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A couple of days ago, The Stagecoach Festival out in California announced their 2014 lineup, capped by headliners Eric Church, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan. Since its inception 7 years ago, Stagecoach has been the California contingent to America’s big corporate country music festivals, but what makes Stagecoach different is that they actually include independent and up-and-coming artists as well—something most festivals in the corporate country field either completely avoid, or only include with a few token names.
For example if you look at the 2013 CMA Fan Fest in September in Nashville, the LP Field lineup consists of a who’s who of mainstream country, with no room for up-and-coming or independent acts. Same goes for the Northeast’s primary corporate country festival called Taste of Country Festival, with virtually all the performers consisting of acts in the mainstream and on major labels.
But at Stagecoach, the majority of the acts on the bill are independent, up-and-coming, or legacy artists, despite its big headliner names. When Stagecoach made its 2014 lineup announcement, my social network channels blew up with folks incensed that an artist like Luke Bryan would be listed in a bigger font than Loretta Lynn. But my reaction was completely opposite.
The big, mainstream names go without saying at a festival like this, and are in no way out of the norm of what we’ve seen from Stagecoach, or any other corporate festival over the last decade. What I was excited to see were names like Jason Isbell, The Whiskey Shivers, Corb Lund, Holly Williams, Sarah Jarosz, Shovels & Rope, and Shakey Graves on a bill with arguably mainstream country’s three biggest current names. The opportunities and exposure a festival bill like this can open up for these artists can’t be understated. If there’s any beef with their lineup, it would be that there’s not a woman represented in the top 2 tiers.
Envision the Stagecoach lineup as a radio playlist. If you went to CMA Fest, the lineup would virtually mirror the playlists of corporate radio. If you went to Taste of Country Festival, it would mirror corporate radio, with maybe a few more smaller and older names mixed in. But if the Stagecoach lineup mirrored a radio playlist, country radio would immediately flip-flop and improve ten fold, even if the names in bigger fonts got more plays.
The Stagecoach lineup is actually a great test case and example of how pragmatism and choice could be used to improve the country music format. What hardline purists and hardline independent fans need to understand is that big pop country acts have always, and will always dominate the country music landscape. Completely eliminating names like Jason Aldean from the picture would be great, but setting out to do this is an idealist, fool’s errand. The more reasonable approach is to simply lobby for choice—for traditional country and independent artists to simply be given a place at the table and an opportunity to reach the ears of the masses just like the big names. This would allow listeners to be able to decide what is best instead of a few select radio programmers. And this is what a lineup like the one for Stagecoach does. Jason Isbell vs. Jason Aldean? I’ll take that match. I’ll make that bet. And even if Isbell loses, he will benefit from the exposure the opportunity gives him.
I agree the marking of importance of artists based on font size, which has now become the norm in American festival culture, is always unfair, and Stagecoach is just as guilty as any. But it’s not arbitrary, and saying that this approach doesn’t make sense is being a little short sighted. Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church regularly sell out arenas. Loretta Lynn doesn’t. The font size of a given artists’s name is directly tied to the draw of that artist. This says more about the priorities of society than it does how Stagecoach decides to market their lineup. They invert the font sizes to make some happy, and their festival loses. And so do the artists, including the smaller, up-and-coming artists looking to capitalize off the opportunity to play to the same-sized crowds as country’s top headliners.
For Aldean, Church, and Bryan, Stagecoach is just another tour stop. To Jason Isbell and Loretta Lynn, it is potentially the biggest crowd they will play to all year, and the biggest opportunity to reach new fans. And virtually every festival takes this stupid font size approach, including independent ones. The independent-minded Muddy Roots Festival last year made all of its other performers subordinate to the punk band Blag Flag that was only sporting one original member, and had a rival version of the band touring at the same time.
The angry feeling some people have for the Stagecoach lineup underlines many of the inherent problems with America’s emerging festival culture. For years in Europe, summer music festivals have dominated the live music landscape. Over the past decade, the US has also become more dependent on a seasonal festival schedule, making lineup announcements and fonts sizes an annual exercise in publicity stunts and polarization. Festivals are popping up everywhere, hungry for patrons and performers, and being pressured to make big splashes with their lineups. We’ve reached the point where both the artists and patrons are getting squeezed, while the emerging festival season is draining interest in the single music show on any given night that many artists are dependent on to make a living throughout the year. Some artists are playing to empty venues because fans are passing them over in lieu of the festival experience.
Massive corporate festivals like Bonnaroo, ACL Fest, and Lollapalooza that blend all genres further complicate the festival landscape. The music is getting lost in the bustle by promoters, sponsors, and corporations trying to land cool names for their festivals, trying to outdo their competition, trying to rack up “likes” on Facebook, etc., with patrons caught in the middle trying to do what is best to support the music getting stuck with tough decisions, and falling to the mercy of the guilt game.
It all almost makes you want to stay home. But if I had an opportunity to go to Stagecoach, I would, and I may. Because no matter whose name is in the biggest print, there are plenty of names in their lineup worth paying attention to. Is it a shame that Loretta Lynn’s name isn’t as big in a lineup card as Luke Bryan’s? Of course it is. But that’s better than Loretta’s name not being there at all, which it isn’t for the majority of the country’s corporate music festivals. Many facets of the country music business could learn from the Stagecoach model.
I don’t know what to say folks, except that maybe country music’s 2013 collective mission to find the absolute lowest depths of stupidity in song was accomplished so unequivocally with Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” and Jason Aldean’s “1994″ that a new mission had to be named to explore the innermost reaches of emotional depravity bordering on downright psychotic tendencies, and that’s how this song came into being.
I’ve never heard a song whose mood is so befuddled and whose message is so depraved this side of Satan rock. Is this supposed to be a deep, heartbreak song, or a ‘bro” anthem filled with sarcasm? I don’t even know if Tyler Farr could answer that question. This song and video doesn’t offer any entertainment, it just makes you want to deadbolt your doors, ammo up, and clinch your loved ones a little closer.
Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy” isn’t for jilted male lovers looking for solace, it is for socially awkward, introverted, creepy-ass chronic masturbaters that hold a minor in megalomania. This song doesn’t need a rant, it needs a restraining order and ankle bracelet. It’s an insult to both the terms “redneck” and “crazy.” True rednecks ride their problems out, rub their wounds in the dirt and move on, not whine about them like a panty waist, eliciting threats and enlisting their loser friends to enact adolescent acts of vandalism as some sort of self-righteous recompense.
Look at some of the lines in this creep fest:
“Gonna drive like hell through your neighborhood
Park this Silverado on your front lawn
Crank up a little Hank, sit on the hood and drink
I’m about to get my pissed off on”
“I’m gonna aim my headlights into your bedroom windows
Throw empty beer cans at both of your shadows
I didn’t come here to start a fight, but I’m up for anything tonight
You know you broke the wrong heart baby, and drove me redneck crazy”
Listen Tyler Farr, if you’re going to go recording some weird-ass soundtrack to your stalking escapades, do me a favor and keep the holy name of the great Hiram King Williams out of your demented claptrap, okay?
And this might be the worst line of all:
“Nah, he can’t amount to much by the look of that little truck
Well he wont be getting any sleep tonight”
No wonder you can’t get laid you loser, because if you think being a man means having a big truck and a bunch of cool camouflage shit, then you’re nothing but a little boy still playing G.I. Joe stuck in a man’s body. Just because you have a camo guitar and play with your privates doesn’t make you “Army Strong” Tyler. The fact that you’re making fun of the size of a man’s truck says less about that man and more about your own inadequacies, and the powerful sway they have over your emotional sense of self-worth.
Get over it Tyler. Put a napkin on your vag and quit acting like the world owes you just because you’re an emotionally-underdeveloped and shallow douche prick with no game. The saddest part is, “Redneck Crazy” is the type of stupid shit that passes for “deep” these days. And yes folks, I know this song wasn’t written by Tyler Farr, but a troika of professional songwriters. That’s even more scary—that in a cubicle farm somewhere there’s bean counters pouring over demographic data and concluding, “There’s not enough songs about psychos threatening physical violence against their ex’s on country radio. We feel it is time to exploit this niche.”
And who the hell is Tyler Farr anyway? Where did this dude come from? A few weeks ago I’d never heard the name, and now this is the #1 song in country music? I went to his wiki page and it had less substance than this song, probably because his shallow fans ran out of time on their free AOL disks, or won’t touch a computer unless it’s wrapped in camo tape. And while we’re on that, quit with the stupid-ass camo everything. Yeah, it was cute when Brad Paisley came out playing a camo guitar in 2008, but more and more camo is just a way to camoflauge the emotional frailty and insecurities of grown-up babies like Tyler Farr whose true redneck identity only runs as deep as his $170.00 Bass Pro Shop camo waders.
And as is the norm these days, the video for the song does it one worse, with cameos from these Duck Dynasty guys and the country music Grimmace, Colt Ford. Come on, bringing Clot Ford on a covert mission would be like shoving a bowling ball down your pants before running a marathon. Hell, if you want him to be useful, leech a liposuction hose to his commodious midriff and spray his superfluous fat at this poor chick’s abode. I hear human cellulite is even more hell to remove from house siding than egg white. And if you watch the end of the video, tenderfoot Tyler Farr tumps his glorified golf cart while trying to make a basic turn. Just like Luke Bryan, these lugs love to sing about the outdoors in their songs, but when you get them off the pavement, they’re like a fish out of water.
About the only thing this song is good for is turning in for state’s evidence of why Tyler Farr shouldn’t be allowed within 200 yards of his ex’s or any elementary school.
You aren’t “Redneck Crazy” Tyler, you’re just really, really creepy.
Two guns way down!
Luke Bryan and his other bro-tastic pop country pseudo-rapping laundry list-espousing pretty boys may love to sing about big ol’ pickup trucks, but it has always been circumspect if they could even pilot one in a pinch. Maybe Luke had a little too much of that “real good stuff up under the seat of his big black jacked up truck,” or maybe the floozy he was riding with heard “hand me another beer” one too many times (references to his #1 song “That’s My Kind of Night” people, keep up!), but either way, Luke Bryan’s ride ended up in the drink a few days ago. Luckily the matching henna tattoo he got with Jason Aldean did not get wet in the incident.
“Before y’all get out of your truck. Make sure to put it in park. Trust me.” Luke Bryan tweeted, along with a picture of his submerged pickup. Maybe Luke should have written the directions for setting the parking break on his hand like he did the words to the National Anthem.
We all do stupid things and maybe it’s not fair to laugh, but I’m still waiting for Luke Bryan to do something that is not stupid. Even the catfish sucking up Frito crumbs off his floorboards are saying, “Man, what a douchebag.” Lucky for Luke, his appropriately-titled album Crash My Party just went platinum, so he can probably afford seven more of these to screw up at his leisure.
A friendly suggestion to Luke Bryan and his ilk: stick to traversing the backroads and ponds vicariously through your songs just like your suburban-dwelling listeners do. The country can be a very, very dangerous place.
Late Tuesday night (9-17), Jason Aldean took time away from getting fitted with pairs of $700 jeans and polishing up his Medusa of wallet chains to take to Instagram and call out Zac Brown for his recent comments about country music, and specifically Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind Of Night,” characterizing it as the “worst song ever.” Though Zac Brown went out of his way to both say that his problem was not with Luke Bryan, but the song, and specifically clarify that he didn’t necessarily consider himself country either, though he does actually play real music with real instruments, Jason Aldean decided to take the low road with Zac Brown, and make it personal, saying:
I hear some other artist are bashing my boy @lukebryan new song, sayin its the worst song they have ever heard…….. To those people runnin their mouths, trust me when i tell u that nobody gives a shit what u think. Its a big ol hit so apparently the fans love it which is what matters. Keep doin ur thing LB!!!
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Look ladies and gentlemen, if Jason Aldean was ever pressured to actually write one of his hit songs, he’d choke like a Kardashian giving face love to a professional athlete. And what’s with the language on this prick for someone who’s supposed to be family entertainment? Do you kiss Luke Bryan with that same mouth Jason Aldean?
We already knew from Jason’s numerous stuttering, cardboard-like speaking presentations at stupid country music award shows that the man had less of a handle on the English language than a horny monkey does a greasy football. But if Aldean’s garbled communique is any indication, there’s Chilangos headed back home on the deportation bus that have better command of broken English than this plastic, country music Ken Doll. Match that with the vernacular of a 12-year-old female texter hopped up on half a dozen pixie sticks, and Aldean’s attempt at defending his man friend Luke Bryan is more of a laughable indictment of Aldean’s own character and intellectual attributes than a worthy defense of his “bro.” Aldean should have remembered the advice from those record executives: shut up, look pretty, and only open your mouth when the Auto-tuner is on.
And what do they say about people living in glass houses? A year ago this month, Jason Aldean and his shimmering white teeth were gracing the shiny cover of People Magazine’s Country Music Special Edition, singing the praises of Aldean as a superlative father and family man, while at the same exact time he was hanging out in an LA night club getting handsy with some loose American Idol castoff. Hey, we all make mistakes, but Aldean is two left feet in faux leather boots stained on the inside with residue from his chemical tan. Just stick to making sure you don’t fall off the riser when you’re working through your choreographed stage moves Aldean. We the people of country music will determine who needs to be called out or praised for their contributions to the genre.
And just appreciate this: Aldean took the time to call out Zac Brown, but still to this day has yet to reach out to Joe Diffie, a man he did an entire tribute song to. That’s right, Aldean hasn’t taken the time to even text Joe Diffie and his mullet, yet he’ll go on some rant replete with sophomoric abbreviations through the stupid-ass, adolescent forum of Instagram. Take this advice Aldean, keep your texting thumbs holstered in the loops of your $700 jeans, or tickling the #2 holes of your barely-legal groupies.
Who gives a shit what Zac Brown has to say? I do. We do. Are we the minority? Maybe, but the statistics show that our numbers are growing every day while mainstream music continues to circle the toilet hole of financial insolvency, trying to shore up their golden parachutes by instilling this sugar rush of completely vapid and talent-less hack acts that amount to nothing more than a harey carey maneuver, sticking a dagger right into the heart of country music, sacrificing its long-term health and viability to prop up the facade of the here and now.
You think the popularity of something proves its worth? In the minds and pocketbooks of a growing number of consumers, a song’s mainstream popularity is proper stimulation to avoid it at all costs. In a moment of vanity-filled rage and in a complete vacuum of self-awareness, you may think that you and Luke Bryan are kings of the mountain right now. But one day you’ll wake up and realize that mountain is nothing more than a heap of ashes of what country music once was, with no body or structure to that mound, and that the impending fall from the top will be quite precipitous.
Nobody gives a shit, Jason Aldean? Sorry “bro,” but you’re wrong. I give a shit. I do. And I’m not alone.
(This story has been updated. See below)
The war of words concerning the state of country music continues, with Jason Aldean being the latest to enter the fray. Responding to comments by Zac Brown in a recent radio interview, Jason Aldean took to his Instagram account to call out Zac Brown for calling Luke Bryan’s current #1 hit “That’s My Kind Of Night” the “worst song ever.”
I hear some other artist are bashing my boy @lukebryan new song, sayin its the worst song they have ever heard…….. To those people runnin their mouths, trust me when i tell u that nobody gives a shit what u think. Its a big ol hit so apparently the fans love it which is what matters. Keep doin ur thing LB!!!
In an interview on 93.7 JR FM in Vancouver, Canada last week with Barbara Beam, Zac Brown said in part:
I love Luke Bryan and he’s had some great songs, but this new song is the worst song I’ve ever heard. I know Luke, he’s a friend. ‘My Kind Of Night’ is one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I see it being commercially successful, in what is called country music these days, but I also feel like that the people deserve something better than that. Country fans and country listeners deserve to have something better than that, a song that really has something to say, something that makes you feel something. Good music makes you feel something. When songs make me wanna throw up, it makes me ashamed to even be in the same genre as those songs.
Zac Brown also went on to say, “If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up.”
Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean both hail from Georgia, and both appear together on the recent single “The Only Way I Know” that also includes Eric Church. Aldean’s backlash continues a war of words, with many mainstream artists coming out against the current direction of country music. Alan Jackson last week said there was “No country stuff left” on country radio. Gary Allan in an interview with Larry King recently said, “We’ve lost our genre.” And Kacey Musgraves, who was just nominated for 6 CMA Awards, has spoken out numerous times recently, saying in late August that she was tired of Affliction T Shirts and truck songs.
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UPDATE (9-19-13 1:20 PM CDT): One of the songwriters for Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” has come out in defense of Luke and his song. Professional songwriter Dallas Davidson, also responsible for such hits as “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” and Luke’s other big hit “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” telling Roughstock in part:
When Luke called and told me about it, the first thing I did was sit there and soak it in. A comment like that will hurt your feelings because when you write a song, it’s kind of like one of your babies. To hear a successful artist say it was the worst song he’s heard and it makes him want to throw up, that’s just not cool. I’m sure a lot of stuff like that has been said behind closed doors, and everybody has their right to their opinion, but to come out publicity and dog on other artists and dog on a song and the songwriters, to me, is just unacceptable and it’s not nice.
Zac Brown also specifically called out the songwriters in his initial comments, saying, “You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. There’s been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it’s the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
Dallas Davidson continues:
We write songs for a living. We write about what we know about. What I know about is sitting on a tailgate drinking a beer. Hell I live on the river. When Luke called me to tell me about what happened, I was literally smoking Boston butts on my homemade cooker at my 800 square foot river house with about four of my buddies with their trucks backed up, sitting on a tailgate. And they want to know why we talk about tailgates in songs … well that’s because we’re sitting on them. We did that 25 years ago, and we’re still doing it. I can’t write about things I don’t know about. Fortunately, there’s a lot of people in this country who do what I do. To say that that kind of song doesn’t fit in our genre is mind boggling because it absolutely does…..My mom always told me if you don’t have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all.
Texas country star Jack Ingram has also chimed in. Last night Luke Bryan performed “That’s My Kind Of Night” on the TV show America’s Got Talent. Ingram took to his Twitter and Instagram feed to first ask if Luke Bryan was singing a Lady Gaga song, and later said, “It’s not the words, it’s that melody..Whoa ah whoa ah oh ah from the Gaga song…is the same as “cook up catfash dinna” etc!”
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UPDATE (9-20-13 12:45 PM CDT): For those wondering why Jason Aldean came to the defense of Luke Bryan and “That’s My Kind Of Night,” it might be because Jason Aldean wanted to cut the song himself. In an interview with Country Countdown USA‘s Lon Helton, Aldean says, “I thought it was great. I wanted it. I wanted to cut it. I’ve figured that out over my career. When we put out ‘Dirt Road Anthem,’ there’s gonna be people that are gonna bash you for it. ‘Rap has no place in country,’ whatever. People either like it or they don’t. Hopefully there’s a market for it. So I think ['That's My Kinda Night' is] a hit, and I was hoping Luke wouldn’t cut it so I could have it.”
Also Justin Moore has spoken out about the feud, telling Nashville Gab in part, “Everybody has their own opinions, and I don’t have a problem with people having their own opinions, but where I do have a problem with it is when you call out somebody in your fraternity.”
UPDATE (9-21-13 5:50 PM CDT): A few more country personalities have chimed in.
Will Hoge through Twitter: “Millionaires arguing about who is ‘more country’ cracks me up. Trust me, farm hands and factory workers are countrier than both y’all. Shhh!”
Blake Shelton through Twitter: “So happy there’s a shit storm going on with some artists in country music and for once I’m NOT in the middle of it.. This calls for a drink!”
UPDATE (9-26-13 7:45 CDT): Jason Aldean has spoken once again on the feud, telling The Province:
Look, as an artist you’re not going to like everything every other artist does. There’s certain artists I really like what they do and certain artists I’m not that big of a fan. But I’m not publicly going to go out and trash ‘em. “I know Zac, I don’t have anything against the guy, he’s always been cool to me, but I didn’t like that. And of course Luke’s one of my best friends and it rubbed me wrong. You don’t have to go out and say those things. I don’t agree with any artist bashing another artist.
Also songwriter Adam Hood took to his Twitter page to say, “Thank you zac brown for speaking up and giving “the rest of us” a voice!”
I’ll be honest with you, I wanted to hate this album, and for many reasons. It begins with a general dislike of tribute, compilation, and cover albums altogether. We live in such a crowded music world, do we really need to hear a song that was perfectly fine the first time done some other way, or virtually the same way from a different artist? Sure it’s cool when they sneak one in on you in the context of an original album, but 14 reconstituted tracks stacked together can get unbearable.
And this particular album seemed like such a ploy. Alabama doesn’t really hold any sway on the heart of your average independent roots artist or their listeners—generally speaking of course—so it seemed like the idea of taking Americana names like Jason Isbell and Jessica Lea Mayfield, and mixing them with Texas/Red Dirt country artists like the Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland was just a way to trick people into paying attention to Alabama who otherwise wouldn’t.
And yeah, I’ll say it: Though I’ve always found a good handful of Alabama songs entertaining enough, and maybe some of their album cuts hold a little more substance than they tend to get credit for, they were sort of a mild band when looking at them in the big country music picture.
Alabama was quick to call on stereotypical references to the South and Alabama and evoke artifacts of Southern living in their songs, certainly laying at least some of the groundwork leading up to the parade of laundry list songs country music is plagued with today. That’s not to discount their entire catalog in any way or to imply their songs weren’t enjoyable, but Alabama “was what they were” so to speak—an accessible, sort of one-trick, songs-about-the-South pony that probably doesn’t deserve two tribute albums coming out for them in a month span.
And that’s the other thing. While Americana/Red Dirt fans were pouring over the lineup for High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama, salivating at names such as JD McPherson, Bob Schneider, John Paul White (The Civil Wars), and Shonna Tucker (Drive By Truckers), on the other side of the music world amidst the multiple wallet chains and Auto-tuned voices of mainstream land, they were looking at a completely other tribute album called Alabama & Friends that includes names like Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Florida Georgia Line. This 1 – 2 punch seemed to be part of a plan to create a widespread Alabama resurgence across the entire music panorama, tricking us into losing perspective on Alabama’s overall stature in the country music pantheon.
And wouldn’t it be so typical of one sect of fans to rally behind their particular Alabama tribute, and poo poo the other. Isn’t there enough new, original music out there right now that is more worthy of our time and ears instead of engaging in some culture war over ho hum, rehashed music?
But believe it or not, I like this album. I like it a lot. And its appeal goes beyond the sexy names of contributors, which is how they get you in the door. High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama offers a great mixture from how the respective artists approach each song. Your country artists, like the Turnpike Troubadours with “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle In The Band),” and Jason Boland with “Mountain Music,” play it pretty close to the original, not trying to get too cute.
Then you have more progressive artists like Jessica Lea Mayfield going in a completely different direction with her rendition of “I’m In A Hurry (And I Don’t Know Why)”—wholesale changing the feel and theme of the original composition without touching a word, making a fun song into a haunting indictment of modern life. Then you have an artist like JD McPherson truly putting his own throwback, 50′s-vibe on a song with “Why Lady Why.” As the cliché for cover songs go, he “made it his own.”
High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama gets right what so many cover and tribute albums get wrong, including its 2013 counterpart Alabama & Friends. A good tribute album doesn’t just pay tribute to the band or artist. It should be a 50/50 proposition, with the contributing artists also benefiting from the name recognition the tributee affords. You can tell the contributors had any and all latitude they desired to take these songs wherever they wanted, or to leave them pretty much the same if they so chose. And most importantly, when you’re listening to this album, you being to think, “Damn, Alabama did have some pretty good songs, didn’t they?” That’s how you know when a tribute album was a successful endeavor, when it has the power to change a mind, or remind you of something you had forgotten, or introduce something to a generation who has no sentimental tie to it.
A fun exercise with this album is to simply turn it on before looking at the track list and trying to determine which artist the song is being done by simply from the style and the singer’s voice. It is sort of an aptitude test to check your level of independent country and roots knowledge. There’s a few moments on the album that lost me, like T Hardy Morris extending the guitar solo at the end of “High Cotton” so long seemed a little self-indulgent, but even this will be cherished by the right ear. The Bind Boys of Alabama finishing off the album with “Christmas in Dixie” works even in the swelter of mid September because of the inspired performance they turn in.
Cover and tribute albums will always be held at a disadvantage because of their lack of original content, but I would put High Cotton: A Tribute To Alabama near the top of some of the stronger tribute efforts to grace the ears of the country music world.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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I like Will Hoge. I think he’s a good songwriter. A few months ago I wrote an article about 7 Men Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better, and I included Will Hoge on that list.
Will Hoge is a man who could make a difference. While delving into the business of Saving Country Music, folks can get baited into falling into the routine of lampooning anything construable as pop country, and championing anything independent or traditional. But in the end it may be artists like Will Hoge who reside between these two worlds—who have both commercial appeal and artistic substance—that have the greatest chance of making fundamental change in the mainstream music world.
When Will Hoge scored a #1 as a songwriter for Eli Young Band, he was destined to become a hot Nashville commodity, and that is exactly what has happened. His latest release is a song called “Strong,” and like so many of Will’s compositions, it demonstrates heart, depth, soul, and taste. There’s a lot of emotion in this song. It’s weighty. But in the immortal words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, it’s….
That’s right. The song itself is not a commercial per se. It was written to stand on its own. But just like Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock,” and John Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” it has been tapped to become the official song of the Chevy Silverado—destined to be played half a dozen times during every single football game for the next two years at least, and maybe longer. You may love this song now, but let’s see how you feel about it after the Super Bowl in 2015.
Unlike the other Silverado songs, “Strong” was never released on its own before being assigned this distinct position. Here in 2013, the official song of the Chevy Silverado feels just as much like an indelible American institution as anything. You can guess someone’s age by asking them what song they heard in Chevy commercials growing up. Does it make it somewhat shady, or blur the lines even more between commercial and artistic content that the song was never given its own legs before being released in this way?
I say no, and yes. By definition, this is a sellout move by Will Hoge, whether we like him as an artist, or not. Would it be fair to give him any less criticism than some people give an artist like, let’s say, Toby Keith, who’s made many appearances in Ford commercials over the years, and calls himself “The Ford Truck Man”? Does it make any difference that, unlike Toby’s Ford jingles, “Strong” actually has substance, and that it’s from an artist whose built a career on sincerity?
And then we get to the whole business of trucks, commercials, and country music to begin with, and my little semi-conspiracy that auto companies have been targeting the country music demographic with their marketing, and that is why there are so many truck songs in country music these days. And this leads to the conversation about the blurring of lines between what is music, and what is marketing. Jay-Z releases an album for free to people who buy a certain phone. Will Hoge releases a song through a Chevy commercial. At some point, it may become commonplace for artists and labels may use commercials and promotional product giveaways to release music in lieu of radio. But then again, who can blame them when corporate radio has become so collusive?
In the end, is the song good? Yes. For certain fans that worry about such things, is it unfortunate that it was released in a commercial? Of course. It’s a new paradigm that were likely to be faced with increasingly as music revenue continues to dwindle and artists and labels continue to try and discover new avenues to get their music to the masses. In the end, it was probably better that it was Will Hoge getting the payday for his truck song (that only mentions a truck once), instead of Jason Aldean or Tim McGraw, and that we will all be subjected to “Strong” over and over through the NFL season, and not McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
(the 1 1/4 for a good song, the 3/4′s for releasing it as a commercial)
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Let’s start this off by dispatching with the 700 lb gorilla in the room and say what everyone is thinking, but few are willing to say publicly: The only reason Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” is a #1 song is because bored suburban moms and their daughters want to fuck him. Luke Bryan’s music has the nutritional value of notebook paper, and is the clinical result of when an entertainer spreads his arms wide in a submissive pose and relents his entire will to the country music industrial complex, saying “Do your worst.” Luke Bryan has no soul. He is more machine than man. He has the integrity of a Guatemalan mule bridge with a squadron of M1 tanks trying to cross it. “That’s My Kind of Night” is like a diabolically-specialized form of audio diarrhea that marries the ideal ratio of water to solids so when it is sent through an industrial fan it inflicts the widest collateral damage on as many people as possible.
2 1/2 years ago a stupid little blog called Saving Country Music proposed that in due course, we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between country and rap songs. The hypothesis was generally laughed at or ignored, and even I didn’t know just how far we would come in such short order. And now yet again the #1 song in country music is a country rap featuring an appearance by a prominent hip hop artist. “A little Conway a little T-Pain?” Yep, that pretty much sums up American music in 2013, sans the Conway—replaced by Luke Bryan and his vomit-inducing country rap trend-chasing ilk.
But one of the disappointing things about this song is just how little T Pain there is after this was the big news ahead of the song’s release. Sure, he’s name dropped and appears on the track, but T-Pain is buried in the mix even more than the banjo. If you’re going to have T-Pain or some other washed-up rapper make an appearance on your shitty country song, then own it dammit. Have T-Pain popping out of a birthday cake with his rainbow dreads cascading out from under his top hat while shooting off Roman candles, Auto-tuning the shit out of anything and everything in his hack-ass, no-talent-having path. But T-Pain’s meager appearance is indicative of the approach to this song: round the edges off and take half measures until you have the most candy-assed, milktoast, generic song possible to infect the gullible masses with booty-shaking ear worms in a complete vacuum of artistic value.
The “Uh! Uh!” at the very beginning of “That’s My Kind of Night” is indicative to the kind of submissive role this supposed “country” song takes to its rap and pop influences. The reference to “real good stuff” hidden under the seat may seem risque for country, but this type of pussy-ass drug referencing has been bastardizing pop songs for years. And then here comes the indolent references to rural culture like “big black jacked up trucks” and “diamond-plated tailgates.” At one point Luke Bryan talks about floating down the Flint River with a girl and catching her a catfish dinner. Let me assure you folks, the only thing Luke Bryan could “catch” on a river may smell fishy, but that’s only because it originates from the pussing nethers of some floozy who’d be stupid enough to raft up with a tenderfoot like Luke in the first place.
The live video for this song does it one worse. As you will notice below, only women are shown in the crowd shots, because that is what all of this is geared toward because corporate country females are the last demographic too ditsy to figure out how to steal or stream their music. The submissiveness displayed by some of the young girls in this video is downright scarey, and reminds one of the worshiping of the Golden Calf in Chuck Heston’s The Ten Commandments. Seriously, what the fuck? The glazed over look in some of these girl’s eyes and the servile gesturing is outright cultish.
And what’s up with this guy and his monkeyshit green electric banjo? The thing looks like the instrumental equivalent of a bedazzled vagina. Anything whose paint job is characterized as “avocado burst” has no business in country music.
Worst country song ever? I’d have to say no. Jason Aldean’s “1994″ is a milestone that may take years to depose, but Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” is certainly worthy of the type of ridicule reserved for only the absolute worst of quotation mark “country” songs.
Two guns way down!
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(Editor’s note: This is a rare Saving Country Music guest contribution. It comes from Deb Bose, aka Windmills Country, originally posted it at mjsbigblog.com. You can also follow Windmills Country on Twitter.)
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Billboard and the echo chamber that is much of the entertainment media/blogosphere made much hoopla last week over Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” breaking the all-time record for weeks at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. With 22 weeks and counting atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, “Cruise” surpassed the 21-week totals accumulated by Eddy Arnold’s “I’ll Hold You in My Heart (Till I Can Hold You in My Arms)” in 1947-1948, Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On” in 1950, and Webb Pierce’s “In The Jailhouse Now” in 1955. Although Billboard acknowledges that this happened because of its new chart methodology (introduced in October 2012) incorporating airplay from all genres, paid digital download sales, and streaming into chart rankings for its genre-specific Hot Songs charts, it has failed to acknowledge how much this new chart record misrepresents the real impact of “Cruise” compared to other big country hits.
Closer scrutiny of the charts shows that, contrary to the flashy press releases and hype you may see regarding Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” its “record-setting” week is the historical achievement that isn’t. As I will show below, Cruise” isn’t even the biggest country hit in the past 3 years, never mind all time. The fact that “Cruise” is now Billboard’s record holder is the direct result of the timing of a methodology change, and if the same methodology were in place 7 years ago, “Cruise” would now rank 3rd or 4th among country crossover hits. Not first, and not close to first.
Let’s start by acknowledging the following: with 5.35 million in download sales and counting (41% and counting of that total from a remix of the song featuring rapper Nelly according to Wade Jessen of Billboard), plus major cross-format airplay that led to a #1 peak on the country airplay charts followed by top-10 peaks on the CHR/Pop and Adult Pop/HAC airplay charts, “Cruise” is an undeniably huge hit. Let’s also acknowledge Billboard’s well-intentioned desire to capture the changing environment for music consumption, which is what prompted last October’s move to carry the Hot 100 methodology over to genre-specific songs charts.
But let’s also note the problems with the change. Foremost, the incorporation of airplay from other formats basically handed control of the top of Billboard’s genre-specific Hot Songs charts over to programmers of the format that generates the largest audience impressions: Contemporary Hit Radio(or CHR)/Top 40. Because CHR/Top 40 programmers allot significantly more spins to their top songs than country programmers, more than twice as many in most cases, top 10 CHR/Top 40 hits generate larger audience impressions than top 10 country hits, and that’s before you consider the spillover from CHR/Top 40 playlists into Adult Top 40 (or Hot AC) and Adult Contemporary playlists. A look at the current Billboard airplay charts shows that the #10 song on the Billboard CHR/Top 40 chart (“Same Love” by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Mary Lambert) racked up higher audience impressions (49.558 million) than the current #1 song on the Billboard Country Airplay chart (“Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” by Randy Houser, which racked up 45.785 million AIs).
Let’s also make it clear that the objections to the new Hot Country Songs methodology have never been the incorporation of sales and streaming into a genre chart. The objection is to the inclusion of airplay from other formats on a genre-specific chart, especially the inclusion of airplay from other formats for remixes of a song, and also to the inclusion of sales of remixes on a genre-specific chart. Had the Hot Country Songs chart counted only airplay and sales for the original Florida-Georgia Line-only version of “Cruise,” the chart would have come closer to a true representation of the impact of “Cruise” as a “country” song. Let us also note that despite acknowledging that it was the release of the remix with Nelly that led to “Cruise”‘s surge back to #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and crediting Nelly on the Hot 100 chart, Billboard declined to credit Nelly on the Hot Country Songs chart.
How Billboard Overstates “Cruise”s Impact Compared To Other Crossover Hits
Now, let’s dig deeper to show just how unrepresentative the current Billboard Hot Country Songs historical ledger is when it comes to chart impact. To do that, let’s look at the airplay peaks and sales of some of the biggest crossover hits of the past seven years (arranged in chronological order of release)
Digital download sales
Carrie Underwood, “Before He Cheats” (charted from 2006-2007): 3.82 million
Taylor Swift, “Love Story” (charted from 2008-2009): 5.6 million (according to Billboard)
Taylor Swift, “You Belong With Me” (charted from 2009-2010): 4.3 million (as of 6/12/13, according to this article)
Lady Antebellum, “Need You Now” (charted from 2009-2010): 6.2 million (according to Billboard)
Florida-Georgia Line, “Cruise” (charted from 2012-2013): 5.3 million (according to Billboard)
Sales of ‘host’ album
Carrie Underwood, Some Hearts (released November 2005): 7.334 million as of 8/10/13 Billboard chart
Taylor Swift, Fearless (released November 2008): 6.757 million as of 8/10/13 Billboard chart
Lady Antebellum, Need You Now (released January 2009): 3.996 million as of the 6/01/13 Billboard chart
Florida-Georgia Line, Here’s To The Good Times (released December 2012): 917k as of 8/10/13 Billboard chart
Country Airplay peaks:
“Before He Cheats”: #1 for 5 weeks (5 weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs)
“Love Story”: #1 for 2 weeks (2 weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs)
“You Belong With Me”: #1 for 2 weeks (2 weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs)
“Need You Now”: #1 for 5 weeks (5 weeks at #1 on Hot Country Songs)
“Cruise”: #1 for 3 weeks (22 weeks and counting at #1 on Hot Country Songs)
Adult Pop Songs (Hot AC Airplay) peaks:
“Before He Cheats”: #5
“Love Story”: #3
“You Belong With Me”: #2
“Need You Now”: #1
Adult Contemporary Songs peaks:
“Before He Cheats”: #6
“Love Story”: #1
“You Belong With Me”: #1
“Need You Now”: #1
“Cruise”: TBD – “Cruise” is currently #17 on the AC chart.
So “Cruise” is the #3 digital download seller, its host album is at less than 1/4 of total sales of other albums with big crossover hits and unlikely to ever reach their sales levels, its pop airplay peaks are lower than those of “Need You Now,” “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me,” and it spent less time at #1 on the country airplay charts than “Need You Now” and “Before He Cheats.” Yet the historical record represented by Billboard Hot Country Songs claims that “Cruise” is by far the biggest Hot Country Songs hit.
Obviously, the reason for the discrepancy is the difference in methodology in tabulating the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. “Need You Now,” “Love Story” “You Belong With Me,” and “Before He Cheats” accrued their weeks atop Hot Country Songs when it was a country airplay-only survey. But just how off is the historical record that the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart represents when it comes to “Cruise” vis a vis other big crossover hits?
Well, the closest we can get to assessing this question is to comb through the Hot 100 charts, which since February 2005 have reflected the top songs by all-format airplay and paid digital downloads. As of October 2012, the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart is simply a distillation of the top country songs on or eligible to chart on the Hot 100. So, using Hot 100 rankings for country songs over the past 8 years will give us an extremely close approximation of what the top of Hot Country Songs chart would have looked like had it been constructed using the methodology used today (the only difference is that streaming data is absent from Hot 100 calculations prior to March 2012 in the case of Spotify and other audio streaming services and prior to February 2013 in the case of Youtube and other video streaming services).
I went back through the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the October 7, 2006 chart and noted the top charting country song on the Hot 100 every week, which would have been the #1 ranking song on the Billboard Hot Country Songs under the new methodology (minus streams, but those often favor crossover hits, anyway). Here’s what I found:
Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” was the Hot 100′s top ranking country song from: the 10/21/06 chart through the 2/24/07 chart, from the 3/24/07 chart through the 4/7/07 chart, on the 4/28/07 and 5/5/07 charts, and again from the 5/26/07 chart through the 9/08/07 chart.
Total weeks “Before He Cheats” spent as the top ranking country song on the Hot 100:40
Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” was the Hot 100′s top ranking country-based song from the 9/27/08 chart through the 10/25/08 chart, on the 11/8/08 chart, and again from the 12/06/08 chart until either 3/21/09 chart if you want to count Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” as a country song or until the 4/4/09 chart (when the Carrie Underwood/Randy Travis duet version of “I Told You So” rode a sales wave to become the top ranking country song on the Hot 100). Starting with the 4/11/09 chart through the 6/13/09 chart, “Love Story” was the top ranking country song unless, again, “The Climb” counts.
Total weeks “Love Story” spent as the top ranking country based song on the Hot 100: (if we don’t count “The Climb” as a country song) 33 (if we do count “The Climb” as a country song): 21
Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” became the Hot 100′s top ranking country-based song either on the 7/04/09 chart (if we don’t count “The Climb”) or on the 7/11/09 chart (if we do count “The Climb” as a country song) and remained in that position through the 11/07/09 chart. It once again became the Hot 100′s top ranking country based song on the 11/21/09 chart and for 3 weeks starting with the 1/09/10 chart.
Total weeks “You Belong With Me” spent as the top ranking country based song on the Hot 100: (if we don’t count “The Climb” as a country song) 23 (if we do count “The Climb” as a country song): 22
Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” was the top ranking country-based song on the Hot 100 starting with the 11/28/2009 chart through the 1/2/2010 chart and again on the 1/30/2010 chart. “Need You Now” also held the top ranking for country based songs on the Hot 100 from the 2/13/2010 chart straight through to the 8/27/2010 chart.
Total weeks “Need You Now” spent as the top ranking country based song on the Hot 100: 33
Lengths of other notable reigns as the top ranking country or country based song on the Hot 100:
Miley Cyrus,”The Climb” (if we count it as eligible for Hot Country Songs): 15 weeks
Taylor Swift, “Teardrops On My Guitar”: 12 weeks
Taylor Swift, “Back To December”: 13 weeks
The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”: 10 weeks
Jason Aldean (featuring Ludacris), “Dirt Road Anthem”: 8 weeks (tied for the longest reign since October 2006 without major crossover airplay)
Luke Bryan, “Drunk On You”: 8 weeks (tied for the longest reign since October 2006 without major crossover airplay)
“Cruise” has just achieved 22 weeks as the top ranking country based song on the Hot 100, but had the same Hot Country Songs methodology been in place 7 years ago, it would still be months away from catching Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” (arguably), and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” With “Cruise” now on the decline, Luke Bryan set to release a new album on 8/13 and hits by Randy Houser and Hunter Hayes gathering airplay and sales momentum, it is unlikely “Cruise” will be able to maintain its perch as the top ranking country song for the time needed to match those other crossover hits.
What’s illustrated above is why Billboard’s crowning of Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise” as the longest Billboard Hot Country Songs chart-topper of all time is a milestone without meaning. As music awards season heats up, we can likely expect a lot of crowing from Florida-Georgia Line’s team about “Cruise’s” achievement and why it’s necessary for the industry to acknowledge it over more acclaimed, substantial and risky work like that of country singer/songwriter Kacey Musgraves. But as you can see, this is a historical accomplishment that isn’t, and it exposes more than anything why Billboard importing the 68 year history of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart into the chart with this new methodology has compromised Billboard’s status as a reliable and representative historical chart authority. There is more reason than ever to not believe the hype.
So many of pop country’s celebrities have such a vacuous amount of life skills, without being propped up as pretty faces by the country music industry, they’d be clueless in the real world. Others probably have some skills outside of singing into Auto-tuners at concerts, and that’s probably what they should be doing instead of trying to be artists.
Always wanting to be helpful here at Saving Country Music, we have compiled some ideas/suggestions of what some big pop country stars could do if they had to find other employment.
Star: Justin Moore
Yes, because he’s barely tall enough to ride the Tilt-A-Whirl, and is no more than 95 pounds soaking wet. Gotta work what God gave you.
Star: Joe Diffie
Profession: Mall Cop
“No Mr. Diffie, no need to cut the mullet or shave the mustache. You’ll fit right in here at The Shops at Westcreek.”
Star: Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts
Profession: Gynecologist / Youth Minister / Celebrity Chef / Professional Karaoke Singer
I know, quite a breadth of professions. But with hair that great, the possibilities are endless!
Star: Brantley Gilbert
Profession: MMA-World Ball Sack Sniffer
He can pump iron and down copious amounts of steroids, but doesn’t have the instincts or smarts to actually handle it mono e mono in the octagon. So he stands in a corner with a towel thrown over his shoulder, holding a water bottle, waiting to wipe up a nosebleed and maybe pick off a sloppy second groupie stumbling away from one of the contenders.
Star: Brain Kelley of Florida Georgia Line
Profession: Mannequin / Wallflower
Doesn’t really sing, doesn’t really play guitar. This dude does less than Congress.
Star: Colt Ford
Profession: Grimmace at McDonaldland / Transvestite Truck Driver
I don’t know what mental image is more disturbing: Colt Ford cooped up in a big purple suit (just imagine the butt sweat), or his rippling thighs confined by fishnets, with a dash of eau de toilette perfuming his pasty inner thighs. (Worth noting he tried his hand at professional golf for a while.)
Star: Luke Bryan
Profession: Male Stripper
You may want to check the ID’s on some of those girls, Luke.
Star: Gretchen Wilson
Profession: Leg Breaker / Diesel Mechanic
She can beat you at arm wrestling, or strip down an engine and machine your headers all before lunch.
Star: Dave Haywood of Lady Antebellum
Profession: Non-threatening male elementary school teacher / puppeteer
Has there ever been a more emasculated star in the history of country music?
Profession: Roided-out, AA-level, baseball wash out
Aldean actually almost went to college on a baseball scholarship and had some moderate skills in that direction. Our ears could’ve only been so lucky….
Star: Kenney Chesney
Profession: Sandals / flowery shorts model
Oh great, yet another damn song about hanging out on the beach. And what the hell’s going on in this photo? Does he even have pants on?
Star: Blake Shelton
Profession: Manure Shoveler
After all, isn’t that what his initials stand for?
Recently Brad Arnold from the rock band 3 Doors Down told Billboard he’s planning to “Go Country” on his first solo album. In 2013, stories of entertainers that “go country” are routine occurrences instead of reasons for surprise, intrigue, or outrage, because country music has officially become the default repository for talent fleeing the collapse of mainstream rock or the place to find strength in the twilight of a dying entertainment career.
Here are some of the most notorious “gone country” moments over the years.
Even the traditionally pliable, easily-wooed pop country fan saw through this one. When Jessica Simpson told the world she wanted to go back to her roots, she unfortunately didn’t mean skipping her weekly peroxide treatments. Though curiosity factor and a catchy single in “Come On Over” garnered her some minor attention, her first (and only) country album, 2008′s Do You Know only sold a grand total of 173,000 copies, and Simpson quickly scrapped her “gone country” charade. Simpson’s low point was reached when fans at the Country Thunder Festival in Wisconsin notoriously booed Simpson virtually off the stage.
When the pop world got tired of her teen icon bit, her boobs were no longer buxom enough for Playboy, and after she was the very first contestant to get booted from, get this, “Hulk Hogan’s Celebrity Championship Wresting,” 80′s flash-in-the-pan Tiffany turned to country music to try and stop the circling of the drain known as her entertainment career. Remember her 2011 country debut Rose Tattoo and its lead single “Feel The Music”? Yeah, me neither. How did Tiffany promote her first country release? By going on tour with another 80′s teen idol, Debbie Gibson, in a retrospective dubbed “Journey Through The 80′s” that featured the two rehashing 80′s pop songs as well as performing Broadway show tunes. Now if that ain’t country…
Alright, so the punchline here is that the bald-headed goofball who regularly runs himself out of breath during highlight reel on Fox’s NFL broadcast actually did have a career in country music. But you know what, the 4-time Super Bowl winner and Football Hall of Famer wasn’t half bad when he belted out his version of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Believe it or not, the song peaked at #17 on the country charts in 1976. Two Bradshaw country albums in 1980 had not nearly the success though, and Bradshaw eventually dropped back 20 yards and punted on his dream of being a big time country star.
Worst “gone country” story ever? Lionel is in strong contention for not even offering up original material, but simply taking the track list from his “Greatest Hits” album and rehashing it into pseudo-country songs with the help of a cavalcade of pop country puppets…and Willie Nelson. Country music rolled out the red carpet for Lionel like no other pop gone country performer before, with the ACM’s giving Lionel his own prime time special. The result? Richie’s “gone country” album Tuskegee was the best selling album in all of country for the first half of 2012, despite not one song on the album being anything the public hadn’t heard before, and without the album producing even one single with any significant radio play. And for this, yes, we did use the most unflattering picture of Lionel we could find.
Can you get any more pompus than superimposing yourself on the set of The Johnny Cash Show, sharing the stage with the Man In Black? Well that’s what Everlast, the front man for the 90′s rap group House of Pain did back in 2008 when he remixed Johnny’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with House of Pain’s only hit “Jump Around.” This wasn’t Everlast’s first run at country rap. In 2004 he released an album called White Trash Beautiful that had a country-rap feel; his first on the rap label Def Jam. The album was panned by critics, was a commercial flop, and Def Jam dropped him.
When the whole late 90′s angst “children of divorce” bit had run its course, singer Aaron Lewis of the depresso rock band Staind shed the eyebrow ring and started playing solo acoustic shows and calling them country after his rock radio support dried up, and despite the songs sounding no different from his acoustic rock solo work. His lead country single “Country Boy” was laughable at best, with self-aggrandizing lyrics and a silly self-righteous video. His second single, the formulaic “Endless Summer” had the dubious distinction of being the first song to name drop Jason Aldean.
Things did improve slightly on Lewis’s first LP, The Road.
Sheryl Crow is like a bad rash that spreads everywhere and won’t go away. It was only a matter of time before she brought her bland mix of genero pop and lame rock to the country airwaves, despite there being little to no difference sonically between her pre and post “gone country” material. It’s not that Sheryl Crow’s music is terrible. It’s the everywhere nature of her persona always being shoehorned into every televised music event, album compilation, awards show, etc. etc., regardless of genre or context. We get it. It’s Sheryl Crow. Enough already.
Kid Rock has been accused of “going country” many times from incorporating country elements into his songs, including with Sheryl Crow on their successful 2002 duet “Picture.” But Kid Rock has always flatly denied wanting to be part of the genre itself.
Darius Rucker, aka Hootie from Hootie & The Blowfish blew the rock scene for greener country pastures in 2008. However bland Hootie’s country music might be, he’s done a fair job over the years keeping his nose clean and not releasing anything too offensive. Some folks were up in arms when he was inducted to the Grand Ole Opry, but that is more on the Opry than Rucker.
Bing Crosby was actually the first pop star to go country. In 1944 he released a version of Al Dexter’s “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” and because Billboard had just launched a dedicated country chart, it became country music’s very first #1.
Bon Jovi became the first rock band to top the country charts with their song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” featuring Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. That enticed the hair-era band to cut the album Lost Highway in Nashville. It included guest appearances by Big & Rich and Leann Rimes.
Metallica‘s song “Mama Said” off their 1996 album Load featured steel guitar and a cowboy-hatted James Hetfield in the song’s video. Hefield also covered Waylon Jennings’ “Don’t Y’all Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out of Hand” for the 2003 tribute album I’ve Always Been Crazy.
Mike D of the Beastie Boys, under the persona “Country Mike” released a country record in 2000 called Country Mike’s Greatest Hits, but he only made it available to friends and family. Bootlegs of the album are available, and copies of the record on vinyl bring top dollar on eBay.
Kevin Bacon, along with his brother Michael Bacon, have a band called The Bacon Brothers that play country rock. Since the brothers have been playing music with each other since they were kids, it’s hard to characterize them as “going country” even though Kevin is primarily known as an actor. The brothers also work together for music on TV shows and soundtracks.
Lady Gaga released “Born This Way (The Country Road Version)” in March of 2011, making tabloid writers run to their laptops to declare The Fame Monster was “going country,” but it was more a ploy to continue to drive sales for that one particular song.
Jewel, Kelly Clarkson, Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell, Kevin Costner, Olivia Newton-John and Michelle Branch are some other non-country stars that have “gone country.”
As you might suspect, at the halfway point of 2013 a list of mainstream country’s worst misdeeds is mostly populated by an ear-serrating cacophony of country rap. With only a couple of exceptions, country rap has replaced what last year at this time was a parade of laundry list-themed songs. Country rap has become the next devolving plateau in mainstream country’s tireless effort to find the true meaning of “lowest common denominator.”
Florida Georgia Line – “Cruise” (remix ft. Nelly)
Just take a moment to appreciate that this song was on Saving Country Music’s 2012 “Worst Country Songs So Far,” yet nearly a year later it still sits at #1 on Billboard’s country chart. “Cruise” very well might go down as the biggest single in the history of country music. So with that in mind, we’ll re-qualify it for this dubious distinction on the technicality that they remixed it with rapper Nelly in 2013.
Jason Aldean – “1994″
“In Music Row’s everlasting quest to train all of its resources on scouring America to unearth only the finest, most purest form of audio diarrhea, they have struck the mother of all motherloads originating from the unholy bowels of Macon, Georgia’s Jason Aldean. Yes Nashville, pat yourself on the back, let all of the Auto-Tuned stars sing out in unison as Stratocasters bray out a cacophony of stadium rock riffs in unified celebration–you have officially discovered the shittiest country music song to ever touch the human ear drum.
“Do I understand the levity and the long history of country music that must be considered to declare “1994″ the worst country song that has ever been released? Yes, yes I do. And yet I still stand firmly behind that opinion.” (read full rant)
Michael Jackson Montgomery – “I Support The Troops More Than You”
After slipping into an Affliction T-Shirt two sizes too small and shoving a couple of tennis balls down his skinny jeans to embellish the silhouette of his manhood, the pop country star that never was named Michael Jackson Montgomery makes us cringe from the sappy, mawkish, flag-waving hyper patriotism that goes far enough beyond the line of patriotic decorum to be called an American embarrassment. A terrorist might die every time this song is played, but the tender ears of the freedom-loving world is the collateral damage. Eat your heart out Toby Keith.
Brad Paisley & LL Cool J – “Accidental Racist”
“Brad Paisley is bored. And he’s been bored with country music for years now. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love country. Brad is the savant of country music, but like the gifted kid in elementary school who when not challenged begins to lose focus or even lash out, Brad has fallen deeper into joke songs and gimmickry to keep himself engaged with country as time has gone by.
“Accidental Racist” is outside of what is relevant in music right now. Sappy racism songs went out of vogue in the 90′s. And it’s an oversimplification of the issue. Race in the United States is in a very fluid state at the moment. We have a black President. One of the largest concentrations of black Americans is in the South. If you’re white and living in Texas, you’re a minority. This is not 1991, and we’re not living in the shadow of the Rodney King trial. It doesn’t mean racism is dead, but in no way does it help to revert back to old platitudes and plays for emotionalism.” (read full review)
Blake Shelton – “Boys ‘Round Here”
It may lose out to Jason Aldean’s “1994″ as the worst country song ever, but it is a close second. What makes “Boys ‘Round Here” more dangerous is people actually like it, resulting in it becoming a #1 hit.
“Just when we thought the American public was finally getting wise to the fact that country rap is a Cancer of Western Civilization, needing to be cut out and radiated like the grapefruit-sized, puss-filled tumor it is, here it comes roaring back like a raging case of bleeding hemorrhoids.
“Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radio’s weak-of-mind demo. The “boys” in the title of “Boys ‘Round Here” is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. It’s the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your mom’s house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut.” (read full review)
Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel”
It’s not that this song is terrible, or even that Darius Rucker’s version is that bad. It just that this song’s legacy has become so quagmired and convoluted, you can’t like it anymore, even though you still kind of do. Earlier this year on NBC’s The Voice, one group of contestants performed the song and attributed it to Darius Rucker, when it should have been attributed to Old Crow Medicine Show….which really should have been attributed to Bob Dylan.
It is a good song. But good gosh, let it ride off into the sunset already.
“As if legions of college town string bands full of anthropology majors mercilessly regurgitation “Wagon Wheel” over and over to try and score hummers from undergrads after the show in their Volvos with the back windows tattooed with political stickers wasn’t enough, now Hootie has lent his back to the collective toil of the Western World to do everything humanly possible to run this song into the proverbial ever-loving ground so hard that it taps the mantle of the earth and causes a catastrophic volcanic and tectonic event that wipes out the entire human $@#*ing race.” (read full rant)
Joe Diffie feat. D. Thrash – “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun”
“Did you feel that Oklahoma? That was the earth tremor caused by your native son Joe Diffie selling out so violently it measured 2.1 on the Richter scale. The mulleted, cop mustached 90′s semi-sta has released an “answer” song to what many consider the worst song in country music history, Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994,” and it is as embarrassing as puberty.
“The beats for “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” sound like they were composed by a 7th grader who just snorted his ADD meds, just like all of the beats of the Jawga Boyz’s bombastic and trashy tracks. The beat doesn’t even get five seconds into the song without going off meter. There’s biscuit crumbs in Joe Diffie’s mustache that could compose a better beat. And then D Thrash’s first line doesn’t even rhyme. Are you effing serious with this song? “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” makes me want to make out with my cousin and bet on a dog fight.” (read full rant)
It was November of 2008 at the annual Country Music Association Awards, and Kid Rock came out on stage to perform “All Summer Long,” a remixed rap rock song that borrows from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Warren Zevon. Never before had such a non-country genre-bending song been performed on the CMA stage, but considering Kid Rock’s strong ties to the country music industry, the performance seemed par for country’s course of slowly contemporizing away from its traditions….except for one curious thing.
Trailing Kid Rock out on the stage was hip-hop icon Lil’ Wayne. It was curious that Lil’ Wayne was there, but not completely surprising. Lil’ Wayne had performed “All Summer Long” with Kid Rock only 2 months before at MTV’s VMA Awards. But instead of rapping like he did at the VMA’s, Lil’ Wayne just sort of stood there, pretending to strum a guitar that clearly was not in the mix.
Why was Lil’ Wayne there? Nobody was quite sure, but at the time Saving Country Music surmised that this was an act of desensitization from Music Row in Nashville. Facing nearly a decade of declining sales and needing something to shake up the landscape, allowing rap to infiltrate country’s inner sanctum could be a way to grow country’s fan base, entice younger listeners, and maintain the commercial viability of the industry. The country music industry would have to warm the country fan base up to the idea first. So bring Kid Rock out, and Lil’ Wayne with him, but don’t allow anyone to rap just yet. There would be time for that down the road.
Just 2 weeks after the 2008 CMA’s, country rap king Colt Ford released his first major album Ride Through The Country, and soon small but well-supported independent country rap outfits like the LoCash Cowboys and Moonshine Bandits began to emerge, creating a substantial country rap underground that saw significant success in the YouTube realm, garnering 5 and 6 million hits on some videos despite having no initial label support, and no radio play. Country rap had already been around way before 2008, with Cowboy Troy releasing his debut album Loco Motive back in 2005, and many other independent artists dabbling with the genre blending concept years before. But Colt Ford began to open the door of acceptance for country rap in the mainstream by collaborating with country artists like Jamey Johnson, John Michael Montgomery, and Brantley Gilbert. Country rap songs were still not receiving radio play or award show accolades though. The country rap commodity was just too risque for mainstream labels and radio programmers to get behind, and it remained a very small sliver of the greater country music pie.
Then came Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song that initially appeared on Colt Ford’s first album and co-written with Brantley Gilbert, and everything changed. A mild-mannered song compared to most country rap, and coming from a polished Caucasian performer that the mainstream country community was already comfortable with, country rap was able to finally find it’s acceptance on the popular country radio format. In early June of 2011 at the CMT Awards hosted by Kid Rock, Jason Aldean came out to perform the quickly-rising single, and hip-hop artist Ludacris joined Aldean on stage, this time to actually rap. “History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage, and it had been. Mainstream country now had its country rap cherry officially popped, and rap was now a viable, accepted art form in country music.
And it would become a commercially successful one too when “Dirt Road Anthem” eventually hit #1 on the Billboard charts in late July of 2011. The effects of “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 were significant. Radio programmers who had been reluctant to bring country rap to the airwaves for years had officially waved the white flag. At the time Saving Country Music also predicted:
Just like how you can blame a blizzard on a rash of births nine moths later, the Music Row machine undoubtedly is being retooled to meet the burgeoning country rap demand, and we will be seeing the results in the upcoming months. The only question is, in what form will it be? Will we see established artists adopting the new style? Or will it be the popularization of the Colt Fords and Moonshine Bandits of the world?
The prediction of Music Row retooling to become a assembly line for country rap was correct. What was not correct was the timeline. Apparently 9 months lead time was a little too optimistic, and after “Dirt Road Anthem” dominated the charts, country rap went somewhat dormant in mainstream country for nearly 1 1/2 years. “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best selling single in all of country in 2011. But in 2012, country rap was virtually absent from the mainstream country scene. As Saving Country Music explained looking at 2012 end-of-year sales numbers:
Rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Then came 2013, and “1994,” Jason Aldean’s follow-up country rap to “Dirt Road Anthem.” Though the song was a little too fey for mainstream country ears and topped out at #10 on the Billboard charts, it was the spearhead to what would become a massive and historic influx of country rap songs and influences flooding the country music format heading into the summer of 2013.
Blake Shelton, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and influential personality from his work on the popular reality TV show The Voice, released his own country rap song “Boys ‘Round Here” that quickly became a #1. Country duo Florida Georgia Line who regularly incorporates Ebonic verbiage in their songs achieved a #1 single with “Cruise” that is currently poised to become the best selling song of 2013. When the duo remixed the smash hit with hip-hop star Nelly, it created yet another chart-topping country rap collaboration.
All of a sudden, hip-hop influences were, and currently are dominating the top of the country music charts, asserting just as much influence, if not more than indigenous country influences, with a bevy of new country rap tunes from numerous artists ready to be released, and mainstream artists lining up to try and be a part of the trend. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J made waves by collaborating on the country rap song “Accidental Racist.” 90′s country star Joe Diffie, the muse for Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994,” has released an “answer” song called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” with the Jawga Boyz to attempt to exploit the renewed attention for his career. And Luke Bryan has recorded a country rap song with Auto-Tune maestro T Pain to be released soon.
But the infiltration of country rap is not just confined to underground circles and mainstream collaborations, it has touched the very foundations of country’s traditions and history. In May of 2013, the rapping grandson-in-law of Waylon Jennings named “Struggle” released an album with 7 of the 9 songs being Waylon tunes with Struggle rapping over them. The country rapping LoCash Cowboys have a song called “Best Seat in the House” from their new self-titled album that includes a collaboration with the recently-deceased George Jones—an icon of traditional country fans who traditionally do not favor the influx of rap influences in country music. The country rap collaboration is possibly the final track George Jones ever recorded.
Other artists that are traditionally seen as respites from the commercial trends in Nashville like Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and their mutual band The Pistol Annies have participated in the country rap craze, leaving mainstream country fans that are looking to avoid the trend few options. The Pistol Annies appeared in Blake Shelton’s country rap song and video “Boys ‘Round Here,” and Miranda Lambert participated in the “celebrity remix” of the song, even though at one point she took to Twitter to proclaim that remixes “pissed her off.”
Ashley Monroe appears in a just released acoustic version of the Macklemore rap song “Thrift Shop.” June of 2013 has been jam packed with new country rap song and video releases, with new collaborations rumored seemingly every day as artists and labels scramble to figure out how to capitalize on the country rap phenomenon.
Which begs the next question, is this a craze that will show a predictable lightning-fast life span and quickly fizzle, or are we seeing the long-forecasted dramatic, wholesale, long-term change in the traditional genre formats of American music, where all genres coalesce into one big mono-genre where contrast and diversity between disparate art forms will be resolved, leaving no true regionalism and no cultural separation, just one homogeneous corporate American music culture?
That remains to be seen. But wherever country rap goes, we can say with confidence that the way country music sounds in the summer of 2013 is very similar to the way the mono-genre would sound like if it is realized in the long-term.
Potential Ramifications of Rap’s Infiltration of Country
The benefits of the emerging mono-genre can be the breakdown of musical prejudices across genre lines, but the main impetus is the broadening of markets of music consumers for record labels to take advantage of. Though traditional genres can be helpful to consumers by classifying the style of the music so they can choose if it is worth their time, genres limit the scale of potential consumers for a given music franchise.
The problem with the mono-genre, especially for country music is the potential loss of autonomy and control over the music by the genre, both sonically and through the genre’s infrastructure and institutions. During music’s lost decade of the 2000′s when the industry bobbled the move to digitization, country music weathered the storm much better than other genres because it had its own built-in institutions like the CMA and ACM Awards shows, and the Country Music Association itself which unites US radio broadcasters around the country format. And unlike hip-hop or rock and roll, country music is heavily steeped in tradition, with legacy institutions like The Grand Ole Opry acting as pillars for the music. But if the term “country” can’t define a well-recognized sound, it risks diminishing the effectiveness and viability of these country music institutions in the long term.
Since the beginning, country has taken a submissive role to hip-hop in the formation of the mono-genre. Though you may find some small exceptions, country influences have not encroached on the mainstream hip-hop format virtually at all, and certainly haven’t risen to the point of dominating the hip-hop charts, like hip-hop influences are now dominating the country charts. Helping this trend along is Billboard’s new chart rules that take into consideration sales and plays of music from other genres in rating country artists. So country artists whose songs cross over to the pop or hip-hop formats gain extra points compared to their pure country counterparts.
Hip-hop is in the cat bird’s seat in the mixing of the two genres. Artists like Ludacris, Nelly, and Lil’ Wayne can benefit from the exposure the country format gives them, but hip-hop doesn’t have to return the favor. The reason there are no country-influenced songs at the top of the hip-hop chart is because the hip-hop community would not allow it.
Hip-hop as a genre is secure and confident in its standing with young demographics, and in its future, while country seems to be constantly wanting to apologize for itself and find new ways to attract younger listeners. Hip-hop artists are just sitting back, waiting for the managers of mainstream country artist to call looking for collaborations, and all of a sudden the hip-hop artists’ name and music are exposed to an entirely new crowd.
Some mainstream country artists like Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift have participated in hip-hop collaborations not featured in the country format, but the collaborations are almost always done on hip-hop’s terms, with the purpose of exposing hip-hop artists to a wider audience primarily, instead of vice versa.
The debate about the encroachment of rap and other hip-hop influences into country is much broader than disagreements based on taste. To maintain the autonomy and integrity of country music’s institutions, the genre music keep in check influences from other mediums. The argument regularly made for allowing hip-hop influences to infiltrate the format is that country music needs something new to continue to grow and appeal to new audiences and younger people. What this argument fails to recognize is that rap in itself is an over 30-year-old art form, and that it has a dubious history when mixing with other genres at the mainstream level.
When rap mixed with mainstream rock in the mid 90′s with acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, it was seen as the beginning of the mainstream rock format losing its identity, and the diminishing of rock music’s control over its radio format and institutions. This gave rise to “indie” rock, and punk and metal undergrounds that purposely avoided mainstream rock avenues and robbed talent from the mainstream ranks. Soon rock ceased to be the catch-all term for guitar-based American music, and country and hip-hop emerged as the more dominant and influential genres. Eventually rock artists like Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Aaron Lewis of Staind, Kid Rock, and many more had to solicit country for support in the aftermath of mainstream rock’s implosion.
It is unfair to completely hypothesize what will happen with the mixing of country and hip-hop by what happened in the past because of the tremendous flux the music industry is experiencing due to the ever-evolving technology quotient. Everything an educated guess at best these days in music. But what we do know is that we will discover what the effects of the mono-genre will be because it is unquestionably upon us. The next question is, will it stick around, or will the mono-genre break back down into its traditional genres in the future? How country music as an institution will endure the changes remains to be seen, but country would be wise to keep open a debate on influence, tradition, and autonomy, with a very long-term perspective always in mind. Because if not, country artists could be finding themselves searching for another genre for support, just as rock artists did in the aftermath of hip-hop infiltrating its genre.
Yes ladies and gentlemen, Joe Diffie—the mulleted, cop mustached 90′s semi-star—has released an “answer” song to what many consider the worst song in country music history, Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994.” Diffie’s new song is called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun,” and it is as embarrassing as puberty.
Listen, Joe Diffie. Seriously man, I hate to break it to you, but Jason Aldean has no idea who the hell you are. And neither does his body spray-drenched Tap Out T shirt-wearing corporate country fan base. Aldean is just reading lyrics off of a teleprompter, waiting for the concert to end so he can get down to his real passion: plowing through the line of 20-year-olds waiting backstage to give him hummers.
Just sit back and appreciate this folks: These two dudes are releasing tribute songs to each other, yet they’re not friends, they’ve never met, or even conversed according to reports. There was speculation that Aldean and Diffie would share the stage at the ACM Awards in April where Aldean was scheduled to perform “1994,” but nothing came to pass. They spent the effort to erect this…
…yet couldn’t pony up for a Fun Fare on Southwest Airlines to get ol’ Diffie and his mustache to be part of the presentation.
How much money has this Joe Diffie song made Jason Aldean, yet Jason is too busy getting fitted with wallet chains and having his jean pockets embroidered with glitter thread to call Joe on the damn phone? Aldean told radio station 107.7 GNA when asked if he’d ever talked to Diffie, “No. My booking agent Kevin Neal who is a mutual friend of ours, I think he’s talked to him. But I haven’t actually talked to Joe yet.”
Aldean thinks that maybe a mutual friend talked to Joe? What the hell is all this Joe Diffie, “1994″ nonsense about then? You’ll tribute the man in song, but won’t shoot him a text message? Is it because Aldean isn’t paying tribute to Joe, his mullet, his mustache, his pudgy face, or his paltry singles catalog that they pilfered for “1994″ lyrics, he’s actually making fun of it? Maybe Joe Diffie is the jester for their little modern-era, ultra-ironic, making-fun-of-country-music’s-past radio hit, not the king.
And so what does Joe Diffie do about it? Does he bow up? No, he jumps on the bandwagon and begins riding this wave of shitty music and anachronistic fallacy to its fatalistic end by releasing his own country rap song, and with all people, the absolute toilet hole of musical expression, the creatively bankrupt and bottomfeeding D. Thrash from the Jawga Boyz. What, were Colt Ford and The Moonshine Bandits too busy bankrupting a Chinese buffet? No, like Aldean, they didn’t answer Diffie’s calls because they knew this would turn out to be an embarrassment.
Using anything touched by the Jawga Boyz for anything other than removing the result of a bowel movement from your backside is the textbook definition of “slumming.” They are the music equivalent of a bright yellow XXXL Tweety Bird T shirt from Wal-Mart with dried spaghetti caked on the front.
The beats for “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” sound like they were composed by a 7th grader who just snorted his ADD meds, just like all of the beats of the Jawga Boyz’s bombastic and trashy tracks. The beat doesn’t even get five seconds into the song without going off meter. There’s biscuit crumbs in Joe Diffie’s mustache that could compose a better beat. And then D Thrash’s first line doesn’t even rhyme. Are you effing serious with this song? “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” makes me want to make out with my cousin and bet on a dog fight.
The video for “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” meets the demands of the song by being completely devoid of substance, theme, intelligence, or creative expression. Instead we get trucks, chicks, mud, and hot rods, like we haven’t seen this same idiotic shit used over and over.
And the saddest thing for poor old Joe Diffie is that “1994″ has already petered off the country music charts, and never really mounted much of a charge to begin with. It was too awful, too transparent, and Joe Diffie too much of an unknown quantity to the mainstream country listener for it to hold anyone’s attention. So even though Diffie heard the song and got dollar signs in his eyes and delusions of a big career comeback, “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” will be confined to a narrowcasted YouTube phenomenon (just like the rest of the Jawga Boyz’s songs), appealing only to poor white rural folks who’ve cast off their indigenous culture to take part in corporate cultural front running, and curiosity seekers looking for comedic relief.
Sorry Joe. I’ll still go to bat for you and say who had a few cool songs back in the 90′s, and that your bluegrass album wasn’t half bad, and neither is your chorus for this song. But country rap, and the Jawga Boyz? This is a prayer for relevancy guaranteed to go unanswered.
Two shotguns down!
I’ll be honest with you, it makes me chuckle a little bit when I see some traditional country fan get hot and bothered over Kenny Chesney. It’s not that Kenny Chesney and his flowery shorts and flip flop songs don’t deserve a spirited berating every once and a while, but the exercise seems so out-of-touch with the current trends in popular country music. Chesney may still be one of the few country acts who can consistently sell out stadiums, and maybe he has a song tickle the Top 10 every so often. But his tenure as one of country’s top influential artists has long since passed.
It was Taylor Swift who broke Chesney’s streak of four CMA “Entertainer of the Year” awards in five years when the young songstress shocked the world in 2009, stimulating real country fans to take to the internet en masse to proclaim country music dead. The man behind Taylor Swift’s success was the Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta, herr führer of Big Machine Records; the same man behind the success of the sizzling hot pop country duo Florida Georgia Line. Similar to Taylor Swift, the Florida Georgia Line sensation has sprung out of nowhere, and threatens to downright dominate the popular country music landscape for the near future.
These dudes are on the mother of all tears. Their song “Cruise” threatens to be the biggest country song in 2013, and has already set multiple records, including spending 12 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart—the first time this has happened by a duo in the 69-year history of the chart. It’s also the first time a song has spent over 12 weeks on the chart since Buck Owens “Love’s Gonna Live Here” did it in 1963-64. “Cruise” has charted for a whopping 43 straight weeks stretching back to 2012, and has hit #1 on three separate occasions. It hit #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart as far back as December 15th of last year, and the song is still going strong, now with a remix featuring hip-hop’s Nelly allowing the song to re-enter Billboard’s all-genre Hot 100 chart at #8.
“Cruise” has already been certified triple-platinum, and is showing no signs of slowing down, and Scott Borchetta and Big Machine have already released the second Florida Georgia Line single “Get Your Shine On,” which has also been very successful, hanging steady at #5 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and having spent a total of 31 weeks on the chart so far.
And the scariest part is, these may not be the biggest singles from Florida Georgia Line’s Here’s to the Good Times album. The record is jam packed with catchy songs ripe for radio. Florida Georgia line can’t just be laughed off as some flash-in-the-pan overnight sensation, or some gimmicky country-rap outfit riding a trend. Current songs competing with “Cruise” like Jason Aldean’s “1994″ or Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” reek of desperation, and just downright reek as songs. As much as it pains me to admit it, Florida Georgia line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have an ear for catchy melodies, and make writing popular country hits look easy. Will it last? Time will tell, but right now they are positively dominating the mainstream country format.
And it’s not just country purists who seem slow on the uptake to Florida Georgia Line’s success. The country music industry seems a little lethargic to recognize that they have their next superstars on their hands. At the ACM Awards in April, the duo was only given one minute to perform “Cruise.” They reside on a subsidiary imprint of Big Machine Records called Republic Nashville, usually meant for smaller, developing bands, but there’s a good chance in six months they could be selling out arenas. Or maybe this is a sign that Music Row still doesn’t know about the long-term viability of this band, worried that there’s not enough substance to sustain their success moving forward. If this is the case, I think they’ve underestimated the shallowness of the mainstream country fan base.
Either way, Florida Georgia Line is here, and will be eroding the purity of the term “country” and terrorizing the ears of traditional country fans potentially for years to come. When the next round of CMA Awards come around next February, it may not be Taylor Swift winning the Entertainer of the Year award over Kenny Chesney, it may be Florida Georgia Line winning it over Taylor Swift.
When it comes to country music, it is the best of times, and the worst of times . . . depending on if you’re talking about male or female artists. While it’s easy to focus on the awful, strident, and inane music from mainstream country’s male-dominated ruling class, there is an inspiring sect of female performers attempting to emerge from the heavy shadows of towering males and their tiring musical pap.
Here at Saving Country Music, we’d like to think we were ahead of the curve proclaiming the women of country on an astounding creative clip compared to the men who appear to be headed in the complete opposite direction. Four months deep into 2013–a year some are now labeling “The Year of the Woman” in country music–and country’s gender gap is taken as a given, with many major news outlets running stories about how country music’s women are outpacing the men when it comes to creativity, authenticity, and leadership–women like Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Kellie Pickler, Caitlin Rose, Lindi Ortega, and Holly Williams.
So the next question would be, why the gender gap?
During the music industry’s lost decade (roughly running from 2000 to 2010), the lone demographic the music business could still count on was females, which according to numerous surveys and studies purchases more music than men. While the industry struggled to find the right way to market and distribute music in the onslaught of the digital age, women and girls were less likely to illegally download music or download music at all, preferring the more traditional physical music formats (though it’s also been found illegal downloaders still by lots of music). Then as the music industry began to catch up to the technology trends later in the decade, women bucked their stereotype as technology novices and became the biggest buyers of digital music according to a recent Parks Associates survey.
This is the reason artists that appealed to girls and women, like Taylor Swift, became recession proof for country music. Even male artists that appealed mostly to women like Rascal Flatts did well during music’s lost decade. As Music Row in Nashville began to discover who they could count on to purchase music, we saw themes that appeal more to women dominate the country format. Songs mentioning “sippy cups” and sappy love stories sold well and so this became country’s prevailing trend.
Meanwhile on Madison Avenue and other influential epicenters of corporate America, companies began to catch on to the financially lucrative practice of gender marketing to men. Whereas before you would have products like shampoo and soft drinks that would either appeal to everyone or women specifically, now you began to see the gray bottle emerge on supermarket shelves, proclaiming them men-only products.
All of a sudden there was men’s shampoo, men’s soap, men’s body spray, and men’s lotion. This trend has recently exploded in the food world, with soft drinks like Dr. Pepper 10 advertising themselves as “not for women.” Red Barron released a line of frozen pizzas specifically targeting men in their packaging.
Bringing it back to country music, Music Row, like Madison Avenue, began to catch on that they’d been ignoring a huge demographic of the population. Discounting the financial impact of the male demographic began to take on a self-fulfilling progression, and to see the growth the industry needed to pull out of their recent losses, they needed to engage male listeners.
As the complaints began to grow louder about how country music was becoming wussified, we began to see the emergence of a new crop of male music entertainers whose songs relied on very simplistic structures that attempt to staunchly appeal to men–aka country music “laundry list” or “checklist” songs that simply list male-appealing cultural artifacts with little emphasis on story or theme. All of a sudden, songs redundantly listing off ice cold beer, pickup trucks, dirt roads, bass boats, fried chicken, etc. etc. became country music’s prevailing trend.
The results of this new gender marketing to males in country music has been successful, both financially and with industry accolades. The last round of both the CMA and ACM Awards saw male performers win the mixed gender “Entertainer of the Year” and “Album of the Year” accolades. Winners Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Eric Church are now seen as the new generation of country music power franchises.
But what Nashville and Music Row have lost sight of is what this trend of simplistic lyrics–and the new trend of integrating them with rap–could do to the long-term viability and autonomy of the country format. Once again mainstream country music is making the mistake of ignoring half the population like they did during country’s female-dominated moment during music’s lost decade. It all seems to have lost sight of the uniting power of the song when the theme is universal, making gender, age, location, background, and political and religious affiliations irrelevant. These songs still exist in country music. They do. But they are rarely heard beyond the small but fervent fan bases of country’s new generation of female performers who are writing and signing them. It is in these performers, and these songs that country music could find the universal appeal needed for true financial stability and success.
Okay look. Let’s establish something here right off the bat. Brad Paisley is the best guitar player in country music right now, hands down. He’s a cunning, brilliant lyricist, and a funny, creative guy and a naturally entertaining character who has put together a great country music career from his universal likeability that extends beyond the lemmings of the mainstream country format to reach many traditional and independent country fans.
But Brad Paisley is bored. And he’s been bored with country music for years now. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love country. Brad is the savant of country music, but like the gifted kid in elementary school who when not challenged begins to lose focus or even lash out, Brad has fallen deeper into joke songs and gimmickry to keep himself engaged with country as time has gone by. He’s been boxed in by the rigid borders of the mainstream format. That’s not to say that “Accidental Racist” is a joke song. It is far from it except for the title. But aside from the obvious country rap arguments or the social commentary this song has already stimulated, this is Brad Paisley trying to keep his own music world interesting–a world where he’s mastered his instrument, won a CMA for Entertainer of the Year, and amassed as much wealth as any one man could need.
Listen to me. I don’t care what the intentions of this song are. And I’ll give you that some of its lines are well-written, including some of LL Cool J’s rapping parts. And I’m not just saying that as a positioning point. Lines like “Caught between Southern pride, and Southern blame” are hard not to feel. Brad does somewhat of a good job painting the dichotomy of the Southern experience, and the struggles and frustrations it embodies. But instead of mending wounds, “Accidental Racist” picks at scabs. And no, this is not a music opinion, this is simply an observation based on the reaction to this song that I’ve seen from various country fans and hip hop fans of many stripes and from many locales.
Because despite the optimism this song attempts to convey, “Accidental Racist” also conveys a level of judgementalism and reaffirmation of stereotypes that many people don’t appreciate. It seems to imply that if you’re a white man from The South, you have to work at not being racist. Just like if you’re a black Yankee, you have to work at not judging white Southerners. Even the title “Accidental Racist” comes across as an accusation. The term implies that you’re racist simply for being white and being born in the South. What an irresponsible accusation. And whatever happened to the idea of ignoring skin color? I thought that was the way we would end racism.
“Accidental Racist” is outside of what is relevant in music right now. Sappy racism songs went out of vogue in the 90′s. And it’s an oversimplification of the issue. Race in the United States is in a very fluid state at the moment. We have a black President. One of the largest concentrations of black Americans is in the South. If you’re white and living in Texas, you’re a minority. This is not 1991, and we’re not living in the shadow of the Rodney King trial. It doesn’t mean racism is dead, but in no way does it help to revert back to old platitudes and plays for emotionalism.
And frankly, I’m not sure I fully trust the intentions of this song. Why the gimmicky title if this is supposed to be such a ballad of complexity? Are we really trying to solve racism, or are we making a big splash to get people talking? And am I feeding this beast myself by writing these very words?
“Accidental Racist” is not just a country rap mix with controversial themes, this song is a play for an emotional reaction from the listener. Like Brad himself says in his song “This is Country Music,” “You’re not supposed to say the word Cancer in a song. But this is country music and we do.” And why does mainstream country music mention Cancer, children dying, troops dying, patriotic anthems, and other generic themes of emotional grandstanding? Because they’re easy, shallow tools to evoke an emotional response from the unguarded listener. They are the lyrical equivalent of the droning, catchy hip-hop dance club beat that can also be found in “Accidental Racist.” They are an easy, shameless, and shallow way to grab the attention of the teeming masses and their money.
And then we get to the whole country rap thing. After Jason Aldean’s huge country rap hit “Dirt Road Anthem” in 2011, 2012 was virtually void of country rap in the mainstream, and it seemed like it had been relegated to a small underground subset of country. But here in 2013 it has come roaring back to where you can now make the case it is the most dominant influence for male country music stars: Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and now even Brad Paisley–the last name on the tip of many traditional country fan’s tongues when they were asked to offer up a male radio star they could still respect. And “Accidental Racist” has done something no other country rap has done up to this point, not “Dirt Road Anthem,” not “1994;” it has awakened the ire of the hip hop community as well. Outside of country, this is the world’s first real interfacing with country rap, and as could be expected, they are appalled.
The way “Accidental Racist” is constructed, if you oppose it, then you’re a racist. This is the same accusation if you oppose any country rap. It also means you don’t want country music to progress, regardless of your true intentions, or how bad the song is you’re criticizing. “Accidental Racist” takes this dynamic to a whole new level. Brad Paisley wanted to make a country rap, and possibly to shield himself from criticism he added a theme tackling racism directly. But instead of shielding this song, the racism thread is where it went wrong. If Brad Paisley wanted a country rap hit, he should have just cut one. The walls separating country and rap have already been torn down, and he would just be keeping up with his mainstream country music brethren.
Do I think deep down in Brad Paisley’s heart he sees this all as marketing and that he doesn’t care about the whole racist theme at all? No, no I don’t. Anyone who tells you there’s no depth or wit in the lyricism is not listening to this song, or is too hung up with the whole mixing of country and rap to give it a real chance. I think in the genesis of this song was the heart of a good intention. But as the saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s down that road that “Accidental Racist” steers country music, while having no effect on race relations in America.
1 3/4 of 2 guns down.
Just when we thought the American public was finally getting wise to the fact that country rap is a Cancer of Western Civilization, needing to be cut out and radiated like the grapefruit-sized, puss-filled tumor it is, here it comes roaring back like a raging case of bleeding hemorrhoids.
Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radio’s weak-of-mind demo. The “boys” in the title of “Boys ‘Round Here” is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. It’s the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your mom’s house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut.
This song starts off by violating your ear holes with the most horrid, chicken scratching “Red! Red! Red! Red!” sounds that Blake must have directly sampled from the soundtrack Satan himself uses to torture the souls stuck in eternal damnation. Instead of being rhythmic and catchy, the machine-gunning “Red! Red! Red!” bursts come at your face like a flying cocktail of nail and glass shrapnel from an improvised car bomb–like the nerve grating ticks of a touretts sufferer compounded by the onset of the mother of all Grand Mal seizures. Come on Blake, spit it out! Or for God’s sake someone shove a wallet in his mouth before he chokes on his own tongue.
You think I’m being harsh? Just listen…
Then the soul-less electronic 1′s and 0′s of a hip-hop beat kick in as the aggressively-cliche lyrics begin to flow from Blake’s brazenly overly-effected put-on Southern drawl. “The boys ’round here. Drinking ice cold beer. Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks. Runnin’ them red dirt roads out kickin’ up dust.” Are you shitting me with these lyrics? This stuff was cliche back when Charlie Sheen was having his public meltdown. Is this song the “leadership” from our Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year? Because I’d rather shit a knife than listen to this.
Oh, and it gets worse. “Backwoods legit, don’t take no shit. Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit!” For those of you that don’t speak country rap, that roughly translates to, “Please Nashville, let me remain relevant despite virtually ignoring music for a career in reality TV!”
As much creativity went into making this song as does the making of a geriatrics’s bombed out adult diaper in the aftermath of a post-constipation bowel explosion. Oh, and the Pistol Annies are on this thing too? Well great. Screw me for hoping they had the heart to help return mainstream country to some semblance of substance, and here they are acting like the Staple Sisters for country music’s version of Satan.
And I seriously was a gnat’s eyelash away from praising Blake for finally fulfilling his Grand Ole Opry obligations a few weekends back and playing some free shows for his fans last week, including apparently some sets of classic country. But with this song we see that he was probably just attempting to preemptively curb criticism.
When Blake Shelton made his “old farts and jackasses” comments now some two months ago, I went out of my way to distinguish him artistically from the lowest rung of Music Row’s male talent like Brantley Gilbert, Jason Aldean, and Florida-Georgia. But after this song and his last single “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” Blake has dramatically lowered his standards to the level of a sub-par, genre-bending, trend-chasing, country-rapping, tasteless and directionless douche that’s no different than the other names on the tip of our tongues when asked who in Nashville is the absolute worst. It truly is a shame, because unlike Florida-Georgia Line or Brantley Gilbert, Blake Shelton is truly better than this.
Two guns way down!
I know a lot of folks are going to roll up on this review hoping to see a crime scene unfold, hoping that I show no mercy and draw blood on this embarrassment of American country music. But the truth is, I don’t have much to say about it. I’ve got no dry powder here. What could be said that hasn’t been said many times before to the point of being redundant, or that isn’t obvious to the clear-minded listener? And the truth is this song is bad, but it’s not awful. There’s nothing really offensive here. It’s more par for the course for today’s country music. It’s this, or Taylor Swift. That is what passes for variety for mainstream country music fans these days.
“The Only Way I Know” is the self-coronation of Jason Aldean, Eric Church, and Luke Bryan as the new male country music superstar triumvirate. Not entirely off base considering popularity, influence, and commercial success (though Blake Shelton might have something to say about that), this songs and these artists are a fairly spot-on illustration of where corporate country music is today. It’s hard to think that Jason Aldean could loosen his standards any more, but that’s the way his decision feels to include Luke Bryan in this collaboration. Meanwhile what happened to Eric Church being an Outlaw and a rebel? Wasn’t it folks like Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan he was calling out in his song “Lotta Boot Left To Fill?”
Get-ups, gimmicks… Pretty boys acting tough… And if it looks good on TV. It’ll look good on a CD. Shape it up, trim it down. Who gives a damn ’bout how it sounds? You say you’re the real deal. But you play what nobody feels.
Yep, pretty much sounds like what we’ve got here.
Some have been accusing this of being a country rap song. I’m inclined to respectfully disagree. The verses feature talking and not singing, but they don’t feature the type of cadence that usually connotes rap. As I’ve pointed out before, spoken word and rap are not always the same. You also don’t hear the same hip-hop references to things like booming speakers, or the Ebonic/urban jargon or purposeful mis-speaking like in Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah,” Blake Shelton’s “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” or Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise.” This song is simply the generic arena rock approach to popular country music that happens to include speaking parts, possibly to benefit from the popularity of the country rap trend, but technically not part of it.
It’s not really a typical “laundry list” country song either, where countryisms are rattled off like rounds from a Howitzer. It has some of those elements, and make no mistake, the lyric “full throttle” is no less cliché these days than “pickup trucks” and “ice cold beer.”
Some critics have tried to glean a message from this song and Jason Aldean’s music as a whole, but they’re missing the point. Aldean isn’t trying to say anything here, he’s simply trying to release a song that will be commercially successful. It happens to be that the message of the song itself is a pretty straightforward story of people from the country working hard and pushing themselves. Aldean doesn’t deserve praise for this because he didn’t write the song. Nonetheless, the lyrics are not terrible.
Jason Aldean has been successful enough now that he doesn’t have to chase the trends, the trends chase him. He’s been making the same generic arena rock and calling it country for many years now, and just happens to find himself as the beneficiary of the flight from substance in popular country music. He’s a shallow man, and this appeals to a shallow world. But “The Only Way I Know” is not Jason Aldean’s worst, nor is it country’s.
1 1/2 of 2 guns down.
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