We complain all the time about how today’s popular country music pretty much all sounds the same, but is this really true from a technical standpoint? That is what one enterprising Audiophile and songwriter set out to illustrate by making a mashup of some of Bro-Country’s biggest singles over the last couple of years in a pretty mind-blowing and revealing video.
Posted under the YouTube username “Sir Mashalot,” the mashup takes six songs—”Sure Be Cool If You Did” by Blake Shelton, “Drunk on You” by Luke Bryan, “Chillin’ It” from Cole Swindell, “Close Your Eyes”by Parmalee, “This is How We Roll” from Florida Georgia Line, and “Ready, Set, Roll” by Chase Rice—and laid them all parallel into a Pro Tools sound file, changing the tempo and pitch slightly in some cases until they all ran at the same speed, and then pushing play. The six songs represent four #1 Bro-Country hits from 2012 until now, a #5 hit in “Ready, Set, Roll,” and a #11 song in Parmalee’s “Close Your Eyes.”
The video starts by selectively moving through parts and pieces of each song to illustrate the stark similarities in beat, melody and lyrical content, and then ends with all the songs running simultaneously together virtually seamlessly.
“My inspiration started when I heard Parmalee’s ‘Close Your Eyes’ several months ago,” says Sir Mashalot, aka Greg Todd who’s real life pursuit is as a Nashville songwriter. “During the chorus, I started realizing it had an almost identical melody/music bed as Blake Shelton’s ‘Sure Be Cool If You Did.’ So I imported them into Pro Tools, tweaked the key and tempo to line them up, and wahlah- turned out they really were the same song! So I overlapped them together and sent it out to a few friends, thinking it was an interesting exercise.”
“Then, while driving in my car over the next couple of weeks, I started hearing one song after another which I was certain would fit perfectly into the original mashup,” Sir Mashalot continues. “First ‘Chillin’ It,’ then ‘Drunk On You,’ then ‘This is How We Roll,’ and finally ‘Ready, Set, Roll.’ Each time I heard one, I would race home to plug it into the original pro tools session and yep, another perfect fit. Originally, I had all 6 songs overlapping, start to finish, but the more I listened to the lyrics, the more it occurred to me that it wasn’t just the music and melody that flowed together, but the actual lyrical content. So I presented myself with the challenge to create a singular, coherent story line using different snippets from the 6 songs. It took me about 2 weeks for that part of it. If I’m being honest, I think it still has tons of flaws (including some choppiness throughout), but my computer fried and so I finally just decided to get it out there the way it stands now.”
So there you go, it’s one big Bro-Country mega song all mashed up together. And apparently Sir Mashalot isn’t done just yet. “I am currently writing a song that will fit in as the 7th song of the mashup. I figure, hey- at least the gate keepers won’t be able to say it can’t be a hit!”
Who knows, if someone released this to radio, it might be a huge success.
2014 was a year of great flux in country music. Where 2013 was dominated by public feuds and outcries by many country performers about the direction of the music, 2014 became the year things began to be done about many of the problems plaguing the genre. With Bro-Country as the battleground, the fight to return some balance to the country format began to make headway, and many of the initiatives launched in 2014, and many of the partnerships made and trends started may affect country music in profound ways in the coming years. Meanwhile 2014 was also a particularly violent year when it came to concerts and beyond, and saw the emergence and re-emergence of artists who will be very important to country music moving forward.
Following are the eleven biggest news stories of 2014. PLEASE NOTE: These are chosen and the order picked by two major factors 1) The importance of the story 2) The amount of traffic and interest in the story evidenced through analytical data on Saving Country Music, sometimes aggregated over multiple stories on the same subject if they exist.
Click on the orange, underlined fields to be taken to the specific stories.
#11 Legendary Artists Setting Records on Billboard’s Albums Charts
As artists whose fandoms represent one of the last bastions of the public that actually buy albums, legendary performers like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and even Billy Joe Shaver set records in 2014 on Billboard’s album charts. Unfortunately new chart rules will likely put a damper on the fun for 2015, but the year that past saw older artists receiving renewed recognition.
Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200. And Billy Joe Shaver charted for the first time ever, with Long In The Tooth coming in at #19 on the Country Albums chart.
#10 The Wayne Mills Autopsy Report Released
The autopsy of slain country music artist Wayne Mills was released, revealing that the star was shot in the back of the head from a far range by bar owner Chris Ferrell, who is currently awaiting trial on 2nd degree murder charges. The autopsy revealed Wayne Mills had also sustained multiple injuries as part of the incident. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee.
The summary of the autopsy states,
Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.
The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.
#9 A Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indiana
On September 13th, Toby Keith made a tour stop at the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis on his “Shut Up & Hold On” tour, and according to many of the concert goers, Toby was too drunk to perform, put on a terrible show, and some fans demanded their money back. A cavalcade of attendees took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about Toby Keith forgetting words, and generally stumbling through his performance.
Later video emerged of Toby Keith stumbling through a rendition of “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue.” Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”. Toby Keith and his publicist refused to acknowledge the incident despite it becoming a big story on local Indianapolis news channels.
#8 Male Country Stars Come Out As Gay
Country star Ty Herndon—known for his handful of mid 90′s hits such as “What Mattered Most,” “I Want My Goodbye Back,” and “Living In A Moment”—came out as gay on November 20th, making him the first openly gay male country music star in the mainstream in the history of the genre. Herndon says one of the things that motivated him coming out was seeing Kacey Musgraves win the CMA Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow,” saying that he welled up in tears at the win. “I felt so proud of my city. I hope that trend continues; I pray it does.” Ty’s decision also motivated former child country star Billy Gilman to come out as gay in a five minute video.
However one of the most interesting narratives to come out of the coming out announcements was just how much of a non-story it was. Aside from being the lead story on Entertainment Tonight and touching off mild interest on the internet, the announcements seemed to come as a shock to very few, and didn’t stimulate the type of vitriol some expected from the traditionally conservative music format. It still take a more active and mainstream male country artists coming out while he was still commercially relevant to see if country has finally moved on from its perceived gay stigma.
It was also revealed in 2014 that Brandy Clark was gay, but she took a more subtle and respectful approach to the sensitive subject.
#7 New Hank Williams “I Saw The Light” Biopic Announced
It was big enough news that the long-awaited biopic covering the life of Hank Williams was coming, and that the producers were setting out to make it the definitive movie work on the Hillbilly Shakespeare based off of Colin Escott’s acclaimed biography, with fully-licensed rights to use the original music for the film from Sony ATV. But then as the cast began to be revealed, and specifically that British-born actor Tom Hiddleston would be the one portraying Hank, controversy brewed about the selection of a non-Southerner, especially with Hank’s grandson, Hank Williams III, who publicly criticized the casting.
Then when a video was released of Hiddleston singing some of the Hank Williams songs he’s expected to perform live in the film at a festival with mentor Rodney Crowell, the controversy started anew. Nonetheless, the movie rolled on, shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana beginning in late October and lasting for about six weeks. With a release date roughly scheduled for late 2015, and big expectations for the film as a potential Oscar contender, I Saw The Light might be one of the biggest news stories of 2015 as well.
#6 The Rise of Sturgill Simpson
The rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in 2014—from being picked up by Zac Brown Band as an opener, to playing Letterman and The Tonight Show, to being put at the top on many end-of-year lists and receiving a Grammy nomination—is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. His 2014 album Metamodern Sound in Country Music has captured the imaginations of many, and given them hope about the future of the country genre. And maybe most importantly, Sturgill Simpson has made fans wonder where he might be headed in 2015 and beyond.
#5 The Return of Garth Brooks
When the best selling artist in country music ever, and the 3rd highest-selling artist of all time comes out of retirement after 15 years away, it is going to cause some reverberations, and that’s exactly what Garth Brooks did when he officially announced a new album and a world tour at a July 10th press conference in Nashville. But Garth’s return hasn’t been all triumphant and pretty. It started off with a debacle in Dublin, when five planned shows were cut down to three by local authorities, resulting in Garth Brooks canceling all of the scheduled performances for which an entire custom-made video presentation and stage setup had been procured and shipped to Ireland on 18 semi-trailers.
Subsequently the sales of Garth’s comeback album Man Against Machine started off fairly lackluster, though being the savvy marketeer Garth Brooks is, sales have stayed strong through the Christmas buying season and are beginning to accumulate into decent numbers. Meanwhile despite Garth’s first single “People Loving People” flopping on radio, he’s selling out live shows left and right, and regularly for multiple dates in the same location as people flock to take in the live Garth experience.
Garth’s return has not been without its setbacks and shortcomings, but his presence has still been felt strongly throughout the country music world, and he promises to remain an important figure in the genre moving forward.
#4 SCM Declares Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes the Worst Album Ever
Though maybe not a big “story” in the greater country music world, it was the most-read story on Saving Country Music in history, and by a wide margin, being liked and shared on Facebook over 75,000 times, tweeted nearly 700 times, receiving almost 500 comments, and being viewed nearly 500,000 times.
“Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude. In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.
“Not to get all old man on your ass, but most of the time I don’t even understand what the hell these dudes are saying. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only. And only with the perfect deficiency of brain cells will their concoction of Ebonics, metrosexual douche speak, and stagnant gene pool rural jargon become anything resembling coherent to the human ear.”
#3 Violence, Arrests, Medical Issues, and Death at Country Music Concerts
The summer of 2014 at country music’s mainstream concerts became one big rolling narrative about fights, arrests, hospitalizations, rape, stabbings, and even two deaths, all which occurred in a few short months during the height of country’s outdoor concert season. It almost felt like the media was embellishing all the violence with the way each week was punctuated with a new headline. “55 People Were Arrested, and 22 Hospitalized” in what local authorities characterized as a “mass casualty” event at a Keith Urban concert in Massachusetts on July 26th. Once again an annual event in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field resulted in huge amounts of trash, as well as many arrests and hospitalizations, even though the event the previous year had drawn large amounts of negative media coverage for similar problems.
Three people were stabbed at We Fest in Minnesota, a woman was gang raped at Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival, a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert in Hartford, and amongst a myriad of other disturbing reports at country concerts, a man was found dead in a dumpster after Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert, thought to be the cause of over intoxication, and another man died at a Hank Jr. concert after he was shoved and his head hit the concrete, though it was later determined it was likely by accident and not foul play.
Meanwhile the artists were not immune from injury themselves. Luke Bryan had three stage falls in 2014, Garth Brooks had two, Tim McGraw violently slapped a woman who ripped off a portion of his jeans, and Dustin Lynch got hit in the face with a full can of beer. 2014 was eventful at country concerts to say the least, making many wonder if it is the depravity in the music leading to such behavior. Without question 2015 will be one to watch to see if the country concert issues improve, or worsen.
#2 NASH Icon & The Impending Country Radio Format Split
Who would have ever dreamed, even at the beginning of 2014, that we could be faced with a scenario where the radio format for country music would be splitting in two, and this action would see the return of many of the older names and songs so unceremoniously shuffled to the side in the mainstream format in recent years? Heretofore the trend has been for country music to become more young, and more current every year, shoving older artists and music aside, even when they continue to prove their commercial viability. Research from radio analysts had been telling country radio for years they were shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning more classic-sounding music, and finally in 2014, they began to listen.
Two huge entities, not traditionally considered friends of traditional country music in Cumulus Media and Big Machine Records, joined forces to launch NASH Icon—a new radio format that includes older country music alongside newer music, and a record label that is looking to add new life to the careers of forgotten artists. Meanwhile simply the idea of NASH Icon stimulated other radio stations to adopt a more “classic” country format. Garth-FM (later The Hawk) was launched, and so was Hank FM, and many other country stations oriented towards older country music, fueling speculation that the movement will eventually stimulate a split of the country format. Furthermore, the NASH Icon affiliate in Nashville is consistently beating its mainstream competitors, including Bobby Bones’ home of WSIX.
Now Cumulus is even planning to add a NASH Classics format. Though none of these stations might be the cup of tea for the most hardened of traditional country listeners, it is a step in the right direction, and breeding a renewed love in more classic-sounding country music we haven’t seen in years. The impending radio format split might very well be the biggest development in the effort to save country music in many years.
#1 The Rise and Fall of Bro-Country
2014 started off with so-called “Bro-Country” as all the rage in popular country music, and ended with Bro-Country still somewhat relevant, but heavily on the wane and declining to a whimper while an anti Bro-Country tune in the form of Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” shattered all manner of records by becoming a #1 hit on country radio.
In late September, Saving Country Music wrote an obituary for Bro-Country, saying in part,
“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.’”
Raleigh, NC’s American Aquarium was the hardest working, hardest touring band in 2014 from any genre according to the concert-finding app Bandsintown which presides over the largest database of music touring data. The announcement was made Thursday after Bandintown was able to aggregate 206 tour dates for the band in 2014—more than any other band or artist registered in their database.
“2014 was a crazy year for us,” American Aquarium said to Bandsintown. “It was the first in our nine year career where we saw the shows getting better and our fanbase getting bigger. The only way that we are able to do this many shows and still stay sane is having a solid support system at home that understands this is what we love. We are six guys committed to the same common goal and that is to build our fanbase one person at a time. Since day one, we have known that no one was going to give us anything and that if we wanted a career in this, we had to go out and take it. Touring has been the lifeblood of this band and our fans make every single show, every 10 hour drive, every bad show, totally worth it. Here’s to an even bigger 2015.”
Making the feat that much more crazy, and speaking to the solid support system of fans the band enjoys, in June American Aquarium’s van and trailer were stolen with all their gear and merchandise, making for one major hiccup in the midst of a tour with the Turnpike Troubadours. Eventually the van and trailer were found, but many of their guitars had been taken, and the van was vandalized beyond repair. American Aquarium also found the time in 2014 to tour Europe this fall, emphasizing the whirlwind nature of their year.
Going at it for eight years now, the band has seen lots of changes in music, and in late October frontman BJ Barham recalled the time massive pop country outfit Florida Georgia Line opened for them, “They now have millions of fans, tons of money and all the cut off bedazzled denim vests anyone could ask for. At least we still have our self respect. Here’s to the working bands out there that never settle. Good on ya.”
American Aquarium’s new album Wolves is set to be released on February 3rd. Listen to the title track below.
From crude videos taken on somebody’s phone, to full production videos with scripts and actors and sets, to animated shorts and everything in between, you never know what’s going to capture the imagination and become the perfect compliment to a song in the visual form. No question in the age of YouTube that there’s no dearth of material to oogle at, but what breaks through the crush of visual material to be called the best in 2014?
9. The Whiskey Shivers – “Free”
The Whiskey Shivers will probably never top the madness that is their video from 2011 for “Gimmie All Your Lovin’” that has now received over half a million views (still don’t know how the hell they made that), but their new video for “Free” off their self-titled album does its best to capture the band’s fun loving nature.
Directed & Edited by Rob Wadleigh
Director of Photography – Ryan Firth
8. Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here In The Morning”
The fortuitous call was made when Don Williams went into the studio to record his Saving Country Music Album of the Year-nominated Reflections, to fit out the studio with a camera crew and release the videos intermittently afterwards. The result has been some really excellent moments captured on film, but none better than when Don Williams covered this Townes Van Zandt classic.
7. Steelism – “Marfa Lights”
Yes, very silly, quirky, and maybe even hipster-ish, the video for sideman duo Steelism’s “Marfa Lights” still shows a lot of imagination and creativity in a unique approach. A fun watch.
Directed by Stewart Copeland.
6. Florida Georgia Line – “Dirt”
Act appalled all you want, but it deserves to be here. A lot of heart went into this video.
Director: Nigel Dick
5. Sturgill Simpson – “Turtles All The Way Down”
Despite what shallow listeners will tell you, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is not a psychadelic record, but the video for “Turtles All The Way Down” certainly is.
Directed and edited by Graham Uhelski
4. First Aid Kit – “My Silver Lining”
Something that First Aid Kit has that virtually no other artist or band in the independent roots realm of a similar or bigger size can match is a library of videos that dazzle, entertain, and incite wonder like little else you can find. It’s an attention to video making as a creative medium in itself with no boundaries that gives their music an extra special love. The release of a new First Aid Kit video is grounds for an immediate stop down, and not just their tightly-woven and intricate big-production music videos with multiple scenes and settings that cast the duo in regal and awe-inducing moments, but with the sincerity and talent this sister duo from Sweden displays, even a short acoustic performance in a publishing office or a covered wayside is something that can enthrall and shuttle you off into a wormhole of escapism. After all, it was a simple video of the duo singing a Fleet Foxes cover that is given credit for launching their career.
Director: Elliott Sellers
Producer: Courtney Davies
3. Willie Watson – “Mexican Cowboy”
Sometimes the best videos are live ones that capture and moment in time and the character of the artist so perfectly, a big production could never do it justice. When former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson performs his traditional folk tunes, he becomes so immersed in character, so stern-faced an honest to the song, it is truly something to behold.
Filmed for The Bluegrass Situation at Counterpoint Records in Franklin Village, Los Angeles.
Directed and recorded by Ben Guzman
2. Ray Benson & Willie Nelson – “It Ain’t You”
The music, and both Ray Benson’s and Willie’s performances are chilling enough, but the video for “It Ain’t You” takes it a step further, fully understanding what’s at the heart of the song, and pulling out all the stops to not only do the song justice, but enhance the experience through the visual medium. The wisdom of knowing what the simple sight of Willie’s battle-worn hands can stir in the beholder, while crafting a way to capture the spirit of the long-time friendship between Ray and Willie so purely is worth watching even if the song itself doesn’t strike a particular chord with the listener. (read full review)
“It Ain’t You” was written by Waylon Jennings and Gary Nicholson.
Video directed by Aaron Brown of Onion Creek Productions.
1. The Tillers – “Willy Dear”
By choosing animation for the “Willy Dear” video, it enhances the imaginative qualities already inherent in the song, and allows the story to unfold without the anachronistic limitations of a live video. The simplicity of the animation aids in this process, while the vibrancy still present in the color and the expansiveness of the landscapes emphasizes the wonder in the story itself.
The video also helps fill in some of the gaps in the narrative that the verses didn’t have the capacity to carry. And best of all, it illustrates that “Willie Dear” is not really about Willie Thompson, his love Lizzy, or the tragedy that befell them because of mistaken circumstances. It is about old abandoned houses, and the stories they tell. (read full review)
Animation by Christof Heuer
Independent music fans love to say “90% of what the mainstream does is crap!” Well then it would stand to reason that 10% actually has some value. And in the interest of pragmatism and inclusiveness that is vital to the charge of Saving Country Music, it is important to not ignore when Music Row and mainstream artists get it right, but to celebrate these moments and achievements in hopes it breeds more of the same in the future.
Mainstream albums are given an equal chance in Saving Country Music’s end-of-year tabulations, so much so that in 2012, a mainstream artist and former American Idol alumni in the form of Kellie Pickler and her album 100 Proof won Album of the Year. Though maybe a stretch to call it mainstream, the Big Machine-signed Mavericks also beat out everyone else with their album In Time in 2013. But 2014 did not see one mainstream album make the end-of-year lists, so in the spirit of equal time, here are some of the best albums in the mainstream in 2014.
And please, to the diehard indies and purists, please don’t complain why we’re highlighting these albums here. If you want to see what comes most recommended by Saving Country Music, please check out the Album of the Year Nominees, and the 50 Essential Albums List.
And please feel free to share what you believe was the best in mainstream country below.
Zac Brown Band – The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1
“The Zac Brown Band finds themselves in a position that most any other band or artist would be lying if they said they weren’t envious of: owning their own label, calling their own shots, and nestled in a niche carved out in the music world where they’re beholden to no industry or radio play or sound to ensure butts fill the seats at shows. At the same time they’ve enjoyed the gracious support of the country music industry, while still openly admitting they veer much closer to the Southern rock side of things, giving the band the latitude to experiment and collaborate outside the genre while receiving much more interest than flack.
“The songs of The Grohl Sessions are marvelously complex, yet still with a heart, still with a pentameter that never stops beating, keeping the music in a pocket, and the ear enraptured. It is a fair argument to say that country hardliners regularly bemoan hip-hop treatments to songs, but when it comes to blending rock & roll into country, it is more often given a pass. The Grohl Sessions are certainly guilty of being way more rock than country, with elements of blues and Motown soul. But nobody ever accused Zac of being country, and just because it isn’t country, doesn’t mean it’s not good.” (read full review)
Caitlyn Smith – Everything To You
(Note: Depending on your perspective, Caitlyn could either be considered mainstream or independent. But since she’s written songs for major heavyweights and works mostly within the Music Row system, we’ll consider her mainstream for this exercise.)
“When you talk about an artist known as a songwriter first, you tend to look for the strength in the lyric. But Caitliyn Smith is very much a multi-tool performer, and her vocals can rival any in country music’s top tier, and she’s a great musician as well. Her style is very sensible—country pop in the traditional sense, with rising choruses, juicy melodies, and familiar themes of love, loss, and hope. But similar to how Caitlyn Smith songs are the ones artists and managers gravitate toward when they’re looking for something with more body beyond a smash radio hit, instilled in all of Caitlyn’s work is a sincerity, authenticity, and the ends of country roots sticking out from the surface.
“2013 was considered by many to be the ‘Year of The Woman’ in country music from the concentration of forward-thinking and nourishing projects proffered to the public by females who could nip at the edges of the mainstream, but still find friendly ears in the independent world. Caitlyn Smith may be a year too late to be considered in that class, but she belongs with the other ladies of country music leadership trying to keep at least a modicum of respect in the genre, even if those women struggle compared with their male counterparts in chart performance and cash flow.”
Dierks Bentley – Riser
Dierks Bentley’s Riser is an inspired, rising effort from stem to stern, with sweeping compositions that generally convey this uplifting, airy and expansive condition, despite a sorrowful and reflective tone beneath the surface. At the risk of sounding cliché, Riser was cut during an emotional time, bookened by the death of Dierks’ father, and the birth of his son, and this type of environment created a work that was somehow both secondary, yet keenly focused. He brought his personal life with him to the studio, and it is reflected even in some of the more commercial material, in a drive to make a project bigger than himself.
Is Riser good ol’ country music done the right way? Of course not. This is a country-inspired rock album. But it is a good one nonetheless that is well-made, inspired, heartfelt, and worth a Hamilton or heavy rotation from your streaming service of choice if you know what you’re getting in to.
Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine
“The truth is, Garth was never going to live up to the lofty expectations many were foisting upon his re-entry into the country fold. Forget the naysayers who still can’t get over his high wire act at Texas Stadium or the Chris Gaines gimmick, there was some thought that Garth may be the only one left with the star power to reignite the spark of true country music in the mainstream once again, however ironic this may be given Garth’s history. But in hindsight, this was sort of like thinking Mike Tyson could still be heavyweight champion in the early 00′s, or that Brett Favre could still win a Super Bowl.
“The purists will pan it because it’s Garth, and the mainstream may mostly ignore it because Garth is such an unknown quantity to their youthful demo. And everyone will question the wisdom of releasing ‘People Loving People’ as a single or the somewhat silly cover art. But Man Against Machine is a solid Garth record, with some sappy moments, some rock and R&B moments, but mostly just good contemporary Garth country worthy of at least an open-minded listen.” (read full review)
Maddie & Tae - Maddie & Tae EP
“Make no mistake, the emergence of Maddie & Tae is the result of tactical gaming of country music’s notoriously malleable masses by label types, but that doesn’t mean that the music can’t be any good. ‘Girl In A Country Song’ really didn’t help answer the question of, “Who are Maddie & Tae?” It exacerbated it. Were the hip-hop elements simply there for irony? Were these girls really influenced heavily by classic country as they said?
“So now the young duo has released a four-song EP, and all of a sudden a brand new set of parameters emerge. You do hear those classic country leanings in the songwriting. You hear fiddle solos and steel guitar by god. You hear two girls singing in close harmony with heavy twang about similar themes once championed by Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. And you begin to realize that whether Maddie & Tae are a machination of Big Machine Records or not, their music truly is living up to the more traditional and tasteful approach they were touted as embodying when they first emerged.” (read full review)
Mary Sarah – Bridges
Close your eyes for a second, and envision a world where a young beautiful bubbly female star—like Taylor Swift maybe—releases a completely traditional country album, not of her own music, but of some of the standards from country music’s sainted past, and not just by herself, but as duets with the very stars that made the songs popular in the first place; the same stars who are very much being forgotten in modern country’s obsession with youth. Think of the possibility of how this could open up an entire new world of music to listeners who are too young to remember where country music came from, ostensibly bridging the future and the past.
Now, open your eyes back up, and you’re ready to enter the world of Mary Sarah and Bridges.
Other Decent Albums
Eric Paslay -Eric Paslay
It’s real easy to lump Eric Paslay and his debut self-titled album in with the Bro-Country crowd because of singles like “Song About A Girl” and “Friday Night,” but a deeper listen to the project reveals a lot of depth of songwriting and some tasteful arrangement and instrumentation. A song like “Country Side of Heaven” isn’t too bad.
Jon Pardi -Write You A Song
Probably a little more fairly lumped in with Bro-Country than Eric Paslay, but still with much more to offer than most of the mainstream.
Tim McGraw – Sundown Heaven Town
Not a good album, but was surprisingly more good than bad from the Big Machine artist. (read full review)
Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back isn’t completely terrible either.
Best Song – Carrie Underwood’s “Something In The Water”
“A wide, sweeping undertaking, ‘Something In The Water’ sees Carrie Underwood carve out the sweet spot for her voice and make an inspiring and faith-based composition the vessel to illustrate the mighty ferocity of her God-given vocal prowess, along with instilling the moments with an elegance and grace that in unison swell to achieve one awe-inspiring performance height.
“’Something In The Water’ is purely pop country from a stylistic standpoint, but draws heavily from country’s Gospel roots and the ritual of river baptisms to create the compelling narrative at the song’s heart. Though the “something in the water” colloquialism is not wholly unique in this context, the content is nonetheless refreshing in the way it disregards all concern for trends or tropes and instead shows confidence in Carrie’s voice to carry a tune to the top levels of widespread appeal. Resolving with the verses of “Amazing Grace” intermixed with the song’s melody, ‘Something In The Water’ traces a lineage directly back to the very primitive beginnings of country music, intertwining old roots among the song’s otherwise pristine and nouveau passages.”
Very, very powerful. (read full review)
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And yes, if we’re talking about the top songs Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” deserves a mention.
Monday night (12-15) was the inaugural airing of what is attempting to be country music’s 4th awards show called the American Country Countdown Awards, or ACCA’s, and the ratings couldn’t have been worse. Replacing the American Country Awards on FOX which ran for three years, the ACCA’s are an extension of Cumulus Media’s American Country Countdown program, a weekly syndicated radio show hosted by Kix Brooks. Hoping to put more muscle behind the production, Cumulus and FOX also brought in giant awards show apparatus Dick Clark Productions—the company behind the ACM Awards and other live broadcasts. However DCP and a big media push prior to the awards couldn’t account for an overcrowded awards show space and a lackluster presentation, and the overnight ratings for the show were abysmal.
Ratings for the FOX-aired show came in at 0.9/ 3, good for last amongst all major networks, and down an embarrassing 21% compared to last year’s ratings on the same night. The show pulled roughly 3.48 million viewers during the two-hour presentation. Compare this with 2013′s American Country Awards numbers, which aired on a Tuesday (Dec. 10th) and were already considered deplorable, the awards show shed over 1.6 million viewers, or roughly 33% of its viewership year to year. The overnight ratings for last year’s show were 1.4/4.
Thanks to Windmills Country for help running down the numbers.
The 2014 American Country Countdown Awards exposed hosts Florida Georgia Line as having little to no skills in timing or pentameter. At one point the presentation came out of commercial break, showed FGL’s Tyler Hubbard standing on the stage with a large camouflage duffel bag slung over his shoulder. FGL member Brian Kelly said to Hubbard, “Hey Tyler, I have to say you have a large sack.” Hubbard responded, “Yeah, it’s nuts.” And that was the extent of their joke.
With the resounding success of other country awards shows such as the long-running CMA Awards every November, and the ACM Awards in April, FOX, Cumulus, and Dick Clark Productions may keep at their task to launch a 4th franchise (the 3rd being the summer’s CMT Awards), but so far over a four-year span, the experiment has not fared well whatsoever.
Cody Johnson is country. There’s no denying that. But there’s a mantra around Saving Country Music which states that just because something is real country, doesn’t mean it is real good. Just as if something isn’t real country doesn’t mean it’s real bad. People tend to be fans of music first, and then their loyalties break towards certain genres. And even though most of the business conducted around here centers around country music, the underlying loyalty is to music with soul, not just a certain sound.
I’ve received more requests to comment on Cody Johnson’s music in 2014 than any other artist. Meanwhile my status of staying mum on him has caused some to question whether I actually care about country music, others to question the legitimacy of of flying the “Saving Country Music” banner, and still others have come out saying point blank Saving Country Music must be a fraud for not discussing the Texas singer. Most requests are punctuated with caps locked proclamations of how Cody Johnson is REAL country, which over the years has unfortunately become a marker for music that tries really hard to prove how country it is, while leaving things like taste and originality behind.
Cowboy Like Me is country, yes. This is a Texas artist who grew up in Huntsville and was home schooled and spent much of his time hunting, fishing, and singing at church. Cowboy Like Me utilizes as much or more fiddle and steel guitar as any album released in the last year or so, and Cody’s singing style features a sharp twang punctuating songs dyed in themes of country life.
Cowboy Like Me also features a lot of loud, Stratocaster-style cliché rock guitar, formulaic themes and movements, rising choruses indicative of commercial-oriented music looking for radio play, incessant references to how country Cody Johnson is no different than what can be found on the latest albums from Florida Georgia Line or Jason Aldean, and possibly most disappointing, what sounds like one of the most egregious deployments of Auto-Tune I’ve heard this side of George Strait’s final concert album.
All of this combines to make Cody Johnson and Cowboy Like Me a mixed bag at best, and not wanting to be the bearer of bad news or the one to break the heart of a Cody Johnson fan, I felt avoiding him, especially when there’s so much other music out there to talk about, was probably the best course of action. Because overall, Cody Johnson is not the enemy, he’s an ally. If I turn on my radio, I sure as hell would rather hear Cody Johnson coming out compared to whatever Music Row is peddling, or if I’m in a bar filled with music fans, I’m going to gravitate toward Cody Johnson fans way before the people in Florida Georgia Line T-shirts. But in the face of criticisms for remaining so quiet on this artist, here are my opinions, open and honest, be damned the popularity or reception of them.
I wonder if Dale Watson, Jason Eady, or even Marty Stuart would label Cody Johnson REAL country. When the most striking characteristic of your music is overdriven arena rock guitar and the Auto-Tune is so obvious, it leaves little that is REAL or country except for some of the buried instrumentation and the lyrics. Cowboy Like Me makes a headlong effort to prove how country it is, and for many ears, it worked. But if I had to label this music, I would call it commercial country: More country-sounding than Music Row material, yet still with many of the same sonic hooks and lyrical tropes indicative of the mainstream world.If you give a cowboy a truck on a Friday night He’ll pull a $100 bill from a coffee can Spray the mud off of them tires Drop $20 in the tank, save the rest for beer So all you girls in here need to know this
And as much as Cody Johnson fans like to paint him as the scrappy underdog independent artist who needs support from places like Saving Country Music, he’s won big endorsement deals from Bud Light, Wrangler, and other corporate sponsors. Hey, good for him. It’s great Cody has found a way to support himself with his music. But just like many elements of his sound, Cody Johnson’s independent status is not exactly what it’s sold to be.
One of the redeeming points for Cody’s music can be found in the writing of his songs. Where some of the bigger numbers not only feel quite cliché, they also feel very stuck in the mid to late 90′s as far as style—not modern enough to feel relevant to today, but not classic or traditional enough to appeal to that crowd either. Meanwhile some of the lyrical hooks and payoffs fall flat, like the line “Even My pain is hurtin’” from the song “Hurtin,’” as if this poor attempt at a double entendre is something to be considered “deep.” Nonetheless, songs like “Bottle It Up,” “Holes,” and even the opening numbers of “Dance Her Home” and “Me and My Kind” are decently-written songs, even if they do have that 90′s-era cheese as a character trait.
Some will vehemently deny that there’s any Auto-Tune on this album whatsoever, and even if this is true, the engineer on this project should still be fired from how ultra-polished and digitized Cody Johnson’s voice sounds on the finished product, whatever enhancements were employed during the mixing and mastering process. Please understand, I’m not criticizing Cody’s prowess as a vocalist whatsoever. By all accounts, whether fronting a band, or going out on stage with just an acoustic guitar, Cody Johnson can send hearts stirring with his voice. But during too many moments to list on this album, the sharp-edged mark left by audio enhancement drains any life in the performance or lyric, and really erodes any authenticity this project tries to convey. Some listeners won’t be able to hear the enhancement, but Cody’s first verse on “Me and My Kind” might be the most blaring example of Auto-Tune, or some other perfecting filter I’ve ever heard on a studio album.
Cowboy Like Me is too polished, too perfect, too pandering to radio to get too excited about as a vehicle to save country music. Should people be embarrassed for liking Cody Johnson or this album? Of course not, because in the end it is undoubtedly a better, healthier country music option than most of what Music Row is serving for dinner. But I would be lying if I said I thought Cowboy Like Me was a good album, or even REAL country.
1 Gun Up for some well-written songs ideas and some good country instrumentation.
1 Gun Down for all the rock guitar, cliché country lyrics and modes, and Auto-Tune.
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2014 has been a year of great flux in country music, with some legendary successes by independent artists and new mainstream artists, and the shuffling out of other artists and the fumbling of what once were legendary, high flying careers. Here’s a run down of the five biggest winners and losers in the greater country music world in 2014.
PLEASE NOTE: Calling someone either a “winner” or a “loser” in no way should be taken as a ringing endorsement or an absolute admonishment of any artist, organization, or the music they are a part of. It’s simply meant to illustrate the trends they’ve been a party to, and the decisions they have made in the last calendar year.
WINNER – Scott Borchetta
The only question now is what slows Scott Borchetta down? It’s his Music Row-based independent label that is responsible for the biggest blockbuster album not just released in 2014, but in the last decade plus in Taylor Swift’s 1989, and that doesn’t even delve into the rousing success of Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line, and lot of his other artists in his expanding empire which now accounts for five total imprints and a ridiculous roster of commercially-successful talent. Add on top his recent partnership with American Idol which will bring Borchetta out of the shadows to become a prominent figure in pop culture, and we may be looking at the most powerful man in the recording industry, if not now than in the coming years.
WINNER – Sturgill Simpson
What can be said about Sturgill Simpson that hasn’t already been said before? The man has been on an absolute tirade in 2014, defying all the odds for an independent artist. After releasing what has become one of the most universally critically-acclaimed albums in recently memory in Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Sturgill played Letterman and Conan, was picked up on the Zac Brown Band tour, won Emerging Artist of the Year from the Americana Music Association, and now has been nominated for a Grammy. On his current headlining club tour, he’s selling out every single night and causing incredible local buzz. His next tour will have to graduate to the theater level, and we may even she Sturgill on a major label moving ahead, whether he wants to or not, simply to accommodate the demand. He’s still many steps from being a household name or receiving mainstream radio play, but he’s captured the imaginations of many fans as an artist who can take the independent spirit to a mainstream-caliber level.
WINNER – Brandy Clark
The reason Brandy Clark’s ascent is even more spectacular and promising than Sturgill Simpson’s is because she’s doing it within the Music Row mainstream system. She’s now signed to a major label, and is being named as a nominee for major industry awards like Song of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards, and Best Album at the Grammy Awards. What she doesn’t have as of yet that fellow songwriter and critical darling Kacey Musgraves has is a presence on mainstream country radio. But with a major label now behind any future projects, this becomes even more of a possibility. And wherever you stand on the contentious “gays in country” issue, you can’t help but give Clark credit for integrating the format in the most passive and respectful way. And even more promising is that you get the feel Brandy Clark has years of upside potential ahead of her in the industry.
WINNER – Brantley Gilbert
What has Brantley Gilbert done right in 2014? Why would this Bro-Country knucklehead be characterized as a “winner”? Because while you weren’t looking he quietly has amassed the most loyal fan base in mainstream country music this side of Carrie Underwood, and has the towering sales numbers to prove it in an environment where such sales numbers were thought to be in the past for a second-tier country star. Brantley’s Just As I Am has sold over 640,000 copies. That’s more than the recent albums from Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton combined, or more than the albums of Keith Urban and Brad Paisley combined. Gilbert has sold nearly twice as many albums as Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes, 3x the amount of Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley’s recent releases, and 4x the amount of Brad Paisley’s. Many gave sideways glances at their televisions when Brantley Gilbert was given the American Music Award for “Favorite Country Album,” but by definition, it was deserved. Brantley is the mainstream star with grassroots support, and with that kind of structure, he’s become country music’s great underrated commercial powerhouse.
WINNER – Sam Hunt
In an industry where launching a female artist seems nearly impossible these days, country music’s rising male talent faces the opposite problem of an overcrowded field at the top. But songwriter Sam Hunt, who decided to saddle up with Shane McAnally and attempt to become country music’s EDM superstar has done just that with the mega single “Leave The Night On” and surprising sales for his debut album Montevallo. Where another, more-established country artist in Jerrod Niemann attempted to go EDM with and have a very successful #1 single in “Drink To That All Night” to back it up, Niemann still only garnered album sales of 14,000 for his latest release. Meanwhile Sam Hunt saw a debut week of 70,000 sales, and subsequently has seen strong reception for his country/EDM concept, including surprisingly from many critics. A charmer who can actually speak well for himself who hit on an idea that however vomit-inducing for country music’s traditional listeners has resonated with the wider public, Sam Hunt has revealed himself right out of the gate as a long-haul country star we’ll be hearing about for years, like it or not.
LOSER – Garth Brooks
Without question Garth Brooks has proved his touring muscle did not atrophy one bit during his nearly 15-year retirement. But what was supposed to be the biggest comeback in country music history has fallen completely flat in regards to album sales, radio play, and overall cultural impact. The selection of singles and the rollout of Garth’s new album was critical, and the momentum and intrigue surrounding his comeback couldn’t have been fumbled any more, resulting in sort of a “ho hum” reception from consumers. He can still sell out five consecutive concert dates in 30 minutes, but without any radio support for his new music, and his insistence on attempting to create his own trends instead of catering to the new era of media, he’s put himself at a distinct disadvantage. Take out the touring success, and right now it is “Machine” one – “Man” zero.
LOSER – Jerrod Niemann
If you want a cautionary tale of what not to do with your country music career, look no further than this once critically-lauded artist who decided to go all techno and appears to be paying the price for his country music transgressions. When the EDM-landen single “Drink To That All Night” was cresting #1 on country radio’s Airplay Chart on its way to certified platinum status, it was all high fives in the Niemann camp. But since the release of the second single from his latest album High Noon called “Donkey,” Niemann has been hard to find. Where “Drink To That All Night” apparently walked right up to the line and titillated the country music public enough to become successful, “Donkey” crossed over it, and now the question is if Jerrod Niemann will ever be able to recover. His latest dreckish single “Buzz Back Girl” doesn’t appear to be making any buzz at all, stalling at #35 on Country Airplay. All the attention for “Drink To That All Night,” and the album High Noon only sold 14,000 copies upon its release. Those are Sturgill Simpson-like numbers with no major label, no name recognition, and no radio play. Subsequently High Noon has only sold around 60,000 copies at last count. Meanwhile the high-production video for “Donkey” apparently showing Niemann awe-struck by the size of his own genitals remains on the shelf.
LOSER – Blake Shelton
Forget that NBC’s The Voice most prominent judge has won the CMA Award for Male Vocalist of the Year for now five years straight, there has never been an artist who has been so quizzically ensconced as the face of the genre who has delivered so little in regards to commercial or critical success, or cultural impact. Shelton’s 2014 album Bringing Back The Sunshine might go down as the biggest dud of the year. As of this moment, it has only sold just shy of 208,000 copies. Compare this with Brantley Gilbert, who has never even been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, and has sold upwards of 640,000 copies of his latest release. And because of his commitments to The Voice, Blake Shelton’s touring revenue is also paltry compared to his peers. At this point, Blake Shelton is more famous for being famous, not for country music.
LOSER – The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)
Bluegrass. Sweet, wholesome bluegrass. One of the most inspiring, inclusive, sustainable scenes in not just country, but in the greater music world, with festivals, children’s workshops, prestigious awards, and worldwide appreciation for the artform. But somehow in 2014, this environment of togetherness and organization has been shattered by unbelievable turmoil in the IBMA’s Board of Directors. The not-for-profit first showed signs of problems when the board gave their Executive Director Nancy Cardwell a vote of “NO Confidence” and moved to replace her the very week after what appeared on the outside to be a very successful 2014 IBMA Awards and World of Bluegrass gathering in Raleigh, North Carolina in October. Now there has been multiple resignations from the Board, many open letters back and forth to and from IBMA members as the drama that can fester in a music “scene” emerges for all the public to see in all of its confusing ugliness.
Bluegrass, and even the IBMA will be fine in the long-term, and maybe there were some systemic issues that needed to be addressed in the recent and ongoing turmoil. But from of all places, the bluegrass world gave us an example of what can happen when behind-the-scenes drama overrides the passion for the music.
LOSER – Brad Paisley
Every artist faces that moment where their commercial relevancy begins to slip through their fingers, and 2014 was that year for Brad Paisley, and in a big way. Earlier in the year saw Paisley touring around with no name for his tour, no designs on the sides of his buses and semi’s, in a symbolic marker of his lack of direction in his undeniably-successful, but twilighting career. He came out of the gate with his new album Moonshine in the Trunk already complaining that of all things, the flack he received for the song “Accidental Racist” had somehow torpedoed his career, and the sense of bitterness from what is supposed to be mainstream country’s happy go luck superstar tarnished the sentiment of a man that won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year just four short years ago. Sales for Moonshine In The Truck have been abominable for an established, mainstream star, coming in at 107,000 at last count. Every artist faces the eventual fall from prominence, but Brad Paisley’s has been especially precipitous.
The downward spiral for mainstream country music continues as evidenced by the following list of some of the most horrible offerings of 2014, though it is interesting to note that many of 2014′s “Worst Songs” selections were released in the first half of the year, and some even in late 2013 but did not rise into the greater consciousness until the change in the calendar. The second half of the year has been pretty light in bad songs, so maybe we are seeing a changing of the tide. Nonetheless, with how terrible these selections are, you could consider this not only the worst songs of 2014, but arguably a list of the majority of the worst songs in the history of country music.
To qualify for this list, the song had to be released as a single. And with such a crowded field, only the worst of the worst were selected. Feel free to share your most vilified songs of 2014 below.
PLEASE NOTE: As Saving Country Music has threatened many times (and then reneged on), the era of “rants” is coming to an end, unless something is so egregious there is no other way to address it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be spirited and pointed (& sarcastic) criticism where it’s called for, but we will proceed in the future under the philosophy that an opinion is more convincing when it is explained to someone instead of screamed at them. So cherish this style of rhetoric while you can.
Brantley Gilbert – “Bottom’s Up”
“In this the season of giving, can we all at least come together as one, regardless of sex, race, orientation, creed, religious, political or social status, or cultural background, and swallow our collective differences, hold hands in the common bond of humanity in a rising chorus of hosannas, and all universally decree that Brantley Gilbert is the biggest douche ass to ever suck air on planet Earth?
“Such a gift from heaven it has been to not have Brantley terrorizing us with new music for a good long while. But apparently Brantley was just resting up, refining his putrid exploration into the very innermost reaches of human vanity and self-ingratiation to then unleash upon his trashy fans with the sweet residue of methamphetamine glistening on the edges of their inflamed nostrils, the purest form of raging narcissism ever witnessed in Western Civilization in the construct of his new diarrhetic single ‘Bottoms Up,’ and it’s accompanying video.
“At one point in the video, three women are surrounding Brantley, rubbing their hands all over him. But these girls aren’t copping a feel, their feverishly searching for Brantley’s beleaguered genitals that have taken the form of two acorns flanking a Vienna sausage that then fled up into his abdomen like a rodent scampering into its hole—the result of a tireless regimen of prolonged steroid abuse; hence the nonstop, headlong pursuit of this song and video to compensate and dramatically oversell Brantley’s manly prowess and masculine superiority.” (read full rant)
Cole Swindell – “Chillin’ It”
“Cole Swindell is the most not-having-any-bit-of-soul-or-culture human being I think I have ever observed on God’s whole creation. He’s the human equivalent of a piece of bleached white bread with the crust cut off, served with a glass of room temperature tap water. He’s more milk toast than Caspar, and more boring than a bowl of vanilla. It’s like a thermonuclear holocaust of culture and personality-scrubbing destruction swept over Cole Swindell while he was swimming in the very fissile material of the root detonation agent, leaving a man that is so vacant of anything interesting or distinguishable that he is the utmost purified and scientifically-verifiable essence of Miriam Webster’s unabridged definition of ‘generic’ that could ever be procured as an example or proffered as evidence.
“’Chillin’ It’, just like Cole Swindell himself, is the refined, filtered, and homogenized version of something that was rapaciously trite and disappointing to being with. The first thing that pops in your head when hearing ‘Chillin’ It’ is that it’s pretty blatantly Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’ version 2.0. Except somehow, inexplicably, Swindell discovered how to do them even one worse by engineering something so aggressively vapid that labeling the song ‘bad’ even seems to bestow this spiritless, prosaic waste of effort with more personality and distinction than it actually contains or deserves.” (read full rant)
NOTE: Was released officially in 2013, but didn’t rise to prominence and become a multi-week #1 until March of 2014.
Tim McGraw – “Lookin’ For That Girl“
“Apparently the once high-flying country star has been inadvertently inoculating himself with inebriating bronzer agents from his incessant chemical tan treatments that have now seeped into his blood stream. And combined with an undiagnosed eating disorder that has rendered McGraw’s figure to that of a 55-year-old Venice beach female body builder succumbing to a lifetime of melanoma, Tim has robbed precious nutrients from his gray matter, stupefying him into such an absolute scientifically-infallible vacuum and void of self-awareness that physicists want to employ it to see if it is the ultimate key to tabletop fusion. ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ isn’t a cry for relevancy, it is a barbaric yawp, a banshee scream, a cacophonous ode to the onset of monoculture and wholesale mediocrity.
“The icing on this urine-drenched urinal cake topped with cigarette butts, spent gum, and used inside-out prophylactics oozing their venereal slurry out on the diarrhea-infested floor is the fact that through the entire drum machine-driven song Tim McGraw is singing through an Auto-tune filter turned to 11. T-Pain, eat your top hat-wearing heart out. I’ve been saying for years now that Tim McGraw is more machine than man, but not even I could have predicted this unmitigated rejection and headlong flight from anything analog or authentic. Hell, why do we even need a human to sing this fucking song? We should just have one of those iRobot floor cleaners sing it. At least that way it would be on hand to swab up the hurl this monstrosity will invariably evoke from enlightened music listener’s disgruntled guts. And like an iRobot incidentally, ‘Lookin’ For That Girl’ will also freak the everliving shit out of your dog.” (read full rant)
Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down”
“‘Burnin’ It Down’ is a Casiotone piece of impersonal electronic awfulness in which any sign of true human inspiration or involvement has been so antiseptically replaced in lieu of animatronic tones and absolutist perfectitudes, the term ‘soul’ has been completely and forever banished from being associated with this robotic piece of misanthropic pap. This isn’t a song, this is some guy with a MacBook Pro creating an electronic sound bed to send over to Aldean’s studio so he can overlay his Auto-tune’d vocals and call it good. As Tom Petty would say, ‘You put your name on it, but you didn’t do that.’ Even the guitar tones have been been so exhaustively massaged by 1′s and 0′s they sound like the warning signals emitted from a Star Wars protocol droid right before it explosively self-destructs. A kitten aimlessly careening across a Korg keyboard in a catnip stupor could make a more compelling composition than this.
“Sorry Jason Aldean, but this song isn’t sexy, it’s creepy. They should exhume Barry White and make it the sole goal of the international scientific community to revive him for the exclusive purpose of kicking Jason Aldean’s ass for this song. What does Aldean know about sexy time anyhow? Aldean ain’t got the moves like Jagger, he’s got the moves like Grimmace. Mating couples won’t find “Burnin’ It Down” sexy unless they get equally horny for the annual return of the McRib. This song is a awkward as a hard on in a Speedo. ‘Burnin’ It Down’ isn’t for intimate couples, it’s for lonely women to get all lubed up with in anticipation of an intimate encounter with Clyde the battery-powered hammerer.
“The best part of this song ran down Aldean’s pasty inner thigh and ended up as an embarrassing stain on his $700 sheets. He should have worn a rubber instead of inseminating our ear holes with this public health audio pandemic. No, that burning you feel in your genitals isn’t from erotic allure, it’s because this song is the audio equivalent of a pussing venereal onslaught.” (read full roast)
Florida Georgia Line (w/ Luke Bryan) – “This Is How We Roll”
“Like one of those stationary rides in the front of Wal-Mart for toddlers, ‘This Is How We Roll’ makes a lot of noise, has a bunch of flashing lights, bumps up and down a little bit, but in the end, goes absolutely fucking nowhere. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers soundtrack has more sincerity, depth, and nutritional value than this explosion of diarrhea in country music’s bikini cut man briefs.
“An environment of sexual perversion and sheer stupidity permeates ‘This Is How We Roll’ and its respective video from stem to stern, including a scene near the start of the video with a dollop of hussies having consensual sex with a Kenworth. I sure hope these chicks have their Tetanus records in order. And then of course we have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Florida Georgia Line riding on top of the semi like Teen Wolf, with the same display of doltishness and disconnect with self-awareness many mid 80′s movies like Teen Wolf were horrifically beset with.” (read full rant)
Jake Owen – “Beachin’”
“What’s going on here folks is now that Kenny Chesney has been put out to pasture by the country music powers that be, somebody has to step up and fill the void for swaying, stupid, sand between the toes sonnets of suburban escapism for 40-something women with skin Cancer on their shoulders to hold their Corona Lights high in the air to and scream ‘Whoooo!’ while breathing in the smoke of their Home Depot citronella tiki torches … Now Jake Owen and others are stepping up to fill this void of what apparently is a must-have staple of the American country music radio dial.
“As much as hearing even the opening stanza of a corporate country beach song can make a distinguishing music listener pucker harder than trying to down a cheap Mexican beer without lime or salt, Jake Owen and ‘Beachin’’ makes this exercise even more excruciating by featuring him rapping, yes, rapping the verses … yo yo. And to this end, Owen delivers what has to be the worst white boy rap performance that has ever been proffered to human beings for public consumption that isn’t meant to be taken as ironic. I guess his voice is supposed to be all low and sexy, but the ultra-monotone and lifeless pitch makes Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Loretta Lynn. Is the term ‘Beachin’’ supposed to be a lyrical hook that delivers some sort of payoff? Because it’s about as unfulfilling as Daytona Beach when you’re dreaming of Cancún.” (read full semi rant)
Maggie Rose – “Girl In Your Truck Song”
“I think we have just unearthed the biggest cultural abomination that has ever been classified as “country” music in its 70 year existence. No, I’m not talking bad, awful, terrible, or any other such adjectives. Even those words would seem to instill this embarrassment with a dollop of undeserved respect. Truth be known, there are songs that officially sound worse than this one out there for sure, or that are more stupid either purposefully or inadvertently. But the degree of slavitude and cultural backsliding celebrated and edified in this song is as abhorrent as it is alarmingly calamitous, and hovers only very slightly, and uncomfortably so, above genuine calls of gender downgrading and the erosion of sexual equality in American society, bordering on downright pleas for date rape. I pray that I have the strength to steady my hands enough to coherently compose just how angry this song makes me.
“From the heartfelt yet respectful concerns of some for how young women were being portrayed in country songs, to downright calls of sexism being perpetrated in country music from the ‘Bro-Country’ takedown of the genre, sincere worry was already being transmitted from many sectors about female’s devolving role in the country music format. Now this alarming trend takes a gigantic leap forward (or backward, as it were), as a young woman voluntarily puts herself directly in the path of the misogynistic and materialistic locomotive that is modern day country music by pleading with her overbearing beau captor to allow her to become the subordinate piece of meat that is portrayed in all the worst hits of the ‘Bro-Country’ era…As one studious observer on Twitter pointed out to me, women in country music have now become so marginalized, Stockholm Syndrome has set in. When Rolling Stone Country talked to Maggie Rose about this song, she said, ‘There are females embracing that role that all these men are writing about.’” (read full rant)
Florida Georgia Line – “Sun Daze”
“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. 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.
“’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. (read full semi-rant)
Jerrod Niemann – “Donkey”
“‘Donkey’ is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because ‘country music must evolve,’ I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.
“The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.” (read full rant)
- Billy Ray Cyrus – “Achy Breaky 2″ (disqualified for being released simply for shock value)
- Sam Hunt – “Leave The Night On” (not as much bad as incorrectly filed in country)
- Cole Swindell – “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” (read review)
- Chase Rice – “Ready, Set, Roll” (still deserves a proper rant)
As first reported on Tuesday (12-3) and then confirmed Wednesday afternoon, President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta has partnered with American Idol to become the show’s new “mentor”—a position that was held for years by producer Jimmy Iovine, and then last year by Randy Jackson who moved into the position from a judge spot on the show. Jackson announced earlier in the year he was leaving the show after being a part of all 13 seasons.
Today we get confirmation of the Scott Borchetta addition, but even more intriguing is what the partnership will entail. Borchetta will not only be American Idol‘s mentor, he will also sign the eventual winner of the show to Big Machine Records—the home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and many others. This extra layer of commitment between Borchetta and American Idol could have big implications for both parties. And as arguably the most influential label in country music currently, it could have a big impact on country music at large with American Idol potentially becoming a proving ground for Nashville-based talent moving forward. Borchetta has already participated in the show’s “Hollywood Week” portion by watching performances of contestants he will be advising moving forward.
All of this news comes in stark contrast to how Scott Borchetta felt about the show in 2010 in the aftermath of Taylor Swift’s now legendary off-key performance at the Grammy Awards. Facing fierce criticism for the performance, Borchetta defended his burgeoning starlet by calling her the “voice of a generation” who was above the criticism of her not technically perfect singing. “This is not ‘American Idol,’” Borchetta said. “This is not a competition of getting up and seeing who can sing the highest note. This is about a true artist and writer and communicator. It’s not about that technically perfect performance.”
American Idol Season One winner Kelly Clarkson took exception to Scott Borchetta’s comments and fired back.
“I understand defending your artist obviously because I have done the same in the past for artists I like, including Taylor, so you might see why it’s upsetting to read you attacking ‘American Idol’ for producing simply vocalists that hit ‘the high notes.’ Thank you for that ‘Captain Obvious’ sense of humor, because you know what? We not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right’ notes as well. Every artist has a bad performance or two and that is understandable, but throwing blame will not make the situation at hand any better.
“I have been criticized left and right for having shaky performances before (and they were shaky), and what my manager or label executives say to me and the public is ‘I’ll kick butt next time’ or ‘Every performance isn’t going to be perfect.’ I bring this up because you should take a lesson from these people and instead of lashing out at other artists (that in your ‘humble’ opinion lack true artistry), you should simply take a breath and realize that sometimes things won’t go according to plan or work out and that’s okay.”
Whether it’s selective amnesia, a change of heart, or simply a savvy business move, Scott Borchetta has officially decided to step out of the shadows of country music label ownership to become a public pop cultural figure, and one who could have a big stake in making sure the next American Idol winner or winners do something that many recent winners have failed to pull off: actually becoming “Idol’s” instead of names forgotten a week after the finale.
That’s right, the The Country Music Antichrist, aka President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta is in talks to become the newest mentor on the singing reality show competition American Idol. He would be replacing Randy “Dog” Jackson—the only member of the show’s original cast aside from host Ryan Seacrest who’s been on the show all 13 seasons. Jackson was a judge for the first 12 seasons, and then moved into Jimmy Iovine’s role as the show’s “mentor” for season 13 before announcing he would exit the show entirely for season 14. Last year’s judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. are all slated to return this upcoming season.
As a respected talent evaluator in the industry, and one that lately has shown more interest in coming out of the shadows and becoming more of a public personality, Borchetta as American Idol‘s mentor makes savvy sense for both parties. Borchetta was responsible for discovering Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star in the world right now, and Big Machine properties also have under contract Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and now Reba McEntire under the new NASH Icon joint venture with Cumulus Media. Scott Borchetta is arguably the most powerful man on Music Row in Nashville, and now he’ll be taking his name international if the reports from US Weekly are correct.
If consummated, it would make Borchetta not just one of the most powerful label owners in music, but also one of the most visible, bolstering both Big Machine’s and Scott’s personal brands. Reports from late October saying the Big Machine Label Group was up for sale were later denied by Borchetta, but remaining one of music’s few major independent labels, sale rumors continue to linger. Scott’s partnership with American Idol could also facilitate more collaboration between the reality singing competition and Big Machine artists in live performances and song choices.
Scott Borchetta was affectionately coined the “Country Music Antichrist” by Saving Country Music in 2009 for his stretching of the term “country” with artists like Taylor Swift. However unlike many of Music Row’s label heads, Borchetta is known for extending more creative freedom to his artists.
Once again Scott Borchetta reveals his desires to be much more than simply a record label head, but a powerful and influential entertainment mogul of the recording industry—a desire that could continue to send reverberations throughout the country music industry.
Move over Jamey Johnson and Kacey Musgraves. There’s a new critical darling in country music, and he’s neither country nor worthy of critical acclaim. Yes, I’m talking about the suave-haired cocaine club EDM-fueled country music marketing colossus and Svengali of the country music public named Sam Hunt.
This isn’t hard people. Toby Keith’s song “Drunk Americans” isn’t “social commentary,” Kenny Chesney’s new album The Big Revival is not “progressive,” and Sam Hunt and his music have nothing to do with country aside from the channels it’s been chosen to be peddled under because the historically pliable country music fan won’t question as a turd sandwich is shoved down their throat and called tuna.
In country music’s big pivot from the shallowness of Bro-Country, apparently they believe you don’t have to materially improve your music, you just have to say that you are, and country music media will lap it up. Unlike the dunces in Florida Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert who I’ve yet hear form a complete sentence, when you shove a microphone in the face of Sam Hunt, actual coherent language comes out, and apparently that feat is enough to woo country music’s literati into believing he has a legitimate place not just under the country music umbrella, but perched on the crown of it. Oh, and if you don’t see the country music merit Sam Hunt, it’s because you’re a closed-minded, shallow-listening purist who needs to remove the stick from your ass and understand that country music has evolved, yo.
In a barrage of recent press, Sam Hunt apologists pontificate how country music’s answer to the rise of EDM is not just legitimately qualified to be considered “country,” but that his music is of high quality, and is healthy for the genre. Excuse me, but can someone please ship the “quality” version of Hunt’s Montevallo to the Saving Country Music headquarters, because sweeping aside all of the arguments of what is country or not, “quality” is something that never ever crossed my mind when listening to that aggressively mind-numbing exploration of musical tropes and oft called-upon clichés machine gunned out in unmerciless succession.
It seems some of the theories of how excellent Sam Hunt’s album is are based off of the involvement of songwriter Shane McAnally—a critic’s superstar at the moment because of his work with Kacey Musgraves on many of her acclaimed songs. This was an important point made in a recent Entertainment Weekly interview with Sam Hunt, and in another piece by the great Barry Mazor (who has an excellent new book out about Ralph Peer) writing for Engine 145. “Hunt’s written the ten songs with the likes of Zach Crowell, Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally—the latter pair wrote ‘Merry Go Round’ with Kacey Musgraves, and Crowell and McAnally produced the set, keeping these particular pop country sounds tightly and appropriately tied to the songs’ meanings and levels of emotionality. Sam Hunt brings to all that the assured vocal finesse that can give ‘polished’ a good name.”
But what these taste makers are overlooking is that McAnally’s list of song credits has always been a mixed bag of semi-quality, yet still formulaic offerings for the mainstream, along with unapologetic commercial tunes. As Saving Country Music pointed out in September of 2013 in an article called Dallas Davidson & Country Music’s Narrowing Songwriting Consortium, “On the surface he seems to be a writer who works with more substance compared to Luke Laird and Dallas Davidson, but he’s also given credit for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Party People,’ and Lady Antebellum’s ultra-saccharine ‘Downtown.’”
No offense to Shane McAnally; it’s great that he’s been able to be a part of songs that at least attempt to instill some quality in the mainstream, but that shouldn’t allow him a lifelong hall pass from hearing about it when he helps to write rubbish, like Toby Keith’s “Drunk Americans” or Sam Hunt’s “Leave The Night On.” In my opinion McAnally has burned through his critical cred long ago, and at the least is on an even keel when looking critically at any future creative output, not grading him on a curve.
And besides, the songwriting is arguably where Sam Hunt and Montevallo suffer the most. While Hunt’s defenders focus on trying to explain why it is okay to call urban club music “country,” they also lean on the songwriting as the consensus builder of the album and what ultimately makes it “country.” Sam Hunt tells Entertainment Weekly, “I feel like they’re all country songs lyrically. They’re just stories about country life.” And Barry Mazor says Sam Hunt is “potent music that reflects the lives, responses and rhythms” of low-income country folks. But aside from the lyrics of “Break Up in a Small Town” which nestles down in what has to be the one of the most overused cliché tropes of modern country, I fail to see what is so country about these songs, while some of them venture so far into urban themes they could illustrate the absolute antithesis of country from a lyrical standpoint, punctuated by urban annunciations, artifacts, behavior, and jargon.
I truly question if I’m listening to the same damn album as these other writers. I hear Sam Hunt quoting Train’s “Drops of Jupiter,” and saying lines like “It’s still early out in Cali,” “Blame it on the bikinis, party girls, and martinis,” “Tanned legs in the nights, sliding out of the sea, stilettos at the crosswalk,” and “All dolled up at the bar, with debit cards, they don’t know how pretty they are
City girls, city girls.”
Doesn’t sound very country to me.
As Saving Country Music said in the review of Montevallo, it is “an excruciatingly-typical urban dance album that does Molly-laced grinds up against every single worn out trope of the velvet-roped, indirect-lighted, $15 cocktail club scene and the music thereof. Aside from the banjo in the song “House Party,” the steel guitar in “Single for the Summer,” and the sentiment in “Break Up In A Small Town,” this ten-song LP is a product of the pop/EDM world 100%.”
Barry Mazor also says that some critics “notice only that the subject territory seems similar to that of a lot of ‘Chart Country’ guyz lately, and the record’s tone on the more pop end of the spectrum…” He also goes on to call Sam Hunt and Montevallo, “fine country music.”
The Fader goes one step further, with writer Duncan Cooper penning a piece called Why Sam Hunt is Good for Country Music. In the article he contrasts the success of Sam Hunt with the rise of Sturgill Simpson. He also talks to Mr. Hunt, and even reads him a quote from the aforementioned SCM review of Montevallo that goes, “Nice guy and good songs or not, Sam Hunt isn’t stretching the ‘country’ term, he is a downright attacking it, and represents a fulfillment of the mono-genre that should be roundly rejected by country music or face potentially dire long-term consequences.”
Sam Hunt’s response is, “My intention was not to try to convince any skeptics that my music was country. It’s hard to understand everybody’s definition of what country music is, and mine may not fit the definition of my critics, so it’s kind of pointless for me to get involved in an argument where we just have different ideas about what country music is. In an argument like that, I think two people can be right.”
Sorry Sam, but you’re wrong, and you know it, and you know this entire project was hatched as a calculated marketing angle that has paid off in spades. Now you and others are trying to justify this pursuit because it clearly doesn’t fit within the country music panorama.
The Fader‘s Duncan Cooper does make a valiant attempt in a well-written piece to say that both traditional-sounding artists like Sturgill Simpson, and EDM artists like Sam Hunt, can be called country, and we can all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” under one big cohabited tent. However the truth is country music has become the veritable ground zero for the contentious culture war by taking musical elements and members of different segments in society and trying to scrunch them all together uncomfortably in one genre for the marketing expediency of major labels. There is absolutely nothing wrong with EDM music, or hip-hop, or rock, or pop, or even combining these styles when it is done with heart and taste. If Sam Hunt wants to make urban dance music, then hey, he should do that. But he should call it what it is and push it through the appropriate channels as opposed to being a catalyst for conflict by predicating his music on sonic misnomers that breed misunderstanding.
Music as a gateway drug only works if it accurately represents where you’re trying to lead listeners.
With all respect to The Fader and Duncan Cooper, he misidentifies the concerns of country traditionalists by saying, “Large corporations have seen reason to give supercountry a boost, and in doing so, have implicitly crowded out more traditional styles that might’ve been promoted instead, derailing hypothetical futures where roots-minded artists might, with equal exposure, attain equal audiences.”
This is where people who wish to defend the integrity of the term “country” and the genre it represents are commonly misunderstood. Sturgill Simpson doesn’t want to be signed to a major label or win big awards, and neither do his fans. They’re perfectly happy seeing him in packed clubs or small theaters, and fear the day they have to squint at him on a stadium stage. Sturgill doesn’t want to be associated with what is being played on the radio. There is no envy or jealousy whatsoever. Should Sturgill Simpson be recognized by the CMA Awards or be played on the radio? Of course he should, but if it is done by Sturgill Simpson compromising who he is instead of the industry truly recognizing what they’ve missed, there’s no value in it. They would rather stick to the independent world.
There is this diseased sentiment that is currently being carried by country that you should strive to be the biggest of everything, and that is how success is measured. That is why the country industry is pushing artists like Sam Hunt so strongly. But in striving to be the biggest, you detach yourself from your roots, you don’t grow sustainably, and holes begin to populate the integrity of what you’re doing, putting you on unsure footing and the path for an eventual fall from grace. See rock music.
Diversity is what makes music both beautiful and healthy, and a vibrant tapestry for consumers to explore and find fulfillment in ways that enrich their lives in a manner that speaks to them more personally based off their predisposed tendencies and cultural upbringing. And somehow when you come to the defense of this diversity, and challenge the idea that all music should sound different and be accurately classified to aid this exploratory endeavor, it is mischaracterized as closed-minded or being unwilling to evolve.
Before there was Sam Hunt and “We Can Leave The Night On,” there was Jerrod Niemann and “I Can Drink To That All Night.” Anyone heard from Jerrod Niemann lately? Anyone even keeping up on how his last two singles have been huge failures? He stretched the boundaries too far, and though he succeeded in garnering himself some short-term attention, in the end it wasn’t only unsustainable, it was ultimately detrimental to his career. And that is the same risk country music runs by betting its future on Sam Hunt, EDM, or anything else that resides out of country’s historical fold.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Sturgill Simpson has been hinting at the possibility of collaborating with electronic elements in his future projects.
Sam Hunt seems like a great guy and a smart cookie, and good for him. And if country critics or listeners find a guilty or an non-guilty pleasure in his music, who is it for me or anyone else to step in front of the enjoyment of that music? But the simple fact is he’s not country, and the CMA, radio station programmers, label executives, critics, and even fellow country stars should stand up for the integrity of the country genre, put forward and celebrate it’s virtues instead of the virtues of other genres, and be happy playing second fiddle to pop instead of trying to take over the popular music world by incorporating it.
Let’s celebrate the diversity of music, not attempt to resolve it.
Defendants of the adverse trends corrupting mainstream country music will give you many reasons why the trends aren’t really adverse at all, including that if you don’t like the music, you should simply exercise your right to not listen, and that the music isn’t necessarily affecting behavior so in the end it’s harmless. But part of the problem with popular country music these days is that it is so effusive throughout society. You turn on a college football game or watch a wrestling broadcast, and there Florida Georgia Line is singing the intro or taking you into a commercial break. Country is now the most popular genre of American music, meaning it’s being piped into grocery stores, being played at schools, and is ever-present in cars being driven by moms and dads all across the country as their kids sit in the back seat soaking it all up and singing along to catchy songs with simplistic rhythms and repetitive themes perfect for getting stuck in the heads of youngsters.
Compounding the problem is that just a few short years ago, country was one of the safest places on the radio dial for parents with small kids in the car. Think about the “soccer mom” effect that country music was cultivating in the late oughts, when artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts were dominating the country airwaves. Country radio was full of fluffy pop country songs that parents could feel fine, if not proud of playing in front of their kids compared to the filth pervading Top 40 radio at the time.
Now the entire radio field has been reversed, even though parent’s presets may still be on the country station. Country is where the perverse sentiments of popular culture have come to roost, and the endless droning in songs about drinking, drug use, materialism, and misogynistic views towards women are nearly required to get your music at the top of the country charts. It’s been theorized by Saving Country Music that part of the reason for this trend is a backlash from the mid-00′s when the rising sentiment became that country music was becoming woosified. That’s when you had artists like Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and then later Brantley Gilbert and Florida Georgia Line beginning their ascent, purposely focusing on many non family-friendly themes and constantly trying to prove how country they were in their lyrics.
However we got here, country music is now a haven for filth on the radio, easily giving pop and even hip-hop stations a run for their money. And as mom and dad find their own personal preference on the country station, the themes in the music get incessantly pumped into the young skulls riding in booster chairs and holding sippy cups in the back seat. It’s not that drinking themes haven’t always been present in country—you could argue they’re one of the foundations of the genre. It’s more about who they’re being played to and in front of, and how these themes are being portrayed (glamorous instead of cautionary). Even if you choose to avoid the music yourself, you can’t help but worry how it is affecting society as a whole when so many young people are being subjected to this music.
This was illustrated just about perfectly on Friday (11-21) by CBS Evening News reporter Steve Hartman when he took a deeper look into how his two young kids were computing the lyrics of country songs in their developing brains as they sat and listened to popular country music in the family motor carriage.
Steve Hartman’s conclusion? “I’ve got some sobering news — Nashville is alcohol-poisoning the minds of our young people,” he says in his report.
Hartman goes on to illustrate just how deeply popular country’s drinking themes have burrowed into his two son’s brains as they recite titles and lyrics to popular country songs effortlessly. Hartman turns his blame to Kix Brooks, the host of the syndicated American Country Countdown, where apparently the majority of the Hartman kids’ exposure to popular country music comes from as they listen to the weekly show on the way to swimming lessons. So papa Hartman took the kids to Kix Brooks’ studio and asked the man himself what he thought about the trend of drinking songs in country, and Kix initially drew a blank, illustrating the sort of “deer in headlights” moment many parents feel when faced with the reality that what their kids are listening to might affect them adversely in the future.
Reporter Steve Hartman did a good job of explaining how kids listening to popular country songs can be a good teaching opportunity for parents to explain the ideas behind responsible drinking, etc., but it may be a little too much to expect this from most busy parents who listen to popular country song’s party themes as their own form of escapism. And as Hartman says, these lessons were something he was hoping to avoid until “after 1st grade.”
And Steve Hartman can’t be painted as some modern country hater or alarmist. After all, he was voluntarily listening to the American Country Countdown himself, and many in the industry, including Big Machine Label Group CEO Scott Borchetta have seen their own dilemma with so many drinking songs, saying in December of 2013, “Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here. 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.”
Of course all of this is anecdotal. There’s no direct data corroborating that five-year-old’s are hitting the sauce too early because they listened to Little Big Town’s “Day Drinking.” But it does illustrate how when people show concern for the themes of country songs, even if they’re not inclined to listen themselves, they’re concerned that it could be having adverse effects on society as a whole. Like teachers in a madras, with a lack of variety, these popular country songs drive home the same themes over and over until it can be recited effortlessly by impressionable minds. It also make one wonder if the underlying reason is to make young consumers for country’s principal advertisers, like the Joe Camel effect of 2014.
Hartman’s report only deals with the drinking aspect of popular country songs, but really you could do a similar experiment dealing with sexual themes, possibly with very young female listeners. This all doesn’t mean these songs are patently evil. Music made for adults who (hypothetically) have the ability to rationalize what they’re listening to and not let it affect them adversely is fine. But just like drinking itself, the music should be consumed by an age-appropriate audience, and as with all things, in moderation. However mainstream country at the moment is on the drinking song binge of its life, even if the substance of the songs is slowly improving, and the question remains if it’s having an effect on the behavior of listeners, or if it will shape the behavior of listeners in the future.
Saving Country Music’s 2013 Album of the Year was not Jason Isbell’s breathtaking Southeastern, or Sturgill Simpson’s breakout High Top Mountain, but the comeback record from the Latin-inspired Raul Malo and The Mavericks called In Time. The reason was because in Saving Country Music’s esteemed judgement, no other record in 2013 afforded a much musical enjoyment as The Mavericks’ first studio effort in a decade.
Now The Mavericks have announced that they’ve been in the studio again and will release the followup to In Time called Mono on February 17th, 2015. The band made the announcement while performing at the Grand Ole Opry on November 18th. Like their previous album, it will be released by the Valory Music Group, a division of Big Machine Records. Yes, the same label of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, and Brantley Gilbert. “You know, they did right by us,” Raul Malo tells Rolling Stone. “Heck, they let us make a record at this stage. I know people probably have a hard time imagining this, but it’s not the easiest thing to get these days, to be able to make records and have a record contract.”
However The Mavericks will be moving forward down a man. Robert Reynolds is taking some time off to attend to his ailing wife Angie Crabtree Reynolds who is battling Cancer. That leaves the core of The Mavericks as singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Malo, lead guitarist Eddie Perez (guitar player for Dwight Yoakam & others), drummer Paul Deakin, and Jerry Dale McFadden on keys. The band will also be embarking on a world tour around Mono‘s release (SEE DATES).
Hey Yeah, Kix Brooks My Man!
Actually Sorry Kix, But We Just Decided…
The only thing worse than a country music awards show is four of them. It feels like these annual earaches are multiplying like a pestilence in country music and the music world beyond, and now we have yet another machination of forced television pageantry to contend with. Say hello to the “American Country Countdown Awards”—the Busch League of country music award shows, and the replacement of the now apparently defunct “American Country Awards.” Yeah, sorry all you previous ACA winners, but it looks like those trophies are being rendered even more meaningless than they were before.
Since the ACA Awards were fabricated out of thin air by FOX to screw with the other networks who carry legitimate country awards shows with actual history, the show has featured B-level country talent, bad sound and performances, forced gratitude by award recipients, shitty hosts (aside from Kristin Chenoweth, she kicked ass in her own perky way), and a general low production-value presentation. They hope to change that all this year by bringing Dick Clark Productions in the mix—the same brain trust behind the ACM’s, or Academy of Country Music Awards, which would seem like natural competition, but what do I know?
One thing that apparently won’t change from the ACA’s to the American Country Countdown Awards is their history of shafting country music’s female artists. In 2011 the show ran down the 10 greatest “Artists of the Decade” and didn’t include even one female performer. Not even one out of the ten spots they had to fill. And this year in typical ACA, or ACCA (is that right?) form, there are no female nominees for their Song of the Year, no female nominees for “Digital” Song of the Year (like this deserves its own category), no female nominees for Breakthrough Artist of the Year, and no female nominees for Artist of the Year (though Lady Antebellum is somehow gerrymandered in there and is 1/3rd frau). Miranda Lambert’s Platinum is the only female Album of the Year nominee as well.
Oh and get this: Aside from the Breakthrough Artist of the Year category, the winners are chosen by aggregating airplay and touring stats from Soundscan and Mediabase and such, so pretty much anyone can sit there with a calculator and figure out who the winners are going to be before the first joke from hosts Florida Georgia Line falls flat. Watching those flunkies up there trying to read off a teleprompter might be the best entertainment all night. Kix Brooks was supposed to host the thing because he’s the American Country Countdown guy, but he’s all old and shit so let’s act like he doesn’t exist come TV time. Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert, and the FGL boys are also scheduled to spare the crowd to death with performances. It’s all happening on December 15th at 8 PM Eastern if you want to tune in while wrapping presents to laugh your ass off.
Here’s their stupid nominees. Get and extra chuckle off the “Song of the Year” contenders. Maybe Saving Country Music will do a live blog if I’m bored.
Artist of the Year
- Jason Aldean
- Luke Bryan
- Florida Georgia Line
- Lady Antebellum
- Blake Shelton
Male Vocalist of the Year
- Jason Aldean
- Dierks Bentley
- Luke Bryan
- Randy Houser
- Blake Shelton
Female Vocalist of the Year
- Danielle Bradbery
- Miranda Lambert
- Cassadee Pope
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
Album of the Year
- Crash My Party, Luke Bryan
- The Outsiders, Eric Church
- Here’s To The Good Times, Florida Georgia Line
- Just As I Am, Brantley Gilbert
- Platinum, Miranda Lambert
Song of the Year
- “When She Says Baby,” Jason Aldean
- “Beat of the Music,” Brett Eldredge
- “Lettin’ the Night Roll,” Justin Moore
- “Drink To That All Night,” Jerrod Niemann
- “Chillin’ It,” Cole Swindell
Breakthrough Artist of the Year
- Brett Eldredge
- Tyler Farr
- Kip Moore
- Thomas Rhett
- Cole Swindell
Group/Duo of the Year
- The Band Perry
- Eli Young Band
- Florida Georgia Line
- Lady Antebellum
- Zac Brown Band
Collaboration of the Year
- “This Is How We Roll,” Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan
- “Small Town Throwdown,” Brantley Gilbert featuring Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett
- “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s,” Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill
- “My Eyes,” Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Sebastian
- “We Were Us,” Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert
Digital Song of the Year
- “Burnin’ It Down,” Jason Aldean
- “Drink A Beer,” Luke Bryan
- “Play It Again,” Luke Bryan
- “Dirt,” Florida Georgia Line
- “This Is How We Roll,” Florida Georgia Line featuring Luke Bryan
Have you ever wondered who actually listens to those awful songs they play on pop country radio? Here are the six primary Archetypes, or as Music Row refers to them, the “target demographics” that make up the audience of the pop country world.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a revised version of the original 6 Pop Country Archetypes published in 2011. The new version takes into consideration country music’s changing demographics. Basically, pop country has become even more of a bastion for sexism and troglodytes.
The Objectified Pop Country Girl
She thinks being condescended by country’s hot young Bro-Country stars is sexy. She used to like female country artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, but now she is mostly obsessed with male singers, and bases who her favorite acts are at any given time strictly off of who is the hottest. Shirt tied in the front, daisy dukes, boots, bronzer, blonde or heavily-highlighted hair under a cheap Panama Jack straw cowboy hat, she’s an automaton of patriarchal rule wanting to present herself as the perfect country girl to be talked down to just like the ones portrayed in Bro-Country songs. Technologically inept and “so totally going” to every mainstream country concert that comes through town, she is the economic catalyst still keeping corporate country alive by buying deluxe edition CD’s and $350.00 front row tickets on the secondary market. She lives to put her hands in the air and scream when the band tells her to. She won’t dance with you at the honky tonk, but as soon as the DJ starts playing hip-hop, she’s out with her seven friends in the center of the dance floor, twerking and taking selfies. Her face is buried in her phone.
Tight spandex-blended T-shirt, designer jeans, backwards baseball cap, and a Medusa of wallet chains clanking from his waist, he’s the bullseye of Music Row’s target demographic. Those rips in his jeans didn’t come from running barbed wire, but a 70-year-old Laotian woman working at an Armani factory making .36 cents an hour. On UFC stats and Florida Georgia Line lyrics, he’s a expert. He shaves his testicles so his panty-cut underwear won’t chafe, and he treats women like objects. He likes to listen to laundry list country songs about dirt roads and pickup trucks, but his idea of “roughing it” is not dousing himself in Axe body spray before hitting his suburb’s corporate country bar. Don’t mess with him or his frat buddies or they’ll call you a fag right before vomiting in the bushes. He wants to show you his tribal tattoos.
Morbidly obese, woefully unemployed, and draped in whatever his local Wal-Mart stocks in XXXL, he thinks he’s a gangster, but instead he’s just an overweight loser land locked in a small town in America’s breadbasket. If you don’t like Big Smo or Bubba Sparxxx, you’re clearly a dumb, city-dwelling Yankee liberal who drives a Prius and doesn’t get what it’s like down in the South. He got a title loan on his 1994 Grand Am so he could get a tattoo of an alien smoking a joint on his neck. He would move to a bigger city, but he doesn’t have the gas money to even make it to the county seat, and besides, the real gangsters would kick his ass within five minutes. He likes to snort Dr. Scholls foot powder and pretend it’s cocaine because he can’t afford meth. He knows a guy in LA that he sent his demo to, and once he hits it big, he’s getting the hell out of this town. He knocked up some girl that works at Dairy Queen just so he could bitch to his friends about his “baby mama drama.” His problems are everyone else’s fault.
The Red-Blooded ‘Merican
He can’t wait for Armageddon to come so he can start mowing down Muslims unilaterally with his stockpile of guns and ammunition hoarded before the Obama Administration makes all guns illegal and enacts Sharia Law. You’re damn right he likes Toby Keith, and only REAL country like Justin Moore and Jason Aldean. Any opinion that is in opposition to his will be spun into an insult to American troops in combat. He swears he knew the Dixie Chicks were commies way before everyone else did, but he had the plump one sign his Stetson in Sharpie in 2001 (he keeps it hidden in the bottom shelf of his gun safe). He’ll shoot at you if any portion of your tire touches his property line when you’re making a U-turn out on the highway, and if you’re one of them towel-heads, he’ll shoot to kill. He thinks Garth-era printed button up collared shirts are still hip.
The Adult Contemporary Divorcee
Three grown kids, thrice divorced, she’ll elbow a legion of glitter-faced pop country girls out of her way to get eye level with Luke Bryan’s crotch as he does “The Move” on the edge of the concert runway, hoping he waxes out yet again and her ample bosom pads his gorgeous fall. Fueled by boxed wine and Lean Cuisine, the older men of mainstream country such as Tim McGraw and Keith Urban make up the cast of her sultry romance novel-style fantasies that she lives out during elongated bubble baths and bunkerings in her queen-sized bed with bon bons and ice cream pints. Celebrity gossip that surrounds her favorite country stars fuels her obsession, especially stories of heartfelt Cancer deeds and kindness towards animals, reinforcing her misguided view that these artists are altruistic heroes as opposed to plastic personas making calculated publicity stunts. She obsessively posts pictures of her cats/dogs on social media and lives in a mess of animal hair.
The Windshield Cowboy
Always sporting a brand spanking new F-250 truck or bigger, he needs this heavy equipment as a middle management quality control paper pusher in a cubicle farm located in white flight Suburbia. He listens to songs about dirt roads, but’ll be damned if he takes his baby off the blacktop and gets a brush scratch in the paint. Similar politics and mindset to The Red Blooded ‘Merican, but instead of spending his weekends target practicing, he’s towing his bass boat, ATV’s, jet skis, or other recreational vehicles to the lake. Similar to the The Wallet Chain Douchewad, his material objects mean everything to him. He believes owning a truck is a validation of manhood, and whoever is in that rice burner in front of him is ignorant and weak and better get the hell out of his way. He’d like you to think he owns a ranch, but a rancher’s wage wouldn’t even pay his truck’s interest. No, he cannot use his truck to help you move next weekend, he has to wash his truck. He likes songs about trucks.
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Turnabout is fair play, so a revised version of The 6 “Other” Country Archetypes is on the way.
“You can paint a wall green and call it blue, but it’s clearly not blue. That would go over badly, because people know. When people trust you, they believe you’re investing them with a piece of your life—and their lives in turn, so you want to keep that trust at every level.”
No this isn’t some illumination by a country music purist criticizing the excessive use of the term “country” these days to describe what is really pop, rap, rock, or some other form of music. These are the sage words from none other than Taylor Swift of why she decided to call her new album 1989 pop instead of country.
Taylor Swift went on to say, “So, it felt like it was important to tell people what  was…I don’t really think people were surprised I made a pop album; I think they were surprised I was honest about it.”
Contrast this with Sam Hunt, and his new album Montevallo. Forget all of the tired arguments about what is country and what is pop, and how pop has always been a part of country. All of that goes without saying when broaching discussions on acts like Luke Bryan or Florida Georgia Line, to the point of calling them not country is as cliché as their vacuous laundry list lyrics. But this Sam Hunt business enters an entirely new stratosphere of “country” term-perversion.
In a nutshell, Sam Hunt and Montevallo are not country, and this goes beyond opinion. So what that a couple of songs feature a banjo or a steel guitar. This arguably makes the offense even worse because it proves they know they’re trying to put one over on consumers. For every element someone presents to claim this album is country, I can present fifteen that prove it patently isn’t. And it’s not really even close.
Montevallo is country music in marketing only. This is EDM/pop. So the next question is, where is the label MCA Nashville in all of this, and the Country Music Association? Don’t they have a stake in making sure at least some control is levied and boundaries set around what country music actually is? Where are the radio programmers putting up the stop sign, protecting the integrity of the genre? How about Billboard who is including Sam Hunt’s albums and songs in their country charts?
At the moment, Sam Hunt’s Montevallo album bests all other country albums, sitting at #1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart for its debut week. His lead single “Leave The Night On” is #1 on the Country Airplay chart, meaning no song was played more on country radio in the last week. And it is also #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, meaning overall it’s received more attention than any other song by radio and consumers. There was barely time to pay attention to Hunt’s X2C EP released in August before his full-length was announced to take advantage of his rapidly-rising demand. This is not Jerrod Niemann striking out with a gimmicky EDM song as the last dying gasp of a sputtering career, this is an artist poised to become a country music mega-star. But he’s not country, in really any capacity.
Montevallo is an excruciatingly-typical urban dance album that does Molly-laced grinds up against every single worn out trope of the velvet-roped, indirect-lighted, $15 cocktail club scene and the music thereof. Aside from the banjo in the song “House Party,” the steel guitar in “Single for the Summer,” and the sentiment in “Break Up In A Small Town,” this ten-song LP is a product of the pop/EDM world 100%.
This is the type of gaming of the country music term that has become typical over the past couple of years. Label managers looks for what they perceive as vacancies in the marketplace and interject manufactured stars to fill them. Hey, claiming rap and rock as country has been quite lucrative, so why not just launch your own EDM star and make believe it’s organic and erudite for the genre. Sam Hunt showed up into Nashville as a songwriter, and not a terrible one at that. But his most valuable asset revealed itself to be a willingness to make himself a blob of silly putty for marketing executives to fashion into whatever monster they so choose. Not that Sam doesn’t have his own motivations of money and stardom, or even sonic inspirations to take his music in this direction. If Sam Hunt’s music can make it in country, literally any type of music that exists on the planet can, and be successful enough where it tops the charts. This is not hyperbole. This is proven by Sam Hunt’s success.
Montevallo sits down in a space occupied by young white affluent to semi-affluent Americans that frequent the glitzy clubs of the shallow “see and be seen” world. Its lack of breadth and unifying emotional sentiments are striking. The songs “Break Up In A Small Town” and “Take Your Time” make use of the awful trend in EDM of talking verses in hushed tones, and transitioning over to heavily-infused Auto-Tuned singing towards the end. Jealousy and other signifiers of the under-maturated late-teen, early 20-something world are big players on Montevallo in songs like “Ex to See” and “Make You Miss Me,” while drum machines, DJ scratches, and synthesized accoutrements are featured unflinchingly. Though these things may be new to country, they come across as typical, if not tired elements of the EDM/dance world that has generally moved on to more complicated structures. Montevallo feels dated and unimaginative even in its native genre.
About the only saving grace of Sam Hunt and Montevallo is that the dude genuinely does not seem like the type of waste of human flesh that some of pop country’s other worst offenders embody. Sam Hunt seems more misguided. Similarly, a lot of these songs aren’t heavily-offensive to the ear on their own. The only reason to call them offensive is because they’re being called country—the same conundrum cast against Taylor Swift early in her career. The other question is why a 29-year-old is singing about the emblematic behavior of young adults just now exploring their legal right to drink?
Sam Hunt and Montavello symbolize nothing less than a dangerous, bordering on cataclysmic paradigm for country music where the genre could lose its identity long-term, rendering its autonomy and the entire meaning of “country” inert. Nice guy and good songs or not, Sam Hunt isn’t stretching the “Country” term, he is a downright attacking it, and represents a fulfillment of the mono-genre that should be roundly rejected by country music or face potentially dire long-term consequences.
Two Guns Way Down.
Professed Christians Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, known collectively as the pop country mega duo Florida Georgia Line have more euphemistic language on their new album Anything Goes than a salty-mouthed locker room. If you’ve been wondering what the hell they actually mean when they sing lines like, “Stick the pink umbrella in your drink,” then here are some useful translations of Florida Georgia Line’s most sexually-charged lines.
As Saving Country Music explained while declaring Anything Goes the worst album ever, “Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only.” So please understand if certain translations could be interpreted a different way.
To save virgin eyes, medical terms have been used where possible. But of course, some language can only be properly translated by using other slang words.
And to be fair, sexual innuendo has been used in country music from very early on to circumvent the genre’s rigid moral codes, and sometimes to instill smart wit in the lyricism. However Florida Georgia Line’s poor use of innuendo should not be compared to these proud traditions.
FGL: “I sit you up on the kitchen sink. Stick the pink umbrella in your drink.”
Translation: “I sit you up on the kitchen sink. Stick my penis in your vagina.”
This line from Florida Georgia Line’s song “Sun Daze” has to be the most egregious innuendo of the entire project, not particularly well-veiled, and diseased in so many ways. The key to its sexual pervertedness is the use of “the” in the second line instead of “a.” If the line had been, “Stick a pink umbrella in your drink,” then it could have been passed off as more literal, and in turn would have made the innuendo more effective. But using “the” makes no mistake about what is being implied (keep it simple for FGL fans, I guess).
Even if you’re a fan of perverted innuendo, there still seems to be something universally unhealthy about alluding to male genitalia as “pink” anything, though admittedly the hue is somewhat accurate. Even more troubling is that a female was in on the “Sun Daze” songwriting session in the person of Sarah Buxton. One would have thought she would have put the stop sign up on this one, but no dice.
FGL: “Good Good” (title of third song on Anything Goes)
Translation: “Favorable Pussy” (slang for female genitals)
Florida Georgia Line uses the word “good” on Anything Goes 25 times, including multiple times as “good good.” The only word they use more is “girl”—used a whopping 42 times.
According to the Urban Dictionary, using the word “good” twice in succession means, “High quality kegel muscles that keep your significant other coming back and not looking for other people to satisfy their needs.” The example the Urban Dictionary uses is “So I’ve been dating this guy for three weeks, and yesterday he told me he loved me. I got that Good Good.”
Using “good good” as a euphemism for “pussy” is illustrated in the song by Ashanti also called “Good Good.”
When my man leave the house, I know he’s comin’ right back
I got that good good, I got that good good
No matter how much he might try to act, he know just where it’s at
I got that good good, I got that good good
I put it on him right, I do it every night
I leave him sittin’ mouth open like wheww
So I don’t worry bout nobody takin’ mine
Cause I know just the right thing to do (I got that good good)
When Tyler Hubbard was asked what “good good” meant by The National Post, he said, “It’s just all over the album, it’s fun, it’s words that nobody’s ever said before.”
FGL: “And let me stay inside your drink.”
Translation: “And let me keep my penis in your vagina.”
From the song “Bumpin’ The Night” (which is innuendo itself), this line is yet another illustration of the adolescent mindset Florida Georgia Line has towards the human sexual anatomy.
FGL: “There it is, yeah, that’s the sweet spot. Blow your smoke, I’m gonna breathe it in, girl.”
Translation: “You have found the optimum erogenous zone. Continue to perform oral sex on me.“
From the song with the divine title “Angel.” It’s the song built from the unforgivable cliché, “Did it hurt when you fell from the sky?” Incidentally, Florida Georgia Line says the word “angel” 21 times on Anything Goes.
Other Potential/Untranslatable Innuendos
“Put a little shine on the vinyl seat.”
“If you want you can pet on my Harley.”
“Flow you the trouble like a champagne bubble, sayin’”
A Proper Use of Sexual Innuendo in Country Music:
This story has been updated (see below).
The potential sale of the Big Machine Label Group—home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brantley Gilbert, and many more—just got a whole lot more interesting, and now has sprouted tentacles that could have major implications across the entire music landscape as Taylor Swift has unexpectedly pulled her complete catalog from Spotify.
Murmurings of an impending Big Machine sale first surfaced in a Hits Daily Double column posted on October 23rd, and were expounded upon by Saving Country Music on October 27th. Subsequently The New York Post released a story on November 1st reinforcing the presence of behind-the-scenes chatter on an impending sale. Reports have Big Machine President and CEO Scott Borchetta asking $200 million for the label group that includes the subsidiary labels Valory Music, NASH Icon, and joint ventures with Universal Republic Records, Republic Records Nashville and Dot Records. Big Machine is an independent label distributed by Universal Music Group—one of the parties rumored to be interested in purchasing the star heavy label.
From the beginning, the lynchpin of any deal has been centered around superstar Taylor Swift who has one more album to release with Big Machine before the expiration of her contract. Making matters that much more intriguing, and potentially making the value of Big Machine never greater, is the development that Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 released on October 27th has become nothing short of a historic commercial blockbuster. Preliminary sales numbers have 1989 selling 1.3 million copies in its first week—the best one week sales performance for any album since Eminem’s The Eminem Show released in May of 2002. When taking into account the flight from physical sales and now even digital downloads in the face of streaming services such as Spotify, this sales feat is nothing short of miraculous.
One of the factors being given credit for Taylor Swift’s tour de force in sales is the Spotify embargo she usually puts on her releases for the first 60 days to stimulate more album sales. Scott Borchetta told Rolling Stone near the release of Taylor Swift’s Red in 2012. “Why shouldn’t we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we’re done.”
Scott Borchetta had mostly held pat to this Spotify approach until recently. Releases by other Big Machine artists in the last few months such as Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line were released straight to Spotify, though Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am released in May did not, holding to the 60 day embargo. Sales for Brantely’s album where much higher than most industry experts expected, and the album has now sold over 600,000 copies—this from an artist who is not considered to be on country music’s top tier.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 did not appear on Spotify upon release, though the lead single “Shake It Off” was available. Then the shocking news came down Monday morning that Taylor Swift’s entire discography was pulled from the Spotify network, singles and all.
“We love Taylor Swift, and our more than 40 million users love her even more,” Spotify posted Monday morning after her music disappeared. “We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone. We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.”
Billboard on Monday also posted quotes from a Spotify employee with “intimate knowledge of the situation” saying, “This came as a complete surprise. Big Machine is in the process of selling itself, and that can’t be forgotten here. [They're looking to] increase the multiple for the sale of that company. Scott Borchetta is a very old-school thinker. He’s wrong.”
However there may be an element of spin going on from Spotify, or multiple elements of spin. Though Spotify is trying to link the Big Machine sale to Taylor Swift pulling her music, every other Big Machine artist still has all of their music available through the streaming service.
Also in Spotify’s official comments, they speak more specifically about the philosophical and financial dilemma Spotify is posing to the music industry at large. “We believe…artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.” Why would Spotify bring up this point if the concern was the Big Machine sale and not Swift seeing the financial benefit for herself and other artists at large by exiting the streamer? Also, is Scott Borchetta though to be an “old-school thinker”? Most in the industry consider Borchetta the opposite, and it very well could have been Swift’s decision, not Borchetta’s, to pull the catalog from Spotify.
In a Taylor Swift op-ed from the Wall Street Journal posted in July, she said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
The impact of Taylor Swift removing her music from Spotify, especially after she just revealed herself as the biggest artist of the last decade-plus and possibly of a generation, cannot be overstated. This could be the moment of leadership music has been waiting for that spurs other artists to stand up to the incremental loss of revenue presented by the streaming paradigm, and it could also have a big impact on Spotify’s standing in the marketplace. Or it could simply mean you can’t stream Swift on Spotify. Either way, the implications of Swift’s decision should be watched very closely, and could have big reverberations throughout music.
Whether the Spotify decision is linked at all to Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine sale is difficult to determine without access to the specifics of any deal. But to be sure, 1989‘s resounding commercial success is necessitating a shift of perspective on how music is sold in America, and the standing of Big Machine Records as one of the most important and influential labels in music today.
Meanwhile streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and others continue to have issues showing how their business model can become profitable, with some looking to negotiate the royalties paid to artists down even more.
***UPDATE (11-4): According to Scott Borchetta of the Big Machine Label Group, the company is not up for sale. Borchetta told All Access, “If you notice, any time we put a Taylor album out this little item comes up again. We are not for sale, but Taylor’s great new album ‘1989’ is!” Of course, companies are notorious for refuting any sale rumors … until they eventually sell. So this should be taken into consideration. As should the fact that if it is true that Big Machine is not up for sale, this would refute the Spotify insider who told Billboard the Big Machine sale has to do with Swift pulling her music.
Raleigh, North Carolina-based country rock band American Aquarium, and specifically their frontman, singer, and principal songwriter BJ Barham have been known to twist off about the state of country music upon occasion, both online and on stage. Such was the case on Tuesday (10-28) when the band reminisced about the time one of today’s biggest pop country acts actually opened for them during their 8-year run of playing some 300 club shows a year.
“Three years ago, to the day, Florida Georgia Line opened up for us in Jacksonville, FL with their same brand of bro country that is all over the radio today,” the band posted on their Facebook page. “They now have millions of fans, tons of money and all the cut off bedazzled denim vests anyone could ask for. At least we still have our self respect. Here’s to the working bands out there that never settle. Good on ya.”
Though you would think that most of the fans of American Aquarium would carry similar sentiments about Bro-Country as they do, apparently multiple people took exception, which stimulated American Aquarium to double down on their ideas of what is country and what isn’t, and the right way to make it to the top.
To the people bitching about the previous post…
1) I am surprised you are into what we do if you are taking up for this garbage on the radio, but to each his/her own.
2)You are right, I AM jealous of their success. Every band wants to be big. Every band wants to make a living. Every band wants to live the dream. But I want my fame to come from earning people’s respect, not it being handed to me. I want to bust my ass every single day and know that I earned it. I want to play music with my best friends, not some band that my label put together for me. I want to write my own songs. I want to sing my own songs. I want to know that 6 guys stood in a room with microphones and performed every single note you hear, together…as a band. A real band. But jealousy is not the only emotion. I’m also…
-Sad that this is what “country” music has been reduced to. One of the greatest American art forms has been reduced to garbage. No attention to detail. No honesty. No soul.
-Angry that when I tell people that I play country music and this is the first thing that comes to their mind. Angry that America has accepted this. Angry that these “songwriters” do it for the dollar, instead of the integrity.
-Afraid that its only going to get worse. If fans of country music keep letting the powers that be lower your standards, IT WILL become more and more laughable. As long as they know that you will buy it, they will keep dumbing you down. Scares the shit out of me.
But its not all negativity. I’m also…
-Happy that folks like Jason Isbell, John Moreland, Josh Ritter, Patterson Hood, Ben Nichols, Cory Branan, Sturgill Simpson, Evan Felker, Justin Townes Earle, Joe Pug, and many, many more folks are keeping a real, sacred tradition alive. Writing, playing and singing good songs that matter. That will stand the test of time. That will not go in and out of style, but will always fit, because I truly believe that is what honest music does. It transcends time, trends and everything else.
…and last but not least, I am excited that I get to be a part of the solution, and not the problem.
American Aquarium boasts a wide array of influences, and similarly have pulled from various sectors of the music world to form their loyal fan base, including country, Americana, and Southern rock. They’re also considered honorary members of the Texas country music scene. Jason Isbell produced their last record, the critically-acclaimed Burn.Flicker.Die.
And apparently Florida Georgia Line is not the only Bro-Country outfit that opened for the band and went on to big fame. Former Survivor contestant, “Cruise” co-writer, and rising Bro-Country star Chase Rice also once kept the stage warm for them as can be heard in the following clip of BJ Barham from an American Aquarium show.
Here’s another story from Jacksonville, FL:
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