Browsing articles tagged with " Florida Georgia Line"
Sep
29

A Meow Mix Commercial Speaks To Bro-Country’s Critical Mass

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  13 Comments

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There’s that moment when every stylistic trend in popular culture reaches critical mass, and where before most everyone used to be on board with the trend, they’re now part of a backlash that brews en masse when something that had little substance or long-term future to begin with begins to sour in the minds of fickle American consumers.

This is the moment in time we find ourselves in with Bro-Country. The distaste for this hyper-trend has become so effusive, it has spread not just throughout disenfranchised country music fans, but throughout the entire American culture and beyond. People who are not even country music listeners are finding Bro-Country on their televisions when they tune into a college football game and Florida Georgia Line is singing the intro, or they hear a Bro-Country song playing out of the car beside them at a stop light or over the speakers at a store. And they’re all wondering to themselves, “What the hell happened to country music?”

Case in point, last week people were meowing over a newly-released video marrying Meow Mix cat food with what appeared to be a Bro-Country parody called “Country Cat.” The two-minute video performed by country artist J.R. Moore enlists typical sonic and lyrical tropes of country music’s current hyper-trend into a humorous advertisement as part of a Meow Mix brand relaunch.

The ad is one of the first salvos from a company called Pop Up Music, which is the Nashville offshoot of Jingle Punks—one of the leading companies in crafting jingles for commercials, television, and movies in the United States. Pop Up Music opened their outlet in Nashville just this month, and are already releasing live content. “Country Cat” is actually part of a three-part series that started with a video poking fun at EDM stereotypes, and will be debuting a new video “Hipster Orchestra” coming soon.

“People no longer just want to license hit music or pay for talent fees from standard celebrities,” says Jared “Jingle” Gutstadt, the CEO of Jingle Punks. “People want platforms and good ideas. We’ve been able to create music content as the hub of advertising strategies and ride shotgun with some of the best and brightest agencies in the world … Where in the past, music needed to be marketed, people no longer consume music the same way. People enjoy music and the audience for it is growing faster than ever before, but the way that it’s being consumed and paid for is shifting the power back to a lot of marketing and branding agencies.”

In other words, the lines between commercial or advertising content, and creative content, are blurring like never before. And this Meow Mix parody is a perfect example of this emerging paradigm. But is it really supposed to be a parody of Bro-Country, or is it just an example of country music in general? If it targets Bro-Country specifically, this would be yet another sign that the amusement at Bro-Country has become so effusive throughout culture, that it can even be used in advertising. The only way an advertising video like this works is if it resonates with the public at large, and not just with a small segment of disgruntled country fans.

j-r-moore-meow-mix-2“Some of the guys from Jingle Punks actually wrote this song, and yes, it is entirely meant to be a parody of bro-country,” “Country Cat” singer J.R. Moore explains to Saving Country Music.We wrote several songs in different country styles, but when this one came up, it became very clear that bro-country was the way to go. It was always intended to be very tongue-in-cheek, especially trying to play it straight in the beginning of the song until the reveal that it’s about a cat.” 

J.R. Moore explains that he wasn’t reluctant to put on the Bro-Country hat to pull off the parody. “People should know that the song (and the commercial, for that matter) was intended to give people a chuckle. I am actually a serious artist, with songs that aren’t intended to be jokes. But I’m not too serious to laugh at myself or a genre that’s easy to pick on (or wear fake tattoos and a sleeveless denim hooded shirt). We had a lot of fun with the song and the shooting of the video, and we hope everyone else does, too.”

For a decade J.R. Moore fronted the successful rock outfit Ingram Hill and is now launching a solo country career with an EP due out in 2015. After finding him on Twitter, it was clear he was a fan of artists like Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. I’ve been an Isbell fan for quite a while, and though I’m a little late to the game on Sturgill, I absolutely love his music. I was very lucky to be in L.A. at the same time as him recently and was able to catch his show at the Troubadour. Great stuff.

When similar hyper trends in music began to show signs of dying like Disco or 80′s hair metal, one of the first signs of the public’s souring on the trend was the permeation of humor and parody making fun of the musical styles. To have a huge advertising agency and a major national brand recognize that a Bro-Country parody would elicit a humorous response from the public at large could speak to just where we are in Bro-Country’s lifespan. Just like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song,” this silly cat commercial resonates.

Sep
29

Country Artists And Their Famous Look Alikes

September 29, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  18 Comments

briand-kelley-doogie-houserHave you ever been scanning through photos of your favorite (or least favorite) artists and thought, “Hot damn! That dude look just like this other dude!” From eery similarities like Sturgill Simpson and Javier Bardem’s creepy character from the movie No Country For Old Men, to Johny Paul White and Johnny Depp who I am pretty much convinced are the same exact person, here are some country artists and their famous doppelgangers.

 


Jason Isbell (Americana Artist of the Year) – Matthew Stafford (Detroit Lions Quarterback)

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Brian Kelley (Florida Georgia Line) – Doogie Houser (M.D.)

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John Paul White (The Civil Wars) – Johnny Depp (part-time pirate)

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Sturgill Simpson – Javier Bardem from No Country For Old Men

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Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers) – Ashton Kutcher

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Jeremy Fetzer (Steelism, Caitlin Rose guitar player) – Joey Lawrence (Blossom-era {whoa!})

jeremy-fetzer-steelismBLOSSOM


David Allan Coe – Geico Caveman

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Scotty McCreery – Alfred P. Newman

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Kristian Bush (Sugarland) – Lucky Charms leprechaun

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Colt Ford – Grimmace

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Tyler Hubbard (Florida Georgia Line) – A Bottle of Massengill (douche)

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Sep
22

R.I.P. “Bro-Country” (2011-2014)

September 22, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  106 Comments

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On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname “Bro-Country,” died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of “foul play”.

Though the exact date of birth of Bro-Country has never been specifically determined, many place its origins in early 2011 with what was initially called “checklist” or “laundry list” country music. Regularly listing off mundane artifacts of country living such as ice cold beer, pickup trucks, tailgates, dirt roads, hot girls, cutoffs, moonshine, mud, and many other country calling cards, songs like Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” went on to become some of the biggest country music songs during Bro-Country’s life. The name “Bro-Country” wasn’t coined until August of 2013 when culture writer Jody Rosen’s dissertation on the subject described Bro-Country as a, “tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.”

Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise” very much typified Bro-Country’s life and legacy, and when the single became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music, the troubles for Bro-Country began. Predictions of Bro-Country becoming a hyper trend that would grow old prematurely began to spread, and so did public dissent about Bro-Country in what became known as the Season of Discontent. Things began to look especially bleak for Bro-Country when Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta said in December of 2013, “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc. So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”

In 2014, enemies of Bro-Country began to emerge from the country music industry itself, and anti Bro-Country songs like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” were released to radio, exacerbating Bro-Country’s health problems. Even Bro-Country proponents who had recently given a rosy prognosis for its future, like Sony Music Nashville’s CEO Gary Overton who once said Bro-Country’s demise was “nowhere in the foreseeable future” is now saying “There’s a saturation point.” New albums from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney purposefully avoid Bro-Country. In some ways it seems fitting that Bro-Country would pass away on the last official day of summer, since the party themes and good times of Bro-Country seemed to be perpetually stuck in the year’s warmest months.

Of course there will be some who will not be able to come to grips with the death of Bro-Country, especially many of Bro-Country’s friends who made lots of money during Bro-Country’s life—many of the same people who refused to acknowledge the problems Bro-Country was facing in the first place. There will be people who attempt to carry on Bro-Country’s legacy by singing about the things Bro-Country loved like beer and tailgates, and they may even find some success in the short term. But eventually they will have to face Bro-Country’s death, or be like the mullet-wearing uncle stuck in the glory days.

Bro-Country is scheduled to be buried in the rubble of the historic RCA Studio ‘A’ building set to be bulldozed on Music Row in Nashville. And in Bro-Country’s memory, an edifice to gentrification and homogenization will be erected in the form of a 147,000 square foot condominium complex on the location.

R.I.P. Bro-Country, you smelled extremely manly.

Sep
18

Review – Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” (a semi-rant)

September 18, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Reviews  //  110 Comments

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Warning: Some Language

At this point, Florida Georgia Line has settled quite nicely into being the great American sedative of our generation. Just as producer Joey Moi did with Nickelback before them, this music affords a vacation from self-reflection or truly beneficial thought. ISIS is beheading people in the Middle East and engaging in horrific genocide, the economic disparity between social classes continues to increase and has never been more pronounced, even stalwart institutions of American culture like the NFL are leaving the populace in doubt. But that’s okay, you can put on the latest Florida Georgia Line single and all the girls are hot, all the guys get laid, and libations and narcotics are at your beck and call. This is the type of vacationary audio lubrication that keeps the engine of corporate America purring along just fine. Don’t get down; get high and buy shit.

Florida Georgia Line would be perfectly happy with continuing to put out Bro-Country “dirt road, beer, tailgate” schlock. After all, they’ve let it be known multiple times that they’re dumfounded by all the Bro-Country critcism. If stadiums are filling up then it must be working and will work forever, but Scott Borchetta put out a company memo to leave that stuff with Dallas Davidson and Chase Rice to sink with, so what we get instead from Florida Georgia Line’s new single “Sun Daze” is a reversion back to the stupid-ass beach bum singalongs—aka the same garbage Bro-Country replaced. Hell, “Bacardi” and “flip flops” are much easier to find things to rhyme with than “tailgate.” Screw that we’re actually heading into the Winter, it’s always sunny in shitty country music la la land.

The diehards will never admit it, but when you boil down the music of “Sun Daze,” it’s pretty much harmless. Of course it’s not country, but at this point, pointing that out feels like a cliché in itself. Imagine the music that’s playing when “The Fool” of the Tarot deck goes carefree stepping off the side of a cliff. That’s “Sun Daze.” But it’s not terrible. In fact there’s an extended dobro solo at the end of the song, which is just about as much or more solo instrumentation than you will hear in most any country song these days. This is a stupid song, but there’s space in the music world for these type of mindless hum-alongs.

Where “Sun Daze” turns aggressively awful is in the lyricism. Now to be fair, there’s nothing in “Sun Daze” that we haven’t been hearing for years in pop radio or in Parental Advisory fare, so let’s not freak out about the downfall of civilization. But the problem is that country has now taken over as the leader in raunchy innuendo and overt lyrical references. Time was country music was the safe location on the dial, and KISS-FM is what your 4-year-old didn’t need to hear. Now the pop station is playing inspirational and confidence-building tunes from Lorde and Meghan Trainor, and country is the home of the unfettered smut fest.

If I’m lucky, yeah, I might get laid.
The way that it’s goin’ that keg gon’ be floatin’.

All I wanna do today is wear my favorite shades and get stoned.

Kris Kristofferson with the help of Johnny Cash in 1970 already crossed the Rubicon of calling themselves “stoned,” and the result was the CMA for Song of the Year. But there was also a story behind their references, and a deep and dour feeling of self-loathing and reflection, if not a diagnosis of the moral depravity one found oneself in. The simple fact is “Sun Daze” needs this bawdy language of “get laid” and “get stoned” because that’s all it’s got to separate itself from vapid nursery rhyme. “Sun Daze” farmed a melody that was so Mother Goose, they needed to gussy it up with something controversial to have at least something that would pass for “edgy.” Talking about getting laid and stoned in a country song is simply a cry for attention, and is demographic pandering to the repressed suburban boys and girls this stupidity appeals to.

The second verse of “Sun Daze” takes it to another level.

Stir it up as we turn on some Marley
If you want you can get on Harley
I sit you up on a kitchen sink
Stick the pink umbrella in your drink

Well you’ve been anything but coy up to this point in the song fellas, why don’t you just come out and say it? You plan to stick your penis in her vagina … but all of a sudden you don’t have the testicles to spell it out.

What rank immaturity. And it does seem to make it a little worse that they’ve decided to do their pink umbrella sticking on the Lord’s day. Not to get too preachy or anything, but that is the everlasting dichotomy of country music: let loose on Saturday night, and atone on Sunday. Now let’s screw that tradition all up as well since it makes for catchy, purposely-misspelled crud jargon for über douches whose “religious” ideals are only as skin deep as their $700 bicep tattoos of Gothic crosses that are more about marketing than expression or reverence.

There’s much worse out there folks, which is sad to say in itself. That’s the evil genius about Joey Moi and Florida Georgia Line. They passed on the song “Burnin’ It Down” which the duo co-wrote (and was cut by Jason Aldean), and I don’t care if it shot to #1 because the label sent a Brinks truck over to Clear Channel driven by hookers with cocaine—”Burnin’ It Down” is a polarizing song that is destined for the waste bin of country music history because deep down it’s just really bad. But “Sun Daze” is America’s next ear worm. Of course it sucks, but Florida Georgia Line once again proves its ability to craft an engaging melody to enrapture America’s gullible middle. And the descent of country music registers yet another low water mark.

Two guns down.

(aka, any points for melody construction are erased by the transgressions in the lyricism)

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And P.S.: Quit naming of monogenre strings of artist together like, “Rock a little bit of hip-hop and Haggard and Jagger.” That’s now as cliché as pickup trucks and beer.

“Sun Daze” is written by Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, and Cary Barlowe, Jesse Frasure and Sarah Buxton—who should all know better.

Sep
15

How Billboard’s New Consumption Chart Could Have A Big Impact

September 15, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  31 Comments

billboardWhen Billboard implemented sweeping changes to their chart configurations in October of 2012, it was predicted at the time by many that these changes would fundamentally modify the industry in historic ways, ushering in an era where popular American music would rapidly succumb to the monogenre, and distinctions of separate genres would slowly become irrelevant. Artists who did not occupy the “crossover” realm would see diminished significance, and music would all begin to sound the same.

Subsequently that is exactly what we have seen, and the fingerprints of Billboard 2012′s rules changes can be found all over malevolent trends in country music, including the rise of “Bro-Country,” the institution of rap and EDM elements in country in a widespread manner, and the continued struggles of the genre to support and develop female artists. And country music is not alone. The Billboard rap charts have seen similar homogenization, at least in part because of the new rules. Virtually every individual genre’s charts, and thus the music itself and how it’s manufactured and marketed, have been affected in fundamental ways by these changes. And it may about to get much worse.

Many of the changes Billboard made to their charts in October of 2012 were not only necessary, they were much past due. Rating consumer interactions such as streams on Spotify and plays on YouTube were important to give both consumers and industry professionals a better illustration of the importance and performance of a given track. The problematic change was a rule governing “crossover” material. It allowed artists such as Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line to receive credit for radio play and other consumer activity in the pop world on the genre specific country charts. This restricted the ability for artists with no crossover appeal to be successful in their genre specific rankings, while artists that released rap remixes, or songs that appealed to pop radio as well as country to fare much greater.

But the October 2012 changes Billboard implemented didn’t fundamentally change the structure of the charts themselves. You still had an album chart, based off of how many cohesive albums—physical or digital—a given artist sold in a week period. You still had the airplay charts, which ranked songs specifically by how many spins DJ’s gave them across the country. And you had the Hot Songs chart, which now took into consideration crossover data, and a new suite of streaming and other consumer interaction data, but it was still the same fundamental chart meant to give a more broad picture of a song’s impact.

Now that all might change. Or at least, these traditional charts may be so significantly diminished in importance, they are rendered virtually insignificant, especially the album charts. And once again, with these chart changes could come fundamental musical changes from the industry to try and take advantage of these new metrics.

This new, sweeping system is currently being called the “Consumption Chart,” and it is presently being constructed by Billboard in conjunction with Nielsen SoundScan—the company that aggregates consumer data, including sales, streams, YouTube views, and other data that goes into building Billboard’s charts. Billboard and SoundScan are currently tweaking on the specifics of the new chart—one of which is how to aggregate streaming data, which is currently being tabulated by hand.  Though there is no hard and fast date of when the Consumption Chart may be rolled out, the word from HITS Daily Double is that Billboard hopes to have it in place by the very beginning of next year so that when the new music ranking system starts, it can have an entire year to give a more cohesive picture to both consumers and industry.

One of the strange aspects about Billboard’s 2012 changes is since they happened in not just the middle of a year, but in the middle of a business quarter, it created a dirty data situation where the rules governing songs changed in the middle of the game. There was also little to no warning ahead of the changes being made. Billboard’s new rules came somewhat unexpectedly and were implemented immediately. Though indications are the roll out of the Consumption Chart will wait until the end of the year, especially since Billboard and SoundScan want to give themselves proper lead time to make sure their system is road tested and debugged before being debuted to the public, there’s no guarantee we may not wake up one morning and find that the way music is measured has been massively overhauled yet again.

What Is The Billboard Consumption Chart?

To put it simply, The Billboard Consumption Chart would be a combination of an album and a song chart. Instead of just considering physical album sales to gauge an album’s performance, the new chart would take song plays from streaming data and turn them into equivalent album sales. The idea is to bridge the gap between artists who receive a lot of streaming interaction but have marginal physical sales, and artists who have strong physical sales but don’t experience a lot of streaming activity. All indications are that Billboard hopes that this new Consumption Chart will become the industry standard for rating music.

According to HITS Daily Double:

The weekly chart will combine album and track sales with audio and video streams, assigning an equivalent-album value to each, as in the TEA metric, theoretically providing a more accurate and comprehensive representation of modern-day music consumption … Billboard’s album sales chart will remain in place, but most observers believe it will take on decreasing importance over time as the business acclimates itself to the new system … In some respects, the consumption chart will mirror the present sales charts in that sales and streaming tend to correlate, with certain exceptions … Overall, the most dramatic effect of the consumption chart will be to lengthen the tails of bona fide hits by measuring their aftermarket impact, potentially providing the labels with additional time in which to market these hits.

A mock up of the new chart was made last week, and the biggest takeaway was that albums for artists whose consumers mostly listen to songs on Spotify and YouTube instead of actually purchasing the album received a significant boost in the new metric by making “album equivalent” gains from the amount of streams and plays songs received. For example, the album Settle by the EDM duo Disclosure went from #213 on the album chart based purely off of sales, all the way up to #64 based off of these “album equivalent” streams and plays. That is a 149-spot difference just from the new Consumption Chart reporting method. Another example is Katy Perry’s album Prism, which moved from #61 to #16.

How The Consumption Chart Could Hurt Older and Independent Artists

What this all means is that artists who do well with physical album sales and digital downloads could be significantly diminished in this new system, while artists who primarily have their music heard through streaming methods will see a significant boost. This could immediately put older artists, and independent artists at a significant disadvantage.

Recently we have seen older country artists such as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and Billy Joe Shaver set career chart records with their album releases because these artist’s older fan bases are one of the few demographics left that actually buy albums. But since these artist’s streaming footprint is significantly less, this new Consumption Chart would see them fare significantly worse compared to the current system.

Same could be said for many independent artists like Old Crow Medicine Show, Sturgill Simpson or Jason Isbell, whose fan bases are more likely to buy physical albums to help support the artist. These artists have seen significant boosts from chart performances recently, and this could go away under the new system. Artists who rely heavily on vinyl sales like Jack White could also see diminishing returns from the new charting system.

Since these charts are used to gauge the importance and impact an artist has in the marketplace, a diminishing of them on the charts could affect their overall sales, or their acknowledgement by the industry. Once again, just like Billboard’s 2012 chart rules, the new system very well may create even a greater discrepancy between the have’s and have not’s of music, and see more attention paid to the biggest artists, the biggest songs, and the biggest albums.

One big question for the Consumption Chart is if it takes into consideration the greater commitment a consumer shows by purchasing a physical album or downloading an entire copy instead of streaming an individual song or consuming it in a free environment such as YouTube. Does it also take into consideration that these physical and digital sales generally result in more revenue for the artist, the labels, and the industry as a whole? Where streaming is currently gutting the industry, physical sales are one of the the last bastions of revenue, including vinyl sales which are on the rapid increase.

Once again, certain changes are probably necessary to Billboard’s charts to take into consideration the new realities of consumer’s consumption habits when it comes to music. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of artists who are already struggling under the current system.

The good news is that this Consumption Chart has yet to be implemented, and so there is still time to understand what its impact might be and game plan for it, or even to influence the direction it might take before it is rolled out. This opportunity did not pose itself in 2012.

And as Billboard will probably point out, there’s no plans to put away the purely sales-based album chart. But many industry experts believe it will be significantly diminished under the new system. Some believe this new system could be dead on arrival, while others think it is necessary to keep Billboard’s relevance in the marketplace alive.

As HITS Daily Double asks, “In what ways will attempts be made to manipulate the new chart, and what new games will labels play in order to get a leg up on the competition? Will the consumption chart mean the end of the SoundScan-era emphasis on the first week of release, or will the majors figure out new ways to max out that total?”

Either way, if the changes made by Billboard in 2012 were any indication, the Consumption Chart could have a significant impact on music much beyond simply how it is measured.

Sep
11

When They Don’t Suck: Bad Country Star’s Good Album Cuts

September 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  56 Comments

jason-aldeanOne of the things that can be so frustrating for distinguishing country music fans is knowing many of country music’s current stars can do so much better. Many of them have sensational voices, and can write great songs when they set their mind to it. And many times you can hear examples of this when listening to their albums. The garbage that artists and labels release as singles these days usually constitute the absolute worst an album has to offer. When listening to the albums of even some of country music’s worst acts, you’re regularly surprised by the substance and the amount of sincerity they exhibit in some songs.

A few months ago Saving Country Music published and article called “Before They Sucked: Big Country Music Stars At The Start.” As a similar exercise, let’s look at some of the album cuts of the biggest stars, and see the kind of heart, and country-sounding material they’re capable of when they set their mind to it.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a recommendation of any of these songs. This is simply an exercise to illustrate that returning more substance to country isn’t necessarily tied to recording different songs, it could simply be tied to releasing different singles. Florida Georgia Line’s recent single “Dirt” is an example of how a big mainstream act can have a chart-topping success with a song with substance if they just make the conscious choice to do so.

And this is just the very tip of the iceberg of examples. The truth is most any top tier country artist is going to have songs of substance on their album.


Brantley Gilbert – “That Was Us” and “I’m Gone”

Brantley Gilbert might be the best example of an artist who releases the most vile detritus as singles, but when you actually listen to his records, you are surprised to find songs that are not just serious and sincere, but that are downright powerful. Gilbert is the mainstream artist with a grassroots following. He’s one of the few mainstream artists left who can sell albums, primarily because his ultra-loyal fans know there are going to be some really deep songs there that the radio will never play. These songs are one of the reasons his fan base seems to be ready to jump off a cliff for him if he ordered it, and will argue for days how great he is.

Brantley Gilbert’s last album Just As I Am is culpable for two of the crappiest singles found on country radio today: “Bottom’s Up” and “Small Town Throwdown.” But there are also a couple of tracks that show a lot of substance and heart, and even capture Brantley breaking away from his mumbling singing style. “That Was Us” starts out feeling like you’re average four minute laundry list pablum, but it reveals itself as a waltz-timed memory trip that includes moments of vulnerability and even self-effacing honesty. “I’m Gone” is another one from Just As I Am that is driven by mandolin and steel guitar, and aside from a Richie Sambora guitar wank-off bisecting the song, it’s a good reminder that Brantley Gilbert is a songwriter that writes his own stuff, and can write in story form with very strong results.


Justin Moore (w/ Miranda Lambert) -  “Old Habits”

Maybe a little too sappy for some, while others won’t be able to get past what they consider Justin Moore’s fake accent, but boil this one down at 212° F and you’ve got an old-fashioned country heartbreaker that could jerk tears from some of the most hardened mainstream country haters. Why in the hell wasn’t this released as a single instead of Justin Moore’s Mötley Crüe screech fest tribute? You have Miranda Lambert on the track who is a hot commodity, and a hell of a lot more feeling than anything we’ve heard from Justin Moore in a long time. I fail to see how this wouldn’t perform much better than “Home Sweet Home” which stalled out on the charts in the 30′s. Give this song a chance as a single, and mainstream country steps up its game immediately.


Blake Shelton – “Lay Low”

There’s a few songs on Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story that are not nearly as bad as “Boys ‘Round Here.” Truth is, Blake Shelton has never defined the worst country has to offer, especially when it comes to his album cuts. It’s that his alligator mouth gets ahead of his hummingbird ass more often than not. Songs like “Do You Remember” and “Grandaddy’s Gun” get brownie points for effort, and so should “Lay Low.” What’s good about this song is it really revitalizes the mood of mid to late 80′s country before everything went Garth crazy. It’s smooth and laid back. It doesn’t say much, but what it does say fills the spirit with a warm, relaxed feeling. It reminds you of what country sounded like before … you know … people like Blake Shelton came along.


Trace Adkins

If you want an example of an artist with one of the greatest voices ever to grace the genre, and who threw his talents away by defining his career through stupid singles, look no further than Mr. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” himself. The simple fact is Trace Adkins has entire albums of songs that are way more substantive that what is symbolized by “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” and the other bull he’s released to radio. This guy once won the ACM for Best New Male Vocalist, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His last album Love Will… is full of serious love songs, and as one would expect, it virtually flopped despite being arguably his most mature album yet. The Trace Adkins career arch is one that conveys that you may get hot with big singles, but you can also die by them when you become a joke to many listeners.


Jason Aldean – “Church Pew or Bar Stool”

Jason Aldean has never been a songwriter; he’s always been a pure singer and performer. But one thing he has done over his career is establish a theme surrounding his music of the small town identity that looks at the world through the simple eyes of the forgotten people in America’s heartland and hometowns. Songs like “Amarillo Sky,” “Water Tower,” and “Flyover States” speak very specifically to people forgotten by time and technology, and that struggle to find their identity in a challenging new world while still holding on to who they are.

We have to remember that Jason Aldean wasn’t a huge star until “Dirt Road Anthem,” and his label Broken Bow wasn’t a big deal until Jason Aldean. As time has gone on, just like so many stars who get overtaken by the Music Row machine, Aldean has backslid into chasing trends and losing touch with what made him unique when he first entered the business. But throughout his discography, you can hear the sentiment that gives a solemn assessment of lost America and its forlorn residents.

Sep
8

Why Jason Aldean Deserved to be Snubbed by the CMA’s

September 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  58 Comments

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This post has been updated (at bottom).

When the CMA Awards nominees were announced on Wednesday September 3rd, one of the most high-profile snubs in years occurred when Jason Aldean was left in the shade with zero nominations. As one of country music’s few stadium draws, and as the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year of the rival ACM Awards, the snub seemed somewhat curious, even to those who may count themselves as Jason Aldean detractors.

It was definitely curious to Jason Aldean’s father Barry Williams, who took to his Facebook account to vent about his son’s snubbing.

Ok, somebody help me out here. We have a country artist who has had at least a dozen number one singles, is the most downloaded country artist of all time, consistently sells out stadiums, has broken attendance records set by George Strait, Kenny Chesney, and even Paul McCartney. Yet he doesn’t even get one nomination for the CMA awards this year. He has been consistently shunned by the Academy the last couple of years when it was obvious that he was deserving of the Entertainer of The Year Award, based on statistics, not popularity of the Academy. This current failure to recognize Jason for his accomplishments only furthers my opinion that the CMA’s are a joke and a farce. I don’t want this to sound like “sour grapes”, but the statistics should speak for themselves.

This citing of statistics is the same argument Clear Channel DJ Bobby Bones used when he complained about his snubbing by the CMA’s. Bobby Bones also asserted, “Jason Aldean got screwed too!

First, let’s dispense of this idea that Jason Aldean has been “consistently shunned by the Academy…” No, Jason Aldean has never won Entertainer of the Year, but he’s been nominated three times, and has been recognized by the CMA’s just as much as any male artist over the last three years.

In 2013, Jason Aldean was nominated by the CMA for Male Vocalist of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and Vocal Event of the Year. In 2012, Aldean was nominated for Male Vocalist, Entertainer of the Year, and Single of the Year. In 2011, Aldean was nominated for a total of five awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Single of the Year, and he won Vocal Event of the Year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelley Clarkson, and Album of the Year for My Kinda Party. You combine this with Jason’s nomination for the Horizon Award in 2010, and that is twelve total CMA nominations, and two wins—hardly a shunning by the CMA.

Something else to be factored in is this was an off year for Jason Aldean due to his album cycle. Aldean’s last release was 2012′s Night Train, which was not eligible along with many of the album’s biggest singles for this year’s awards. Aldean’s new album Old Boots, New Dirt is about to be released and will be eligible next year. And let’s face it, Night Train was a step down from Aldean’s previous album My Kinda Party, which set the pace commercially for country music in 2011. My Kinda Party has sold over 3 million copies, while Night Train only reached 1.6 million.

Boiled down, what happened in 2014 was Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley both re-entered the CMA Awards top male tier because of big years. Dierks Bentley’s Riser album has been quite successful both commercially and critically, and Keith Urban’s new album and American Idol judgeship probably caused him to be more prominent in the minds of voters. It does seem a little strange Urban would be up for Entertainer of the Year and not Aldean, but it’s not so out of the realm of possibility that it should be taken as a sign of impropriety any more than the dozens of other reasons we already know the CMA is flawed.

But favorable “statistics” or “popularity” is not a guarantee of anything. That’s why people vote for CMA nominees and winners instead of using stats to determine the outcomes. Critical reception and other intangibles always must factor into these types of decisions, and that is where Jason Aldean may have shot himself in the foot this year. In the midst of the initial rounds of CMA voting, Jason Aldean released his latest single, “Burnin’ It Down.” Though the song quickly revealed itself as a commercial blockbuster, it was heavily criticized in its initial reception, including by many of Jason Aldean’s core fans. “Burnin’ It Down” symbolized such an abandonment of country music’s sonic values, it may have compelled many of the CMA voters to shudder at the idea of putting a check mark beside Aldean’s name. Jason Aldean has a history of stretching country music’s borders with singles, including country rap tunes like “Dirt Road Anthem” and “1994.”

On September 1st, Jason Aldean streamed his new album through the viral site BuzzFeed. Simply using that forum to preview his new music speaks to just how low brow Aldean seems to be aiming with this new project. Aldean states, “I’m the same dude, but we’re gonna start over and hit some uncharted territory here…If somebody can put a definition on what country music is, please tell me…I’m pretty knowledgeable in country music, and I’ve never once seen where it says, ‘Country music doesn’t have a drum loop.’” 

Actually Jason Aldean, country music does have a definition, and drum loops are nowhere to be found. Songs like “Burnin’ It Down” go strictly against how country music is defined by the CMA for example, which defines country as…

…the sound of Jimmie Rodgers yodeling – Keith Urban blasting out a guitar solo – The poetry of Hank Williams Sr. on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” - A room full of convicts cheering on Johnny Cash as he sings “San Quentin, I hate every inch of you” - Alan Jackson speaking for the common man in the wake of September 11th - Feisty Loretta Lynn, and tearful Tammy Wynette - Roy Acuff showing off yo-yo tricks at the Grand Ole Opry - Miranda Lambert performing a heartfelt ballad - The King of Country George Strait – The showmanship of superstars Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift.

Jason Aldean goes on to tell BuzzFeed,

“It’s great to put your stuff out there and give your fans a chance to tell you what they think. But if you’re not careful, you can read way too much into what people are saying. No, [“Burnin’ It Down”] is not Hank Williams Sr. or George Jones, but this also isn’t the ’60s and the ’70s. As great as that music was, you have a new wave of artists that were influenced by a whole different world of music, and country music is gonna evolve just like any kind of music.”

See, this is the justification all of these artists give for releasing music that is not country. They know it’s wrong, and so they try to justify it to themselves and the public as “evolution,” and then expect the country industry, like the CMA, to snap to and help serve it to the public.

Country music is in the identity crisis of its life. Left and right, artists are trying to turn country music into something it isn’t for the short-term commercial gain. There’s no better examples of this than Jason Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” If any entity is in a position of leadership to at least set some moderate boundaries around what country music actually is before its sound is lost to the monogenre forever, it would be the CMA. “You can read way too much into what people are saying,” Jason Aldean says, but perhaps Aldean isn’t reading enough.

As many of country music’s other big acts at the moment are turning to more substantive material in the face of growing negative sentiment about the direction of country music—including Florida Georgia Line who helped write “Burnin’ It Down”—Jason Aldean decided to take a different approach. And perhaps that cost him, as it probably should have. An institution like the CMA should not reward someone who is so flippant about defining country music. The CMA should reward artists who excel at showing the public the beauty of what country music truly is.

***UPDATE (9-9-14): Jason Aldean has responded to his CMA snubbing. He told Rolling Stone Country in part,

Obviously it’s disappointing. We’re still out there selling out shows. With maybe the exception of Luke [Bryan], I don’t think there is anybody else out there that is doing the kind of touring numbers that we’re doing. It’s frustrating, man, but at the same time, I don’t know how…what do you do? Things like that are out of your hands.”

“When [the nominations] came out, everything stirred up a hornet’s nest with everybody. All the DJs on the radio were talking about it and everything else. Which is cool. I do appreciate the fact that there are people out there who do realize what we’re doing. It sort of validates my reasoning for being upset.”

It is what it is. You can bitch and complain about it, or you just go and keep doing things the way you always did.

In fairness, George Strait has also been selling out shows and breaking attendance records, not just Luke Bryan.

Sep
4

ISIS Hears Garth’s “People Loving People,” Lays Down Arms

September 4, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  39 Comments

garth-brooks-isisRadical Muslim terrorist organization ISIS has been conducting a brutal and bloody holy war in the Middle East in recent months, complete with genocide and mass slaughter as it attempts to form a cross-border caliphate in Syria and the northern portions of Iraq. The organization’s campaign of terror has included the decapitation of two American journalists in recent weeks in an attempt to deter American airstrikes against their strongholds, and to instill global fear about ISIS’s brutality and reach.

But where airstrikes, drone attacks, and diplomatic resolutions in recent weeks failed to weaken the resolve to the radical ISIS Islamists, the release of Garth Brooks’ first single since his 13-year retirement called “People Loving People” has apparently landed the resoluteness of ISIS a fatal blow. Reports out of northern portions of Iraq and Syria currently under ISIS control are of desertions in the thousands by ISIS fighters after they heard Garth’s song touting the virtues of love and peace.

Apparently the supreme leader of the organization, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a big Garth Brooks fan.

“Yeah, back in the 90′s it was more of a guilty pleasure at first, and then when he started flying out across stadiums like Peter Pan, and then the whole Chris Gaines thing—I mean seriously, what the hell was that?—I was like ‘Bye bye Garth,’” says al-Baghdadi. “Really, I’m an old-school country fan. Love me some Waylon.”

But like many older country fans, as modern country music has become more pop and even rap, al-Baghdadi’s feelings on Garth began to turn around. “Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan, are you kidding me? That crap’s unfit for human consumption. Compared to that garbage, Garth is as old-school country as it gets, and when I heard he was finally releasing a new single, I couldn’t wait to hear it.”

Apparently Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi put out a directive across the entire ISIS communications network to broadcast the song to the caliphate and all ISIS fighters as soon as it was released. By all accounts, it was a big hit with both the brass, and the rank and file of ISIS. “Let’s face it, it’s catchy as hell, and with a good message,” says al-Baghdadi. “Though damn, why did they have to bury his vocals so much in the mix? Trying to make out the words is like trying to subjugate a town of ethnic minorities with one arm tied behind your back.”

After hearing “People Loving People,” al-Baghdadi says he’s a changed person.

“You know, just like many of my ISIS fighters, the message of Jihad was drilled into by brain for 20 years in the most radical of Middle Eastern madrases, and was then solidified by spilling the blood of infidels for many years in battle. But I’ll be damned if Garth Brooks didn’t make me see things differently. ‘People Loving People’ is just so simple and eloquent, and really relevant to this day and age.”

According to The Pentagon and commanders of the Kurdish Peshmerga army in control of parts of their semi-autonomous region in Northern Iraq, pockets of ISIS resistance still exist. But instead of dropping bombs on the remaining ISIS positions, a plan is being put in place to continuously broadcast Garth’s “People Loving People” in those regions to weaken the remaining strongholds. “We’re still working out rights with Garth to be able to legally broadcast it in a public forum,” says Pentagon spokesperson Herold Frankenfurter. “He wants to make sure it doesn’t compete with his upcoming concert appearances, and Garth refuses to release the individual track to us digitally. He insists we have to wait for the entire album to be released.”

Sep
3

2014 CMA Awards Nominees, Picks, & Prognostications

September 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  46 Comments

cma-awards-001On Wednesday morning (9-3), the nominees for the 48th Annual CMA Awards were announced on ABC’s Good Morning America and through a CMA Live stream. The 2014 CMA Awards will happen on Wednesday November 5th on ABC, and will be hosted by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood.

Leading all nominees with nine is Miranda Lambert. Dierks Bentely also turns in a strong showing with five considerations. And amongst the critic’s favorites, Brandy Clark comes in with two nominations, including for New Artist of the Year, and steel guitarist Paul Franklin also receives two nominations.

Though Taylor Swift has officially declared herself pop, she still rounds out the Female Vocalist category with a nomination. And despite officially retiring from touring this year, reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year George Strait shows up once again for the distinction.

The other curious takeaway from the nominations is Jason Aldean isn’t nominated for anything. After the year he’s had, this is nothing short of astounding. There is a story here somewhere, maybe doing with his infidelity, or with his label Broken Bow. The exclusion of Jason Aldean could set up as a big night for Luke Bryan.

 

Entertainer of the Year

Whether Taylor Swift would be included in this category was one of the biggest questions heading into these nominations. She’s been a perennial Entertainer nominee for the last half decade. There also seemed to be a slight chance we could see Florida Georgia Line here with the huge year they have had. In the end, Big Machine Records gets shut out, Miranda Lambert is the female representative, and King George shows up yet again, challenging the notion that last year’s win was a parting gift.

This is a two horse race. Luke Bryan has put together an incredible year, and has to be considered the front runner, but George Strait with his touring success can’t be ruled out. Remember at the ACM Awards earlier in 2014 when George got picked over Luke, members of the Luke camp erupted. This duel will be the big drama of the night.

Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert have no chance. Blake Shelton would be the dark horse.

  • Luke Bryan – Winner 
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait – Another Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Male Vocalist of the Year

Blake Shelton has been a shoe-in for this distinction the last few years, just as his wife Miranda Lambert has been the shoe-in for the females. But Luke Bryan has to be considered the strongest in the field. If Luke gets locked out of the Entertainer of the Year, the pressure may be to give Luke Bryan Male Vocalist as a consolation prize. Eric Church and Keith Urban are not contenders. Keith is simply the name the CMA’s are using to fill out the lists this year. Dierks has put together a great run with Riser, and would be both the dark horse, and the critical favorite.

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Eric Church
  • Blake Shelton – Other Potential Winner
  • Keith Urban

 

Female Vocalist of the Year

Of course the CMA nominates Taylor Swift in this category despite her not considering herself country anymore, though hypothetically this is for the year that just passed—before Taylor made her pop declaration. And lacking any real candidates because of the exclusiveness of mainstream country music, the CMA taps Martina McBride again to fill the 5th spot. Country music is not developing female talent, and perusing this category annually proves this.

Miranda runs away with it.

  • Miranda Lambert – Winner
  • Martina McBride
  • Kacey Musgraves
  • Taylor Swift
  • Carrie Underwood

 

Album of the Year

Since Eric Church’s last album Chief swept this category at the award shows two years ago, he has to be considered a contender. But you just don’t feel the same momentum for The Outsiders. If label politics win out however, he may walk away with it. This is the award the Eric Church camp will be lobbying heaviest for.

But this all feels like it is setting up to be a big night for Luke Bryan, and Crash My Party is a front runner. Keep an eye out for Dierks Bentley too. This would be considered the critical favorite of the bunch. Sorry Keith, you’ve got no chance.

  • Crash My Party, Luke Bryan – Winner
  • Fuse, Keith Urban
  • Platinum, Miranda Lambert
  • Riser, Dierks Bentley – Other Potential Winner
  • The Outsiders, Eric Church – Other Potential Winner 

 

Song of the Year

“Follow Your Arrow” would be the winner that would have the media agog over its liberal message in what’s considered a conservative environment, but that subplot may never have a chance to materialize. Fairly wide open field here, but let’s all hope Dallas Davidson doesn’t walk away with any hardware. “Automatic” and “I Hold On” would be the two songs that balance the critical and commercial success a Song of the Year usually needs to win, but if the CMA wants to make a statement, “Follow Your Arrow” may just prevail. There weren’t five better songs out there in country music?

  • “Automatic,” Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, and Miranda Lambert 
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church & Luke Laird
  • “I Don’t Dance,” Lee Brice, Dallas Davidson, & Rob Hatch
  • “I Hold On,” Dierks Bentley & Brett James 

 

Single of the Year

Boy, the CMA’s and mainstream country music are really showing just how bereft they are by these song nominations.

  •  “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley
  • “Give Me Back My Hometown,” Eric Church
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
  • “Mine Would Be You,” Blake Shelton

 

New Artist of the Year

Very cool to see Brandy Clark’s name here, and simply her nomination has to be considered a victory. But she has no chance. Thomas Rhett has been pegged as one of the next country superstars for a few years now, and his pedigree may be enough to best Kip Moore and Cole Swindell, who are the other strong contenders.

  • Brandy Clark
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Kip Moore
  • Thomas Rhett – Winner
  • Cole Swindell

 

Vocal Duo of the Year

Who, who, and who? Once again mainstream country proves how top heavy their talent is, and how terrible they are at developing new acts when it comes to trying to round out these categories with artists that are deserving of such a distinction. The world will end before anyone but Florida Georgia Line walks away with this.

  • Dan+Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line – Winner
  • Love & Theft
  • Swon Brothers
  • Thompson Square

 

Vocal Group of the Year

Good to see the Texas scene represented here (at least to some degree) with Eli Young Band. Zac Brown should win it, Lady Antebellum doesn’t have a chance since it’s an off-year for them. Little Big Town is the reigning champion, and there seems to be a lot of energy behind them lately.

  • Eli Young Band
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Little Big Town – Winner
  • The Band Perry – Other Potential Winner
  • Zac Brown Band – Other Potential Winner

 

Event of the Year

Cool to see names like Vince Gill, Paul Franklin, Dolly Parton, and Kenny Rogers show up, but in the end there’s probably only two strong contenders. “We Were Us” would be a dark horse, but its rise and fall on the singles charts was pretty fast. “Somethin’ Bad” shouldn’t be nominated for anything and would be an embarrassment if it won, which it very well might.

  • “Bakersfield,” Vince Gill & Paul Franklin
  • “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill – Winner
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert duet with Carrie Underwood – Other Potential Winner
  • “We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
  • “Can’t Make Old Friends,” Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers

 

Music Video of the Year

So, so blah. So many great videos out there, and we’re nominating “Somethin’ Bad” and “Drunk On A Plane”?

  • “Automatic,” Miranda Lambert, directed by Trey Fanjoy
  • “Bartender,” Lady Antebellum, directed by Shane Drake
  • “Drunk On A Plane,” Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards
  • “Follow Your Arrow,” Kacey Musgraves, directed by Honey & Kacey Musgraves
  • “Somethin’ Bad,” Miranda Lambert & Carrie Underwood, directed by Trey Fanjoy

 

Musician of the Year

Good to see Paul Franklin land two nominations this year. Normally this is the hardest category to forecast, but you have to feel like Franklin is the front runner for 2014.

  • Sam Bush, mandolin
  • Jerry Douglas, dobro
  • Paul Franklin, steel guitar – Winner
  • Dann Huff, guitar
  • Mac MacAnally, guitar
Sep
2

“It’s Not Fair,” Brad Paisley Says, “I’m Not Going To Take This Anymore”

September 2, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  58 Comments

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Brad Paisley is mad as hell. “I’m not going to take this anymore,” he attests to The Associated Press in an article posed on Monday (9-1). He later goes on to declare, “It’s not fair.” What is Brad not going to take anymore? What is not fair? According to Paisley, it’s not fair that he got jobbed by the criticism of his song “Accidental Racist” from last year. And now the critics are being unfair when it comes to his new album Moonshine In The Trunk. This is the reason he “leaked” his album early, and unspokenly, why the album hasn’t sold well.

“I’m not going to take it when they tell me, ‘You shouldn’t have done that,’” Paisley says to the AP about recording “Accidental Racist” with LL Cool J. “I’m a musician. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t have done that. I am going to say what I want to say, and this album is what I want to say right now.”

The lampooning of “Accidental Racist” by late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live before the release of Paisley’s 2013 effort Wheelhouse has been and continues to be at the forefront of Paisley’s rhetoric about Moonshine In The Trunk, and a scapegoat for any and all problems the country star might encounter. But what effects “Accidental Racist” actually had on the fortunes of Wheelhouse, and especially the fortunes of Moonshine In The Trunk, seem quite inconclusive, if they didn’t indeed result in a net positive. Yet Paisley continues to drive this “Accidental Racist” point home, and lately, with a good deal of vitriol and spite that is uncommon from Paisley, and a little short-sighted, especially when considering the wealth and success he’s attained from the industry in what could very well result in a Hall of Fame career.

Maybe the sales for 2013′s Wheelhouse were a little bit too low for Paisley, but it debuted at #1 in country, and #2 overall on the Billboard charts, and sold around 100,000 copies during the first week. Couldn’t the curiosity factor of “Accidental Racist” actually have boosted sales? It sure did for the song itself. As Saving Country Music explained at the time, “Accidental Racist,” despite not being released as a single, became an accidental hit. It charted on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs Chart at #18, and their all-encompassing Hot Country Songs chart at #23. The case could certainly be made that the criticism of “Accidental Racist” created extra interest in Paisley’s music. Maybe Paisley did not receive the type of sales numbers he was used to experiencing in his career, but that’s every artist in this new music streaming environment.

But back to this Associated Press story. “Whatever critic wants to give it two stars, I don’t care,” Paisley claims in the story. But apparently he does care, or at least he cared enough to fire off an angry tweet about a review from For The Country Record, which said about the release, “[It] presents few standout hits, particularly commercially, and seems a curious but desperate stab to push boundaries in a way that’ll make him relevant again.” Paisley later deleted the tweet, and has been trying to present himself as uncaring about criticism, “Because guess what? People know better, they’ve heard it,” he tells the AP. “They’ve heard it, and I got the first presentation of it.”

Ah yes, the whole “leaking” of the album that Brad Paisley put so much effort into. He recruited Jeff Gordon, Ellen Degeneres, and even a NASA Astronaut to help him “leak” the album in what was presented to the public as actions being against his record label’s will. He also took what had to be a time consuming position as a judge on ABC’s new reality singing competition Rising Star to help get his face and music out there in the public more prominently. And what was the result? Debut sales for Moonshine In The Trunk were roughly half of what they were for Wheelhouse a year ago. Estimates have sales around 48K to 53K.

In the Brad Paisley story, the AP says, “Paisley enlisted friends old and new … to help him leak every song on ‘Moonshine in the Trunk’ before its Aug. 26 release, trading jabs with his record label boss along the way.”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, this is the Associated Press, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (a clear violation of the AP stylebook to use all caps for emphasis) that is helping to perpetuate this absolute boldface lie that Brad Paisley leaked anything against the will of anyone, especially his record label who was clearly in cahoots with the entire operation. And despite the majority of Paisley’s fans continuing to believe this lie, a strange and disturbing twist surrounding Paisley’s whole “leak” exercise is that the people doing their journalistic service to the community by pointing out the fallacy of Paisley’s “leak” claims are the ones seen as the enemies and party poopers.

Because apparently you can’t criticize Brad Paisley. “What I don’t like is that I’m held to a way higher standard than other people,” Paisley continues to the Associated Press.It’s not fair. It’s not fair in this town. When I do ‘River Bank’ and they go, ‘Well, what else you got,’ because it doesn’t mention cutoffs and it doesn’t do the things that everybody is complaining about, you know what I’m saying?”

Yes, Brad, I know what you’re saying. You don’t think it’s “Bro-Country,” and so people don’t have a right to criticize it, and it can’t be a bad song.

“I control the presentation,” Paisley told Billboard’s Country Update. “That, to me, is the most important thing now. Some music critic—let’s say they don’t understand what I’m doing and give me one star. My fans, they know better. The heard it first. Guess what? If you’re writing a review, you don’t matter now, because they’ve heard it. They’ve made their own mind up.”

Yes they did Brad. They did make their own mind up. And in pretty resounding numbers, they appear not to be impressed. This was the danger about the whole “leaking” exercise and the Rising Star judgeship. If it didn’t result in a rebounding, or at least a stabilization of sales and radio play, then it looks even worse for Paisley because of the effort exerted.

Is Brad Paisley really held to a higher standard than other artists? Is he receiving heavier handed criticism than let’s say, Florida Georgia Line? Are all criticisms simply based off of misunderstanding, or is there serious stylistic concerns by critics being convey in an intelligent and persuasive manner?

The problem with country music today is not the critics. The problem with country music today is there are no critics. There’s no Chet Flippo. There’s no Lester Bangs. There’s nobody from a major music publication willing to speak out and hold these artist’s feet to the fire, and to give them objective, honest criticism. And so when somebody does, these artists and their fans are appalled. Either you’re 100% positive, or you’re a bully, and there should probably be a law against you. Apparently the media is supposed to pretend the album leaking was real, and report how unfair it has been for Paisley recently without questioning his logic whatsoever, or soliciting anyone for a rebuttal or differing viewpoint.

The entire country music media community has simply become a promotional arm for the industry. The media publishes puff pieces that are nothing more than thinly veiled advertising copy, and the labels in turn advertise with these outlets. Everyone else is simply “haters” who are on the outside looking in when it comes to exclusive content and access to the artists. And this doesn’t go just for mainstream labels and outlets, but independent labels and outlets as well.

One of the reasons “Bro-Country” has taken over the airwaves is because popular media has taken a subservient and complicit role to the industry. There are no checks and balances. And that’s also the reason Brad Paisley’s career is in a tailspin. Brad Paisley is not the problem. The reason his album isn’t selling well is not because of the blow back from “Accidental Racist.” Please. America struck that whole episode from its memory many many months ago. It’s because Brad Paisley is an aging artist, and the styles of popular country music have regressed so dramatically recently that there’s no space for an artist like him. It’s over. His run as a preeminent star in country music has passed. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been afforded an astounding music career filled with tremendous success. And to cry “It’s not fair,” is not Paisley’s place. How about the hundreds of artists just as talented and entertaining as Paisley who never had their chance in the spotlight? Brad Paisley has sold 12 million records and has 14 CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year.

Brad Paisley has some good songs on his new album, as iterated by critical voices including Saving Country Music, For The Country Record, and many others. “Shattered Glass” and “American Flag On The Moon” are great tracks, but will Brad Paisley release these as singles? Will his label put the same big money behind them like they did “River Bank”? Or will he schlep out the schlock on the album, and then blame the critics when people bitch about the quality?

It sucks right now for Brad Paisley, and a lot of country music’s older artists who are getting shuffled out of the spotlight. But after the untold riches Brad Paisley has been afforded, he shouldn’t be complaining about the critics. He should join them in the effort to return some substance and balance to the format, so that songs like “Shattered Glass” and “American Flag On The Moon” can thrive on American radio, and not be relegated to album cuts that barely anybody will hear in the evacuation of the album unit as a relevant encapsulation of an expression of an artist.

But what do I know. Apparently since I’m a critic, nobody is listening.

READ: Album Review – Brad Paisley’s “Moonshine In The Trunk”

Aug
28

A Breakdown of the NASH Icon Playlist (AKA Merle’s Back on Radio)

August 28, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  40 Comments

nash-icon-jpg“What will NASH Icon be, and will it make a significant improvement to country radio?”

This has been the question on the mind of many country music fans ever since the joint venture between Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group known as NASH Icon was announced. Now that there are actually radio stations broadcasting the new NASH Icon format, we can listen in and hear just exactly what NASH Icon is. Though the rollout is still in its infant stages and there’s sure to be changes and tweaking happen before it’s ready to go coast to coast, the insight of a detailed playlist gives us a good starting point of what we might expect, what may need to be changed, and what should stay the same.

READ: Cumulus Media: “It’s Time For Country To Fragment”

Saving Country Music took a 3 1/2 hour segment of the playlist of NASH Icon 98.9 station in Atlanta and broke it down in between artists, eras, songs, and decades. Though the formula and ratios are very likely to change once the NASH Icon record label gets up and running and new music from older artists begins to be featured, this is an analysis of what NASH Icon listener is hearing right now. The breakdown also includes all the “legend” or “classic” artists played on the station between 8:00 AM and 11:59 PM on August 27th, located at the very bottom to the analysis.

Biggest Takeaways

Legendary & Classic Artists Back on Mainstream Radio: Regardless of anything else, including the ratio of plays compared to new artists, legends like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, Alabama, and the The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band are back on the radio once again, and so are many classic country artists like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill, and Mark Chesnutt. For traditional and classic country fans, this is a strong victory, and one that has been a long time coming.

•NEW Singles and NEW Artists Are Featured More Than Anything Else, BUT: Without question, as a percentage, new singles and new artists make up the lion’s share of NASH Icon at the moment. However, the principal idea behind NASH Icon is to feature new music from older artists, especially from artists like Garth Brooks who is about to release an album, and from artist who will sign to the NASH Icon record label. Since none of these things are up-and-running just yet, they may be replacing those slots with new singles from new artists. According to Cumulus Media COO John Dickey, eventually new music will make up only 25% of the format. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Bro-Country is Currently Featured On NASH Icon: On August 25th, Cumulus Media COO John Dickey said, You won’t hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” But according to this analysis, this is a completely incorrect statement. Bro-Country artists like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Chase Rice, and Cole Swindell all showed up in the playlist. Whether they will disappear once the new singles from old artists are released, we’ll have to see. At the moment though, the argument could be made that Bro-Country makes up the biggest pie piece of the NASH Icon playlist. Remember though, it’s still early.

•Not Just The Big Names: Some have been concerned we’d only see the usual suspects of artists featured, but NASH Icon has been playing lesser names that had big hits like Tracy Byrd, Doug Stone, and Ricochet. The NASH Icon playlist shows decent diversity when it comes to the older artists.

•Not Just 1989 or Newer: Early on, NASH Icon was sold as being only songs from 1989 or after. In the 3 1/2 hours Saving Country Music listened in, there were two songs from 1980, and eight songs from before 1989. Though this isn’t a huge amount, the playlist did show they would reach well past 25 year pole to play Merle Haggard’s song from 1980, “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink.”

•Lee Ann Womack’s New Single and an Independent Label Artist Played: Maybe the most important insight, Lee Ann Womack’s “The Way I’m Livin’” was featured during the 3 1/2 hour block. This would be the very first example of a mature artist (no offense meant Lee Ann!) who would never be played on mainstream Top 40 country having a featured single from a new album played in the rotation. Lee Ann’s single is so new, the album has not even been released yet. This hypothetically is the whole point behind NASH Icon, is to give artists like Lee Ann the radio play they deserve.

What else is interesting about this play is Lee Ann is not signed to the NASH Icon label, meaning they are willing to feature a non NASH Icon artists that still fits the NASH Icon mold. Also, Lee Ann Womack is not on a major label; she’s on Sugar Hill Records. What this opens the door to is the possibility that other independent label artists could be featured on the format. Of course it helps that Lee Ann is already an established name in mainstream country, but this may be the window to see someone like Sturgill Simpson, or Old Crow Medicine Show show up in the playlist in the future.

Only Singles Were Featured, No Album Cuts.

•Only One Song Played Twice in the 3 ½ Hours. It Was Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt.”

Suggestions for the NASH Icon Playlist

•Mitigate the Bro-Country, and Now: We know that Cumulus already sees Bro-Country on the format as being a problem, because COO John Dickey said so. Whether the underlings that are programming NASH Icon didn’t get the memo, or they’re simply saving the slots for the new singles from old artists soon to come, Bro-Country is on the format, and in a big way, and it is ruining the experience for potential listeners. NASH Icon is creating a big buzz in the country music community, but if listeners tune in and hear Florida Georgia Line twice an hour, they’re probably going to leave and never come back, and potentially they may tell their country music buddies about the negative experience. Take the Bro-Country off, and add more older stuff, or other newer stuff that’s not Bro-Country, like more Dierks Bentley (sans “Drunk On A Plane”) and Kacey Musgraves, for example. The Bro-Country on NASH Icon right now could kill it forever with certain listeners if it is not removed quickly.

•Balance Out The Playlist With A Few More Older Songs, and 1 or 2 Independent Artists: Let’s face it, many classic and traditional country fans are bound to not like NASH Icon even if they play one new song. NASH Icon is still not going to be for the die-hard traditionalists. Pragmatism is what is needed to make NASH Icon work. If a few more 80′s and early 90′s songs were featured, it might help to balance out the ratios and create a healthy country music environment for all country music fans from all generations to enjoy together. Also, if NASH Icon featured even one or two new current independent artists in a given content block, they would broaden the reach and appeal of NASH Icon even more, and make it a place where even more labels could promote singles and offer greater support to the format.

•Add More Legends With New Music: Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton all have new albums out that charted at the very top of the country charts, and released singles that are very worthy of radio play. These albums were also released through major labels. This would be an excellent source of content to add new songs from older artists, and broaden the appeal of the format. Johnny Cash’s American Recordings-era material could also be a great source for NASH Icon, and one that could add younger, and cross-genre appeal.


THE PLAYLIST BREAKDOWN

NOTE:

• ‘X’ denotes an additional play or plays for an artist or song. So if there’s two ‘X”s beside an artist’s name, that means they were played three times.

•Artists were broken down into four categories. When an artist could hypothetically fit into multiple categories, the date of their first charting single is included for added detail. PLEASE don’t bog down or obsess over the eras. It is the best that could be done.

•’New’ artists are artists currently being played, or recently being played on mainstream country radio. “New’ songs are songs currently on mainstream country radio.

• This is just from a 3 1/2 hour span; not NASH Icon’s complete playlist. There is a complete list of other “legends” and”classic” artists that were played during the entirety of the broadcast day at the very bottom (not including the artists features in the 3 1/2 hour analysis).

***Artists Featured on NASH Icon***

 

Legendary Artists (Before 1989)

  • Dwight Yoakam X
  • Merle Haggard
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • Alabama XX
  • George Strait X
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Reba McEntire
  • Diamond Rio
  • Buck Owens (via a Dwight song)

Classic Artists (Around Class of 1989)

  • Alan Jackson X
  • Aaron Tippin
  • Vince Gill
  • Mark Chesnutt
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter
  • Travis Tritt
  • Garth Brooks X
  • Tracy Byrd
  • Tim McGraw (1990) X
  • Doug Stone (1990)

Contemporary Artists (After Class of 1989)

  • Rodney Atkins (1997)
  • Ricochet (1995)
  • Blackhawk (1992)
  • Deana Carter (1994)
  • Lee Ann Womack (1997)
  • Toby Keith (1993)

Newer Artists (Still Mainstream Relevant)

  • Kenny Chesney XX
  • Florida Georgia Line XX
  • Luke Bryan XX
  • Jake Owen
  • Kip Moore
  • Miranda Lambert X
  • Lady Antebellum
  • Cole Swindell
  • Brett Eldredge
  • Chase Rice
  • Joe Nichols
  • Sara Evans X
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton X
  • Trace Adkins
  • Big & Rich
  • Josh Gracin
  • Lee Brice
  • Billy Currington

 


***Songs Featured on NASH Icon***

80′s Songs

  • Dwight Yoakam “Honky Tonk Man”
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band “Fishin’ In The Dark”
  • Ronnie Milsap “Stranger In My House”
  • Alabama “40-Hour Week”
  • Alabama “Mountain Music”
  • Dwight Yoakam & Buck Owens “Streets of Bakersfield”
  • Alabama “Tennessee River” (1980)
  • Merle Haggard “I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink” (1980)

90′s Songs

  • Alan Jackson “Little Bitty”
  • Reba McEntire & Vice Gill “The Heart Won’t Lie”
  • Reba McEntire “The Greatest Man I Never Knew”
  • Mark Chesnutt “It’s A Little Too Late”
  • Doug Stone “A Jukebox With A Country Song”
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter “Down At The Twist & Shout”
  • Travis Tritt “Help Me Hold On”
  • Garth Brooks “The Thunder Rolls”
  • Garth Brooks “Rodeo”
  • Ricochet “Daddy’s Money”
  • George Strait “Blue Clear Sky”
  • Tracy Byrd “Watermelon Crawl”
  • Deana Carter “Strawberry Wine”
  • Kenny Chesney “How Forever Feels”
  • Blackhawk “Every Once In A While”
  • Diamond Rio “Unbelievable”

2000′s Songs

  • Aaron Tippin “Kiss This”
  • Rodney Atkins “If You’re Going Through Hell”
  • Sara Evans “Suds In The Bucket”
  • Toby Keith “My List”
  • Alan Jackson “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”
  • Brad Paisley “Little Moments”
  • Tim McGraw “Real Good Man”
  • Josh Gracin “Nothin’ To Lose”
  • George Strait “Give It Away”
  • Trace Adkins “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Sara Evans “A Little Bit Stronger”

New Songs

  • Kenny Chesney “Come Over”
  • Florida Georgia Line “Dirt” X
  • Florida Georgia Line “Get Your Shine On”
  • Jake Owen “Beachin’”
  • Miranda Lambert “Mama’s Broken Heart”
  • Tim McGraw “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”
  • Joe Nichols “Yeah”
  • Blake Shelton “My Eyes”
  • Blake Shelton “Doin’ What She Likes”
  • Kenny Chesney “American Kids”
  • Cole Swindell “Chillin’ It”
  • Kip Moore “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck”
  • Luke Bryan “Play It Again”
  • Luke Bryan “Crash My Party”
  • Luke Bryan “That’s My Kind Of Night”
  • Lady Antebellum “Bartender”
  • Lee Brice “Hard To Love”
  • Miranda Lambert “Automatic”
  • Chase Rice “Ready, Set, Roll”
  • Big & Rich “Look At You”
  • Brett Eldredge “Beat Of The Music”
  • Billy Currington “We Are Tonight”
  • Lee Ann Womack “The Way I’m Livin’” (new song from older artist)

 


 Other “Legend” or “Classic” Artists That Received Radio Play On 8/27 Between 8 AM – 11:59 PM

  • Don Williams
  • Willie Nelson
  • Hank Williams Jr.
  • Randy Travis
  • Charlie Daniels
  • Dolly Parton
  • Keith Whitley
  • Gene Watson
  • Mel McDaniel
  • Pam Tillis
  • Eddie Rabbit
  • The Judds
  • Johnny Lee
  • Clint Black
  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Lorrie Morgan
  • Faith Hill
  • Jo Dee Messina
  • Joe Diffie
  • Collin Raye
Aug
26

Cumulus Media: “It’s Time For Country To Fragment”

August 26, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Podcasting/Radio  //  50 Comments

nash-icon-jpgEver since the partnership between radio owner Cumulus Media and the Big Machine Label Group called NASH Icon was proposed, the big question has been if it will it result in the country music radio format splitting in two. Country music is one of the last genres to resist splintering, but as Top 40 country continues to abandon older economically-viable artists, it has become a necessity to give older artists a home somewhere on the radio dial.

john.dickeyAfter a conference call on Monday (8-25) with Cumulus Media’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer John Dickey (brother of President and CEO Lew Dickey), all speculation about whether a country split will happen can be put to bed, at least if Cumulus has anything to say about it. Country Music is splitting, and will eventually constitute two completely different formats. And though you may still hear Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line on the new format upon occasion, you will also hear Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, George Strait, and many other artists that were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s that mainstream country has abandoned.

“It is time for country to fragment,” John Dickey said plainly on the conference call, while offering more detailed insight than ever into exactly what NASH Icon will look like when it’s rolled out. Cumulus launched 15 initial NASH Icon stations recently, but says it won’t be until 2015 before everything is completely up an running.

READ: A Breakdown of the NASH Icon Playlist

The Rationale

Why does country music need to fragment into two formats? John Dickey explains.

“Country today is the largest format in terms of appeal and market share, certainly the last of its size that hasn’t fragmented. To me it wasn’t a question of will the format fragment, but when. And that time has come. The whole idea around NASH Icon is to create a parallel universe in country. Not a flanking format, but another platform for artists that were extremely prolific in the mid to late ‘80s, ‘90s and early to mid 2000s to regain some of that relevancy again. Unlike other attempts to fragment this format … this is really based on solid metrics, the depth, appeal, and attraction of these artists, the low burn of their music (meaning people still enjoy it), and the fact that they’re not present in country on the radio.”

Forget the 25-Year, “Classic” Country Window

When NASH Icon was first announced, the Cliff Notes version of what it would feel like was centered around country music’s “Class of ’89″ with artists like Garth Brooks, Clint Black, and Alan Jackson. However NASH Icon’s range will be much wider, going deeper into the 80′s than 1989, and ranging all the way up to present-day hits.

“The format is going to be about 25% current-driven, and that’s going to increase as some of these artists … get into the studio and start to put out new music,” says Dickey

In other words, older artists who were relevant in the 80′s and 90′s, but who put out new music today, will have a home on NASH Icon for brand new singles.

“The balance is going to be made up from calls from the 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s, predominantly anchored in the 90′s and 2000′s, with a little bit of ’80′s. But this format is really all about the face cards—the big artists from that 20-25 year period of time, mixed in with artists from today that make sense and have a sound that fits and is compatible.”

Dickey also addresses so-called “Bro-Country,” saying, “You won’t hear a lot of what we affectionately term in the business today as ‘Bro-Country.” This is a format that I can expect to be competitive 25-34, but like Hot AC, is really going to find a sweet spot 30-50.”

However if you look at the playlist of one of the recently-launched NASH Icon stations, you can find plays for songs like Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” or “Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.” Those plays may disappear over time as the format tweaks itself, but at the moment, there is a discrepancy between John Dickey’s words, and the NASH Icon playlists. Those “current” songs may also be replaced by new songs from older artists, once those songs are released to the new format.

The Impact

John Dickey and Cumulus do not see NASH Icon as second-rate country music programing. They see it living side-by-side with Top 40, competing aggressively, if not challenging country music as a whole to step up its game.

“[It is] already resonating big time and is only going to snowball and pick up more steam,” Dickey says. “As we continue to build out this platform, people will see this format is capable at playing at the biggest levels alongside where mainstream country is. This can stand side-by-side with mainstream country, and not Cannibalize it, but grow the total shares in the markets. What it’s going to do … is shape the creative community in Nashville, or motivate them a little bit more on some music that they probably haven’t been able to find the right home for. And I’m talking about specifically the writing community.

The content glut of worthy songs that are not finding artists to cut them has been a side story to the Top 40, “Bro-Country” dominance of the format currently. We’ve heard people ranging from T Bone Burnett to Garth Brooks say that the amount and quality of songs waiting to be heard is astounding. There just hasn’t been an outlet for substantive material in country music for some time.

What Else To Expect

“There will be a morning show out of our NASH campus that will be purposed for NASH Icon,” John Dickey says. “It will be different than what we’re doing with NASH and ‘America’s Morning Show’ with Blair Garner. It’s going to [have] more of a living room setting and be more music intensive, but more interview-driven. Artists will come in and sit alongside the host of the show … I expect that to be online by the end of the year. With respect to any other day parts, there is nothing planned at this point that we would syndicate.”

“Westwood One is going to be offering NASH Icon as a format to affiliates starting almost immediately. We’re going to build on Stork platform, on what we call our localized format; completely customizable for any market. The Stork technology allows for somebody to take any day part or piece of the format that we offer and customize that around any live day parts that happen to be running … That technology allows for a very customized sound and custom feel to the format.”

This is where Cumulus and NASH differ from their biggest national competitor, Clear Channel. Clear Channel does not allow local formats to customize in many cases, breeding national homogenization to local formats. However many times local NASH affiliates still decide to go with national programming because the cost is cheaper than hiring local talent.

John Dickey also says that he expects Big Machine Records to begin announcing NASH Icon artists for the record label “sooner rather than later, probably within the next 30 to 60 days.”

What This All Means

As we can already see from the discrepancy between what John Dickey is saying about “Bro-Country” and what is showing up on playlists, it is going to take some time for NASH Icon to get its feet under itself and smooth out all the wrinkles. Regardless of who is being played from the current crop of mainstream country stars, you can also see from both the current NASH Icon playlists, and John Dickey’s words that older artist will once again be found on the radio airwaves, and not just on small, “classic” country stations. This new format also doesn’t threaten to Cannibalize those existing independent classic country stations unless they’re directly converted to a NASH Icon affiliate by Cumulus, because those listeners are not going to want to listen to Luke Bryan mixed in with their Randy Travis and Willie Nelson. But the format will potentially introduce those older artists to an entirely new audience, and challenge Top 40 country to deliver a little more variety and substance, or force listeners to switch channels.

One of the big questions that still remains is if Clear Channel—the #1 radio station owner in the country—will launch its own answer to NASH Icon.

READ: The Best & Worst Case Scenarios For The New Classic Country Format

Aug
14

Maddie & Tae Respond to Florida Georgia Line’s Criticism

August 14, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  67 Comments

florida-georgia-lineIn an August 7th article in The Chicago Tribune, Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line was characterized as being “unhappy” about Maddie & Tae’s debut single “Girl In A Country Song”. The song has been described by many as being “anti ‘Bro-Country’” with the way it puts the shoe on the other foot for country music’s young women and how they are characterized and objectified in many modern-day country songs.

In the Chicago Tribune interview, writer Allison Stewart portrayed questions to Brian Kelley about Maddie & Tae as “…the only ones Kelley, in a recent phoner, doesn’t sound happy to answer.”

When the reporter first asks about “Girl In A Country Song”, Kelley plays dumb. “I’m not really familiar with that,” he says about the song.

But when nudged a little further by Allison Stewart, who says to Kelley “They sing it from the point of view of the girl in the cut-off jeans, who never gets to talk? You’ve never heard that song?”

Brian Kelley answers, “All I’m gonna say about that is, I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song. That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”

Florida Georgia Line and Maddie & Tae are both on Big Machine Records.

maddie-and-taeNow, on-air personality Broadway of Country 92.5′s Electric Barnyard Show has interviewed Maddie & Tae, and asked them directly about Brian Kelley’s comments.

Broadway asks, “Are you girls feminists?”

The duo responds, “I would not say that. You know, the whole thing is just us wanting to come at this from a different perspective and making sure that the girl in these songs these guys are singing about gets a voice ’cause you very rarely ever hear from her.”

Then Broadway reads the Brian Kelley quotes from the Chicago Tribune article, and Maddie & Tae (who utter “uh-oh” at one point when hearing the news) respond,

“We love them and their music, but you see, he’s a dude. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or to be the girl in these songs. We never intended to upset anybody. That was definitely not our intention, and we can’t really speak for anyone else. We just know that is definitely not something that we would want to do.”

- – - – - – - – - – -

The problem is, “Girl In A Country Song” has put these two, very young 18-year-old girls in a very unenviable position. People who identify themselves as anti “Bro-Country” or anti pop country are going to want something from this song and this duo that they simply can’t deliver. These girls weren’t even born when Garth Brooks was hitting his commercial stride. They were 5-years-old when Garth retired. Even if they were raised with classic country being a part of their musical experience (which they claim they were), they’re still not going to have the perspective to be able to battle the entire country music industry when they are just starting out. Of course they’re going to say they like Florida Georgia Line and other Bro-Country artists. They don’t have the skins on the wall to say otherwise. Saying they hate Florida Georgia Line would be self-destruction. They have never even really been out on tour yet, or played any big shows. And if they had loaded up “Girl In A Country Song” with twang and steel guitars like some would have it, we wouldn’t even be talking about it right now because nobody would be paying attention to it beyond some pissed of classic country fans.

Of course the song isn’t great. But it’s effective, and that’s what it has over virtually every other modern country protest song. It isn’t on Maddie & Tae to battle Bro-Country, and it is unfair to them to foist that responsibility upon their 18-year-old shoulders. It is their job to simply express themselves as artists, and that’s what they did with “Girl In A Country Song”. And if the industry decided to co-opt the song for their own marketing purposes to re-integrate anti Bro-Country hatred, I can’t see how to blame Maddie & Tae for that either. People like Hank Williams Jr., Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson are the ones who need to be swiping the young pups on the nose, because they’re the ones who are in a position to do so. I can only imagine the nightmares these girls must be having, worrying that the entire country music world is going to turn on them when they’re still very much trying to figure out who they are as artists and people.

The dilemma for Maddie & Tae has been made one measure worse from Big Machine’s marketing strategy that has seen them court both sides of the cultural divide. The duo was featured prominently on NPR right after the song’s release, and then the video for the song was debuted first to NPR’s intellectual, upper-crust crowd. The girls were portrayed as pseudo-feminists, fighting objectifying gender roles. And at the same time, they were being pushed to mainstream country as having “good fun” with Bro-Country—which they really love.

And meanwhile a third contingent of critics have popped up to say this song has not risen quickly enough and is not even worth all this hubbub, as if a completely brand new female act is expected to land a #1 right out of the chute when it has been nearly half a decade since any country music female not named Carrie, Taylor, or Miranda has done so. The song slipped from #16 to #25 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart this week as singles featured on ABC’s “CMA Music Fest” special all saw boosts in sales, while “Girl In A Country Song” gained one spot to #30 on the Airplay chart.

Who knows what the fate of Maddie & Tae and “Girl In A Country” song will be. But it continues to be the most talked-about song in country music, and this in itself has elevated the dialogue about if the current direction of country music is a healthy one, both ethically and economically. And that cannot be a bad thing, no matter what perspective you bring to the table about the song.

Aug
11

Thomas Rhett Sticks His “Bro-Country” Foot In His Mouth

August 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  67 Comments

thomas-rhettYes ladies and gentlemen, these are the people who are preaching to us that country music needs to evolve and want us to entrust them to be the ones to do it, and yet at virtually every turn they continue to prove they barely even know their heads from their own asses. Thomas Rhett, songwriter Dallas Davidson, Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley from Florida Georgia Line, and so many others that possess a vocabulary that begins with “beer” and ends with “tailgate” have profiteered greatly off of stupid becoming popular. But now it is all coming to roost as “Bro-Country” implodes, and these imbeciles think they can talk their way out of the inevitable. The “bros” of country live in such a vacuum of self-awareness they have no idea they are quickly becoming the country music laughing stocks of future generations.

Thomas Rhett took time away from getting hammered with Jesus and writing idiotic checklist songs to talk with Cody Alan of CMT’s After Midnite recently, and not so surprisingly, Thomas had some dumb things to say regarding his take on Bro-Country. Rhett told an eager and servile Cody Alan,

“I just have never actually used the term ‘bro country’….”

Wait, wait, hold on for just a second. Before we go any further with the Thomas Rhett comments, let’s take a closer look at this stinker that he tells us right off the bat. Has Thomas Rhett really never used the term ‘Bro-Country?” Because I seem to remember Thomas Rhett specifically setting up a self-defined “Bro-Country” playlist touting “The best of Bro-Country” under his YouTube Vevo account months ago. It included his song “Get Me Some Of That” with other Bro-Country anthems such as Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night”. In fact I used Thomas Rhett’s Bro-Country YouTube playlist as the very first example of how Bro-Country was becoming a term of endearment in an article posted back in April.

Take a peek:

thomas-rhett-bro-country-playlistthomas-rhett-bro-country-playlist-2

Hey, you want to listen to the Thomas Rhett Bro-Country playlist? Here you go:

-

Now I know what you’re thinking. “Eh, maybe it was some Thomas Rhett underling that put that playlist together.” Maybe so, but once again we catch a pop country artist trying to play both sides. It’s eerily similar to when Eric Church was asked if he was trying to craft an Outlaw image and he responded, “Oh God. No! Not at all,” and at the same time he was selling an entire line of Outlaw merch in his online store. These corporate franchise artists are so big in size and small of mind they don’t have any idea half the crap their name is on.

But back to this Thomas Rhett interview about Bro-Country, Rhett continues,

The things that we sing about are the things that everybody in this crowd are doing every single night. So I don’t understand why it’s considered bro country. I mean, yeah, I’ve said ‘tailgate’ in a song before, but I actually sit on tailgates and so do those people out there.”

What? It’s considered Bro-Country because that is what people call it.

But of course this has been the problem with the term “Bro-Country” the entire time. The biggest bros like Thomas Rhett and Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line (who stuck his own foot in his mouth recently saying, “I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song”) truly believe that everyone in the entire world loves this music and any problems are simply being drummed up by pointy-nosed party poopers. A lot of people sit on toilets too, so why don’t you write about that Mr. Rhett? What is so poetic or poignant about listing off the mundane occurrences of your daily life?

It is true that Bro-Country has made country music more popular than ever. But it has also made country music more polarizing than ever. All of a sudden Dallas Davidson, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, and others, they are the ones on the defensive, not the ones trying to save country music from their “Bro-Country” onslaught. Beyond the move to more substance on the radio, beyond the songs from country females decrying their role in modern country music, Bro-Country’s silly “head-in-the-sand” defense to what is happening is the biggest sign Bro-Country is truly circling the toilet bowl.

Tell ‘em Otis:

Aug
11

Sirius XM’s “Fresh Female Voices” Looks to Return Girl Power to Radio

August 11, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  34 Comments
Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark

The virtual disappearance of female country music stars on American radio is a dilemma that has now stretched out for nearly half a decade. Despite the efforts of many well-meaning taste makers in both the media and the industry to make sense of the problem and solve it, nothing so far has significantly penetrated the male blockade dominating country radio. When you take away Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood, there are no other female country stars who have received any significant chart success with songs since 2010.

Now the senior director of music programming at SiriusXM is looking to try and do something about the problem and hopefully create interest around some of country music’s undiscovered and worthy female talent. SiriusXM’s John Marks has launched a new feature on the satellite radio station’s major mainstream channel The Highway called Fresh Female Voices that three times an hour will feature female artists from both the up-and-coming ranks of the mainstream, and the independent music world. The feature will run all this week while John Marks monitors sales data and social network chatter to see if the program is having a significant impact and which female stars resonate the most.

Female artists who’ve been mentioned as part of the program include Brandy Clark, Sunny Sweeney, First Aid Kit, The Pistol Annies’ Angaleena Presley, Kelleigh Bannen, and Leah Turner. Fresh Female Voices will add an estimated 200 additional spins for female country acts beyond the coverage The Highway regularly gives to the women of country.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit

Interestingly, it was a similar John Marks program that is given credit to the rise of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”, and songs from Chase Rice and Cole Swindell before they were signed to labels. Marks hopes a similar fate awaits the ladies he’s looking to feature.

“It’s a fan question and an industry question that everyone is asking right now,” John Marks says. “Where is the female talent in country music?  With ‘Fresh Female Voices,’ we will be introducing our national audience to a wide variety of female talent that is out there right now working hard and trying to connect with fans.  We hope to be a conduit by exposing a wide variety of types and styles of country music – while spotlighting up and coming female country music talent.”

“We’re pulling in a wide swath of female talent to gather up what the listeners will respond to,” Marks tells Brian Mansfield of USA Today about the program. “For me, it’s turning into a quest to find the one that finally rings the bell for the country consumer.” 

Marks also says the problem isn’t male listeners dominating the country marketplace, it is female listeners not responding to female talent. “The females typically lead in not liking female talent,” he says. “The trick is going to be how you get the females to like the females.”

Fresh Female Voices marks one of the first programs specifically targeting the country listening audience on radio to try to solve country’s female problem, and one that can have a national impact because of the subscription service’s reach.

Aug
9

3 People Stabbed at “WE Fest” Country Music Festival in Minnesota

August 9, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  31 Comments

The annual “WE Fest” country music festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota was marred by a triple stabbing in a campsite adjacent to the festival early Thursday (8-7) morning. The three-day music festival at the Soo Pass Ranch began Wednesday and featured headliners such as Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Brad Paisley, and The Zac Brown Band.

According to the Becker County Sheriff’s Department, at 1:45 AM Thursday morning, a heavily-intoxicated concert goer at the Hilltop Campground across the road from WE Fest began shocking people with a handheld Taser. When the man was confronted by people in the campground, he brandished a knife, stabbing three men from Canada who were trying to stop him. All three men were transported to a local hospital via ambulance.

aaron-williams

Aaron Williams

The accused stabber is 32-year-old Aaron Williams from Minot, North Dakota who was immediately arrested. “He took out a knife and started slashing them, and three of them received cuts on the arm,” Sheriff Kelly Shannon of the Becker County Sheriff’s Department told Detroit Lakes News. The three Canadian victims all received treatment at the hospital, and were later released.

Aaron Williams was arraigned in a local court Friday afternoon, pleading not guilty to the assault charges, and was released on bail. He is due in court again for a hearing on August 25th.

As of late Friday afternoon, the festival had also seen three other assaults, six DWI charges, five disorderly conduct charges, and 12 people arrested on warrant charges. However while the theme of many of the summer’s country music festivals and concerts in 2014 has been a spike in the amount of arrests, violence, and alcohol-related hospital visits, Becker County Sheriff Kelly Shannon tells InForum that the amount of incidents at WE Fest were actually down this year compared to previous years, despite the triple stabbing. Sheriff Shannon cites in part the strong police presence local authorities dispatched to the festival. At any time, 25 sheriff’s officers or Minnesota State Police were on the site, and police had a command center set up near the east gate of the fest.

Sheriff Shannon also says that the festival does a great job assisting law enforcement and concert goers by being conscious of safety and offering emergency medical services and chaplain crews for people in need. “They’re invaluable for everything they do for us,” Shannon told InForum.

WE Fest began in 1983 in a barn and drew approximately 9,000 people. Since then it has become one of the biggest country music festivals in the United States, and one of the biggest that offers camping as a major part of the experience. On Friday, the crowd swelled to nearly 50,000 attendees.

News of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer. Last weekend a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. There was also a report of a gang rape at the Faster Horses Festival in mid July. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.

READ- How We Got Here: The Subversion of Country Music

Aug
8

Florida Georgia Line Is Not Happy About “Girl In A Country Song”

August 8, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  79 Comments

***UPDATE (8-14-14): Maddie & Tae have responded to Florida Georgia Line’s criticism.

The debate of whether so called “Bro-Country” is now on the wane has now reached the very heart of country radio, with a couple of big articles on the topic appearing in the country radio trade periodical Country Aircheck over the past couple of weeks. In the July 28th issue, the publication ran a story called “Bro-Slow? Not So Fast.” They spoke with radio programmers and listeners who seemed oblivious to any Bro-Country backlash that may or may not be on the rise. Saving Country Music has asserted that Bro-Country was actually done months ago and that we’re just working through excess inventory in the midst of a tiring of the Bro-Country hyper-trend. Many other critics and journalists have relayed similar sentiments, and pointed to songs like Florida Georgia Line’s more substantive single “Dirt” and Maddie & Tae’s anti Bro-Country “Girl In A Country Song” as examples.

Dallas Davidson

Dallas Davidson

The August 4th issue of Country Aircheck tackled the topic again, but this time talking to songwriters and artist managers to get their take on Bro-Country slowing. Songwriter Dallas Davidson who some consider the Godfather of Bro-Country took time from chucking knuckles a fern bars to talk to Country Aircheck, and seems to take the short-sighted, dollar-sign perspective on the topic, which is to be expected. “We’re writing what people want to hear,” he tells Country Aircheck. “So what’s the backlash? More ticket sales? More money coming into Nashville? What’s wrong with that?”

Dallas does acknowledge however that some songwriters are tiring of the trend, including some he works with who refuse to use the term “tailgate” in a song. “I just look at ‘em and start laughing. I’ll ask, what are you driving? The tailgate on the back of it — have you ever sat on it? Well, why can’t we sing about that? Don’t millions of country fans sit in parking lots on tailgates and drink beer, getting ready for the show?”

Yes Dallas Davidson, yes they do.

Davidson does acknowledge though that at some point, enough’s enough. “You can get tired of hearing the same thing over and over. I get that.”

Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Records—the head honcho presiding over both Florida Georgia Line and Maddie & Tae—seems to take a more forward-thinking approach, and appears to acknowledge the possibility of a Bro-Country backlash, but insists that Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” was simply a good song, and not the answer to a dying trend.

“Any time that you have something that thematically becomes so ‘done’ — and so overdone — you’re going to have repercussions,” says Borchetta. But Borchetta also says that he has no concerns that artists like Florida Georgia Line will flame out with the trend “…because there’s a lot more to them than just one song or lyrical [trend].”

Scott Borchetta is in a precarious position, because he has both Maddie & Tae and their anti-bro country anthem on his roster, along with Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, and other Bro-Country artists. In the Country Aircheck article, Scott Borchetta insists though that it’s not a problem. “These artists [like Florida Georgia Line] get it. You have to be able to laugh at yourself.”

florida-georgia-line-dirt-001

Florida Georgia Line – Brian Kelley on the right

However Florida Georgia Line apparently didn’t get the memo. When The Chicago Tribune interviewed Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley earlier this week, his ability to laugh at himself, or Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” specifically, seemed quite elusive. Writer Allison Stewart characterized Maddie & Tae questions to Kelley as “…the only ones Kelley, in a recent phoner, doesn’t sound happy to answer.”

Uh oh.

When The Chicago Tribune first asks about “Girl In A Country Song”, Kelley plays dumb. “I’m not really familiar with that,” he says.

But when nudged a little further by Allison Stewart, who says “They sing it from the point of view of the girl in the cut-off jeans, who never gets to talk? You’ve never heard that song?”

Maddie & Tae

Maddie & Tae

Brian Kelley answers, “All I’m gonna say about that is, I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song. That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”

Well, okay then. I guess that lack of worldly-awareness will get you every time. That’s probably not the answer Big Machine’s PR rep was hoping for.

Many artists and writers who’ve made a good buck off of the Bro-Country trend are going to naturally not want to see the spike in interest and sales come to an end, or be willing to acknowledge it until they have no other choice. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen, or isn’t happening as we speak. If country had any wisdom, it would be praying for the end of Bro-Country, and cash out on the trend while the getting’s good. That seems to be Scott Borchetta’s plan. If Bro-Country is all country music has got, then it will have much bigger problems moving forward than the death of a hyper-trend.

Meanwhile Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” continues to climb the charts. It leaped from #26 to #16 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs this week, and was the 2nd most added single on country radio.

READ: Maddie & Tae Respond to Florida Georgia Line’s Criticism

Aug
3

Drunk Driver Runs Over Police Officer At Jason Aldean Concert

August 3, 2014 - By Trigger  //  News  //  24 Comments

jason-aldeanAnother summer weekend mainstream country music concert, and another instance where the situation got out of hand for some.

At the Jason Aldean “Burn It Down” tour stop at the Xfinity Theater in Hartford, CT on Saturday (8-2), 19-year veteran police officer Joseph Fargnoli Jr. was struck by a drunk driver leaving the concert while the officer was pursuing the driver on motorcycle. While the Hartford Police Traffic Division was running traffic for the 21,000 attendees exiting the venue, one concertgoer was observed driving erratically, almost hitting one of the officers directing traffic. After witnessing the incident, Officer Farnoli Jr. pursued the drunk driver on motorcycle and was then struck by the suspect with his vehicle. Farnoli Jr. was transported to Hartford Hospital by ambulance, and was treated and later released.

51-year old David Mascuto was arrested on charges of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, evading responsibility, and failure to obey and officer’s signal. Bond for Mascuto was set at $25,000.

The statement from the Hartford Police Department:

OFFICER HIT FOLLOWING CONCERT:

Last night following the Jason Aldean concert, the Hartford Police Department Traffic Division was conducting the outbound traffic detail at the Xfinity Theater. Officers spotted a driver driving erratically, nearly striking an officer. A Hartford Police motorcycle officer attempted to stop the vehicle and was struck.

The officer was taken to Hartford Hospital via ambulance, treated and released. The operator was stopped and arrested.

Accused: David Mascuto, 51 of Fairfield CT
1. DUI
2. Evading Responsibility
3. Failure to Obey Officers Signal
$25,000 Bond

The traffic officer was not the only one to take a ride to the hospital Saturday night. A total of 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals for medical treatment during the show, including eight individuals under 21. A total of 55 summons were also handed out at the concert for underage drinking. There was also an assault reported during the concert, and one man was arrested in the incident.

Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr opened the show for Jason Aldean.

The news out of Hartford comes as stories of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer, including when 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.

READ- How We Got Here: The Subversion of Country Music

Jul
31

From Checklist to Bro-Country: The Subversion of Country Music

July 31, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  107 Comments

kenny-chesney-eric-church-heinz-trash-4

So here we are. It’s the summer of 2014, and the headlines that dominate the country music world have to do with mounds of trash and numerous arrests in Pittsburgh, a man found dead in a dumpster in Cleveland, a “mass casualty” event called by the local fire chief in Mansfield, Mass. at a Keith Urban concert, and then an alleged rape. Where exactly did mainstream country music go so wrong to where it is the new home for irresponsible behavior at concerts? How did a genre seen for over half a century as the bastion for family values and down home fun become one of the worst-behaved crowds in music?

First some perspective might be needed. Though the racy headlines might allude otherwise, how widespread this trend has become is somewhat inconclusive. As some have pointed out, the biggest stories of country concert problems have happened north of the Mason-Dixon Line for whatever reason. Also, numerous arrests for underage drinking, fights, and ambulance rides for numerous ailments are not out of the ordinary for music events by any stretch. The concern is how out of the ordinary they are for country music, at least historically, and how they’re clearly on the rise.

Part of this is simply a symptom of country music becoming the biggest, most dominant genre of American music. The crowds are bigger, younger, and the lowest common denominator is represented en masse. Country music is no longer a community, it is mass marketing. And like rock music of previous eras, it is attracting the most attention, and the most problems. However the idea that all the headlines of problems at country concerts is simply the media making hay upon a problem that has already existed for years is not fair either. Country music is changing, and a deeper discussion should be broached about how to manage those changes, and what the long-term effects those changes could have on the genre as a whole.

If you wanted to point to one single event where the current downward spiral started, you might consider the country concert in Mansfield, Mass. in late July. No, I’m not talking about Keith Urban’s concert on Saturday, July 26th, I’m talking about a Tim McGraw’s show on July 24th, 2011 at the same Mansfield venue.

Michael Skehill

Michael Skehill

During the middle of the concert, a 19-year-old attendee named Michael Skehill was jumped from behind by four men who proceeded to beat Skehill to within an inch of his life. The four men were heavily intoxicated, and though the dispute was said by some to be over a woman, the assault came completely out-of-the-blue to Skehill.The 19-year-old was a big man—a football player at Catholic University in Washington D.C.—but was blindsided in the lawn section and never had a chance to defend himself. If it wasn’t for a security guard and ENT responding to the assault as quickly as they did, doctors believe the assault would have resulted in murder.

“He would have died,” Skehill’s mother told a Boston news station at the time. “He had lost two liters of blood and, basically, he would have died.”

Michael Skehill was airlifted to the Boston Medical Center where he immediately underwent surgery. To save the young man, doctors had to remove his spleen. Skehill also suffered a severe concussion and other internal injuries. The four men were arrested and arraigned the next day, and eventually all four plead guilty to assault. It also came out in the investigation that in the lawn section of the venue that is now called Xfinity Center (and was then called Comcast Center), there is a section where young people from Mansfield congregate, and if you try to come into the area, you could be assaulted. In this area, underage drinking and other illicit activities are common. Whether this culture was still in place when the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl happened at this year’s Keith Urban show—sheltering the incident from outsiders and allowing it to occur longer than necessary—has yet to be revealed in the investigation.

The good news is Michael Skehill was able to recover, and besides a missing spleen, is getting along just fine. But the brutal incident went to symbolize the rise of violence, excessive drinking, and other embarrassing behavior for country music’s summer concerts that was trending upwards all across the country. The Mansfield Police Chief Arthur M. O’Neill after the Michael Skehill incident said at the time:

Country used to be an easy night for us. Now it’s anything but. Country’s just changed. I’m a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It’s all about drinking … These kids, especially the girls, are getting drunker and sicker faster.

Just appreciate, this isn’t the Mansfield Police Chief circa 2014. This is in 2011. At the time, CMT’s Alison Bonaguro asked, “Is ‘Drunk and Disorderly’ the New Rule at Concerts?” in a story that looks eerily similar to ones running over the last few weeks amidst all of the high-profile incidents at mainstream country concerts.

One of the other significant events in country music in 2011 was the rise of the “Country Checklist” song. Though the term “Checklist” never stuck like its later replacement “Bro-Country”, the music the terms describe had been around years before “Bro-Country” was adopted at large. The music style was already monopolizing mainstream country music by 2011, and forcing women into minor roles in the format like never before. As pointed out by the late Chet Flippo in August of 2011, country music found itself for the first time in recent memory with no women in the Top 30 of the songs charts. Many of the trends that would dominate country music headlines in 2013 and 2014 were already in place in 2011, there just wasn’t a universally-recognized name for it, country media was mostly complicit about it, and the backlash was simmering, but not striking out in earnest.

And what was the biggest song of 2011? Jason Aldean’s landmark “Dirt Road Anthem”. The breakthrough country rap song glorified many of the elements that have gone into much of the lewd behavior seen on the rise at mainstream country music concerts. On August 7th of 2011, Saving Country Music asked if “Country Music Checklist Songs Were Causing an Erosion of Values,” citing the Michael Skehill case and songs like Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” specifically.

Yeah, I’m chillin’ on a dirt road, Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones.
Smoke rollin’ out the window, An’ ice cold beer sittin’ in the console.

Where ya learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too, Better watch out for the boys in blue.

Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out.

But words and actions are two different things, right? They’re just songs.

Well, not really when it came to the culture that was becoming the norm at some of the country music concerts that featured artists that sang these checklist songs. In 2011, “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Brantley Gilbert was on the Country Throwdown tour with many other medium and up-and-coming performers. When interviewing another Thowdown Tour artist named Ausin Lucas, he explained how the checklist culture and fighting were beginning to coincide in the live country music experience.

He [Brantley Gilbert] is one of the most popular people on this tour. He’s really doing well for himself, but the thing is, his fans, they cause, they have a lot of fights. And this is nothing against Brantley Gilbert, who I think is a really nice guy. All the guys in his band are amazing people, and a lot of his fans are really cool. But there’s also this element, that country pissing contest, that checklist of things that make you more country, and one of them is fighting.

Fighting, excessive drinking, and other such behavior that were essentials on country’s checklist was beginning to show up in country crowds. Interesting that when the new country female duo Maddie & Tae sat down to write what is considered mainstream country’s preeminent Anti Bro-Country tune “Girl In A Country Song”, they said they made a checklist of all the things stereotypical country songs have. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”

Maddie & Tae also spoke about how the current male-dominated country trend sets subservient roles for young women that they feel they must follow to be considered pretty or popular by men. In the police report of the alleged rape of the 17-year-old girl at the Keith Urban show in Mansfield, Mass., the alleged victim told police that she went with the man because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t, speaking to the subordinate role many women are taking in corporate country’s current culture.

But are women really emulating the girls in country songs, and are the men really fighting and drinking to excess because they hear about it in the music they listen to? This seems to be an eternal debate, a chicken and the egg argument in music, that there’s probably not an easy answer for beyond pointing out that in the past, country music sang about drinking, fighting, and killing in a cautionary context, where now it is glorified to the point of being used for marketing specifically.

eric-church-playboy-magazineIn the June 2013 issue of Playboy Magazine, writer Rob Tannenbaum wrote an extended feature on Eric Church called simply “The Badass.” In the piece, Eric Church and his manager John Peets reference the “Country Checklist” style of writing by name.

For his second album, Church wrote a song he knew was dumb. It’s in the same mold as other predictable rural-pride songs that work well on radio because they celebrate the consumer goods that are iconic in Southern life—call it a Country Checklist song. In this subpar effort, Church lays it on heavy: He mentions beer, barbecue, Jack Daniel’s, college football, fishing, trucks, chewing tobacco, NASCAR and cowboy boots. The only thing missing is something about hunting or tractors.

Church wrote it “almost out of anger or spite,” says his manager, John Peets. Church had seen similar songs amass a lot of airplay, according to Peets, “and he said, ‘If this is the shit that works, let’s just write one.’?”

“That was my Hail Mary,” Church says. “And the sad truth is, it works.” Although “Love Your Love the Most” became Church’s first top 10 single, it didn’t boost his career, because it was so generic. Radio play was up, but record and ticket sales were flat.

Then the Playboy feature took an even more interesting turn. In it, Church and his camp seem to glorify the excesses of his shows—how the crowd is drunk towards the point of incapacitation, fights break out everywhere, and rampant sex occurs right out in the open. “’There are some drunk motherfuckers out there,’ says Marshall Alexander, Church’s cheerful production manager,’” the piece says. Here are some further excerpts:

During tonight’s show, which I watch from the soundboard, the manager of one of the opening acts says he’s seen an average of three or four fights per night. A large part of Church’s success has come from filling a niche in the country market for a rugged, masculine singer.

While watching Church’s set that night, Moore saw a couple screwing in the audience. “A guy pulled a girl’s skirt up, and the dirty deed was going on,” Moore reports. “That was a first for me.”

It’s not a first for Church. He recounts a show last year in Battle Creek, Michigan where “half the crowd was fighting. And I saw guys who had girls bent over the rail, screwing.” His lighting designer—a guy who’d toured with nearly every major metal band, including Van Halen, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses—was shocked. “He said to me, ‘You should call this the Fucking and Fighting Tour.’”

Compared with Battle Creek’s, tonight’s audience doesn’t impress Church much. “There wasn’t mass bedlam, which is what I usually see.” Tomorrow will be wilder, he predicts.

So here was Church, openly bragging about how his concerts had become bedlam where “half the crowd is fighting,” bragging about open sex that from the stage could be hard to determine as consensual, and how this behavior is worse than what is normally seen at Van Halen, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses shows, speaking deeply to the descent of the country genre compared to other genres. This was part of the Eric Church marketing—the image he wanted to portray: live experiences full of madness that people wanted to see and be a part of. And all of this is coming from one of the most commercially-successful artists in country music, and one whose album at the time had won Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM—a true leader of the genre. After a while, whether the rowdiness of his concerts started as fact or fiction, the trend began to perpetuate itself and spread to other artists and other concerts.

But I know what some of you are thinking: “Is Eric Church really Bro-Country?”

One of the most curious aspects of the issues a Keith Urban’s recent Mansfield, Mass. concert is that Keith Urban is not one of these typical Bro-Country entertainers who constantly sing about getting drunk and fighting. Urban is from a earlier era, when soccer moms were country music’s primary demographic. His latest single “Cop Car” may veer slightly in the newer direction, but his American Idol judgeship spot notwithstanding, Keith Urban is not the type of artist that appeals to underage drinking fans or Bro-Country knuckle chuckers. So why was it his show that got so out of hand?

2014_SHO_CountryMegaticket_10SHOWS_full_colorBecause of the way the country music live experience is set up, it almost doesn’t matter what Top 15 pop country act you go to see, the same culture exists nearly at every concert. Of course there is some variation between every crowd, but not as much as one might expect. This is a symptom of the homogenization of the country format from radio consolidation and the dominance of male stars at the top of country ranks. But it is also facilitated by Live Nation’s Country Megaticket multi-concert package as pointed out by Windmills Country. The Country Megaticket is like a season pass for concert goers that covers most of the major country acts and the venues they play, including Keith Urban, and Mansfield’s Xfinity Center. Buy the ticket, and you not only have access to Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, but Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum. This Country Megaticket culture facilitates the spreading of the undesirable elements to country music shows that they would normally not appeal to. The fans show up for the party, with the music as the backdrop. Country music is the only genre that Live Nation offers the Megaticket for, because it is the only genre that can support it. Once again, country music’s size and dominance is hindering its ability to control and define itself.

One of the reasons the adoption of the term “Bro-Country” last summer was so unfortunate is because it symbolized in many people’s minds the start of a new era when in truth it was the continuation of a trend begun in earnest in 2011, and goes back even farther than that. Saving Country music declared 2011 “The Year of the Country Checklist Song.” This was before Florida Georgia Line had even signed a publishing deal, and six months before they released their first EP. The reason this is important is because to understand what is going on in country music in 2014, you have to understand these trends go back much farther than Jody Rosen coining the term in August of 2013. “Bro-Country” was also a more palatable way to couch the trend compared to “Checklist Country” which explained what the problem with the trend was right in the term. And now Bro-Country has been adopted by the very people it was meant to criticize.

So what can be done? Do venues need to beef up security? Should the artists get involved somehow?

One of the most surprising things about all of the recent headline-grabbing country music concert fiascoes is how silent the headliners have been about them. In 2013, when Kenny Chesney’s name was at the top of the marquee for the first wave of trash that filled the parking lots of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the singer was curiously silent as the controversy raged. Same can be said for Luke Bryan who was the headliner at the same venue, and at the same annual event when it happened again this year, despite the media swarming the event in anticipation of problems. To Jason Aldean’s credit, he did send his heartfelt condolences out to the family and friends of the man found dead in a dumpster at his Cleveland show, but Keith Urban has said nothing about the most recent incident in Mansfield, Mass.—either about the arrests and hospitalizations, or the alleged rape. In fact Keith Urban removed a video in which he praised the Mansfield crowd, saying at one point, “Gosh, up on the lawn tonight? That was nutso.” So we know Urban’s PR team is on the case, they just simply don’t want to acknowledge what happened.

There are no easy answers here, and it is made harder because of all the money being made at these concerts. It is boom time on the country music touring circuit, and many of the tours are underwritten by the country’s major alcohol suppliers, from Budweiser to Jack Daniels. Though coolers are checked at gates, and ID’s checked at concession stands, there’s clearly a wink-and-nod culture when it comes to underage drinking at concerts, similar to how many venues have a wink-and-nod acceptance of marijuana. Teenagers are going to drink, and that’s an issue beyond country music or country music concerts. But when teenagers are in public places, it makes the situation more perilous, and results in injuries, arrests, and recently, alleged rape. The 22-year-old man who fell five stories into a dumpster at Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert was said to be “extremely intoxicated.”

The problem can only be solved if there is an acknowledgement of its existence. But as Eric Church evidenced above in the Playboy Magazine piece, what may be bad publicity for some makes for good marketing for others. The lack of even acknowledgement of the issues from the headliners or their management seems to be almost a default approval, or at least a complicit posturing to the problem. The mentality appears to be that as long as the money is flowing and nobody gets killed, let’s keep the party going.

But now, somebody has been killed, and somebody’s daughter has been allegedly raped. Country music cannot afford to turn a blind eye any more.

Jul
23

Maddie & Tae Make a Summer Anthem Out of a Protest Song

July 23, 2014 - By Trigger  //  Random Notes  //  54 Comments

maddie-and-taeJust sit back and appreciate where we’re at for a second ladies and gentlemen. Here it is the dead of summer 2014, and the song that has everyone talking in country music is not some frivolous, carefree party anthem. It’s not some beach-bumming or beer on the tailgate half-baked haven for country cliché. It’s the song from two young girls named Maddie & Tae that directly calls out the pervasive checklist trend of male-dominated country music, and does so in a very direct, earnest manner.

No, that’s not not the smell of suntan lotion and margarita quaffing through the air, it’s the burning dolor of protest and dissent. “Girl In A Country Song“— this is the song that has everyone buzzing. This is the song that virtually every DJ and every country music website and periodical is buzzing about. This song, these girls, and the scenario it thrusts upon country music is what people find fascinating, and has captured the country music zeitgeist at this moment in time more than any other topic or song, and during a season already chock full of blockbuster singles like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, and compelling narratives like the return of Garth Brooks.

Displeasure reigns, and all those people who wonder why such effort is put forth to complain about country music songs that could just simply be ignored are now seeing the fruits of spirited discourse and articulate criticism. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from perfect. It may even be a stretch to call it good. But like all artistic expressions that rise above the sum of their parts, it captures a sentiment that is exceedingly relevant, and melds with the imagination of possibilities of what its success could mean.

READ: Women Going About Battling Bro-Country All Wrong

On Monday (7-21), Maddie & Tae made an appearance on NPR of all places, and explained the inspiration behind “Girl In A Country Song”.

“Looking good for the boys is not all we have to offer for them. We’re bringing a voice for the girls in country music, and that’s why we came at this topic with a different perspective … It’s just a trend that kind of became irresponsible in its view of women, so we wanted to come about it from our perspective … Because as women, we don’t want to be thought of as one-dimensional, and that’s kind of how these songs have been portraying women. So we hope that kind of changes the game just a little bit.”

As the NPR interviewer adeptly pointed out, Maddie & Tae also say that they like some of the Bro-Country songs and artists, and wondered if the girls were presenting a double standard.

“The thing is, we do feel like this trend has been very very consistent. And we want to give this girl that these guys love singing about a voice … We say it’s a tough gig because yes we wear bathing suits and we wear cutoffs, but we do it when we want to, not necessarily when the guy puts us in that place. It is a tough gig because you have to look a certain way to be looked at as a beautiful girl, and that’s one message that we want this song to put out there, that every woman should feel beautiful whether you’re in cutoffs, whether you don’t have tan legs.”

Something else interesting is that when writing the song, the girls put together a checklist of all the things they regularly heard in cliché country songs. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”

“Checklist” was the precursor to the “Bro-Country” term, and has been a overly-consistent trend in country music since 2011. “Checklist” is how Maddie & Tae referenced the trend, not “Bro-Country.”

Over the last 35 years, country protest songs have become an indelible part of country music, and not since “Murder On Music Row” was championed by George Strait and Alan Jackson have we seen a protest song with such importance and success in the mainstream. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from traditional, whether this is to purposely mock the songs that it targets, or to pander to country’s current trends. And of course “Girl In A Country Song” is marketing, looking to re-monetize negative sentiment. But that comes from how the song was underwritten by Big Machine Records, not how it was composed by Maddie & Tae, who by all accounts wrote it with sincerity.

READ: The Re-Integration of “Bro-Country” Hatred by Music Row

Do the two songs that are set to dominate the summer of 2014—”Girl In A Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, and Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”—signal a shifting of the winds in popular country music towards more substance? It still may be too early to make that determination. But it certainly is worth keeping an eye on, because anti-pop country music sentiment is at an all-time high, right beside the all-time high for country music’s popularity. Sports radio and sports websites are lampooning country regularly. It is the brunt of many pop culture jokes. What Maddie & Tae have done is given a voice to that angst, and they have done so using the same tradition Waylon Jennings started in 1975, which is taking the disappointment one has about the direction of country music, and writing a song about it.

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Del Maguey
Old Soul Radio Show
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Elam McKnight

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