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Time was in country music when the Southern drawl was going the way of the dinosaur. I know, strange to think because of how pronounced Southern accents are today and since they’re usually considered part and parcel with country music. But in the mid to late 00′s when soccer moms were country’s most coveted demographic and artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts were ruling the roost, the Southern accent began to lose its prominence and be seen as unsavory by an industry trying to soften its image and appeal more to a pop-oriented crowd. Strong Southern accents were discouraged in country’s sippy cup era.
Nowadays it is a much different story. Southern twang is back in a big way baby, as bro-country dominates the format, and female performers try and turn up the sass to compete. As opposed to trying to apologize for their Southern roots, today’s country artists can’t shut the hell up about them, regularly reinforcing all things country in laundry list form with elongated drawls. This has seen the rise of the Southern accent once again, but along with it, questions about the authenticity of some of the performer’s twang.
Miranda Lambert, one of country’s leading ladies, seems to have the ability to accentuate or turn off her Southern drawl depending on the mood of the song she is singing. There is little doubt listening to the Lindale, TX native talk that her Southern accent is real. The question is if she enhances or diminishes it in an unnatural way when she sings, and if so, does that diminish the authenticity of her music or the performance?
Tyler Hubbard of the band Florida Georgia Line has one of the most pronounced Southern accents when singing of any popular country music artist today. From Monroe, GA, once again you just have to hear Tyler speak to know his Southern accent probably isn’t a put on. But is it unnaturally bolstered in Florida Georgia Line’s music? Interestingly enough, much has been made about the other member of the duo, Brian Kelley, not singing lead much at all. Whether it’s the way the songs were written or the way their producer (Joey Moi of Nickelback fame) arranged them, it was quickly identified that Tyler’s twang was the money maker, not Brian Kelley’s more normalized tone.
Big Machine artist Justin Moore from Arkansas may have the most accentuated Southern accent of them all, almost caricaturist compared to even some of his most twangy peers. Once again it makes one wonder if it’s faked until you hear him talk and his accent is just as pronounced, if not more than it is in his music. He would be an interesting person to ask about another concern facing the Southern twang, which is non Southerners all of a sudden sporting an accent once they get behind a microphone and start singing country music. This is exactly what radio station DJ Broadway from Country 92.5 in Connecticut did in a recent Justin Moore interview, and the conversation quickly veered toward how people think Justin Moore is sporting a fake twang.
“It seems like everyone, once they get to Nashville they have an accent, whether they’re from Michigan or Arkanasas, it doesn’t matter where they’re from,” Broadway observed to Justin Moore. “Does that drive you mad? Do you ever turn you head and go, ‘You were just talking to me, you’re from Michigan and that’s where you were born and all of a sudden you’ve got a Southern accent? Where did that come from?’”
Justin Moore replies, “People have said in my career that mine’s fake. But I mean, you and I have known each other for what, seven years or something? I mean I feel like going, ‘If you think I talk redneck, go hear my mom talk.’ I don’t have the time or the energy, or whatever has the thought process out there for people who have said that mine’s fake. Why in the world would I want to talk fake for the rest of my life?”
But a few will probably still believe that Justin Moore is faking it, probably because other performers without native accents will probably continue to employ it in their country music. Why? Because the Southern accent is a hot commodity in country music right now, and we can probably expect things to get even more twangy and drawn out from here.
Yeah, yeah, bro-country sucks. As satisfying as it is to finally see the rest of the American media waking up to a problem that had actually been gripping country music for half a decade before Vulture’s Jody Rosen unilaterally coined the ill-begotten “bro-country” term, it’s only because it has been festering now for so long and rising like spasmic bile up the charts that the stench has finally reached the noses of the country music and culture-wide literati that it can no longer be ignored.
Saving Country Music has been showing concern about laundry list /country checklist songs (the precursors to the “bro-country” term) for years. People say, “Complaints about country music, and what country music is have been happening ever since the beginning of the genre.” You’re damn right they have been, and they always will. Why? Because these complaints are predictable and inane? No, because country music is too damn important to the fabric of the American culture to just let it get trounced and run into the ground by anyone who decides to slap “country” on whatever musical concoction they’ve cooked up and want to peddle to the masses. The complaining about country music isn’t shrill commonplace whining that should be cast off as superfluous, it is vital, healthy dialogue about an American institution that an effort must be extended to care about and preserve to ensure its value and enjoyment for future generations.
And don’t tell me “Well there’s still great stuff out there. Let’s just focus on that.” That sentiment is elitist and selfish. Sure, we should focus on good stuff too, but everyone has a right to good music, and good music sounds better when it’s shared, so the fans of bro-country shouldn’t be ignored but converted, especially when so much good music doesn’t enjoy the support it needs to be sustainable, and needs more patrons if it is going to continue.
As for bro-country, it’s just the bad flavor of the month when you look at country music from a more broad perspective. It is just the boil indicative of more serious underlying issues that have set country music on a precarious course that yes, warrant all of the additional concern and hand-wringing about the direction of the genre and its potential demise.
Bro-country won’t be defeated by bitching about it or by trying to fight bro-country itself. There were fundamental issues with how country music and the rest of American culture was being governed that led to the phenomenon. So even if you clear up the boil of bro-country, it will only return or be replaced by something even more unwanted if you don’t fix the fundamental problems. That is why off-the-stage issues facing country music are so important to pay attention to and tackle.
Here are some of the causes of bro-country:
Billboard Chart Rules Changes
When Billboard changed its chart rules in October of 2012, especially concerning the rule that allowed “crossover” songs to be given extra credit by being played on pop radio, it put country music, and every non pop genre on poor footing for dealing with songs with pop radio potential. As Saving Country Music said at the time:
If Billboardâ€™s rules stay in place,the effects could be somewhere between dramatic and historic. The first and most obvious effect will be the new Billboard charts drastically favoring â€ścrossoverâ€ť country stars and other country stars with pop appeal …. A&R personnel at record labels big and small decide what singles get released to radio, what songs to promote, what artists to sign based on very close attention to charts such as Billboard. If â€ścrossoverâ€ť artists and songs are given a new advantage on the Billboard charts, its only a matter of time before labels and artists begin to produce more songs that will attain the crossover appeal to gain more chart traction.
This is exactly what we have seen by big bro-country acts like Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan. Bro-country singles rocket straight to the top of the charts and stay there, boosted by plays on pop radio, and downloads by pop consumers. This was evidenced most especially when Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise” became the longest-charting #1 song in the history of country music.
Label managers and artists see this success, and they start looking for similar songs, and starting signing comparable artists, and next thing you know you have artists like Cole Swindell and Chase Rice bolstering the bro-country ranks until bro-country positively dominates the entire format.
Lack of Education Funding
What are the earmarks of bro-country? A lack of depth in lyricism and melody. Since many Americans are no longer being educated not only in the fundamentals of the musical language, but for what to listen for in music, the growing appeal of mundane and culturally-deprived music should come as no surprise. But the benefits of music and fine art education go much farther than art itself. Study after study proves that music and art education helps students in other subjects, encourages the study and openness to new ideas and other cultures, and generally boosts intelligence. The lack of music education speaks to the root of why consumers find appeal in less complex, and less diverse music, but why they also don’t recognize the lack of diversity and choice the bro-country trend is creating.
Since 80% of all radio playlists in the United States match thanks to rabid radio consolidation into the hands of a few select companies, it has made country music and all American music susceptible to hyper-trends like bro-country. One or two big companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus flipping a switch can cause an entire cultural phenomenon. This was illustrated perfectly by the HereIt Blog .
Lack Of Female Representation in Positions of Power
Sheryl Crow was one of the first to broach this subject when she said to The Hollywood Reporter, “Iâ€™d just like to see more than three women get played at radio. And thatâ€™s not just because Iâ€™m a woman. I just feel like, gosh, a huge population of record buyers are women. Why arenâ€™t there women getting played at radio? Why arenâ€™t there more female program directors? Thereâ€™s, like, two! I donâ€™t understand it.â€ť
As Billboard later pointed out, “While in reality there are slightly more than two female programmers at country reporting stations, her point is valid. Women PDs represent just a tiny fraction of the whole. And the leadership issue extends well beyond radio: Women comprise just 15% of the CMA board of directors and 19% of the Academy of Country Music board. Only slightly better is the Country Radio Seminar board of directors, whose seven female members represent 21% of the overall board.”
The lack of female representation in the seats of power in country music have facilitated the sexist and condescending notions that bro-country symbolizes both in song and in cultural significance will little to no resistance.
Other Causes of Bro Country
â€˘ The Lack of a Country Music Talent Farm System
â€˘ The Myopic Focus of Country Music on Youth
â€˘ An Abandoning of Country Music Traditional Artists
â€˘ Tight Cut Male Jeans & The Mythical “Cuteness” of Luke Bryan’s Ass
Jake Owen, my man. You know I love you for calling out country that’s all about “fuckinâ€™ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that” and giving my man Tony Martinez a big break on your “Days of Gold” tour. But “Beachin’”? Really?
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. Kenny Chesney ruled this territory for years after kissing the rings of the Godfather Jimmy Buffett who then bestowed to Chesney the scepter of shitty beach songs which Chesney presided over for a good ten years. 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 makess Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Loretta Lynn.
And of course as one could anticipate, this song doesn’t really go anywhere. 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 CancĂşn. How did this thing crack the Top 5 on the country charts? About the only redeeming feature of “Beachin’” is the butt of the leading lady in the video. And guess who’s the producing mastermind behind “Beachin’”? Joey Moi, the architect of Nickelback and Florida Georgia Line.
I still don’t know what happened to Jake Owen’s other single “Days Of Gold”. It was pretty much terrible too, but at least it moved, had a rhythm, and was written by The Cadillac Three. There was something redeemable there beyond it being obvious bro-country pap, but somehow that one stalled at #19 on Billboard and was abandoned by his label, and this drivel is the one to become Jake’s big hit.
Come on Jake, leave the rapping to Kanye, the beach to The Beach Boys, and practice what you preach about delivering more substance to radio.
Two guns down.
Possible conclusions of the above video:
1) All a wet dream.
2) Girl gets mangled in a horrible car accident, resulting in an ultra-sappy love song.
3) Jake’s label doesn’t pony up to produce the next video because of budget cuts from the parent company.
Many of mainstream country’s big stars came to Nashville with the best of intentions. They had a sincere love of country music, a belly full of talent, and big hopes to make music their way and ascend the country music ladder with their integrity still in tact….
…and then the Music Row machine did it’s worst.
When you look back at some of the early songs, early albums, and even the early image of some of country’s biggest current stars, it can stimulate downright culture shock. Of course styles change naturally over time, but many of these artists came from small towns and had simple dreams. But the problem with money and fame is that you can always have more of it, and next thing you know, they become shells of their original selves.
Below are some illustrations, not necessarily listening suggestions, but examples of some of the dramatic changes we have seen in some of country music’s biggest artists since their start.
Blake Shelton – “Austin”
With long hair hanging down past his shoulders and a cowboy hat, Blake Shelton and his first single and first #1 hit “Austin” from 2001 seems light years away from the rapped verses and hip hop beat of “Boys ‘Round Here.” Not an exceptional song, but one that has a sincere story, steel guitar, and shows that Blake Shelton did have a soul once upon a time and didn’t mind singing a song for the “Old Farts & Jackasses.”
Luke Bryan – “I’ll Stay Me”
With his baseball cap facing the right way and a goofy smile, Luke Bryan from the small town of Leesburg, GAÂ made his way to Nashville, and after penning big songs for Travis Tritt and Billy Currington, signed with Capitol Records Nashville in 2007 and released an album called I’ll Stay Me. Yes, let’s not let the irony of that title escape us. Bryan wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album, compared to his latest album Crash My Party that has only two co-writes from Bryan in the entire 13 tracks. Though there is certainly the early leanings toward a laundry list style of lyricism on “I’ll Stay Me,” it also has a lot of sincerity and a pretty authentic country flavor.
Jason Aldean – “Amarillo Sky”
Before Jason Aldean became the mainstream champion for country rap with “Dirt Road Anthem” and became one of the Godfathers of laundry list country with its caricaturist portrayals of rural life, he put out a song called “Amarillo Sky” on his debut, self-titled album in 2005, releasing it as a single in 2006. Instead of clichĂ©s about dirt roads, beer, & trucks that mark Aldean’s current offerings, “Amarillo Sky” tells a pretty authentic story about the struggle of American farmers, while the video featuring real sons of farmers does it one better. The song was written in part by Big & Rich.
Jerrod Niemann – “Good Ride Cowboy”
Jerrod Niemann has become the poster boy for the gentrification of country music with his EDM-laced radio superhits like “Drink To That All Night”, but can you believe that he once co-penned a tribute to Chris LeDoux cut by Garth Brooks called “Good Ride Cowboy”? Neimann actually had Garth record three of his co-writes, and had Jamey Johnson and Neal McCory record his songs as well. “Good Ride Cowboy” wound up at #3 on the Billboard charts in 2005. Below Niemann can be seen sporting an actual cowboy hat instead of his signature club-hopping fedora. Where did you go wrong Jerrod?
Brantley Gilbert – “What’s Left of a Small Town”
When Brantley Gilbert started out in country music, you wouldn’t even be able to recognize him compared to today. Brantley Gilbert ver. 2014 is all attitude with his ball cap pulled down over his eyes, singing country rap songs in a complete vacuum of self-awareness, but as many long-time Gilbert fans can attest, back in the day he wrote and sang some very sincere country songs, while being known to pay homage to the roots by playing many country classics. His first album released in October of 2009 called Modern Day Prodigal Son gave many hints to the bro-country king Brantley would become, but it also had a few really sincere songs, including one called “What’s Left of a Small Town”.
Sugarland – “Tennessee”
Remember when Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles actually had a Southern accent, Kristian Bush had a cowboy hat instead of an outfit pattered off the leprechaun on the Lucky Charms box, and they had a third member that looked like a 40-something female volleyball coach? Yes, it was 2004, and light years away from “Stuck Like Glue.” Oh how I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during that uncomfortable meeting at Mercury Records when some suit demanded Jennifer lose her twang, and the band lose their third wheel.
Â Florida Georgia Line
….oops, they started bad and stayed there.
Redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy wanted to start his own festival, and that was the germination of the idea that bloomed into the inaugural Red Fest held Memorial Day weekend just south and east of Austin, TX at the Circuit of the Americas speedway—the only F1 racetrack in the United States. The sprawling complex built in 2012 includes a 3.4-mile, 20-turn racetrack with multiple grandstands and buildings, including a 14,000-capacity music amphitheater and 251-foot observation tower. This became the scene for the multi-faceted festival catering to country music-minded people of mostly the mainstream perspective, but with quite a few independent and up-and-coming bands and artists thrown into the lineup for good measure.
As new huge corporate festivals come online all across the country, Jeff Foxworthy’s idea was to make Red Fest more of a culturally-immersive experience to separate himself from the competition. Along with himself, he brought on Larry The Cable Guy, and the Duck Dynasty folks to give Red Fest a comedic wrinkle. Then strewn out across nine different areas surrounding the speedway, you could find a varied array of different activities, including an archery range, go-karts and racing simulators, dodgeball and volleyball courts, horseshoes and cornhole pits, a fully-complimented carnival midway, mechanical bulls, a military village housing charity booths and boot campaigns, and that’s just getting started. Even the most dedicated patron would have needed all three days of Red Fest to see and experience it all.
As for the music, the Red Fest lineup was built on good intentions. Big names like Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, and Lynyrd Skynyrd were billed alongside lesser-known bands from the local and national landscape like Hellbound Glory, The Whiskey Sisters, and Bri Bagwell. Think of it like the model the Stagecoach Festival in California has been using for the last few years: instead of segregating independent and mainstream music, integrating it. Yet at its heart, Red Fest was still very much a mainstream, corporate festival, built to cull every last dollar from super-consumer fans who pride themselves in working hard and spending hard.
Though asking $10 for a CD these days is apparently considered too much by many, the market can bear $4.00 for a bottle of water, $7.00 for a domestic beer, and $20.00 for parking, despite the Red Fest grounds being amongst vast tracks of Texas land with absolutely no premium on space.Â Ticket prices and booking fees, not album sales, are now what keeps the music industry’s coffers flush, so the entire festival experience is an exercise in wringing the consumer out of as much money as possible. Luckily, Red Fest patrons were blessed with pretty good weather over the weekend, so copious amounts egregiously-priced libations were not absolutely necessary (though many elected to over-hydrate anyway), and despite a few minor intermittent showers causing some to scurry for cover, clouds and cooling breezes kept temperatures very reasonable compared to how hot or stormy central Texas can be at the end of May.
When Red Fest let 6,000 free tickets go to military service members, it wasn’t just a sincere token of good will, it was a sign that the fest was going undersold, and they needed to get butts through the gates. Aside from the upper lawn of the amphitheater bowl, and the entire amphitheater area when the headliners like Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line took the stage, the crowd all weekend felt a little thin. The grounds either needed to be more compact, or have more people to fill them. The 1/4 mile trek from the heart of the fest to the other two stages was a little bit too much for your average patron to endure. So generally speaking, they didn’t explore the extremities of the fest unless it was for one of its extra-curricular features, or a band that they really wanted to see and already knew about, like Parmalee, Colt Ford, or Texas country star Granger Smith. Meanwhile worthy acts like The Derailers and The Whiskey Sisters from Austin, or out-of-towners like Hellbound Glory and Sundy Best played to thin crowds made up mostly of people who already knew about them, rendering the idea of turning new fans on to a different sound somewhat unfulfilled.
Nonetheless, some great music transpired at Red Fest, and not just for those that made an attempt to seek it out on the smaller stages. Kellie Pickler put on a great set, reprising many of her most popular songs, and playing some classics, including Loretta’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “White Lightning” for the large audience. The two-piece Sundy Best on the Natty Light side stage performed an extended medley of 80′s and 90′s pop tunes that included Fresh Price, the song “O.P.P.”, and The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. The rest of the set showcased their own songwriting, vacillating between fun-loving and sincere. Sundy Best needs to make up their mind if they want to be a party band, or a singer-songwriter showcase, but they’re hard not to like. Granger Smith proved that even the Texas country scene is capable of producing laundry list schock, despite how much of a guilty pleasure Earl Dibbles Jr. might be.
The Whiskey Sisters on the smallest Redfest Showcase stage converted from an Airstream trailer showed why they’re one of the best bands in Austin to see live, and Hellbound Glory put on a rowdy set, almost as if they were looking to define the extreme of the proceedings. Compare this with Florida Georgia Line, who when they took the main stage to close the fest out Sunday Night, felt like a force of homogenizing nature. Right before their set, rap music blared over the mains, with legions of self-proclaimed rednecks swinging their hands in urban gesticulations and singing along. Then the duo walked out to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive”, illustrating the blurred genre lines of the whole experience. Love them or hate them, Florida Georgia Line has without question captured (or capitulated) the current mainstream sound, and it’s infectiousness is so undeniable, it is a downright scary notion to stomach for the critical minority.
The commitment by Jeff Foxworthy to make Red Fest an annual event seems unwavering, despite it being somewhat foreign to the indigenous music culture in and around Austin, TX. Many patrons likely drove in from the San Antonio and Houston areas to the fest, and you saw more Aggie maroon than UT orange per capita throughout the weekend. The branding of the event called it “A New Memorial Day Tradition,” and they already are getting ready to do pre-sales for next year. Despite the first year hiccups of having the site too spread out, and prices for things more tailored to the upper-crust F1 racing crowd as opposed to a redneck festival, it went off without a hitch. Hopefully next year Red Fest continues to book bands worthy of a wider audience, and also does a better job of getting that audience in front of them.
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Red Fest Amphitheater:
The Whiskey Sisters:
Yet another sign that the appeal for traditional country and country music’s legacy artists is alive and well.
Dolly Parton released her 49th overall studio album Blue Smoke on May 13th, and the record has earned Dolly Parton a distinction she’s never experienced in her decorated, historic career. Blue Smoke marks Dolly’s highest charting solo album in her career’s history, debuting at #6 on the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. Surprisingly, this is the first time ever that Dolly Parton has reached the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 with a solo release. The closest she’s ever come to a Top 10 album was 1981′s 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs that reached #11. Her collaborative album Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt also reached #6 in 1987.
Blue Smoke came in at #2 on the Billboard Country chart as well, beating out albums from artists such as Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. 42 of Dolly’s 49 albums have reached the Top 10 on the dedicated country chart, including six #1 albums during her storied career.
â€śI am glad that people are enjoying the music from my new ‘Blue Smoke’ album. It feels great to be in the Top 10,â€ť Dolly Parton says. â€śItâ€™s always an honor to know the fans spend their hard earned money on my music. Thanks everybody!â€ť
Dolly Parton joins Johnny Cash who also made chart history recently with his posthumous release Out Among The Stars. Cash came in at #3 on the Billboard 200, and #1 on the country chart in early April. And unlike some new releases that have glittering debuts only to fade quickly, Cash remained at #9 on the Country Albums chart last week—six weeks after the original release date. Older, traditional country artists can still factor heavily into the album charts despite a lack of radio play or mainstream promotion because of the loyalty of their fans, and the propensity of those fans to purchase full albums instead of cherry-picking singles or streaming the release, resulting in greater revenue for the artists and labels.
Who would have envisioned this ever happening a few years ago? Not that Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood have been at each other’s throats over the years or anything, but for the last half decade or so, Miranda and Carrie have defined the polar opposites of mainstream female country in many respects. Miranda is the rough-edged, hard-scratch Texas girl ready to squeeze triggers and light shit on fire if provoked, while Carrie Underwood is the more refined and elegant American Idol winner with world-class pipes. High-caliber voice vs. high-caliber pistol. And though nothing but cordiality has reigned between the two publicly, their opposing polarities have created an unspoken friction, if only between elements of their fan bases.
Yet here they are, joining forces to release a duet called “Something Bad” as part of Miranda Lambert’s new album Platinum due out June 3rd, and debuting the song on the Billboard Music Awards. “Singing with Carrie Underwood is very, very intimidating,” says Miranda Lambert to the AP (see below). “She’s an amazing vocalist, I’m a big fan of hers, and asking her to do this was nerve-racking. I sent her an email, this long, blobbing email about if she wanted to sing on the record, it could be cool, but maybe she didn’t want to, if she liked the song, but she didn’t have to like the song. When I sent it I thought, ‘This sounds ridiculous.’”
Ridiculous or not, Carrie Underwood accepted, and “Something Bad” came into being. But the next question is, why this pairing, and why now?
Despite what the duo may or may not say or allude to publicly, “Something Bad” has one primary purpose: to break through bro-country’s stranglehold on country music. That is what this is about. The bro-country phenomenon has lasted for too long, and the pairing of country music’s two top females (Taylor Swift notwithstanding) may be the only way to break the bro-country monopoly. “Something Bad” is the symbolic, “We are the women of country, hear us roar!” statement. Yes ladies and gentlemen, war makes strange bedfellows.
Both the Lambert and Underwood camps are no doubt hoping this will be a big hit, and it’s no accident the Billboard Music Awards are also involved. The last time Miranda made it to the top of the Billboard charts was with another duet, when she paired up with Keith Urban in the song “We Were Us.” But that success was fairly short-lived. “Something Bad” is meant to be a statement against the male oligarchy. Even the day before the Billboard Music Awards, Miranda Lambert posted a photo to her Instagram account saying, “Welcome country’s new duo … Oklahoma Texas Line” with her and Carrie pictured in matching Thelma & Louise T-shirts, making a not-so-slight allusion to the bro-country extraordinaires Florida Georgia Line, and the “take no prisoners” attitude of this song.
“Two girls from Texas and Oklahoma that are living their dream right now,” Miranda continued to the AP. “We’re really rocking in country music, and we’re coming together as a force … If you’re sitting on the front row, you might want to scoot back. It’s a force, you know what I mean? It just feels exciting to me … It’s been too long since two girls in our genre have come together like that, especially in a song that’s kind of in-your-face. I’m excited, and I’m hoping that she’ll come to the dark side, and blow something up, or set something on fire in the video or whatever.”
The pairing does raise concerns that Miranda may be persuading Carrie Underwood to the dark side of female country music, and not just figuratively. As a song on Miranda’s upcoming record and not Carrie’s, “Something Bad” features Miranda in the driver’s seat, calling the shots. And for a while now, Carrie seems to have been somewhat following Miranda’s dominating style of these “woman scorned” revenge songs that in some respects are the female version of bro-country—using song formulas that swap beer, trucks, and tailgates, for smashed taillights, cat fights, and bonfires fueled by old boyfriend’s mementos, however less frequent and better-written as they happen to be.
Make no mistake, “Something Bad” is not just another song. This is Miranda and Carrie taking a baseball bat to bro-country’s pretty little souped up 4-wheel drive, and it will be fun to see just how this attempt to crash the good ol’ boy party at the top country’s charts will be received.
Sturgill Simpson has arrived ladies & gentlemen, thanks to the resounding critical success of his new album Metamodern Sounds of Country Music that has permeated just about every corner of the independent roots music culture. From NPR, to The New York Times, to Billboard, to important periodicals in Europe, wherever you turn, someone is singing the praises of the Kentucky native.
This resounding success has made some, if not many, wonder where does Sturgill Simpson go from here? Just how big can he get? Could we possibly hear Sturgill Simpson songs on mainstream radio? Could we see him get a nomination from the CMA? Could Sturgill Simpson and Metamodern Sounds be the artist and album to save country music? Without a doubt he’s that one artist this is resonating, right here, right now, and unlike other artists that have done so recently such as Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson is decidedly country, potentially giving him the ability to be considered for attention by country music’s largest institutions.
I think we all need to take a douse of realism, while at the same time understanding that Sturgill Simpson becoming something bigger than just a mid-level club act is very realistic if the right things fall into place. But there is a long, long way to go, and a lot of the talk surrounding him at the moment is sort of like playing fantasy football. In the long run, for an artist like Sturgill to reach the CMA level, a lot of specific watermarks must be reached, and it’s imperative on his fans, and Sturgill himself, not to set unrealistic expectations that can end up deflating the positive momentum he’s created. So in the end, a “Let’s just do the best we can, and see where this goes” mentality is probably the most wise course of action. Though someone who might read artcles on savingcountrymusic.com on a regular basis might see Sturgill Simpson’s name everywhere they turn and think this thing is in the midst of something historic, out in the big scary world, he’s still very much an unknown. For now.
But you also can’t discount the magic of music when it is matched up with the right moment for the world to hear it. That’s how all great movements in music start, by one person doing something the world has a great hunger for. And can anyone disagree that a hunger for someone like Sturgill Simpson exists in country music right now? As silly as the notion may seem to some, the indelible part of the country music mythos that hopes for a savior to come and return balance to the genre is a very real force all to itself, and carries its own weight and momentum.
It’s also worth pointing out that Sturgill Simpson isn’t the only one who deserves credit for what is becoming a meteoric rise. Some very wise moves have been made in marketing him, and how his music has been released. Normally, releasing albums less than a year apart is frowned upon these days. For Sturgill, this move was fortuitous. Just as the High Top Mountain‘s cycle was losing steam, here he comes with an album that regardless of where he goes from here, will be looked back upon as a landmark; as an important moment in his development. Now Sturgill has all the momentum at his back, and that, along with an excellent management team, has allowed Sturgill to reach far beyond what we normally see from independent artists that may feel very intimate to us because we’ve seen them in half empty barrooms, or heard their music before anyone else.
Sturgill’s manager Marc Dottore (also Marty Stuart’s manager), has been able to get him in front of big audiences at the Opry, on The Marty Stuart Show, and opened up many doors not normally accessible to independent artists. Sturgill’s booking agent got him on some big tours opening for Dwight Yoakam. And Sturgill and his band have been pounding the pavement, playing strange tour runs that are not always intuitive when they’re drawn on a map, and that take a toll on the band’s personal lives and sanity, but in the end got him in front of the right people to have an impact. There are a lot of talented country artists, and a lot of artists like Sturgill that have worked very hard. But Sturgill, his band, and his management team and publicists didn’t just work hard, they worked smart. And that, just as much as Sturgill’s talent, the appeal of the music, and the fortuitous timing of it, lent to where he is today.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Picked Up By A Major Label?
Could he? Sure. Since he’s signed with new school distribution company Thirty Tigers, Sturgill still retains his rights, and the freedom to do whatever he wants with his music, whether it is the music on Metamodern Sounds, or music he makes in the future. This is one of the specific reasons Sturgill decided to go with Thirty Tigers, despite being offered other deals by other labels before High Top Mountain. And there’s precedent here with other artists. Chase Rice, one of the writers of Florida Georgia Line’s blockbuster song “Cruise”, started out as a Thirty Tigers artist, releasing music through the label before making a partnership through Columbia Records in March to distribute his EP and his “Ready, Set, Roll” single.
Speaking of Florida Georgia Line, they have a somewhat similar story, where they made an EP called It’z Just What We Do that after it went crazy, landed them a deal with Big Machine Records. Much of the music from that EP ended up on their first major full-length release.
But let’s be realistic. Do we really think real deal Sturgill Simpson is going to sign with a major label that would more than likely mean handing over the rights to his songs, and potentially artistic control? Granted, this isn’t always a pitfall of the major label world. There are some artists that with the right leverage power have been able to negotiate contracts in their favor that didn’t include all the traditional trappings of a major label deal. But unless it is perfect, Sturgill Simpson isn’t going to take it. Sturgill is a peculiar, cantankerous individual; an idealist that isn’t motivated by fame and money beyond wanting to provide for his family.
So the next question would be is, would the combination of Thirty Tigers and Sturgill’s current management structure be able to handle some major meteoric rise that would result in the gross equivalent of a major label deal? It’s kind of hard to know, but simply asking the question may be getting way ahead of ourselves.
Could Sturgill Simpson Be Nominated for a CMA Award?
Not to throw cold water on anything, but shaking my magic ’8′ ball, what I’m coming up with is “not likely”. Maybe in the future, when Sturgill has taken a few more steps, and his name recognition is such that the wider industry is paying more attention. But for now, Sturgill must conquer the Americana and independent ranks. He may very well do that with Metamodern Sounds, and this may create the gateway to greener pastures. But we can’t take this happening as a given.
One benefit he has over artists like Jason Isbell or Justin Townes Earle who’ve both had big success in Americana, is that Sturgill Simpson is purely country. This means hypothetically that the sky is the limit, unlike with Americana.
But the CMA, and especially the ACM are set up to promote the country music industry, just as the Americana Music Awards are set up to promote the Americana industry. And right now, Sturgill Simpson isn’t part of that industry. He may play country music, but that doesn’t immediately make him a contender, let alone visible to the CMA voters, even though he may technically qualify. What would put him on their map is strong, prolonged commercial success along with his critical acclaim: solid showings on MediaBase and Billboard charts for sales and plays.
The other thing he would need to do to be considered by the CMA is to have mainstream radio play. And with the climate these days at mainstream radio, where it realistically takes sometimes $500,000 to $1 million dollars to promote a single, especially from an unknown artist, that possibility may be the most out-of-reach for Sturgill. Besides, I’m not sure Metamodern Sounds contains any “single” material for modern-day radio.
However there is hope that a critical darling can crack through all the commercial hurdles that hold many artists out of the CMA process. Though Kacey Musgraves resides on a major label, appreciate that without even one Top 10 single to her name, she walked away with the Album of the Year trophies at both the Grammy Awards and ACM’s this year. When faced with overwhelming consensus about a critical favorite, whether it’s Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park, or Jamey Johnson’s That Lonesome Song, industry awards will step up to at least dole out nominations to these projects. An Americana Grammy for Sturgill is a very real possibility, but remember last year they completely snubbed Jason Isbell, who by all accounts was the clear favorite going in.
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More realistically, Sturgill Simpson just needs to eat what’s on his plate, and focus on growing his name recognition. Sturgill will continue to focus on touring, and creating a fan base that can support him at the club level. That will open up the possibility for bigger opening slots, and more exposure.
We have been at this crossroads before, where an artist feels like he’s on the brink of blowing up and rising to the mainstream level. In 2008 when Hank Williams III was riding off of huge momentum from a critically-acclaimed and commercially-successful release Straight to Hell, it looked for a minute that he may break through the walls of the mainstream and completely shake up the industry. Williams had been touring like crazy for a half decade. He had all the momentum at his back. When his next album came out, Damn Right, Rebel Proud in 2008, it debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Williams had climbed nine rungs up a ten rung ladder, and he had done it his way, fighting against his label to win creative freedom, and finding success despite a lack of radio play.
But Damn Right, Rebel Proud was a step down in quality from his previous releases, and Hank3 proceeded to take 18 months off of touring. Subsequent releases charted decently as well, but he never reached the same heights. Hank3 had been right there, right at the precipice of breaking through, and for whatever reason, lost the drive, lost the momentum, had pushed himself too hard, and had to step back.
Hellbound Glory, also finding great critical acclaim, landed the opportunity to open for Kid Rock on an arena tour, and it looked like the doors would finally start opening for them. And some doors did. But a year later, Leroy Virgil had not a single member in his band that had been around for the Kid Rock tour, and in many respects landed right back where he started. Jamey Johnson reached the very top of the industry, penning #1 songs and being nominated for big awards. But then a label dispute stopped him in his tracks, and it’s been nearly four years since he’s released an original song.
Whether the fault of the artists or others, the ninth rung of that ten rung ladder has been where these artists have stalled, one after another. And the dream, the promise of returning the balance back to country music stalls with it. Whether it’s artists losing their hunger, being hindered by the industry, or never really having a chance to begin with, the dream wasn’t fully realized. It wasn’t played out to its last, exhaustive breath. But with Sturgill Simpson, we have another opportunity.
And if something magical does happen with Sturgill Simpson, we shouldn’t see it as a shot from nowhere. George Strait just won Entertainer of the Year for both the CMA’s and ACM’s. Kacey Musgraves has been winning awards left and right. Both traditionalism and substance are resonating again in country music, despite however buried they may appear by bro-country.
The most important thing is that Sturgill Simpson keeps on growing, and that the independent community does what they can to help foster that growth. Sturgill Simpson said it best when he posted the day of the release of Metamodern Sounds:
I have said it many times and I will continue to say it, as it is the truth and I whole heartedly believe itâ€¦guys like me and the countless others others out there attempting to offer an alternative are not capable of change. We are not the catalyst of change. You guys are. We can only do our best to make the best records we are capable of but it is up to you the listener to have your voices heard. This is the only road to the true change that a lot of you I talk to at shows are seeking. If you connect with something that moves you it’s up to you to share it/burn it/ steal it/ give it away. As long as it finds and connects with as many people as possible that is all we wish for.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you all for everything YOU have done and are collectively doing to make our dreams come true. It goes without saying that I am about as sick of hearing/talking about me as I have ever been in my entire life. With that said, we are anxiously looking forward to taking this show on the road for the rest of our lives.
Sturgill, Kevin, Miles, & Little Joe
Just think about this for a second: Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Brady Paisley, Miranda Lambert, and Rascal Flatts are all now managed by the same exact talent agency. That is pretty much every single top tier country artist at the moment aside from Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. And that’s just the start. The Band Perry and Jerrod Niemann are also managed by them. So are Dierks Bentley and Justin Moore.
In fact there a total of 128 mainstream country acts that fall under this same talent agency. It’s virtually everyone. It would be easier to name of the artists who are not on their roster. They even manage many of the big names in Texas country like Granger Smith, the Randy Rogers Band, and Josh Abbott. The have legacy acts like Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill, and Kenny Rogers. They have Southern rock artists like Whiskey Myers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. They even manage independent-minded performers like Jamey Johnson and Robert Earl Keen.
Who is this mega talent company that barely anybody’s heard about?
The company is called William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, or WME for short. It is a talent agency that represents artists for concerts, tours, and appearances among other management tasks, and they have been acquiring managers of numerous artists and consolidating them under their umbrella for the past few years until they now have a virtual monopoly on mainstream country touring talent. For example in 2010, WME brought on board the 360 Artist Agency run by Joey Lee, and with him, the artists Miranda Lambert, Lee Brice, and Lee Ann Womack. Earlier this week, the agency brought on Kevin Neal, who brought along with him Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Colt Ford among others.
WME, which has offices in Beverley Hills, Nashville, New York City, London, Miami, and Dallas, also has a big stake in managing TV and movie actors, sports personalities, and even writers. But their ability to consolidate virtually all of the talent in country music in one place, especially when it comes to the very top of the genre, is virtually unmatched in the recording industry.
WME also manages artists from other genres. They are the talent agency for the red hot Pharrell, as well as Snoop Dogg and Rihanna. But there is not genre they have such a tight grip on, or any talent agency has a grip on, like WME has on country.
So why does any of this matter?
Because when you have the same entity in charge of virtually everyone, you run the risk every monopoly runs on an industry. In the last few years, we’ve seen the gross consolidation of power in the recording industry, and in country specifically, into the hands of a few huge entities, especially in the touring realm. Virtually every concert now is promoted by AEG or Live Nation. If you want to purchase a ticket, you have one option: Ticketmaster …. which is owned by Live Nation. And since nearly every single artist that exists in the higher ranks of touring in country music has the same talent agency, the vacuum of competition can, and does foster a stagnant, incestuous environment. It also gives them dramatic advantage over other agencies, to the point where smaller, independent agency are forced to concede to them or go out-of-business. Why do we see the same concert pairings over and over? Why do the same artists seem to always be at the top of the genre? Why do the same artists get nominated for the same awards and get all the radio play? Because they all fall under the auspices of the same few companies.
Here’s the country roster for WME:
The Band Perry
Big & Rich
Blue Sky Riders
The Cadillac Three
Casey Donahew Band
Duck Dynasty (The Robertson Family)
Florida Georgia Line
Hank Williams, Jr.
Hudson MooreJackie Lee
Josh Abbott Band
Kristy Lee Cook
Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
Laura Bell Bundy
Lee Ann Womack
The Little Willies feat. Norah Jones
The Lost Trailers
Natalie Stovall & The Drive
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
The Oak Ridge Boys
Pat GreenPistol Annies
Randy Rogers Band
Robert Earl Keen
Steven Lee Olsen
The Swon Brothers
The Time Jumpers
William Michael Morgan
The Willis Clan
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the new remix era of country music, where the worst “country” songs get regurgitated with an overlayed rapper or EDM twist, repackaged to terrorize the eardrums of the masses for another eight weeks after the song should normally fade from the charts and fall off of radio. Please find a group of your favorite male country stars crying for relevancy and attention to your right, and a selection of waning rap personalities looking for a career revitalization through white suburban consumers to your left. Mix and match as you choose to create the perfect mono-genre monstrosity that will then go on to shatter decades-old records because of Billboard’s new chart rules, and make a mockery of the “summer anthem” phenomenon by taking 10-month-old songs with newly added drum machine beats, and shoving them down the throat of the American consumer once again. Enjoy!
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Here we go again. Another day, another paradigm shift for quotation mark “country” trying desperately to apologize for itself and attract new demographics by careening out of the defined borders of the genre. This time it is the emerging habit of the country remix song. We first saw this when Jason Aldean remixed his influential country rap “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris in 2011, but the first widely successful implementation of the country remix was when Florida Georgia Line did a remix of their mega hit “Cruise” with the rapper Nelly in April of 2013. The collaboration went on to be responsible for creating the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music. And since we all know what a copycat world it is down on Music Row, it was only a matter of time before the country music industrial complex retooled to make the remix of any song they see fit a reality.
Now the remix train has started rolling full steam, and since so many mainstream hits already are built on top of electronic dance beats, virtually any mainstream song is optimized to accept a remix. Take Jerrod Niemann for example, who has all of a sudden emerged as country’s EDM Master of Ceremonies. His hit “Drink To That All Night” has just received the remix treatment with none other than Latin rapper Pitbull (listen below, if you dare). Just like with Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”, Jerrod’s song was very slow in developing as a blockbuster single. It was released all the way back in October of 2013, but is just now reaching its peak, hitting #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart. By releasing the remix, the single gets new life, and now could become a massive crossover success.
But this is just the tip of the country remix iceberg compared to what we’re about to see in the coming months. Rumors of additional Florida Georgia Line remixes are swirling, and the duo can’t stop talking about how much they’d love to work with Canadian rapper Drake. There’s talk that a remix of Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottoms Up” featuring Lil Wayne is in the pipeline. And The Band Perry has been hinting at some sort of collaboration with EDM megastar Avicii. Though the remix in country might feel like a rare occurrence at the moment, by the end of 2014, it might be a given from the format’s biggest songs and stars.
Remixes and collaborations have been the way the hip-hop world and parts of EDM have developed talent over the years. A bigger star will give a boost to an up-and-comer by having them come in and sing a line on a slightly different version of an already popular song. Seeing how country music has for all intents and purposes dismantled its farm system, and money and time for artist development has virtually dried up, these type of remixes and collaborations could be a good alternative to an industry struggling to find new stars, especially female stars. But instead of helping their own, country music is turning to promoting already-established artists from other genres under the veil of “collaboration” to attempt to reach new heights of commercial success.
It’s been theorized that what truly defines a “douchebag” is living in a vacuum of self-awareness. When you combine that with the rather easy-to-deduce conclusion that Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley probably weren’t winning many academic decathlons during their formative years from the way the duo’s songs so deftly avoid positively anything that could be mistaken, let alone taken, as deep, substantive, intelligent, or even remotely country instead of an overly-affectated, caricaturist drawl, it only makes sense that they would be completely unable to define the very term that was crafted to describe their specific brand of vapid, soul-less, and only very slightly country-flavored dreck.
“Bro-country” is the phrase that has been on the tip of the tongue of many country music and culture writers when they try to describe the current phenomenon gripping popular country music that calls heavily on pickup trucks, beer, backroads, etc. etc., but according to Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley (the one that does all the talking off stage, and none of the singing on stage), he’s clueless to what the term stands for.
“We’ve heard the term ‘bro country’, and I don’t really know what it means,” he tells FOX411. “People like to label things I guess these days. What’s country? What’s not country?”
Deep, Mr. Kelley. Deep.
“We just call it the Florida-Georgia-Line sound,”Â he continues. “Our music’s got all of our influences in one.” What influences? When asked what his dream collaborations would be, Brian Kelley answered, “Within country music, Ronnie Dunn and Garth Brooks are the two top guys, and outside of country we like Drake and Rihanna,” proving that Florida Georgia Line are just the type of mono-genre monsters that make music marketeers see green.
Though the term “bro-country” has become standardized throughout media world, attempts to create negative connotations around the designation have been mixed. Recently, the term has been adopted by the very music, fans, and artists it was meant to criticize. Pandora has even set up an exclusive bro-country channel.
Jamey. Jamey Johnson. Yeah, hey man, it’s your old pal country music here. Sorry to bother you like this out of the blue and everything, but it looks like I’ve kind of gotten myself into a mighty big pickle. Generally speaking I’m one of those proud people that doesn’t like to ask for anything from anybody. But honestly man, I need your help. Now I understand that you’re in some sort of contract dispute or something, and that’s usurped a lot of your desire to write new songs and release new albums and everything. Trust me when I say, I know how rough these disputes can be. Ever since I started in this music business, intrusive and unethical label practices have been stultifying the creative process for many of the artists flying my flag, generally wreaking havoc on their freedom and artistic expression, not to mention how many people are getting hosed on the accounting side of things.
I can only imagine the kind of anger and heartache you’re dealing with, but man, I need you. And I need you something fierce. Over the last couple of years … well hell, really for the last twenty some odd years, but especially the last couple, stuff has really been going downhill. I turn on CMT, and if there aren’t frat guys urinating on themselves in some reality show, or some inbred passed out face first in a vat of gravy, then it’s Florida Georgia Line rapping in some hip hop song while motorcycles go flying through the air and explosions go off in the background, while Luke Bryan is non stop pelvic thrusting the poor, innocent air in front of him. It’s like some wild ass circus Jamey, I’m telling you.
And then you turn on the radio, and somehow it gets even worse. I thought Florida Georgia Line was bad, but now there’s a half dozen bands that are more like Florida Georgia Line than Florida Georgia Line is. Have you heard of Chase Rice, Jamey? If you haven’t, don’t waste your time, trust me. You should see this dude’s Twitter feed. It’s like an instruction manual for duchebags, but I digress. Oh! And then the other day I was listening to the radio, and Jerrod Niemann … you remember Jerrod Niemann? I mean he used to not be that bad back in the day. But he’s gone through some kind of mid life crisis or something, and the dude sounds like he’s got an EDM DJ stuck up his ass. He was on there talking about “riding his donkey to the honkey tonkey” and I just about hurled my Taco Bell waffle taco out the truck window. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t be eating that garbage, but I won’t lie, I was curious … I mean I know back in the day me and you got a big chuckle when Trace Adkins cut your “Badonka Donk” song, but hell, that was just parody. By the way, you still got that bass boat you paid for with those royalties? I saw the pictures on MySpace; it was a beauty. Ha, MySpace. Man we go way far back.
And I guess that’s why I’m writing you. Look man, back in the late 00′s, you were the best thing going. You were what I needed: substance with commercial appeal. Hell I even got you a bunch of those stupid industry awards, and for a moment there it looked like you could be the next real deal thing in country music. Hell forget looking like it, you were the next real deal thing! And that’s why we need you back man. We need to get you back in this fight. We need to get you back in the ring, even if just to keep these other losers honest. I mean, who else we got that has already proven they can get the industry behind them without selling out? Who can write a song like Jamey Johnson? Who’s got all that country credit for serving in the Marines and doing all that time in honky tonks, and hob nobbing with Hank Cochran? Hey, did you see Hank just got an induction for the next Hall of Fame class? See, it ain’t all bad out there. There’s still hope. There’s still something to come home to Jamey. And though all the country dudes are a bunch of douche nozzles, there’s a lot of women doing some great stuff out there these days. Have you caught a whiff of Kacey Musgraves yet? Dynamite Jamey, I’m telling you (and just between you and me, some dynamite legs on that young dame too, whoa!).
Still though, George Strait is retiring, or at least he’s gonna try to, and we need someone to step up. Come on man, you should be in the prime of your career. I don’t blame you for wanting to step back. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to be involved in all the mainstream hoopla anymore. And it’s not like you’ve stopped performing and are living on Mars. You still contribute greatly to keeping it real. But hell, just start writing some songs. Get back in the game. Participate at least. Give us something we can throw in the face of Dallas Davidson to tell him and his songwriting-by-formula buddies to take a long walk off a short pier.
You’re not friends with Dallas? Are you? Well anyway…
Most importantly man, and not to get all sentimental on your ass, but I’m just a little worried about you. You know, you put out those first few albums, and we got used to a new Jamey Johnson album every couple years. And not to jump on you man, but sometimes when you have a talent such as yours, it’s a shame to see it go to waste. So tell me where I need to be. If there’s some label riding your ass, some suit with his thumb on you, tell us the scoop and we’ll be your air support. Let’s rattle some cages. Let’s blow some houses down. You’d be surprised what a bunch of pissed-off rednecks can accomplish when we’re all moving in the same direction. Let’s get mobilized. Let’s get this thing figured out.
Because we’re here for you brother. We want to see you prosper. And most importantly, we need you.
Yours truly, and always grateful, even if you never write another song in your life,
“I was driving. My two daughters, Violet and Harper, who are eight and five years old, started singing along. I was so happy and relieved that my two girls were singing a popular song on the radio that had some substance and depth, which I considered to be healthy for them as kids. I know that sounds kind of parent-ish.”
This was the revelation former Nirvana drummer and and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl had when listening with his kids to a song from one of the world’s biggest pop stars right now: Lorde. Grohl went on to tell Rolling Stone, “When I met her I said, ‘When I first heard your song on the radio and my kids sang along I felt like there was hope for my kids to grow up in an environment which is more than just superficial.’”
Between 2011 and 2013, the biggest-selling pop star in the world was not Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, or Lady Gaga. It was Adele. Her album 21 absolutely dominated popular music for two straight years, and had critics raving about the style and substance the singer exuded, while not fitting the form of the typical pop star stereotype. Lorde does not fit the pop star stereotype either. She razzes on photo reporters for blotching out her less-than-perfect skin, and tight fitting fare doesn’t seem to be her bag.
The whole theorem that pop music is just an excuse to oogle at pretty people has a problem holding up when you look at some of the recent trends in much of the pop world. Of course there’s still exceptions, and the weighty nature of Lorde and Adele can be debated. But even when looking at other Top 10 artists like Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, and Ed Sheeran, these aren’t the customary pop specimens with zero substance that are solely based on image. The pasty, short, red-headed Sheeran with his original songs and acoustic guitar is nothing similar to the showy pop performers of yesteryear. And though their names might be splattered all over the press, artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber aren’t placing as well in the charts or sales numbers as one might expect.
Meanwhile you take a look at country music’s leading artists, and what do you see? You see image-driven, shallow males with even shallower songs, squeezed into ultra-tight jeans that have become the spandex tights of our time. Maybe backwards baseball caps have replaced kinked hair, but the servitude to image has stayed the same. Trend-focused and willing to do anything for fame, not standing on principles or worried about the legacies they’re forging, popular country music has become the new bastion for the shallow performer and the sellout; the pop of our time, camouflaged in denim.
I don’t have any data to back my assertions up. No pie graphs or chart analyses; this is strictly anecdotal. But I’ll be damned that if in 2014, your average pop star isn’t more likely to outpace your average country star when it comes to substance and depth in their music. Recently critically-acclaimed country star Kacey Musgraves announced she’d be writing and playing some concert dates with Katy Perry. Oh how the hounds erupted about what a travesty this was. But at least Kacey Musgraves is writing her own songs, with another artist that writes her own songs, and those songs are about something more than lists of countryisms with no narrative. Isn’t this a better alternative than Dallas Davidson and three other drunk douchebags in a round robin throwing “beer, truck, girl” into a hopper and writing a song depending on however they land? It may say more about mainstream country music than it says about Kacey Musgraves that she has to reach out to the pop world to find collaborators she feels she can relate to.
Even with Taylor Swift, at least her songs are about something. They may be about some ex-boyfriend’s scarf or other trivial matter, but at least there’s a story arc. At least her songs are coherent on paper, and are drawn from inspiration. Compare that with the verses of your average Florida Georgia Line song and Swift feels like Faulkner.
“Pop” is the perennial bad word in country music to where even pop country stars tend to shy away from the term. Why? Because it infers a lack of artistic merit. Some of the biggest pop stars in the world still want to be regarded as artists of substance by their peers and fans. We already see many artists now residing in the ranks of the Americana and bluegrass worlds shy away from the term “country” even though their music may fit that term traditionally, simply because they don’t want to be lumped in with the stuff being played on the radio. This trend is robbing mainstream country of some of the critical talent it could use to create more balance and substance in the format. Country used to be the safe place on the dial, and you wouldn’t have to worry about listening to it with your kids in the car, unlike KISS-FM. Now that dynamic has flipped, and it leaves one wondering if in the future “country” will be that bad word that infers a lack of artistic merit. Or if we haven’t already arrived there.
As if the Austin, TX guitar slinger-songwriter, and Chili Cold-Blood and Moongangers-fronting Doug Strahan didn’t have enough pots boiling on the stove, here he is throwing together a new project called Doug Strahan and the Good/Bad Neighbors, and releasing a new album Coal Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes that etches yet another notch on his barrel of badass releases. Straight out of a 1970′s time machine, this roots-fusing, country funky, genuine Austin freak of the old-school variety sounds like the smell of your chain-smoking crazy uncle’s old coat, and looks just as cool.
Many try to resurrect that heroine sweat sound of the 70′s. They throw reel to reel seances. They blow all manner of money on vintage gear. But I’ve never heard someone get so close to the true heart of that sound as Doug Strahan does on this album. He doesn’t strike the mood of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors or Eric Clapton’s Slowhand, he hits on the vibe of the albums that inspired those—that deep, gritty shit from JJ Cale, The James Gang, and Faces before Rod Stewart started screwed everything up. This is the real deal folks. The textures on this album are sublime, delivered with this incredible depth perception that few have the patience or expertise to pull off, making this album a vintage Audiophile’s paradise even if Strahan was reading from a phone book or covering Bobby McFerrin.
Maybe a little more classic rock than country for the most part, but still with some excellent country songs, Cold Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes has a little something for everyone … well except for those glow stick-twirling EDM freaks and Florida Georgia Line losers, but they can go suck black lemons; we like it loose and a little off-time, and that’s what Doug Strahan delivers with blurry-eyed beatnik coolness.
If you want to talk about real deal country, feast your ears on the steel-guitar-laden and twangy “Third Get Go”. With lines like “…sometimes love just falls out of you,” Strahan proves that he isn’t all tone and presence; he can write one hell of a song too. I’ll be damned if the ultra-sad and personal “Sunny Day” that closes out the album couldn’t have been written by Hank Williams himself.
From there the album evokes a bit more of a rock aura, though always with that country/blusey/rootsy underbelly, dirtied just right by running everything through a 40-year-old throwback filter. “I’ll Make It Rain” ropes you in with a nasty Waylon phase guitar, with the faraway Charlie Watts-style drums making for a catchy rhythm as Strahan moans in the background sounding like he’s a room away. Another of the good songwriting performances is the opening track co-written with Marissa Cox and Skye Cooley called “Good Cross Winds” which shows off Doug’s soulful side, while the harmonies in the chorus of “Down Time Abilene” inspire shivers.
Something else I like about this album is that it’s only eight songs. Maybe this is the talk of a jaded reviewer, but there’s something to be said about packing a punch and leaving the audience wanting more. This philosophy is something else Strahan imports from the early 70′s that other musicians could learn from.
For us lost souls that woke up in 2014 and wondered what the hell happened, Coal Black Dreams, Late Night Schemes sounds like home.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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The Good Bad Neighbors are Matt Puryear – drums & percussion. Ethan Shaw – upright bass, pedal steel, banjo, vocals. Sweney Tidball – dirty keys and organ.
This story has been updated.
On Tuesday, April 15th, the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada faced the city’s worst mass homicide in its history when the son of a veteran Calgary police officer stabbed five people to death at a house party. Four men and a woman were fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack that transpired at roughly 1 AM. 22-year-old Matthew Douglas de Grood, a student at the University of Calgary, has been charged with five counts of first degree murder, and is in police custody. Two of the stabbing victims, Zackariah Rathwell, 23, and Josh Hunter, 22, were in a local band called Zackariah and the Prophets, and had just held a CD release party the prior weekend.
The tragedy has sent shockwaves throughout the Calgary community, including the music community, in an incident that may pale in comparison to some of the body counts of American massacres, but in the rather non-violent culture of Canada, it is nothing short of horrific.
American pop country super duo Florida Georgia Line played a concert in Calgary the following day, Wednesday (4-16) at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and according to numerous reports, broached the subject of the tragedy on stage in such an uninformed and callous way, it has created a big backlash against the band in Canadian media outlets.
Taking the point in the Florida Georgia Line criticism is a writer for the Calgary Herald named Mike Bell. The reporter was at the concert, and was so incensed by the flippant nature with which Florida Georgia Line handled the tragedy, he decided to forgo a traditional concert review and write a scathing piece bemoaning the American duo’s behavior.
…early into their set, they open their mouths and, in whatâ€™s supposed to be some casual between song banter to show that, yeah, they actually know which town theyâ€™re playing in, that theyâ€™re in â€śCALGARY!â€ť, they mention, in vague, terribly awkward terms, a shooting that went on in this city a couple of days ago or something.
Iâ€™m sorry. Hereâ€™s where I diverge from the script, the unspoken, unwritten contract between reviewer and reader, hereâ€™s where I put the collective aside and impose the personal experience on the professional.
Remember the Calgary tragedy was a stabbing, not a shooting, and apparently that wasn’t the only detail Florida Georgia Line got wrong. According to Mike Bell, it would have been better if the duo hadn’t broached the subject at all. But since they did, their fumbling of the information came across as insult to the Calgary crowd.
In the 20 years Iâ€™ve been doing this, Iâ€™ve written positive reviews of bands I wouldnâ€™t cross the street to spit at, those who â€śarenâ€™t my cup of teaâ€ť as some might say. Iâ€™ve also written negative reviews of bands I admire and actually go home and listen to on my time….But what Iâ€™m not paid to do is forget about something that happened in the city Iâ€™ve called home for all of my life, the city that I actually care about and understand somewhat the pain itâ€™s going through.
I donâ€™t get being so entirely oblivious, so utterly callous that you canâ€™t even get the basics of a tragedy right. A really, really fresh tragedy. Thatâ€™s on the cover of every newspaper in the city, on every newscast, and on the lips of every citizen….It would be like showing up as the waters were just receding, then calling last yearâ€™s flood an earthquake. It would be like calling, to take it to the extreme, 9/11 a really big tornado or sharknado. Or something.
Calgary Herald reviewer Mike Bell goes on to give his assessment of the Florida Georgia Line concert as,
Florida Georgia Line were at the Saddledome. They played some songs on stage for a bit. There was sound. There were lights. And there were opening acts.
It was a concert.
Though Saving Country Music has been unable to obtain the specific comments Florida Georgia Line made, and they weren’t included in the Calgary Herald article, numerous concert attendees are quoting the duo as saying, “We know that this city is in mourning, we heard about a shooting…. or a murder.. that happened in the city a couple weeks ago… or a couple days ago here in Calgary. And you know what? I think we need to give a special shout out to those people that are going through the hard times. This one’s for you guys.” (see update below) The quote is attributed to Tyler Hubbard of the duo.
The piece was also reposted by other prominent Canadian newspapers in the same syndication network, including The Ottawa Citizen and The Edmonton Journal. Apparently the subject is also making the rounds on numerous Canadian country radio stations and other media outlets.
A Facebook account attributed to Florida Georgia Line lead singer Tyler Hubbard (though not verified to truly be the singer) responded in the comments section of the Calgary Herald article, saying,
wow… i’ve never had someone twist a genuine statement that was me trying to show love and support for the families that have gone thru such a tragedy. If you ask me mike… you’re the one that’s being disrespectful by blowing this out of proportion. You’ve absolutely put words in my mouth that never even came out and i’m offended. But hey what can ya do.. just keep trying to make people happy and love life. good luck brother.
that being said … to the people of Calgary, if i offended y’all i’m truly sorry.. there is no tragedy that i would take lightly, especially in this case so i apologize if i said something that come off that wrong way but that was definitely not my intention. Y’all rocked last night and we love you guys. Hope we put some smiles on some faces.
Later on their Twitter account, Florida Georgia Line Tweeted, “Last Night In Calgary was incredible. Our fans are amazing. Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the tragedy there.
****UPDATE 4/18/2014: Partial video of the incident has surfaced, though the first portion is cut off. Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard can be heard saying, “…a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of days ago here in Calgary. And you know what? I think we need to give a special shout out to those people that are going through the hard times. This one’s for you guys.”
Saturday night was Clear Channel Radio’s inaugural iHeartRadio Country Festival in Austin, TX at the Frank Erwin Center—a mid-sized arena that the University of Texas uses for baskeball games, and that serves as the city’s largest indoor concert venue. The festival was the first major event in the new country music partnership between Clear Channel and CMT in their bid to make a multi-platform country music media empire. As Clear Channel was broadcasting the event through many radio stations and their iHeartRadio app, CMT.com was streaming the event online, and taping segments for future television programming. This type of collaboration is what we can expect as country media coagulates into huge companies duking it out for your attention. Clear Channel had their top personality, DJ Bobby Bones, as the emcee of the event, and CMT’s big star Cody was working the backstage area.
In typical Austin fashion, the event and live feed started 12 minutes late. Though iHeartRadio was touting the experience as a “festival”, the outdoor, multi-day and multi-stage discovery of new music that usually accompanies the music festival experience was swapped for a very structured environment centered around the most familiar names in the format, and instructional diatribes on the virtues of Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio app: the company’s seemingly sole plan for pulling out of their $300 million-plus quarterly loss tailspin. Of course making this plan a perilous one full of risk is the fact that every day the music streaming marketplace gets even more crowded as competition grows and the march of streaming startups and other companies looking to get into the streaming business seems endless.
The show opened with a shrill, cacophonous screech of legions of teenage girls driven mad by visions of Luke Bryan’s ass shaking in their heads, but first they would have to fight through Eric Church and his prog rock extravaganza. It was fortuitous of the festival’s organizers to put Church on first, because the festival’s corporate-driven demo definitely wasn’t home field for Eric’s “Outsider” message. His set would be the first and last time the festival crowd would be regaled by anything that couldn’t be labeled as “formula,” though it did set the tone that the night would be a rock show and nothing but, and a country show in name only.
Following was Jake Owen who started off with his stalled, Cadillac Three-penned single “Days of Gold,” and later had the 10,000-head Frank Erwin Center crowd singing in unison to a “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” rap he broke into in the middle of his song “Barefoot Blue Jean Night.”
The quizzical Dan + Shay taking the stage was the best opportunity for the sold-out crowd to drain their bladders in anticipation of the headliners, as they witnessed one of the most forced anointment’s of a country music super duo the format has ever seen. Despite their slick presentation, the iHeartRadio festival crowd was in no mood to sit through songs they’d never heard before. Dan + Shay made the rookie mistake of taking their whip to the crowd too many times with their “Let’s hear you make some noise!” pleas that grew less and less effective through their abbreviated and generally boring set. It was just too early in their career arc for them to attempt to fill a slot like this amongst the other big names. Lady Antebellum fared much better with songs readily familiar to a crowd whose alpha and omega of music are defined by Top 40 country playlists.
As arguably the hottest band in “country” music, Florida Georgia Line was well-received by the capacity crowd. Like master assassins who can choose their poison, the duo could call on any number of current blockbuster radio hits to ingratiate the crowd to their pop rock cologne-spritzed and wallet chain-draped show. “Thank you for helping us change country music history,” is what Tyler Hubbard said leading into their rendition of the longest-running #1 in the history of country music, “Cruise”. It seemed appropriate that they hadn’t “made” history, but completely “changed” the perception of what country music is by moving it so far in the pop direction and integrating so many hip hop elements into the format that they now feel like regular country fare.
Florida Georgia Line was the moment the astounding sameness of country music’s top mainstream acts became palpable. Where the traditional “festival” setting is driven by diversity and discovery, the lack of surprise is what this crowd was looking for. Florida Georgia Line’s radio tracks are slick a well-produced, but their live show was a little jarring, with pitch issues and too much energy spent on emitting enthusiasm instead of delivering good vocal performances.
Hunter Hayes, though certainly not rising to be considered in any way a highlight, did offer something a little different than the other performers preceding him on stage. Though his songs that cast him in submissive roles to his female counterparts, and a song decrying bullying were gut-wrenchingly, and sometimes downright objectionably sentimental in nature, at least he was singing from the heart, and had a message to deliver beyond naming off a laundry list of countryisms. Nonetheless, his set came across as calculating, safe, and left the distinguishing music fan wanting. But it was different, and at this point in the presentation, that was enough to label it refreshing.
With Taylor Swift burning her iHeartRadio chit during the 2012 pop version of this festival in Las Vegas, Carrie Underwood was tapped to be the female country powerhouse of the event. In a lineup of entertainers, Carrie distinguished herself as a singer, but of course she ran through a condensed set of her top singles that left little room for anything truly country or truly refreshing. Great voice, ravishing legs, and good sense of dynamics made her one of the more engaging acts of the night though.
You could tell when Jason Aldean took the stage why even though radio might be smiling greater on an act like Florida Georgia Line, there’s definitely a difference between a seasoned headlining performer, and the young pups still finding their way in how to perform for a crowd. The music? Of course it was terrible, but Aldean had a command that was only matched on the night by Carrie Underwood. While the younger stars had to sweat out their stage presence through sheer energy, Aldean was an efficiency of movements, hitting all the notes and bringing home solid renditions of his most popular songs. Where some top mainstream performers you may simply look at quizzically of why someone could like what they were doing, despite the music, you understood why Aldean is considered one of the very top male performers in the country format right now.
Luke Bryan represented the other end of the spectrum. Though his set was diverse and had a few attempts at heartfelt, deep moments, his booty shakers were all about his moves on stage, and by the time the next verse came around you got poor pitch, and too much breath in the microphone from a tired performer. Ironically, during Bryan’s “Rain Is A Good Thing” was the very first time the entire night that a traditional instrument (besides a couple of mandolins buried in the mix and mostly for show) made an appearance, when a fiddle found its way out of the case. There was also a steel guitar on the backline, though it was more seen than heard.
Having seen the presentation of iHeartRadio’s Las Vegas festivals, the Austin installment looked dark, and difficult to get a sense of depth or perception for those watching at home. The Frank Erwin Center is a somewhat cavernous, dim space, despite the modest seating capacity. Unlike some newer arenas, it is more round instead of oval, not really making it conducive to stage shows where fans on the wings feel far away. The crowd seemed somewhat less engaged and enthusiastic than you would expect from a mainstream show, and even the people in the front rows seemed a little too far from the stage to facilitate the type of interaction that many mainstream performers are now used to on tour—slapping hands as they strut across stage and yell “Come on, put your hands up!” The risers didn’t reach out into the crowd, and the stage presentation seemed a little cramped and unimaginative. But other mainstream concert tropes like allowing the crowd to finish lines to songs, and the calling out of “What’s up Austin!” dozens of times—despite likely half the crowd not even being from Texas—certainly made a nauseating amount of appearances on the night.
Was the event a success? Since the goal wasn’t necessarily to make money or even show off country talent, but to raise awareness of the iHeartRadio streaming option among country fans, that question is probably best answered by Clear Channel. But the presentation was relatively smooth once it got started, they didn’t really fall behind time (remember the Green Day blowup at the last iHeart fest?), and the performers did their thing as expected. Both Clear Channel & CMT can sit back and evaluate how successful their attempt at cross company synergy was, and iHeartRadio got their product in front of a new segment of fans.
But the brave new world of music consumption has yet to find a true pecking order, and nobody knows whose streaming options will find their way to the top, or even survive. Clear Channel is betting big on iHeartRadio and country music, and we may look back at this festival as the moment iHeartRadio solidified its hold on the country consciousness, or as a needless gargantuan expenditure that eventually led to Clear Channel’s demise under a mountain of debt.
Time will tell.
Tuesday was the release of Jerrod Niemann’s dumb new album High Noon, and before we’ve even had a chance to really delve into just how much of a mockery it makes of country music, Niemann’s already out there on the defensive, preaching to us how country “purists” really don’t know what the hell country music is all about, and how he’s just carrying on the traditions of Willie and Waylon by pushing the boundaries of the genre.
High Noon‘s first single “Drink To That All Night” drove country more in the direction of EDM than ever before, to the point where I’m not sure what’s country about it aside from the stupid, formulaic, country stereotyping lyrics. The second single from the album called “Donkey” promises to take this trend to a place many shades worse, and very well might go down as the worst song in the history of country music in this bear’s opinion—but that’s another story. A further perusing of High Noon‘s wares shows a lackluster effort of EDM and hip hop pandering veering towards a pop wasteland with little redeeming value afforded to distressed ears searching for any single reason why it shouldn’t be considered any more than some EDM/country mashup side project instead of a premier solo effort from an established country artist.
But that hasn’t stooped Jerrod Niemann from naming himself amidst country music’s Outlaw pioneers.
“When people think about country music, and they use the term ‘Traditional Country,’ they’re talking about something that has happened in the past,” Niemann tells Billboard. “But, when those songs were out currently, they were the freshest thing on the radio. Nobody was saying ‘Let’s go record traditional country.’ They just wanted to record music that meant something to them. Willie and Waylon were getting flack for being progressive at the time because they were mixing it with rock and the outlaw thing.”
Sorry Niemann, but that’s bullshit. Were there some voices saying that Willie and Waylon were pushing the boundaries of country music too far back in the day? Sure there were, and Saving Country Music has pointed this out before as well. But…
1) This had just as much to do with the fear people had of Willie and Waylon because they were shaking up the established Music Row system as it had anything to do with their music.
2) Willie & Waylon’s new take on country music was nowhere near outside the boundaries of country compared to what some artists are doing today. The musical equivalent to High Noon if Willie and Waylon would have done it would have been to cut straight up Disco records with country lyricism and called it country—and then thrown it back into the faces of critics before they even had a chance to raise a peep because Hank Williams was criticized too.
3) Oh an sorry Jerrod, but yes, Waylon and Willie did say, “Let’s go record traditional country.”
For example: What was Willie Nelson’s breakout album during the mid 70′s Outlaw era? Red Headed Stranger—the consensus pick by critics as the greatest country album of all time. What was the biggest single off of Red Headed Stranger, and really the only single of note from the album? It was a song called “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was a traditional country standard when Willie cut it. The song was written by Fred Rose, originally recorded by Roy Acuff in 1945—30 years before the release of Red Headed Stranger. It was also cut by Hank Williams in 1951, Ferlin Husky and Slim Whitman in 1959, and Bill Anderson in 1962 among others. Red Headed Stranger also had other classic country songs such as Eddy Arnold’s “I Couldn’t Believe It Was True” and a hymn called “Just As I Am” that get this Jerrod Niemann, was written in 1835, making it over 140 years old when Willie cut it. So saying that Willie didn’t say, “‘Let’s go record traditional country,” is completely bogus. One can make the argument that’s exactly what Willie said, and it resulted in arguably country music’s greatest contemporary work.
Meanwhile Waylon may have had a touch more rock in his sound compared to Willie or his other country artists of the time, but the backbone of his music was the steel guitar of country veteran Ralph Mooney, and Waylon was cutting songs like “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?” and “Bob Wills Is Still The King” that paid homage to traditional country greats. Then take a look at the lineup of The Dripping Springs Reunion—the gathering that arguably put the power of Willie and Waylon on the map. It included Bill Monroe, Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, and other aging country greats that at the time were being forgotten by Music Row. Even as Willie and Waylon were rising in prominence, they were paying homage to the ones that came before them.
“I’ve always tried to respectfully add a few elements here and there,” Niemann tells Billboard. Are you kidding me? “Drink To That All Night,” Donkey,” and other offerings from Niemann’s High Noon aren’t respectful to anything but his label’s bottom line. Take a look at this video and tell me the non-country elements are just “here and there”:
The problem with Jerrod Niemann, the reason he’s even worse than many of his current pop country cohorts is because he knows better. I have no doubt Florida Georgia Line grew up listening to mixtapes with Hank Williams Jr. on one side, and Drake on the other. To Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain are classic country. But Jerrod Niemann is 34-years-old. He’s not trying to push limits, this is last ditch effort to get attention from the industry in a no hold’s barred, sellout move to secure his share of the fortune being made off the destruction of country music. And no matter how much he wants to be in front of this issue, how much he preaches falsehoods about how country music once was, he’s simply a sellout in a woman’s Ross Dress For Less discount bin hat—and certainly no progeny of Willie or Waylon.
No, this is not a quote uttered on Saving Country Music by me or some other concerned country music fan, though similar sentiments have certainly been conveyed here on many occasions. This is the sentiment of the owner of an indie R&B label speaking on behalf of a genre under siege by the historic whitewashing of American music occurring at the hands of the massive radio consolidation and national syndication, and Billboard’s new chart rules that give extra credit to songs that stray outside their original genre.
All the fears, all the warnings sounded by concerned music fans and observers of media by the passing of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 and the revisions in 2003 that heavily laxed the laws regulating radio station ownership in America, and when Billboard changed their chart rules in 2012 to boost crossover songs, have now come to fruition. This is now not only a country vs. pop, or young vs. old problem. This is a man vs. woman problem as has been widely documented in country music coverage over the last year from the severe lack of women on country radio, and apparently from the perspective of many rap and R&B outfits and artists, it’s also a black vs. white issue. More and more, whether it’s labeled as country, hip hop, or R&B, if music is popular, it is probably being made by a white male, and it probably doesn’t sound like any genre specifically, but all genres generally.
Saving Country Music has been making the case for years that all popular music is heading to a mono-genre. Now concerned participants in music genres across the spectrum are clamoring about the watered-down encroachment of other genres on their music, worried their cultural identity and musical institutions are headed towards end times. When talking about the concert pairing of hip hop artist Nelly with pop country act Florida Georgia Line last week, Saving Country Music highlighted one concerned rap journalist that said that the rap genre was “more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force itâ€™s impossible to determine the ingredients â€¦ Actual new rap songs are ceaselessly weighing down the genre itself with the junky detritus of other styles.â€ť
Now artists and labels in the R&B field are noticing they’re getting a raw deal from the music industry, and are specifically laying the blame on the same radio consolidation causing the gentrification of country, and pointing their fingers at Billboard’s Hot 100 chart that for the first time in the chart’s 55-year history did not have one African American artist reach #1 at any time during the entirety of 2013. One of the reasons for this statistical anomaly is because genre-bending Caucasian acts like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who were hip hop’s big mainstream representation in 2013, and Robin Thicke, who was R&B’s big 2013 artist, have been dominating the music landscape, while the originators and innovators in the genre go more unnoticed.
Jeff Robinson, President and CEO ofÂ R&B outfit MBK Entertainment recently told Billboard, “With radio all playing the same songs by the same artists it’s difficult to break through. Even top producers are reluctant to work with new artists, preferring to take the easier way out to work with more established ones.”
This trend has made some question whether popular American music has turned their back on black performers, while at the same time co-opting their style and homogenizing it for a wider, and whiter audience. Co-opting traditionally black music and marketing it to a white audience is certainly the case in country, with top acts like Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Blake Shelton performing chart-topping country rap songs. The trend sent one hip hop writer named Sebastien Elkouby over the tipping point, stimulating him to post a rant in late January, saying in part,
Dear Black Artists,
We regret to inform you that the need for your services will soon come to an end as we enter a critical restructuring period. Fortunately, after having spent nearly a century meticulously studying your art, language, fashion, and lifestyle, we have learned enough to confidently move forward without your assistance. We thank you for your contributions but have decided to make some necessary changes as a result of your decreasing value. Focus groups show that consumers are looking for more relatable images.
The topic of race and music also stimulated one well-respected financial adviser named Chris Rizik—the Chief Executive Officer and Fund Manager of the Renaissance Venture Capital Fund—to give his own detailed take on what is wrong with music. He lays the blame right at the feet of radio consolidation—not just from the perspective of a music fan or or one interested in preserving the diversity in popular music both sonically and racially, but as someone who very intimately understands how business works, and the cyclical nature of how firms rise and fall.
There is an age old problem in business that repeats itself, generation after generation. Small businesses become large ones by being aggressive, creative risk takers. But over time, tremendous size and power can slowly turn a business from an edgy risk taker into a monolithic institution whose approach changes from â€śplaying to winâ€ť to â€śplaying not to lose.â€ť So instead of pushing the entrepreneurial qualities that made it grow, its culture becomes consumed with ways to simply keep what it already has.
This is most certainly the case with Clear Channel, Cumulus, and many other companies with big radio station holdings. For example, Clear Channel’s current model is one of trying to restructure their way out of massive quarterly losses of over $300 million not by being innovative, but through cutting costs by casting off local talent in lieu of big, national personalities. Despite research showing that radio needs to focus more on local talent to offer an alternative to upstart streaming services, Clear Channel sallies forth with their cost cutting measure as their revenue deficits continue to grow.
Chris Rizik continues:
Broadcast popular radio – which through consolidation is now controlled by a few major companies … is making all the wrong decisions. In its heyday, it was both the dominant form of music delivery and the place to find new music, with local program directors creatively duking it out to break new songs. But in 2014, facing alternative music discovery sources ranging from YouTube to Spotify to internet radio … And incredibly, its response has been to combat those aggressive upstarts by growing even more conservative. Unwieldy in size, its programming is now largely done nationally, and focuses on playing smaller, safer playlists filled exclusively with established hits … This narcissistic approach, which attempts to avoid any perceived risk in programming, yields both a less interesting product and a perverse effect with regard to race on radio.
Chris Rizik then goes on to predict corporate radio’s insistence on ignoring all the studies and all the signs that national syndication is not working will result in a churning over of the format.
In the end, while the â€śwhitewashingâ€ť of pop radio is both frustrating and maddening, a historical perspective provides some solace: From the demise of once-mighty corporations to the fall of empires, history has consistently shown that those organizations that stifle innovation and creativity and instead fight to preserve the status quo end up accelerating their own fall. So at a time when broadcast radio could better survive by becoming more creative, more inclusive and more local, it is moving the other direction, laying down a welcome mat for every innovative competitor.
What all this spells out is that ironically, though country fans and artists, and hip hop/ R&B fans and artists have traditionally been considered at the polar opposites of the sonic spectrum, they can find consensus around the idea of preserving the sonic autonomy of their respective genres. It’s not the blending of the genres that is bringing certain country and rap fans together, it is the opposition to it. When you scrape off the top layer of the most popular artists of America’s major music genre’s, you’re left with a large disenfranchised majority that would prefer to see the preservation of diversity in American music and on radio, instead of one big amalgam of influences being performed by a handful of white guys with fake Ebonic accents, no cultural compass, and a creatively-vacant, caricaturist take on the true expressions of America’s vast, beautiful, and diverse musical lineage.
For the first time ever, two high-powered country and rap acts will tour together, as fast-rising country duo Florida Georgia Line will be paired up with hip-hop artist Nelly in an upcoming summer tour of American Ballparks.
The cross-genre pairing first happened when a remix of Florida Georgia Line’s smash hit “Cruise” featuring Nelly was released to radio in April of 2013. The remix propelled the song to eventually become the longest-charting #1 single in this history of country music, and “Cruise” has gone on to sell 6.6 million copies and become the best-selling digital country single of all time.
“Last year we played the ballpark in Lexington, Ky., and it was an epic night,” Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line said in a press release. “We thought how fun would it be to hit several of these and bring the good times to the field!” Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard added, “Summer can’t get here fast enough. Having Nelly and Chris along for the ride is going to make for one big, outdoor party!” Up-and-coming country star Chris Lane will also be a part of the tour. Florida Georgia Line is currently touring as an opener for Jason Aldean.
The Florida Georgia Line/Nelly tour continues the blurring of lines between genres of American music, fueling concerns that music is becoming one big mono-genre with no contrast between popular music forms. Florida Georgia Line has been at the forefront of this trend by adding hip-hop elements into the majority of their songs, and because those songs have become so popular. Florida Georgia Line’s current single “This Is How We Roll” features Tyler Hubbard rapping in some of the verses.
Mono-genre concerns have also been exacerbated by Billboard’s newer chart rules that reward songs played in other formats outside of an artists’ home genre, and also reward songs that perform well on social media. These concerns don’t just come from the country realm, but from many of American music’s major genres, including rap. Just last month Sean Fennessey writing for Grantland, and using the event of Billy Ray Cyrus’s hip-hop version of “Achy Breaky Heart” reaching #11 on the rap charts as an example, said “…rap is more vulnerable than ever to interlopers and synthesists eager to run their sound through the Vitamix of popular music with such speed and force itâ€™s impossible to determine the ingredients … Actual new rap songs are ceaselessly weighing down the genre itself with the junky detritus of other styles.”
Now the mono-genre concerns have reached the live context, and the Nelly/Florida Georgia Line tour may just be the first of many country/rap tours to come.
**Warning: Heavy Language**
Why are Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line standing in front of a big explosion? Because they’re fucking awesome, that’s why. And you probably don’t get that because you’re all old and shit and your pubes are probably gray and you think that country music should be Hank Williams played over and over again which is boring. Get over it. Country music has changed man, and there’s now redundant wallet chains, deep V-neck shirts with weird crap written on them, popped collars modeled with douchebag poses, and super awesome explosions for no reason. And we love it ’cause this is how we roll, yo!
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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.
My first question about this song is why exactly is Luke Bryan on it aside from marketing? Exactly what value does he bring to this collaboration? The very first thing out of his sewer hole is, “We’re proud to be young,” which is ironic because the 37-year-old is wearing testosterone patches to help boost his “performance” so he can keep up with the kids two decades his junior on his most recent and increasingly age-inappropriate Spring Break album. Luke Bryan has descended into that creepy late 30′s uncle character sent with a group of 16-year-old girls to “chaperone” and spends the whole time working up the courage to ask his niece’s best friend to roleplay Miley Cyrus while the rest of the group heads down to the beach.
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.
And are the “words” to this “song” for serious? It sounds like the babbling of a toddler with its tongue cut out, or Buckwheat trying to order Thai food while fighting through the lingering paralysis of a massive stroke.
Yeah holla at yo boy if you need a ride
If you roll with me yeah you know we rollin’ high
Up on them 37 Nittos, windows tinted hard to see though
How fresh my baby is in the shotgun seat oh
Them kisses are for me though, automatic like a free throw
This life I live it might not be for you but it’s for me though
And is anybody else bothered by watching people hanging out in the back of a moving semi? Does it seem like fun to anyone to be locked in a cargo hold with no window to the outside world, especially with a bunch of douchebags running motorcycles inside and other dumb shit? How many smuggled immigrants have been sweated to their death or suffocated in similar scenarios? I’d hate to see them take their rolling party through the same border checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, TX that busted Willie and Snoop while singing about “you know we rollin’ high” and watch the jack boots down there sodomize the whole lot of them with government issued toilet plungers in a tireless search for contraband.
And poor Brian Kelley, the Doogie Houser looking dude from Florida Georgia Line. Once again he’s more buried in the mix than Hoffa, offering no real contribution to the band aside from helping with the head count to qualify them for the CMA and ACM’s “Duo of the Year” awards. But that doesn’t stop him from showcasing how bad he is at lip syncing while sporting a doltish grin and no-soul-having wannabee hip-hop gesticulations. Let’s face it, Florida Georgia Line is Tyler Hubbard. Brian Kelley is just in charge of holding Hubbard’s penis pump.
Then finally to make up for the lack of any true machismo or talent emanating fromÂ Florida Georgia Bryan whatsoever, they send the troika out to a motorcycle track to stand there and look awesome while explosions go off and people who actually have skill do tricks for the camera that the pairing can try and take credit for by proxy.
The worst “country” song ever? I don’t think so, partly because this is just par for the course from Florida Georgia Line, while other sellouts like Jason Aldean and Tim McGraw hypothetically know better. Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley are such tenderfoots, they think classic country is Shania Twain. Still I think this song is positively shitty enough to be a colossal super hit. I predict huge things for this song, and anyone with half a brain or a full compliment of testicles to be pursued by its permeation of American culture for months to come.
Two guns way down!
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