borchetta has already participated in the show’s “Hollywood Week” portion by watching performances of contestants he will be advising moving forward.
All of this news comes in stark contrast to how Scott Borchetta felt about the show in 2010 in the aftermath of Taylor Swift’s now legendary off-key performance at the Grammy Awards. Facing fierce criticism for the performance, Borchetta defended his burgeoning starlet by calling her the “voice of a generation” who was above the criticism of her not technically perfect singing. “This is not ‘American Idol,’” Borchetta said. “This is not a competition of getting up and seeing who can sing the highest note. This is about a true artist and writer and communicator. It’s not about that technically perfect performance.”
American Idol Season One winner Kelly Clarkson took exception to Scott Borchetta’s comments and fired back.
“I understand defending your artist obviously because I have done the same in the past for artists I like, including Taylor, so you might see why it’s upsetting to read you attacking ‘American Idol’ for producing simply vocalists that hit ‘the high notes.’ Thank you for that ‘Captain Obvious’ sense of humor, because you know what? We not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right’ notes as well. Every artist has a bad performance or two and that is understandable, but throwing blame will not make the situation at hand any better.
“I have been criticized left and right for having shaky performances before (and they were shaky), and what my manager or label executives say to me and the public is ‘I’ll kick butt next time’ or ‘Every performance isn’t going to be perfect.’ I bring this up because you should take a lesson from these people and instead of lashing out at other artists (that in your ‘humble’ opinion lack true artistry), you should simply take a breath and realize that sometimes things won’t go according to plan or work out and that’s okay.”
Whether it’s selective amnesia, a change of heart, or simply a savvy business move, Scott Borchetta has officially decided to step out of the shadows of country music label ownership to become a public pop cultural figure, and one who could have a big stake in making sure the next American Idol winner or winners do something that many recent winners have failed to pull off: actually becoming “Idol’s” instead of names forgotten a week after the finale.
That’s right, the The Country Music Antichrist, aka President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta is in talks to become the newest mentor on the singing reality show competition American Idol. He would be replacing Randy “Dog” Jackson—the only member of the show’s original cast aside from host Ryan Seacrest who’s been on the show all 13 seasons. Jackson was a judge for the first 12 seasons, and then moved into Jimmy Iovine’s role as the show’s “mentor” for season 13 before announcing he would exit the show entirely for season 14. Last year’s judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. are all slated to return this upcoming season.
As a respected talent evaluator in the industry, and one that lately has shown more interest in coming out of the shadows and becoming more of a public personality, Borchetta as American Idol‘s mentor makes savvy sense for both parties. Borchetta was responsible for discovering Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star in the world right now, and Big Machine properties also have under contract Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and now Reba McEntire under the new NASH Icon joint venture with Cumulus Media. Scott Borchetta is arguably the most powerful man on Music Row in Nashville, and now he’ll be taking his name international if the reports from US Weekly are correct.
If consummated, it would make Borchetta not just one of the most powerful label owners in music, but also one of the most visible, bolstering both Big Machine’s and Scott’s personal brands. Reports from late October saying the Big Machine Label Group was up for sale were later denied by Borchetta, but remaining one of music’s few major independent labels, sale rumors continue to linger. Scott’s partnership with American Idol could also facilitate more collaboration between the reality singing competition and Big Machine artists in live performances and song choices.
Scott Borchetta was affectionately coined the “Country Music Antichrist” by Saving Country Music in 2009 for his stretching of the term “country” with artists like Taylor Swift. However unlike many of Music Row’s label heads, Borchetta is known for extending more creative freedom to his artists.
Once again Scott Borchetta reveals his desires to be much more than simply a record label head, but a powerful and influential entertainment mogul of the recording industry—a desire that could continue to send reverberations throughout the country music industry.
No this is not one of these American Idol alums who made it into the Top 20 of the show and tries to do everything they can to hold on to that glimmer of notoriety in an ill-fated attempt at a mainstream music career, this is Jason “Wolf” Hamlin who had the minds of many independent music fans reeling at the possibility of a genuine country roots artist making a real splash on America’s premier singing competition.
Of course Hamlin was a little too hard-edged to get very far on the show, but during the preliminary tryout phase of the 2012 season, American Idol selected him out of the crowd to be showcased in one of their extended segments on contestants. The 24-year-old engine mechanic carrying a “guit-fiddle” handmade by his recently-deceased father had a story, a look, and a voice that resonated with a crowd that was quite counter-intuitive to the American Idol audience. Wolf was singing Johnny Cash covers and showing a lot of attitude behind his music, despite maybe the Idol producers pushing the “Wolf” thing a little too hard.
“I hadn’t even planned on auditioning until I found out my wife was headed to San Diego a couple weeks before the auditions took place,” Wolf Hamlin explains. “I was told they were gonna be holding them there and figured, ‘Why not?’ It was never a make or break thing for me. People were able to see my father’s guitar and I was able to kickstart a career … People think either you’re a sell out or the next best thing when you go on American Idol. You realize that the level of vocalists and musicians is far beyond what is actually portrayed on the show. The competition out there is amazing.”
Hamlin got axed during Hollywood week and headed back home to Livermore, CA to start right back right where he left off, but with a renewed energy to pursue music further. “I came home with an all new outlook on music and what I wanted from it. I play with my band and other local musicians on a regular basis. I still work a full time job as a mechanic and last September married the woman of my dreams.”
In old-school back porch country music fashion, Jason Hamlin gathered together musicians from the surrounding area, his wife picked up the fiddle, and Wolf Hamlin became “Wolf Hamlin and the Front Porch Drifters.” Wolf says he loves his band. “I can’t thank them enough for what they do. It shows each and every time they get off work at 5pm, travel 2 to 3 hours to a gig, play ’till 2 AM, and drive 2 to 3 hours home.”
On July 30th, the band released their first, self-titled album independently. “The album is as real as possible. By that I mean it was recorded live In 48 tiring hours. We rehearsed for months, wrote a million songs, then hit the studio.” It’s a rough-hewn, raucous affair with its fair share of subdued songwriting moments, and some of the studio banter left on the tracks and a Southern rock flavor in stretches.
“It was a Friday night in February,” Wolf recalls. “We started at 4 PM and had booked the studio for the weekend. We a sat in separate rooms with our instruments and head phones and just pounded it out take after take ’till we got it right. Our theory was we wanted an album that was authentically us. If you see us play, this is what we sound like. No bells and whistles, no Auto-Tune, just good old fashion music being recorded.”
“In the song ‘Wolf Hotel’ at the end you will hear our drummer hold the beat a second to long and screams ‘Fuck!’ We left it in because it was a real emotion. We had done numerous takes on that song and changed a few progressions throughout the takes. It was 2 AM and we were all spent. He captured what everyone was feeling. That’s the side of musicianship we want people to see … I label it Outlaw country cause that my favorite type of music. I am frequently told that it has a Southern rock sound and I love that also. I grew up listening to John Prine, John Hartford, the Stones, you name it. I am particularly fond of the songwriting portion.”
The ironic part of Wolf Hamlin’s American Idol experience is it seemed to reinforce in him the most important part of music and the foundation for country music specifically, which is sharing music with friends, loved ones, and each other on back porches and in local watering holes. Not every musician can be in the national spotlight. “Life has been great, we travel and enjoy the the little things like a front porch jam with complete strangers.”
But Wolf Hamlin would love to have the opportunity to share his music with more people. “[I'd love to] play with my band everywhere we can. Sell records. Tour! Hell I’m not sure but as long as we can keep creating and bringing those creations to people I’m good with it.”
And no matter what happens with Wolf, his father’s handmade guitar will be right beside him. “When I write a song it’s me and my father’s Acoustic. From there I bring it to the band and that’s when the Magic happens … I will always play my Fathers guit-fiddle. It’s part of me!”
Have you ever heard of Justin Guarini? How about Diana DeGarmo? Blake Lewis, anybody? Or how about Lee DeWyze? Does Dia Frampton ring a bell with anyone? Anyone?
Dia Frampton was a contestant on the inaugural season of NBC’s reality singing contest The Voice. Frampton, like all of the other names listed above, was either a runner up, or a winner of either The Voice or American Idol. And there’s an infinite list of other indistinguishable names from where these names came from: singers that reached the very heights of reality show competition, only to fade back into the unknown masses once the next season kicked off. Reality singing show nerds might be laughing at me right now, knowing all of these names, and the styles and stats of each artist. And so maybe to them, I’m the one who needs to fade back into the unknown masses. But even those people should hang with me for just a second more.
Not to pick on poor Dia Frampton, but let’s just take a look back at what happened to her after she made it onto The Voice finale, and almost won. In December of 2011, Dia released an album called Red through Universal Republic Records. How did the album do? It reached a peak of #106 on the Billboard charts. The album’s lone single “The Broken Ones” didn’t chart at all. But in reality, that’s not bad compared to the actual Season 1 winner of The Voice, Javier Colon. His album peaked at #134 on the Billboard charts. In fact Javier, who had his own successful music career before The Voice, released an album way back in 2003 that made it to #91 on Billboard—43 spots better than the album contracted to him after his big reality show win.
Of course for all these types of anecdotal stories about reality show winners, there are success stories such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and to a lesser extent, artists like Kellie Pickler and Scotty McCreery. But many of these big stars came from the first few seasons of American Idol, while many other finalists and winners have completely dropped off the map or have taken to starring in other reality show competitions, or reprising B-level acting roles to attempt to keep the momentum of their big reality show win rolling.
And this brings us to the matter of the young, fresh-faced finalist on The Voice, Jake Worthington. Jake finished 2nd and has captured the hearts and imaginations of many traditional country fans by wearing a big cowboy hat, and singing Keith Whitley songs on the show every chance he got, along with songs from Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams Jr., and others throughout the competition. Hey, that’s great. Great for this kid, and great that good, real country music is being exposed to the masses through him. But how many times have we been through this exercise with one of these reality show contestants, wondering if they are the ones that will rise out of the unclean masses to save country music with big reality show exposure?
I’m not saying it couldn’t happen. Jake Worthington seems like a really good kid, and good on Blake Shelton for shepherding him to the top level of the competition, and doing so while letting him keep his voice and style instead of swaying him in a more pop direction. But the reason that The ‘X’ Factor was canceled, the reason that American Idol has seen dramatically-declining ratings, and The Voice has remained stagnant, is because these competitions cannot consistently deliver winners that truly are American Idols, or that truly define “The Voice” of a generation.
Producers try to shake up the production, they shove more star power into these shows than the viewer can compute. ABC, despite the writing on the wall that with so many of these singing shows, they’re cannibalizing each other, is still starting their own competition come next season. But these shows are not delivering on their promise to the American public of delivering stars that they will then see selling out arenas, and performing on the Grammy Awards. That is why the singing reality show model is losing steam.
Opportunity is only what you make of it, and regardless of what the marketeers of these shows try to sell you on, the simple fact is nobody has the power to anoint a star. The winners themselves must still rise to find themselves, must still figure out a way to connect with the public at large. Some stars have done this like Carrie Underwood. Many haven’t like Javier Colon.
Let’s not overlook that it says a lot about the appeal of traditional country music that an artist like Jake Worthington even made it as far as the finals of The Voice. Everywhere you turn there’s people preaching to you that nobody wants to hear traditional country anymore, and it can be argued that Jake Worthington’s coach, Blake Shelton, has been one of the loudest champions of this sentiment. But whether it is Shelton changing course by seeing the blossoming of Jake Worthington right before his eyes, or the American public letting their voice be known by voting for Worthington, George Strait winning Entertainer of the Year at both the CMA and ACM Awards this last year, or even the recent announcement that Big Machine Records is partnering with Cumulus to reintegrate classic country artists into the fold, everywhere where traditional country is given a chance, it proves that it’s appeal and resonance with the American people is not on the wane as many would have you believe.
And don’t discount Mr. Worthington just because his path led through a reality show. At this point, with artists like Dan+Shay being nominated for awards before they’ve even released an album, and previous reality show contestants like Kellie Pickler putting out albums like 100 Proof that end up becoming the best country music has to offer in a given year, the most important question to ask is not where the artist came from, but what they accomplish with the opportunity they’ve been given.
Jake Worthington’s success, and the renewed interest in traditional country that might bestow, has much less to do with The Voice and where he placed, and much more to do with Jake Worthington, and if he has the stuff to speak to people’s hearts, and the guts to stick to who he is as an artist.
Our job is to help him.
Wednesday is the beginning of the someteenth season of American Idol, and it will feature a new slate of judges that will include former Idol judge Jennifer Lopez, an interesting new selection in Harry Connick Jr., and last year’s lone holdover, country star Keith Urban.
Struggling with years of declining ratings, American Idol is looking to rebrand itself in the new season by fielding a panel of judges who will have great chemistry—something that was not the case last year when judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey had a public and publicized spat early on in the season, resulting in Minaj walking off the production set, and moans of ratings baiting being leveled by critics.
But one of the overlooked elements of the Minaj / Mariah story is how it was centered around the age old country music debate. It started when Keith Urban took a contestant to task for saying that she “did the country thing,” implying that she had some fleeting interest in the genre, but it wasn’t where her heart was. Urban’s contention was that either you’re country, or you’re not. Mariah Carey somewhat agreed, and as the judges began asking the contestant questions about her musical background, Nicki Minaj joined in saying, “Why are we picking her apart [over] a country comment?” and eventually stormed off the set during the impending verbal melee.
Keith Urban, similar to artists like Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts, have always been solidly pop or contemporary country, but have been insulated to some extent from the brunt of the country music culture war from rarely crossing the line into the drekish trends of things like country rap that artists like Blake Shelton or Jason Aldean have dabbled in. But recently when Keith Urban was interviewed by Michigan Live and was asked if definitions like “country,” “rock,” and “pop” are important or meaningless, Urban replied,
Totally meaningless to me. I make music and people decide what it is. That’s it. I don’t think about it any more than that. I grew up as a country artist, but had very contemporary country influences. Contemporary country music – well, what that is, is what you hear on the radio. People have this relentless ongoing conversation about what’s country and what isn’t. It’s never changed. If people really really were country fans, they’d know it’s always been there, in every single decade.
What’s great about country is its simple, organic way of absorbing pop inspirations into its sound, and pulling the genre forward. It’s been that way since the ’50s. That period, the mid-to-late ’50s, when rock ‘n’ roll exploded, it started to take over the country audience. Guys like Chet Atkins intentionally started to put string sections on country songs, which had never been done before. Everybody at the time thought that was sacrilegious – they said, “That doesn’t sound anything like Ernest Tubb. What are you doing?” But it was a way for them to keep the sound moving forward and expand the boundaries.
What’s happening today is, in the words of David Byrne, same as it ever was. (laughs)
What Urban points out about pop and how it has always been a part of the country genre is completely true, and this continues to be one of the biggest oversights of some traditional and purist country fans, eroding their arguments against the infiltration of pop in country. However what Urban’s comments do not take into account is the degree of cross-genre influences that country music is facing today, and how it might be eroding the integrity of the genre in the long term. Yes, artists like Eddie Arnold and Patsy Cline were seen as pop stars within the country format in their time, but their music was still a timeless treasure, verified by it’s continued popularity half a decade later.
And obviously, Keith Urban’s comments seem to counter what he said on American Idol at this time last year. People have a right to change their minds, but Urban’s new perspective on the lack of importance of the term “country” may be a sign of just how much that term and the importance behind it have suffered in the last year.
Sex has been used to sell music almost since music became a commercial enterprise. From the shaking of Elvis’s hips, to Madonna’s “Sex” book, to Miley Cyrus doing all manner of gratuitous things with a foam finger on MTV’s Video Music Awards.
What seems especially sinister about the recent descent of artists like Miley Cyrus, Brittney Spears, and so many others is that they started out as child stars and young female role models, marketed towards children and young teenagers. Even when the artists become adults themselves, many times their fan bases continue to predominately hover around ages where being exposed to certain behavior is inappropriate, especially for impressionable young girls who look up to big music stars as role models. Miley Cyrus’s recent stage antics on MTV’s Video Music Awards included teddy bears as a primary part of the presentation, representing the blurring lines between age and the marketing of music to children and adults.
Maybe the ugliest part about Miley Cyrus’s turn for the worse is how predictable the whole scenario is. Cyrus was purposely being sensational to get people talking to eventually sell more music. By decrying her actions, we in turn are fulfilling her wish.
It’s hard not to fall for the idea that depravity and raunch is what rules the day in the modern popular music culture because that is what gets the lion’s share of attention. But in truth there’s plenty of positive female role models in music, from huge, internationally-known pop stars, to promising up-and-coming artists. Here is 8 of them from a cross section of well-known and up-and-coming talent. You are encouraged to share other examples in the comments section below.
Mandolin wizard and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Jarosz signed with Sugar Hill Records as a senior in high school, releasing her first album in 2009. Her song “Mansinneedof” was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Country Instrumental Performance, and despite having her career path well set in music, she decided to enroll in the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music after high school, recently graduating with honors. Her third album Build Me Up From Bones is set to be released on September 24th.
I just made half a thousand hardcore punk fans throw up into their keyboards, but the simple fact is Hayley Williams is one of the few artists heading a popular rock band that remains unrefined, original, and authentic, and this is even more phenomenal because she is a young woman facing the pressures to sell herself as product. Unlike other pop punk princesses such as Gwen Stephani or Avril Lavigne, Hayley has never sold out for widespread appeal, and remains in her original band despite the big payday that would probably await her with a solo career. Beyond all that, Hayley Williams is a role model because she is fiercely herself. She never sold herself as a sex symbol, and when the suits wanted her to go pop early in her career, she refused. Hayley shows young women that they can be themselves, even if that means being quirky, boyish, or downright strange. There’s a lot of character in this girl, and she also happens to be able to belt out some great Loretta Lynn….
A fiddle prodigy that became the youngest invited fiddle player to ever play the Grand Ole Opry stage, Ruby Jane went on to tour with Willie Nelson and Asleep At The Wheel at age 14. Ruby has been doing her part to set a positive example for younger female musicians for years, despite just graduating high school herself. She received the Daniel Pearl Memorial Violin in 2007, named after the famous journalist killed in Pakistan in 2002—given to artists who display both world-class musicianship, and world-class character. A recent talk she gave to students as part of the TED project is another example of Ruby Jane’s leadership.
You may not think of the inaugural winner of American Idol to be your typical role model, but despite residing firmly in the pop world, Kelly Clarkson has been a champion of being yourself and not being obsessed with image for the entirety of her career. Kelly capped off possibly the most popular quip after Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance on Twitter, calling the VMA performers “pitchy strippers.” In an interview with NPR, Clarkson once said, “I am not normal. Usually, people don’t weigh what I weigh. Usually people don’t go against the grain as a far as, ‘No, I don’t want this song from the most popular writer ever’ and it’s not because I don’t like the song. It’s because I would rather work with people that I want to work with.”
Paige Anderson is a flat-picking guitar maestro and the leader of her family band Anderson Family Bluegrass, as well as her new project, Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin. A budding songwriter whose harmony singing and guitar skills rival any other female performer, Paige has proven to be a positive example for young women, and has proven her leadership skills as the Teen Ambassador for the California Bluegrass Association from 2007 to 2010. Look for this girl to be big in music in the coming years.
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg from Sweden are becoming international stars by crossing borders and language barriers, and by simply being themselves and sharing their bold, original songs with such confidence and grace. No Swedish bikini team antics are needed here, they simply lend their voices to song, and the sweetest harmonies heard on any shore come crying out to hungry ears.
The Church Sisters
The reason so many popular female artists feel the need to sensationalize themselves is many times to make up for a fundamental lack of talent and skill. True talent nurtured through hard work and dedication needs no window dressing, no bells and whistles for attention, and twin sisters Sarah and Savannah exemplify this with their sensational harmonies. From traditional country, to bluegrass and gospel, The Church Sisters display the type of wholesome talent that gives you hope for the future of music.
When we talk about the reduction of culture and the void of positive young female role models in music, it’s almost easy to forget that the biggest, best-selling pop star for the last two years running has been the bold and beautiful Adele. The flashy pop stars and their ever-present scandal may get all the tabloid attention, but when you look to the very top, Adele outlasts all the gimmicks, sex, and hype. If you need any more proof that substance can sell, and you don’t need sex or shock to get attention, there has never been a better example.
And with that said, let it be known that I am available to screen test with Fox at any time.
I’m probably a fool for trying to give advice to American Idol on how to right their ship. At this point, barking advice is about as helpful as saying, “I told you to look out for icebergs.” It’s also a little hypocritical, seeing how there’s few waving the pom-pom’s more fervently for the demise of that television franchise than me. The cultural phenomenon that was American Idol in the early oughts is no longer, and their last batch of celebrity judges left en masse after last year’s finale, smelling fear and desperation in the air from the show’s rapidly-declining numbers and influence. So what’s American Idol’s solution for next season? Pander even more to celebrity.
Under the misguided notion that the problem with the show was that their celebrity judges weren’t current enough, they’ve gone out and added shock-star Nicki Minaj, plopped Mariah Carey into the “diva” spot, and added Keith Urban as their default “country” judge. In other words, instead of addressing the systemic problems with the show–i.e. too much competition in the format and allowing the talent to be judged too much by young girls who choose who they want to bang as opposed to the brightest talent–American Idol producers are once again kneeling at the alter of the cult of celebrity looking for ratings salvation.
But the whole thing that made American Idol intriguing to begin with was not the stories of the judges, but of the contestants. Adding sensational judges like Steven Tyler and Nicki Minaj takes attention away from contestants. When America’s Got Talent added Howard Stern, its ratings for the series premier plummeted.
What intrigue there was with American Idol judges in its heyday surrounded Simon Cowell; the harsh, belittling critic who wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is, and someone who was relatively unknown in the US before the series. Television loves conflict and drama, and that is what Simon Cowell provided. People loved to hate him, like the bad guys in professional wrestling. Ironically, Cowell is also the cause for so much Idol competition. His Syco production company is behind both “The X Factor” and the “America’s Got Talent” franchises. You want to point to who is responsible for TV talent competition parity? Point to Simon.
Keith Urban and his hair highlights won’t save American Idol. What made American Idol work was that it was built on the idea that every American has a dream. Adding “celebrity” judges doesn’t forward that dream, it speaks to the demise of it, where established celebrity and image is celebrated instead of sincere talent. Not to say American Idol’s celebrity judges aren’t talented, they’re just not talented at being judges.
If Fox and American Idol want to save their dying franchise, they need someone who is not afraid to get up in people’s faces, to be honest, and not just with the contestants, but with the audience that ultimately decides the winner. They need someone to ask America, “Do you like it when you are judged on image alone? Do you think that’s fair? Then don’t just vote for the cutest boy, vote for who inspires you on a personal level and makes you a better person, someone that motivates you to pursue your dreams.”
Then, and only then, American Idol may be something that America will idolize again.
That’s right ladies and gentlemen, your hero, the lord of underground roots, the savior of independent music, Shooter Jennings, is releasing a duet single and video with the most pop-ity pop of pop country uber douches, the “Nickelback of Country Music”, American Idol’s Bucky Covington. The song is called “Drinking Side of Country” and all indications is that it will suck hard enough to send a golf ball through a garden hose.
For those of you who have no idea who Bucky Covington is (and I would like to think that is the majority of the Saving Country Music readership) you could make a serious case that he is one of the worst artists pop country has ever seen, from numerous perspectives. The only difference between Bucky and Jason Aldean is people actually listen to Jason Aldean. There’s nothing more failed than a failed pop country star, and that is what Bucky Covington is.
Last week folks were in a tizzy because Jason Aldean dropped the tidbit that he simply listens to Nickelback. Ha! Bucky has him beat by 1000 miles. In 2010, Bucky Covington actually recorded and released an entire Nickelback song, “Gotta Be Somebody.” And no, this was not just as some demo bonus track, it was a full fledged radio single with a big budget video. Watch, if you dare:
The world first learned about Bucky Covington’s flowing locks of highlighted hair and his Dirk Diggle mustache when he was a contestant on American Idol in 2006, finishing 8th. Since then he’s been slaying America with his bland and generic take on the most formulaic of pop country and garnering tepid commercial success. He’s also pretty notorious for being dumb. In April of 2010, he recounted a story to The Boot about actor Billy Bob Thorton, proving just how dumb he is:
I went to his house and hung out drinking lukewarm Coronas. This guy is the epitome of cool. We were talking movies and music, and he brings up the movie ‘Sling Blade,’ and I said, ‘Were you in ‘Sling Blade’? That was a great movie!’ And he thanked me. I asked who he was in ‘Sling Blade,’ and he said, ‘Carl.’ I said, ‘That’s the main character!’ I didn’t even know he was in it! But actually technically that’s a huge compliment to an actor, that I watched the movie, and I didn’t know it was [him]! And he wrote the dang movie as well!
Bucky also has a twin brother, Rocky, and together they like to do stupid shit and then lie about it to the cops. In 1998 they were arrested for hit and run, leaving the scene of an accident, resisting arrest, giving fictitious information to a police officer, and driving with a suspended license. Brother Rocky was in a car accident and had a suspended license at the time, so he dialed up Bucky who raced over and told the 5-0 that he was actually the one driving. The cops sniffed it out, and eventually they confessed. Then in July of 2011 they both were charged with grand theft for stealing $1,500 from the cash box at a Florida show. The charges were later dropped from lack of evidence.
Shooter Jennings has been trying his little heart out to earn scene points with the “roots” underground after his glam rock, industrial rock, and mainstream country projects tanked. So why now is he buddying up with Bucky Covington? Because of corporate politics and cross marketing. Both Shooter and Bucky are signed to Entertainment 1 Records, which ironically is one of the biggest hip-hop labels in the world. As much as Shooter wants to talk a big game about how corporate music sucks and he’s for the little guy, here he goes trying to re-cultivate his mainstream legitimacy. Or even worse, he’s doing it because he wants to.
But I don’t blame Shooter for pairing up with Bucky Covington. That is what he should be doing. When it comes to country, Shooter has always been a mainstream artist with mainstream songs. Where he doesn’t belong is acting like he fits into anything that is related to underground roots music. He doesn’t record DIY. He releases his music through big corporate labels. And up to 18 months ago, he admits himself had no idea underground roots music existed.
And no, Kellie Pickler’s name is not relevant here. Apparently she has a cameo in the Shooter/Bucky duet video and she used to be an American Idol pop country product too. And yes, I’ve grown very fond of her last album 100 Proof, but nobody is saying Kellie Pickler should do a duet with Hellbound Glory or headline the Muddy Roots Festival. That would be out-of-context, just like anything Shooter has to do with “underground” country. And if this Bucky Covington business doesn’t make you realize that, then you have been completely duped by the Shooter Jennings cult of personality.
And sure, Bucky Covington could’ve had a change of heart about his music just like Kellie Pickler did, but this duet song “Drinking Side of Country” is an old song Bucky released in 2010. It’s not new. It’s a stupid laundry list country song, and even worse, he named drops “Outlaws” in the song. Yes, Bucky Covington, Bucky Covington is talking about Outlaws, the same thing Shooter Jennings called out in his song “Outlaw You”. The hypocrisy is so incredibly-thick and undeniable around this song, but we’ll deal with the actual content of the song in due course, trust me. Meanwhile check out Bucky’s effeminate moves in the original version of “Drinking Side of Country” that make Luke Bryan look like a lumberjack:
And for all the folks that will say, “Gee Trig, why you always gotta be so negative?” I have no choice in this matter. My hand is being forced. When some artist who is touting themselves as a product of the underground/independent world cuts a duet with Bucky Covington filled with hypocrisy, or points a tank at the Country Music Hall of Fame, or promotes a Waylon song turned into a rap song, or buddies up with The Moonshine Bandits, I have no choice but to put as much distance as possible between those actions and myself.
I don’t think that Shooter is without talent. He has some good songs, and I recognize he is trying to do some things to help promote smaller bands. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And furthermore with Shooter, it’s the disingenuousness, it’s the talking out of both sides of his mouth, it’s the wanting it both ways, it is the Svengali-ing of independent artists by acting like he has any means to help them “make it” when really he’s using them to be promoters of his cult of personality. It’s the manipulation. And I’m sure Shooter will say, “Let me explain”, just like he says every time he makes a dumb move in his career.
Sure, Shooter has gotten some scant play in dark recesses of the dying corporate radio world in severely off-peak hours for some artists. This whole cross-exposure back scratching scenester bullshit isn’t outreach, it’s simply people trying to prove how cool they are to each other. Shooter doesn’t have the power to increase the exposure of any act any more than anybody else. And since he is a wickedly-polarizing character (who likely will even become more polarizing after this Bucky Covington mess), for every fan the Shooter Jennings name may bring to an artist, it scares away two more.
And no, “Hey I met Shooter, and he seems like a nice guy,” is no excuse for his endless string of bad decisions and overt hypocrisy.
There is no Shooter/Triggerman rivalry. He is an artist and someone rying to further his career, and I am a writer whose charge it is to tell the truth the way I see it. And right now, the truth in my eyes is that Shooter has no compass, no principles, will do and say whatever he thinks he has to to create support and traction in his career. And that has always been the case with Shooter, throughout his career, along with coming very close to stealing ideas and personas. Shooter cutting a pop country laundry list song with Bucky Covington is him jumping the shark, and showing his true colors.
But I’m probably just jealous.
A couple of weeks ago, the great 2012 American Idol country music hope Skylar Laine got booted off the show for singers that conform more to America’s ideal hyper image. But there’s still hope for young Skylar. Carrie Underwood aside, it is usually American Idol runners up that tend to go on and make it big in music, and according to an interview with The Boot, that’s Skylar Laine’s intentions. However if she’s going to make it big, it won’t be with pop country music.
Like her musical heroes, Skylar also knows exactly what she wants her music to sound like — “really country,” she insists. “I don’t want to be pop at all. I want steel guitar, honky-tonk songs, real country music. What it really is. Talking about guns and all that kind of stuff.”
Guns, huh? Hopefully her anti-pop stance doesn’t hinder her chances of finding a record deal, but in all likelihood it probably will.
Another American Idol alum Kellie Pickler released an album 100 Proof in January that was also pretty anti-pop to the delight of many traditional country fans and critics (including this one). 100 Proof was in the vein of about 1 in maybe every 20-25 albums or so that Music Row lets slip through that actually has a lot of substance, and for whatever reason the label lets the artist have say so in the direction. Another example of this rare, but every-so-often phenomenon was Dierks Bentley’s bluegrass-heavy Up On The Ridge from the summer of 2010.
These albums are heavily ballyhooed by fans and critics alike, but when it comes to sales, chart performance, and award show accolades, they tend to receive a big pass by the industry. A&R folks struggle to find singles. The one or two singles that do get released get held up by radio program directors who scrunch their noses at them for being too country or too artsy. Meanwhile hardcore traditional country fans, and independent and Americana fans see the names “Dierks” or “Pickler” and refuse to give it even a whiff, for understandable reasons, relegating the project to country music no man’s land.
Yet you go on to iTunes and Amazon and the few fans that do connect with these projects leave glowing reviews. Kellie Pickler fans, Keillie Pickler fans are bellyaching now that country radio isn’t about country any more, that it has all gone pop, and it’s unfair they won’t play Pickler’s 100 Proof album. And meanwhile on Music Row, the suits are shaking their heads saying, “I told you so.”
In the war to restore balance back to the mainstream country format, where both pop and traditional country music and demographics are represented, there is nothing more important than creating support around these few traditional or progressive country albums that Music Row does let slip through. A lack of support for these albums only validates the major label’s prejudices about them, making future albums like these even less likely, and making it less likely labels will be searching for more traditional or progressive up-and-coming talent.
Unlike artists like Phish, or Tom Waits, or Hank3 who can build success with grass roots instead of traditional radio support, artists like Kellie Pickler and her fan base are completely unfamiliar and ill-equipped to offer support if it is not being given by mainstream outlets. The grassroots-savvy independent fans tend to steer clear. The mainstream fans tend to be too passive to offer substantive support. And the album struggles.
Music Row is a copycat business in many ways. Whatever works will be tried again, and whatever doesn’t, won’t. And if these traditional country albums from Music Row do not produce results, the reign of pop in country music will only strengthen.
Sporting a squared off pompadour, work shirt, bushy beard, and a mess of tattoos, American Idol introduced Jason “Wolf” Hamlin as one of this year’s contestants on the episode that aired Sunday night. This mechanic-by-trade came in with his “guit-fiddle” (guitar) and sang a “CCR” song (which the well-versed would recognize as Leadbelly’s “Midnight Special”), and then when Steven Tyler asked him to sing another, he sang Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”.
And then the emails started coming, and the chatter raised on various social networking channels Saving Country Music patrols seemed positive for “Wolf” with many saying, “Well hell, if he’s gonna be on there, I may actually watch this year!”
…and now you know why he was featured.
And “Wolf” was not only featured on an audition, he was significantly highlighted on the episode. They sent a production crew to his job as a golf course mechanic, got an in-depth interview with him, etc. I’m assuming all of this stuff happened after his audition. I mean, they wouldn’t go though all that trouble pre-audition unless they already determined he would be a contestant or would be featured, would they?
…and now you know a little more of what’s going on here.
Look, the blue-collar “roots” demographic, though seemingly small because it is traditionally ignored by the mainstream, is in many ways blowing up as a cultural force. American Idol did not “pick” Jason Hamlin, they “chose” him, and specifically chose to make him a significant focus of their episode.
And American Idol isn’t the only one all-of-a-sudden paying attention to the independent roots music world. The shift of the punk culture into roots music is a very real, culturally-significant phenomenon that the greater world is taking notice of. And they are courting the roots fan for the passion and loyalty that are recognized as top attributes of their behavior.
Century Media, a traditionally heavy metal label recently started a roots division for artists like Joe Buck and Bob Wayne. Victory Records, who some will give credit for “killing” punk music, has announced a roots project with so far an unknown specificity. And there’s a pretty solid rumor out there that Kevin Lyman of The Warped Tour and the Country Throwdown Tour is putting plans together for a “roots” version of the annual touring festival, possibly as early as this year. We’ll see.
As for Jason “Wolf” Hamlin, he could be a great thing, or he could be a horrible thing. We don’t know the guy, and we shouldn’t pretend we do, and we should understand he’s just a mechanic at a golf course who likes Johnny Cash. Or is he? And sure, he could be a shill for FOX producers hoping to bring the burgeoning masses of roots fans into the fold. Or, he could be the country music Messiah that I’ve been dreaming of (and Eric Church mocks me for). Or he could dive out in the first few weeks and all this consternation is for naught, unless in the process he actually exposes some kids to some real music they would otherwise not be.
But be wary friends and neighbors. If you reacted positively to seeing Jason “Wolf” Hamlin on American Idol and said “Well hell, I kind of like this guy. I may actually watch this stupid show this year!” just understand that is exactly what the folks in Hollywood wanted you to say.
Here is Wolf performing an original song.
You know, it’s not very becoming to gloat. But sometimes you just can’t help it, like after you’ve been attacked by a mob of very angry (and curiously, very Asian) Scotty McCreery fans who told me that their beloved American Idol alum Scotty would NEVER lip sync, as I asserted he did on The CMA Awards a couple of weeks back. Among other things, I was accused of lying to to bring myself web traffic, and was told that McCreery’s father was “upset” by my article, and that it was “hurtful.” Someday people will learn to trust the eagle eye of the lovable, huggable Triggerman, as well as the keen ear that, among other things, pointed out that Taylor Swift had issues of singing on key way before it was popular to say so.
But honestly, I feel sorry for all the Scotty fans who are now being forced to eat their words after he so egregiously lip synced his performance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning, on this most grateful of holidays, that now the transgression is undeniable. They gave him their heart and trust, and now he’s let them down. Scotty was clearly caught off guard as the music started, seconds behind syncing up with the recorded track.
I found it most curious that after his CMA performance, not one clear tape of it could be found anywhere on the internet, unlike so many of the other performances. Well now the transgression is “Clear As Day” (name of his album, huh? Get it ?!? Ha!), and as I said before, in light of another scandal where another reality show contestant was found to be lip syncing, it calls into question the legitimacy of all of these talent show franchises.
One thing a good old-fashioned live awards show will do is give the music consumer glimpses into just what a sham a lot of popular music is. In the hustle and bustle, backbones are exposed between the cracks in the facade to those that pay close attention.
Take for example last night’s 2011 CMA Awards. During Martina McBride‘s rendition of her mawkish, objectionably-sentimental Cancer song “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” three times during the performance, you could clearly see a teleprompter flashing words in Martina’s direction, for this song that’s supposed to come from inspiration, and be sung from the heart, before flashing out quickly, illustrating culpability from the show’s producer’s that they knew showing a teleprompter on camera would not give a good impression.
Watch at 1:07, 1:30, & 3:00 in the video below.
Whether Martina actually needed the teleprompter or not, I don’t know, but I have no doubt she was actually singing the song live. The same cannot be said for American Idol’s reigning champion and Alfred E. Neuman look-alike Scotty McCreery. During his abridged performance of the song ‘Walk In The Country” from his new album Clear As Day, he was clearly lip syncing. I noticed it immediately as he started the performance. He would lip sync during the verses, and in between, and at the end of the performance, his microphone was cut on so he could speak or shout.
Unfortunately there are no good videos of the performance at the moment, and the lip syncing may be the reason for that.
I was finally sent a video that has been confirmed on two different computers to have the audio and video synced up. The quality is not perfect, but it is better than the other two videos out there, and will help folks make their own decision. Pay attention to the first segment, where the camera is isolated on Scotty. This is where I first noticed the lip sync, as in my opinion, his facial movements do not sync up with the lyrics. Then pay special attention at 00:37, where Scotty pulls the microphone away while vocals can still be heard, and at 00:59, where his vocals clearly change, the backing tracks falls out, and Scotty’s voice sounds “live” in the performance for the first time.
For an even clearer video, you can try using this link.
Scotty was also clearly caught lip syncing a couple of weeks later at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Scotty McCreery offered up the only obvious lip synced performance of the night. With the over-production and intense interest in award shows, you might think lip syncing would be more commonplace. But it tends to be pretty rare, seen as a stigma in a situation where top tier talent is supposed to be showcased. Having said that, some artists, especially if they are up-and-coming, can be forced into plip-syncing by producers or their record label. What makes this offense even worse is that Scotty McCreery is an American Idol alum. It’s been popular lately to say that a lot of pop stars would not be able to make it on talent contest shows like Idol, because they are not good enough.
As I said when I welcomed Scotty McCreery to country:
In an ironic symptom of the current state of country music, teeming masses of 14-year-old glitter-faced girls high on Spree and voting en masse on cell phones seem to be a better judge of talent than boardrooms full of business and marketing majors. Look at Carrie Underwood; she’s kept her nose pretty clean with me. So American Idol or not, I promise I will judge you on your own merit.
Scotty’s lip sync performance also comes just days after Idol’s rival talent show “The X Factor” was caught red handed using lip syncing and backing tracks with one of their contestant’s, Leroy Bell. All of a sudden, the facade that these reality show stars are the real deal, put through even more rigorous trials than real stars, is starting to crumble.
As for Scotty McCreery, I think it is perfectly legitimate for McCreery fans to ask if maybe some of the performances that won him American Idol’s top spot were lip synced as well.
Don’t worry, just because I’m a hardliner, doesn’t mean I’m gonna rip into you just because you’re an Idol alum. In an ironic symptom of the current state of country music, teeming masses of 14-year-old glitter-faced girls high on Spree and voting en masse on cell phones seem to be a better judge of talent than boardrooms full of business and marketing majors. Look at Carrie Underwood; she’s kept her nose pretty clean with me. So American Idol or not, I promise I will judge you on your own merit.
You’ve got quite a voice on you there Scotty. You’ve learned how to bottom out on the beginning of phrases . . . just like Garth. Hell, just from seeing pictures of you and the adolescent suffix on your name, I thought you would sound like a castrated Smurf (sorry, don’t watch Idol so I’d never heard you before). I was wrong.
Somebody was explaining to me the other day that on American Idol, contestants at some point choose what genre they are, so there’s country people, rock people, R&B people, etc. Well isn’t that cute. I come from the school that thinks that you don’t pick country, country picks you.
Because country isn’t just a genre of music like all those other ones; a simple word to offer distinction or categorization. It is a culture that has a rich and storied history that must be honored, or at least understood for the music to be true. Your princely little American Idol crown was bestowed in the midst of a culture war in country music. While purists fight to preserve the roots of the music, pop acts look to exploit it, and outfauxs and fat white country rappers work to squeeze every last stereotype out of rural culture for financial exploit.
It’s hard to know where you fit in that scheme at the moment, because even though you’ve been given the title of an “Idol”, meaning something to be worshiped, I don’t care how many licks from a kitten it takes to clean the peach fuzz off your face, until you actually put out an album, you are nothing more than a glorified Karaoke contest winner in my eyes.
But your album will come out, and if you listen to what all those men in those tall buildings tell you to do, you can puts plenty of 0′s behind the first number in your bank account to be left behind when you die. Or maybe you could use this one-in-a-million opportunity afforded by the gratuitous excess of American media, as well as your undeniably strong voice, and truly look deep down inside yourself, and find that one divine spark that exists in every human soul at inception, that one thing we are all meant to share with the rest of the world, and then share it, regardless of the financial outcome, or what the masses or asshole critics like me have to say about it.
Now that would be something I could idolize as an American.
In my last post I talked about how singer/songwriter Six Gun Britt had decided to try out for American Idol. Inspired by her residents and co-workers at the nursing home she worked at in Kentucky, Six Gun Britt went out a grueling journey to Atlanta and back, and this was the conclusion in Six Gun’s own words:
“Well… It’s Friday and I’m back in Kentucky. Yesterday I stayed in line for HOURS to try out. After singing Britney Spear’s “Oopps I did it Again” for over an hour with the crowd, I finally got to go onto the field with a couple hundred people to try out. Unlucky for me, I was sent to the executive Producer’s Stand.
“I tried out with a set of 4 people. I sang my heart out with one of my favorite songs, Jolene, and told him why I was there. (About the whole Country music thing and for my Residents) , and he just smiled. After all 4 of us sang, he asked all of us to come to the table. The girl next to me sang soooo awesome, you couldn’t possibly believe the set of pipes this girl had on her. She was AMAZING! There was a guy next to me that didn’t sing as good. BUT!!!… here’s the kicker… After calling all of us to the stand he told all the girls that we weren’t quite what he was looking for and asked us to go to the door. The guy made it. Then it hit me… there were 4 lines of people in front of us also. Every line included one guy. And every guy was asked to stay and get a golden ticket. I finally realized why we weren’t what he was looking for! lol!
“But no big deal. I really had a blast. I do think the show is biased though in many ways. I witnessed it myself. I’m not a sorry loser at all, but it was obvious that there were certain people they were looking for… whether they could sing or not. Do I think that American Idol is crippling out Country music traditions? Yes I do. It’s a factor that’s incredibly hindering it. I wish I could have done more than I did, but a try country music singer (Classic country Hank, Jones, Jennings, Cash, or even Nelson) wouldn’t have even stood a chance with these people. It’s sad to say, but it’s true. You wouldn’t see them living to the beat of a pop culture tune either. And so I am sticking to my roots. That’s all I’ve got and that makes the most sense to me!”
“So lets live loud and keep up with trying to Save Country Music. Stick to our Roots and Tradition because we’re nothing without them! Thanks so much for the support and everything yall have done for me. Seeing yall support me like that meant more than me making it onto the show or not. Thanks again and take er’ easy! I love yall!”
I talked on the phone with Six Gun Britt yesterday, and she assured me that this will not break her spirits for pursuing music in the future.
Some people might think that all I do here is piss and moan about music that I hate, and overly-glorify music that I love, all according to my personal tastes. I’m not going to try to make an argument that I’m not biased, but my real desire for country music, and music in general is to see the cream rise to the top; for the most talented musicians, songwriters, and performers, to at least get the recognition they deserve.
Sure, pop country performers must have some talent, and must have done some work at some point to get where they are at. But it should be the priority of our culture to find the best and brightest of any field, whether it be music, country music, art, acting, sports, science, whatever it is, and shine the spotlight on them. Because those are the people that push the rest of us and inspire all of us to try to find and pursue and dedicate ourselves to the things that we do best; the one thing that each of us has that is unique and should be shared with the masses.
Long story short, in this instance, American Idol failed it’s viewers. Sure, it is not a surprise, but this doesn’t make it any less of a tragedy, and a tragedy that is played out virtually every day as concerns for money and fame override talent and excellence.
I have confidence that one day American Idol will have to look back and hang their head that they let Six Gun Britt slide through their fingers.
Yes I know, Fox Television’s American Idol is a Barbie and Ken-style prancing poodle popularity contest that promotes celebrity worship and rabid consumerism, and is causing a general decay and homogenization of our culture to a prim and prissy style of music that is heroically void of soul.
BUT, just indulge me for a second, and imagine a truly talented, REAL country Outlaw-style artist getting on there, and using the machine of POP, to expose millions to what REAL country music can be all about. I have had this little scheme in the back of my head for years: some highly talented artist wiggling their way on to that show, giving a voice and a face to this movement to take country music back.
Well Six Gun Britt at this very moment is trying to do that very thing. I am trying to not get too excited about this, or lump any undue pressure or expectations on her, but this whole idea has me pitching a tent in my music pants for sure. It is going to be very difficult, if the whole thing isn’t outright rigged, and if Six Gun doesn’t at least make it deep into the contest, we will all know it is rigged for sure. Six Gun Britt is one of the most raw talents our country has to offer. It is as simple as that.
Six Gun Britt has been working at a nursing home. In a recent bulletin from her, she said, ” Usually i’m not one to care about Main stream hit list shows, but after playing last Sunday at the nursing home ( during my breaks), my fellow co-workers and the residents really wanted me to go for it. I am doing this for my residents and yall.” Now if that is not as cool as all get out, I don’t know what is. Think of the smiles on those faces at a nursing home back in Kentucky if Six Gun makes it on to the show. That is what this is all about. That is what music is all about; uplifting the spirit and coping with sorrow; not selling pimple cream and purple pants. And Six Gun Britt and what she is trying to do embodies that spirit.
I know there will be some punks out there thinking Six Gun and the rest of us should not even recognize American Idol or give it our time, and I completely understand this point of view, and under normal circumstances, I would agree with it whole-heartedly. But this is a war, and if we can use the machines of POP to expose a REAL talent, or even to turn the tables of the machines themselves, I think it would be foolish not to.
But let’s not make this all about our disdain for pop country or American Idol. This is about a girl and a guitar, and a dream. It is about the bond Britt has made with people at a nursing home that she shares no blood with.
In the end she may not be America’s Idol, but Six Gun Britt and her story is about as American as it gets.
Go get ‘em Britt, this is one guy who is behind you 100%.
(Six Gun Britt is in Atlanta at the moment. Registration is on Tuesday and tryouts are on Thursday. I will keep everyone posted on how she does.)
OK people, you might want to perch a paper bag on your knee for this one, ’cause it could get nasty.
This week the great cultural deconstructionist and mind-numbing indoctrinator American Idol is going to have “country week.” No, songs by Willie and Waylon will not be featured. Try Sailor Twift, Timberly McGraw, and whatever Disney pre-pubescent starlet Disney has bribed with Oreos to look cute and sing through a pitch bender, while the proud parents hang out back stage snorting all the profits up their noses.
Nothing about what will happen on American Idol this week will be “country.” It will be an absolute abomination of that term, a term which belongs to us, the people, not corporate Nashville or Fox and their marketing gurus.
Like I said in my editorial on Outlaw Magazine:
“The term “country” is not something owned by executives in tall buildings, but by the people of the country, as the term implies. We cannot write it off or abandon it. We must fight for that word. We must constantly work to purify it, and keep it pure. It is OUR word, not theirs. We must let it be known that our culture is not for sale.”
So if you dare to watch the Idol proceedings this week, or you hear someone talking about it, whatever, just let it be known:
THAT’S NOT COUNTRY !!!
From Rebel Rouser
And if that isn’t enough to pour salt in the wound left when Nashville tried to rip REAL country out of your soul, according to The Boston Herald Jamie Lynn Spears, sister of the wheels off Britney Spears who has infected our youth with raunch culture, is “Going Country.” That’s right my friends, get naked and roll around in a big pile of friggin’ money.
Apparently being able to make millions a year for doing nothing more than stupid things for the tabloids to report, like getting knocked up at 15, is not enough for the younger Spears, and she now wants to make even more greenage pissing all over the traditions that made country great. Jamie might as well be dancing a jig on the grave of Hank Williams.
What a joke. Hopefully this charade will blow up in their face, just like it did for Jessica Simpson.
Support SCM and start
your Amazon shopping here
- NPC on Garth Brooks Falls in Tulsa, Again on Stage Conveyor Belts
- Strait Country 81 on ACM’s Present a Sausage Fest for 2015 New Artist Award
- Summer Jam on Viral Mashup Exposes Silent Majority of Disgruntled Country Fans
- markf on Garth Brooks Falls in Tulsa, Again on Stage Conveyor Belts
- Bill on NASH Icon Signs Ronnie Dunn / Makes Big Network Move