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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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Since music no longer holds any intrinsic value to the American consumer and they’d rather steal a song than have it be sold to them for less than a pack of gum, merch, MERCH is where all the money is now. Major labels manufacture merch in the textile industry’s version of puppy mills somewhere in southeast Asia, and then mark it up 700% at the arena concert you paid $185 from a scalper to get into. You can expect pilling fabric and peeling graphics after the 3rd wash, but that’s okay because 7 cents of each sale goes to the artist you love.
Here’s some country music T Shirts you won’t see for sale anytime soon.
If you’ve found you’re eyeballs affixed to these very words, you’ve likely found yourself at some point trying to explain that you like country, but not that type of country. Once certain artists get to the very top of country pop, they seem to lose all self-awareness and begin to make fools of themselves, and by proxy, the genre that holds the same name as the music we love. It never ceases that when quotation mark “country” takes center stage, true country fans get embarrassed. He are some of the worst offenses.
Ironically, KISS is still the most country band on the stage. And where is that one dude’s hand? (with Lady Antebellum at the 2012 ACM Awards).
Don’t panic folks! No endangered cheetah’s were injured in the making of Shania’s outfit, just the integrity of country music!
A hip-hop artist rapping with Jason Aldean at the 2011 CMT Awards? That’s Ludacris! (hardy har, har!!)
Nothing says country like suspending yourself over a stadium of 70,000 people. Eat your heart out Sandy Duncan! (Garth at Texas Stadium circa 1993).
Just take a moment to sit back and really contemplate what the dude on the left is wearing. (Taylor Swift)
Does it really matter if Tim McGraw was trying to be funny or serious? (for the launching of “McGraw” cologne)
I have no idea what is going on here, or what is supposed to be going on. And frankly, I’m not sure I want to know. (Sugarland)
Yeah, there were no warning signs before Blake Shelton’s recent quotes. None!
Jimbo Mathus has the authenticity that every other music artist covets. They root through vintage shops in their city’s hipstertown trying to score vintage duds. They spend egregious amounts of money on antique music gear, fiddling with knobs and pedals trying to evoke that right tone. They strike their poses on stage and sing from the gut. And still Jimbo Mathus is cooler and more authentic when he first wakes up in the morning with his hair a mess, standing on an old unswept linoleum floor in his stained paisley boxers, rubbing the eye boogers off his face.
Nothing rivals authenticity, and by definition, nothing can simulate it. Only Jimbo Mathus, whose bones were cast in the mud of Oxford, Mississippi can make authenticity look so effortless, while at his core being a helpless music geek with a fake front tooth and wiry frame wanting to be heard.
Possibly known best as the front man for the legendarily-eclectic Squirrel Nut Zippers, he holds his own against the Brian Setzers and Wayne “The Train” Hancocks of the world when it comes to resurrecting vintage American sounds and presenting them to the present-day ear. Yet with the on again, off again nature of the Zippers, and Jimbo’s propensity to move from blues, to country, to rock as smoothly as a Navy Seal deftly slipping from air, to sea, to land through a theater of battle, Jimbo keeps from being pigeon-holed as the “king” of anything by being and adept at everything. He’s more of a witches brew of influences, where black meets white, country meets blues, and roots meets rock. Mix it all together with some toil and trouble, and the result is a concoction of some mean, potent shit straight out of the filthy American South.
With White Buffalo, Jimbo Mathus captures more sweat in the recording than anything this side of Sticky Fingers. His previous album Confederate Buddha had some remarkable tracks, but like the contrasting characters of its title, the album at times felt like it was searching for its narrative. With White Buffalo, Jimbo and the Tri-State Coalition struck a cohesion that allowed the songs, the players, and the album to be so well-blended, like the edges of all the autonomous parts were melted together until there was no beginning or end. The album not only captures the live sound in the recordings, the recordings sounds alive.
White Buffalo is a journey through the South. And no, not in Jason Aldean’s king cab with air conditioning and buckets seats, but in an old beater with panty hose and coat hangers procured for spare parts. With song titles like “Hatchie Bottom” and “Fake Hex,” you know you’re in for an interesting trip, and you’re glad to have a local as your guide.
The song themes are eternal, and Jimbo’s blue collar approach to songwriting and composition is absorbing. “Hatchie Bottom” speaks about the warmth of home. “In The Garden” and the witchey “Run Devil Run” are infused with the Southern theme of sin. “Tennessee Walker Mare” works like an answer to Jimmie Driftwood’s “Tennessee Stud” covered by so many country greats over the years.
And don’t ask me what is going on in the careening “White Buffalo.” It plays out like the soundtrack to a high speed car case involving a candy apple blue El Camino with bullet holes in the door and a half-naked Catherine Bach stretched out across the bench seat, but apparently it’s about an actual white buffalo named Tukota that lived near Tupelo. As Jimbo explains, he doesn’t have to go too far from home to find compelling themes for his songs.
Jimbo Mathus came up as a neo-traditionalist when grunge was all the rage. Now that roots are all the range, he comes across as a bluesy Southern rocker. In between he’s rubbed elbows and collaborated with Buddy Guy, and the North Mississippi All Stars. In the end it’s not a genre that defines him, but the state of Mississippi, yet his music is a treasure the whole world can appreciate.
Two guns up.
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The Mono-Genre Theory in short states that all popular music is coalescing into one big genre where influences and styles from country, rap, rock, blues etc. coexist without any true lines defining their differences. As the mono-genre forms, micro-genres pop up, and the popularity of independent music rises as disenfranchised consumers seek out choice. The good thing about the formation of the mono-genre is the breakdown of musical prejudices. The bad thing is the death of contrast and diversity in popular music, a lack of choice, and the bleeding of regional influence out of popular music.
In recent years when the end-of-year sales numbers are released by Nielsen Soundscan, it has revealed evidence of this mono-genre coagulation. 2012 was no different. NPR even got in on the game, calling 2012 The Return of the “Monoculture.” Every genre except for the two super-genres of rock and country saw sales decreases in 2012.
- Alternative – down 4.3%
- Christian/Gospel – down 3.4%
- Classical – down 20.5%
- Dance/Electronic – down 12.0%
- Jazz – down 26.2%
- Latin – down 17.6%
- Metal – down 0.3%
- New Age – down 12.9%
- R&B – down 10.2%
- Rap – down 11.4%
- Soundtracks – down 5.2%
Rock sales were up 2%, and country sales were up 4.2%.
With all these declining numbers, it may seem like the music industry is still in the tailspin that plagued it in music’s lost decade of the 2000′s, but overall music sales were only down a very moderate 1.8% in 2012. 2011 will go down as the year the music industry finally righted the ship and stabilized from the fluidity the move to digitization caused. 2012 may go down as the year that a lack of substance stalled this upward trend.
(chart from Glorious Noise)
Rock has always been the most dominant American genre in regards to sales because it is America’s “catch-all” term for music. But as time goes on, country is acquiring some “catch-all” attributes as well, accounting for sales from artists that sonically are much more akin to mainstream arena rock than country. Meanwhile looking into the sales numbers for rock, many bands at the very top could just as well be called country, and are considered country, Americana, or “roots” by many fans and industry types. Babel by Mumford & Sons was 2012′s 4th best-selling album and artist, with 1,463,000 units sold. Sales by other Americana artists like The Avett Brothers and The Lumineers also accounted for rock sales despite their heavy roots influence.
Within the mono-genre theory is the idea that aside from rock, the two most dominant sonic influences in its formation would be country and rap. However 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 either 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.
Meanwhile country dominated the top tiles and artists for 2012, with Taylor Swift coming in as the 2nd-highest selling album and artist, and Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lionel Richie, and Carrie Underwood all securing top 10 spots; the first time country has accounted for 5 of the top 10 spots in the history of SoundScan tracking. It’s also worth noting that Taylor Swift’s blockbuster Red was only given 10 weeks at the end of 2012 to tally up sales for the genre.
|2012 Top Ten Selling Albums||2012 Top Ten Selling Artists|
(Combines All Album Sales)
|Title/Artist||Units Sold||Artist||Units Sold|
|1||21 / ADELE||4,414,000||1||ADELE||5,167,000|
|2||RED / TAYLOR SWIFT||3,107,000||2||TAYLOR SWIFT||4,062,000|
|3||UP ALL NIGHT / ONE DIRECTION||1,616,000||3||ONE DIRECTION||2,978,000|
|4||BABEL / MUMFORD & SONS||1,463,000||4||MUMFORD & SONS||2,149,000|
|5||TAKE ME HOME / ONE DIRECTION||1,340,000||5||JUSTIN BIEBER||1,897,000|
|6||BELIEVE / JUSTIN BIEBER||1,324,000||6||JASON ALDEAN||1,855,000|
|7||BLOWN AWAY / CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,203,000||7||WHITNEY HOUSTON||1,789,000|
|8||TAILGATES & TANLINES / LUKE BRYAN||1,105,000||8||MAROON 5||1,540,000|
|9||TUSKEGEE / LIONEL RICHIE||1,071,000||9||CARRIE UNDERWOOD||1,497,000|
|10||NIGHT TRAIN / JASON ALDEAN||1,024,000||10||LUKE BRYAN||1,432,000|
Once again the sales numbers hint that the mainstream music public seems to be yearning for substance. While super hits like Goyte’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style” dominated the download numbers, Adele’s 21 was the best-selling album in 2012. That’s right, an album that was released in February of 2011, and was 2011′s best-selling album, retains its crown in 2012 as the industry continues to labor to find legitimate titles and artists that can deliver both substance and commercial viability.
Of course physical sales were down once again, with CD sales declining 13%. But vinyl continued its upswing, accounting for 4.6 million in sales, breaking the previous record of 3.9 million in 2011. Even more interesting, 67% of that vinyl was purchased at independent music stores. These numbers parallel the point that the mono-genre’s formation will cause a flight to independent music by independently-minded consumers seeing choice.
Looking from a broad perspective, the 2012 music sales numbers continue to corroborate the theory of the formation of a mono-genre, with the one important addendum being the possible decline of the rap influence, and the rising dominance of the country and roots influence; a trend that promises to be carried in part into 2013 by the continued commercial success of Taylor Swift’s Red.
Yes, Aaron Lewis, the ultra-emotional singer from Staind that done “gone country” a couple of years back has a new album called The Road, and I have to say, this was not nearly as bad as I was expecting.
Aaron Lewis busted onto the country scene like a ruptured colostomy bag with his gawd awful single “Country Boy” late in 2010. Going back and reading my review, I wasn’t impressed. Then last Spring Lewis released the lead single from The Road called “Endless Summer” that wasn’t much better, name dropping Jason Aldean among other atrocities.
So I wasn’t giving The Road much of a chance until my inbox began to fill with messages from folks swearing this album had something. So reluctantly, like a dog contritely contemplating its own fresh vomit, I gave it a timid sniff. Next thing I knew my nose was buried deep in The Road.
Fundamentally, this album suffers from similar issues as Arron’s first two singles. As a country music outsider, Lewis seems to rely too much on songwriting formulas, and tends to get political on your ass in a way that comes across as pandering to demographics instead of a byproduct of sincere songwriting. But beyond those transgressions, and the “Endless Summer” single that’s clearly a play for radio attention, The Road is a hard country, steel guitar, half-time, waltz beat, honest-to-goodness honky tonk album with some surprisingly good moments.
I can’t believe I typed that last sentence, but it’s true. The Road sucks in the real country listener with the first two tracks “75″ and “The Road” that are just good, straightforward honky tonk road songs with no pretense, no transgressions, just simple music with an honest message. Then of course The Road hits a speed bump with the awful “Endless Summer,” but that song is so bad you can just write it off completely and move on.
An important thing to remember is just because a song is real country, doesn’t mean it is real good. Most of the songs on The Road are solidly real country from a sonic standpoint, but there are still some misses. “Red, White, and Blue” has a classic country sound, but it’s sullied by a really formulaic approach to the lyrics. They’re full of bravado about how poor his grandparents were and how he’s the offspring of people who fought in the military. But all you can think is that devoid of any true country or military cred himself, Lewis is attempting to supplant that cred from his ancestors.
In the end an otherwise well-crafted song is relegated to a braggadocios, glorified family portrait with Aaron looking like the one that broke the traditions instead of carrying them on. A similar feeling pervades “Granddaddy’s Gun,” that would be a very warm story about a family artifact if Arron didn’t use it to interject his political views.
Subtly of message is not a skill that Aaron Lewis possesses. “State Lines” also has some unhealthy, self-indulgent bravado as Lewis endeavors to write his own history instead of living it and writing compelling stories from it. That’s one of the differences between rock and country Aaron has yet to decipher, that bragging is for butt rock, while country is the format of aw-shucks. Ironically, his classic country style and sound make this discrepancy more obvious. If he was playing laundry list “new Outlaw” country pop, then he’d just be following the herd. Here, his novice approach to country lyricism is glaring in spots.
But its impressive in others, like “Lessons Learned” that despite name dropping Johnny Cash, displays a lot of depth in songcraft and vocal range. A past gripe about Lewis has been his droning monotone voice in both his country and Staind material. But I’ll be damned if The Road doesn’t give rise to Lewis showcasing some remarkable and refreshing vocal dexterity and range on a number of occasions. Something else refreshing about his voice is there’s no put-on Southern accent at all. At times the music and lyrics beg for it. But to Aaron’s credit, he abstains.
“Anywhere But Here” is another selection that shows curious, refreshing depth, though this is chased by “Party in Hell” that otherwise would be a fun, rocking end to the album if it wasn’t for the incessant name dropping in it. Waylon, Whitley, Haggard, “No Show”, Jimmy, Janis, and on and on.
Despite the forays into depth and the deep tie to the roots of the music in The Road, Arron Lewis proves he’s still green to the genre. From a broad view, it’s best put that it is a classic country album with mainstream country lyrics. But The Road also has something that is typically neglected in many modern albums: a theme. To have a universal thread to run along the backbone of the songs always makes an album greater than the sum of its parts, and Aaron employs this well in The Road.
I’m going to eek out a positive review here, meaning I don’t recommend this album, but if someone told me they loved it, I wouldn’t argue with them either. Worth a sniff maybe, but Aaron Lewis still has to grow as a lyricist if he seriously wants to be considered a true country artist. At the same time, kudos to him for the growth displayed on The Road. I’ve been hard on this dude over the years, and it’s good to see him at least make beginning motions in the right direction.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
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The term “douche bag” is a fairly recent construct of English slang that as time goes on seems to be trending towards being generally overused. To be a true douche bag you have to be completely devoid of the self-awareness of what an image-driven, shallow-minded dumbass you are being. If you had any doubt in your mind–if the positively awful, both misogynistic and metrosexually-stimulated songs from Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan hadn’t clued you in already–then this should leave no doubt in your mind that these two knuckleheads don’t just fit the term “douche bag,” they define it.
And it’s not just that they got matching tattoos, but that they were for the hunting-oriented “Buck Commander” product line they mutually endorse. Yes, they both simultaneously sold out by selling off square footage of their skin in a publicity ruse.
Nashville Gab first deduced that the two men had sent out matching tweets on Monday (12-17) depicting their inking escapade that according to the photos, had a voyeuristic troupe of cammo-clad fans watching on. Looks like Luke donned and camouflage scarf and makeup for the photo shoot too. I guess they were out of lipstick and eyeliner: his preferable war paint when he goes out “hunting.”
No word yet on the date or location of the wedding.
The Country Music Anti-Christ Scott Borchetta has decided to unleash a new wave of pestilence on the human eardrum, this time in the form of the glorified boy band Florida Georgia Line.
Originating from the Republic Nashville imprint of Big Machine Records, the duo consisting of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley met while attending the Mike Curb College of Music at Nashville’s private and exclusive Belmont University. I know, right? Doesn’t get more country than that! Apparently they were both enrolled in the “How To Be A Upper Middle Class Douchebag But Pretend To Be A Country Boy And Filch Rednecks Out Of Their Hard Earned Money, 101″ class. They made eyes across the classroom, and afterwards discussed their mutual desire for world music domination over $175 haircuts, manscaping, and colonics. Next thing you know, Florida Georgia Line is born.
Florida Georgia Line is a horrible combination of Rascal Flatts pretty boy hyper-pop, and designer jeans Jason Aldean “backroad” laundry list bullshit. They are everything bad about quotation mark “country” in 2012 combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich.
Punctuating how pathetic “Cruise” is, is the fact that these two dudes apparently don’t know how to use punctuation. The first line of the song goes, “Baby you a song,” instead of, “Baby you’re a song.” But what else can you expect when the title of their EP is It’z Just What We Do. Yes, it’s one of those albums, blurring the lines between Ebonics and idiocracy, produced by Joey Moi of Nickelback fame. I swear, sometimes these rants just write themselves.
Somebody should tell the Doogie Houser-looking Brian Kelley that if you want to play electric guitar, you actually have to PLUG IT IN. Actually strike that, we don’t want to hear this hack-ass Ken doll-looking douche nozzle struggling to finger the most basic chords. His best chance of locating a G-string is if it was riding up his bandmate Tyler Hubbard’s ass. Looks like Tyler Hubbard likes to rock the dog tags, but just because he wears dog tags and plays with his privates doesn’t mean he has any army cred.
Sorry for being rude Tyler and Brian, it’z just what I do.
“Cruise” is about cheap girls and expensive trucks, set to a straightforward rock song with the ever-present pop country dead giveaway: the token banjo. Tyler and Brian think they’re picking up all these chicks because of their pimped-out ride, but the truth is most of these sweet little fraulines haven’t said no to a man since puberty. And unfortunately that “lift kit” on their Chevy won’t raise their IQ’s out of the sub-par percentiles or increase the potential of their laughable, dwarfish manhoods brought on by more metabolics than Manny Ramirez gulped down during the steroid era. It also won’t make me overlook that Florida Georgia Line’s vocals have all the tell-tale earmarks of Auto-tune embellishment.
And what is this yellow shit they’re tossing around towards the end of the video? It’s never a good idea to wallow in anything yellow and powdery. Piles of raw pollen? Sulfur? Powdered eggs? Powdered AIDS? Hell screw it, let them play around in it and let’s hope it brings a demise to this awful, puss-filled abscess of American corporate culture.
This is the #2 song in country music for the 2nd straight week folks. We’ve got a lot of work to do.
Welcome to country music Florida Georgia Line.
Two guns down!
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