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One of the things that can be so frustrating for distinguishing country music fans is knowing many of country music’s current stars can do so much better. Many of them have sensational voices, and can write great songs when they set their mind to it. And many times you can hear examples of this when listening to their albums. The garbage that artists and labels release as singles these days usually constitute the absolute worst an album has to offer. When listening to the albums of even some of country music’s worst acts, you’re regularly surprised by the substance and the amount of sincerity they exhibit in some songs.
A few months ago Saving Country Music published and article called “Before They Sucked: Big Country Music Stars At The Start.” As a similar exercise, let’s look at some of the album cuts of the biggest stars, and see the kind of heart, and country-sounding material they’re capable of when they set their mind to it.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a recommendation of any of these songs. This is simply an exercise to illustrate that returning more substance to country isn’t necessarily tied to recording different songs, it could simply be tied to releasing different singles. Florida Georgia Line’s recent single “Dirt” is an example of how a big mainstream act can have a chart-topping success with a song with substance if they just make the conscious choice to do so.
And this is just the very tip of the iceberg of examples. The truth is most any top tier country artist is going to have songs of substance on their album.
Brantley Gilbert – “That Was Us” and “I’m Gone”
Brantley Gilbert might be the best example of an artist who releases the most vile detritus as singles, but when you actually listen to his records, you are surprised to find songs that are not just serious and sincere, but that are downright powerful. Gilbert is the mainstream artist with a grassroots following. He’s one of the few mainstream artists left who can sell albums, primarily because his ultra-loyal fans know there are going to be some really deep songs there that the radio will never play. These songs are one of the reasons his fan base seems to be ready to jump off a cliff for him if he ordered it, and will argue for days how great he is.
Brantley Gilbert’s last album Just As I Am is culpable for two of the crappiest singles found on country radio today: “Bottom’s Up” and “Small Town Throwdown.” But there are also a couple of tracks that show a lot of substance and heart, and even capture Brantley breaking away from his mumbling singing style. “That Was Us” starts out feeling like you’re average four minute laundry list pablum, but it reveals itself as a waltz-timed memory trip that includes moments of vulnerability and even self-effacing honesty. “I’m Gone” is another one from Just As I Am that is driven by mandolin and steel guitar, and aside from a Richie Sambora guitar wank-off bisecting the song, it’s a good reminder that Brantley Gilbert is a songwriter that writes his own stuff, and can write in story form with very strong results.
Justin Moore (w/ Miranda Lambert) -Â “Old Habits”
Maybe a little too sappy for some, while others won’t be able to get past what they consider Justin Moore’s fake accent, but boil this one down at 212Â° F and you’ve got an old-fashioned country heartbreaker that could jerk tears from some of the most hardened mainstream country haters. Why in the hell wasn’t this released as a single instead of Justin Moore’s MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe screech fest tribute? You have Miranda Lambert on the track who is a hot commodity, and a hell of a lot more feeling than anything we’ve heard from Justin Moore in a long time. I fail to see how this wouldn’t perform much better than “Home Sweet Home” which stalled out on the charts in the 30′s. Give this song a chance as a single, and mainstream country steps up its game immediately.
Blake Shelton – “Lay Low”
There’s a few songs on Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story that are not nearly as bad as “Boys ‘Round Here.” Truth is, Blake Shelton has never defined the worst country has to offer, especially when it comes to his album cuts. It’s that his alligator mouth gets ahead of his hummingbird ass more often than not. Songs like “Do You Remember” and “Grandaddy’s Gun” get brownie points for effort, and so should “Lay Low.” What’s good about this song is it really revitalizes the mood of mid to late 80′s country before everything went Garth crazy. It’s smooth and laid back. It doesn’t say much, but what it does say fills the spirit with a warm, relaxed feeling. It reminds you of what country sounded like before … you know … people like Blake Shelton came along.
If you want an example of an artist with one of the greatest voices ever to grace the genre, and who threw his talents away by defining his career through stupid singles, look no further than Mr. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” himself. The simple fact is Trace Adkins has entire albums of songs that are way more substantive that what is symbolized by “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” and the other bull he’s released to radio. This guy once won the ACM for Best New Male Vocalist, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. His last album Love Will… is full of serious love songs, and as one would expect, it virtually flopped despite being arguably his most mature album yet. The Trace Adkins career arch is one that conveys that you may get hot with big singles, but you can also die by them when you become a joke to many listeners.
Jason Aldean – “Church Pew or Bar Stool”
Jason Aldean has never been a songwriter; he’s always been a pure singer and performer. But one thing he has done over his career is establish a theme surrounding his music of the small town identity that looks at the world through the simple eyes of the forgotten people in America’s heartland and hometowns. Songs like “Amarillo Sky,” “Water Tower,” and “Flyover States” speak very specifically to people forgotten by time and technology, and that struggle to find their identity in a challenging new world while still holding on to who they are.
We have to remember that Jason Aldean wasn’t a huge star until “Dirt Road Anthem,” and his label Broken Bow wasn’t a big deal until Jason Aldean. As time has gone on, just like so many stars who get overtaken by the Music Row machine, Aldean has backslid into chasing trends and losing touch with what made him unique when he first entered the business. But throughout his discography, you can hear the sentiment that gives a solemn assessment of lost America and its forlorn residents.
First rule here ladies and gentlemen is let’s not be fooled by the illusion of diminishing returns. If this was 2007, no “country” tribute to MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe would even be conceived of getting made, especially one with the combination of pugnacity and ignorace to call itself Nashville Outlaws, let alone release a single to country radio. And yes I know, Carrie Underwood covered “Home Sweet Home” in 2009, but that that was more of a one-off deal for American Idol’s “send-off song” (whatever that means) and was for pop radio, not country. Oh how I wax nostalgic for the days in country when the worst ails you had to worry about were the encroachment of reality stars and Keith Urban’s nude photos in Playgirl.
This Nashville Outlaws tribute is the country music equivalent to the 1982 flick The Toy, with MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe as Richard Pryor, and Scott Borchetta as Jackie Gleason. Still left wanting after his own hair metal band Burning Hearts went down in a blaze of glory, Borchetta has wrangled his Big Machine roster into living out his spandex and aqua-net dream for him since he’d strain a hammy trying to do the splits off of a drum riser these days. Somehow this is all supposed to bowtie with MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe’s farewell tour, and actually, it might do so well since mainstream country is the last bastion of pliable music fans who are gullible enough to worship whichever golden boys corporate America puts up on stage in tight pants and charges $75 to see from the nosebleeds.
But as fun as it is to hoot on mid 80′s hair metal, the simple truth is when you delve into some of the ballads of these bands—and each of their albums can be good for one or two of them—they were not terrible, and can still translate to the modern ear to some extent. It’s an interesting observation that a band like MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe would make sure to include a few songs of substance on their records so they could release them to radio and justify the rest of their wankery, while in modern country it’s the opposite: they bury any substance in “album cuts” so they have something to point to and say their music is not all fluff, and release the most horrifying examples of their sound to your local FM transmitter.
Songs like Poison’s “Something To Believe In”, or even MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe’s “Home Sweet Home” were not half bad when you really sit down and listen to them. Holy shit, there was actually a story behind them, and a little bit of feeling. Why can’t modern country be influenced by that element of butt rock and not just the pyrotechnics and penis twirling? The opening piano riff of “Home Sweet Home” has withstood the test of time, at least more than guys with perms have, but of course right off the bat, in the new Justin Moore single version of the song, they have to underlay a stupid-ass digital dance beat under it like every other radio single in country right now, then they overlay a wanked-off guitar solo to boot. Couple that with the very opening scene in the stupid video for the song (see below) showing a shot of “Nashville Outlaws” on the top of a bus, and any good will or open-mindedness going into this song is eroded.
I commend Justin Moore for choosing a bold key much above his usual range and comfort zone to sing this song in to attempt to revive that Vince Neil vibe, and I’m not surprised Moore can sing in such a high register because there’s never been a question about his voice, aside from the nagging detractors convinced his Southern accent is a put-on. But when you combine Justin’s high pitched part with Vince Neil’s contribution to the reboot, there’s just a whole lot of screeching here that veers quickly towards being unpleasant to the ear. They tried to do too much here; they added too many layers of vocals and stunt guitars, suffocating what otherwise might be a somewhat decent offering. Only at the very end does some space open up to let the melody of the song resonate.
I have to take issue with a few things in the video, principally that they show the marquee of the legendary venue Layla’s on Lower Broadway in Nashville and Justin and MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe walking into it, but when they cut to the live performance parts, they pull a bait and switch and show live shots of a stage that certainly doesn’t belong to Layla’s. And near the last of the video, it cuts to Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee nodding in approval in a moment that might be one of the most canned images in country music history. I’d almost rather see Tommy Lee pilot Pam Anderson’s dingy with his male appendage than such staged production as those two wash-ups display in that moment. Good gosh, where is their dignity?
I don’t know. As much as I want to give this song a tidbit of credit, it’s only because when held beside its current peers, it at least has a pulse. But we shouldn’t be releasing rehashed hair metal songs to country radio, or making tribute records to MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe when there is much more worthy county stock that could use the attention. This is not as much terrible as it is ill-advised and mislabeled.
1 3/4 of 2 guns down.
Look folks, I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all, but you can see these trends forming in the mainstream country music business miles away and many months before the eventual players in these trends even know what the hell is going on. Since country music has no sustainability, and instead is simply propelled forward (or backward as the case may be) by hyper-trends and fads that explode and flame out just as fast, it continues to make the same mistakes over and over again and has become predictable as a Luke Bryan lyrical turn that resolves in “beer”.
It has come to the point where I hate the term “bro-country” even more than I hate the stupid music it is meant to describe. Christening “bro-country” gave the music legitimacy. It gave it its own subgenre. It gave “bro-country” strength by banding it all together under a term that would appeal to the same numb-skulls it was meant to make fun of, and not to toot my own horn, but as I predicted from the beginning, the term has subsequently been hijacked by those numb skulls and the artists it is meant to criticize to be used for marketing. And now the anger, the fervor against “bro-country” which has itself has been allowed to coalesce into a collective angst thanks to the term, is being used for marketing as well, to re-integrate the angry populous back into the country music industrial complex.
Bro-country is big business. And no, I’m not just talking about the music itself. I’m talking about the amount of people you can get heading in one direction simply by using the term in whatever you’re trying to promote. Whether you’re for or against “bro-country”, someone mentions it and your country music world is immediately polarized, attentive, and ready to pounce. It is like a political wedge issue that in the end both sides of the aisle have no desire to resolve because it whips their respective constituencies into such a fervor, it keeps energy (and thus, dollars) flowing into the system. “Bro-country” is man vs. woman, old vs. new, commercial vs. critically-acclaimed all wrapped up into one big hot button being pushed by country music’s powers that be.
In the vacuum of true choice, Music Row is attempting to appeal to both sides of the “bro-country” issue so they’re insured to not lose anyone’s business. Look no further to how Music Row plans to monetize your “bro-country” hatred than the recently-signed 18-year-old duo Maddie & Tae. The two girls have been taken under the wing of Scott Borchetta’s newly-acquired Dot Records, which falls under his massive Big Machine Label Group empire. Just in the last few days we’ve been allowed to sniff the duo’s first single called “Girl In A Country Song”, and if you want to believe all the hype surrounding it, the song is massive ANTI “bro-country” colossus that Borchetta has personally hand-picked from the crowd to shepherd to radio dominance as a mega hit.
Hey, it’s hard to disagree with the ANTI “bro-country” sentiment of “Girl In A Country Song”. But don’t we think that it’s just a little ironic this is coming from the same label group that gave rise to Florida Georgia Line and Brantley Gilbert, arguably the Godfather and Kings of “Bro-Country”? This is why Scott Borchetta is an evil genius; he gets you coming and going. You love “bro-country”? Then may I direct your attention to aisle 9 of Big Machine Records. You hate it? Then aisle 7 will be more your speed. And how much does the sentiment really resonate in the ANTI “bro-country” songs when you consider the source? Meanwhile the true anti “bro-country” acts are the ones playing to half-empty clubs for door deals, and eating circus peanuts for dinner.
And trust me, Maddie & Tae is just where the ANTI “bro-country” industry re-indoctrination begins. There will be a dozen of these acts before we are done, and even the “bro-country” acts themselves will be releasing ANTI “bro-country” songs. In fact, this is already said to be happening, and guess where? Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine cash cows Florida Georgia Line’s new single “Dirt” to be released on July 8th is already being touted in some sectors as a “non ‘bro-country’ song.”
The simple fact is, so called “bro-country” was already done 9 to 18 months ago, and we’re simply in a period where Music Row is working through its excess “bro-country” song inventory. As with all things, Scott Borchetta is on the cutting edge and ahead of the curve, and soon the rest of Music Row, like a 1985 Buick trying to make a U-turn in the middle of rush hour traffic, will slowly reverse course along with him.
This all fits the same test pattern that Music Row employed amongst the angry backlash that presented itself when Taylor Swift came to country music dominance in 2007. Traditional country fans all proclaimed country music was dead, and so country music’s major labels all cobbled together some “new Outlaws” to present to the format’s pissed off minority: Eric Church singing “Lotta Boot Left To Fill”, Gretchen Wilson’s “Outlaws & Renegades”. Oh and which outfit was Justin Moore signed to when he released the album Outlaws Like Me? Yep, Big Machine Records; the same as Taylor Swift.
But this type of baiting of the country music public doesn’t stop with major labels. The other day I saw the new Rolling Stone Country post an article titled, “Miranda Lambert Gives A Woman’s Take on ‘Bro Country‘.” “Well hey,” I thought. “Miranda Lambert is finally speaking out!” But when I got into the meat of the article, I read Miranda saying “….I’m happy about it and I donât have any problem with anything that is going on.” Huh. Is this really a woman’s take on “bro-country”, or does Miranda understand the wrong words could mean curtains for her career? Maddie & Tae sure have a different perspective, but of course, Scott Borchetta has their back. The underlying point here is this “bro-country” buzzword gets the country music public clicking away, hoping to find a bowl of blood. And I don’t mean to single out Rolling Stone Country specifically. All over the country music internet you’re seeing this “bro-country” focus, especially with interviewers hoping an interviewee slips up, says the wrong thing, and starts an internet “bro-country” war of words, which is always good for business.
This type of revolving, merry-go-round system that pilfers both sides of the country music culture divide sure does stir the pot, but it’s not brewing anything healthy. The gullible country music masses and the complicit media allow this revolving door of enjoyment and contempt to continue, but you go to that well long enough, and some people will start to wisen up, and be spit out of the system in such substantial numbers that there won’t be enough current to fuel the water wheel.
I don’t want to hate on “bro-country” fans because I don’t want to hate on anybody. The solution to “bro-country” is not ANTI “bro-country”. The solution to “bro-country” is really good songs that transcend gender, age, and even taste, and unify the country music public, not pit it against itself.
Time was in country music when the Southern drawl was going the way of the dinosaur. I know, strange to think because of how pronounced Southern accents are today and since they’re usually considered part and parcel with country music. But in the mid to late 00′s when soccer moms were country’s most coveted demographic and artists like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Rascal Flatts were ruling the roost, the Southern accent began to lose its prominence and be seen as unsavory by an industry trying to soften its image and appeal more to a pop-oriented crowd. Strong Southern accents were discouraged in country’s sippy cup era.
Nowadays it is a much different story. Southern twang is back in a big way baby, as bro-country dominates the format, and female performers try and turn up the sass to compete. As opposed to trying to apologize for their Southern roots, today’s country artists can’t shut the hell up about them, regularly reinforcing all things country in laundry list form with elongated drawls. This has seen the rise of the Southern accent once again, but along with it, questions about the authenticity of some of the performer’s twang.
Miranda Lambert, one of country’s leading ladies, seems to have the ability to accentuate or turn off her Southern drawl depending on the mood of the song she is singing. There is little doubt listening to the Lindale, TX native talk that her Southern accent is real. The question is if she enhances or diminishes it in an unnatural way when she sings, and if so, does that diminish the authenticity of her music or the performance?
Tyler Hubbard of the band Florida Georgia Line has one of the most pronounced Southern accents when singing of any popular country music artist today. From Monroe, GA, once again you just have to hear Tyler speak to know his Southern accent probably isn’t a put on. But is it unnaturally bolstered in Florida Georgia Line’s music? Interestingly enough, much has been made about the other member of the duo, Brian Kelley, not singing lead much at all. Whether it’s the way the songs were written or the way their producer (Joey Moi of Nickelback fame) arranged them, it was quickly identified that Tyler’s twang was the money maker, not Brian Kelley’s more normalized tone.
Big Machine artist Justin Moore from Arkansas may have the most accentuated Southern accent of them all, almost caricaturist compared to even some of his most twangy peers. Once again it makes one wonder if it’s faked until you hear him talk and his accent is just as pronounced, if not more than it is in his music. He would be an interesting person to ask about another concern facing the Southern twang, which is non Southerners all of a sudden sporting an accent once they get behind a microphone and start singing country music. This is exactly what radio station DJ Broadway from Country 92.5 in Connecticut did in a recent Justin Moore interview, and the conversation quickly veered toward how people think Justin Moore is sporting a fake twang.
“It seems like everyone, once they get to Nashville they have an accent, whether they’re from Michigan or Arkanasas, it doesn’t matter where they’re from,” Broadway observed to Justin Moore. “Does that drive you mad? Do you ever turn you head and go, ‘You were just talking to me, you’re from Michigan and that’s where you were born and all of a sudden you’ve got a Southern accent? Where did that come from?’”
Justin Moore replies, “People have said in my career that mine’s fake. But I mean, you and I have known each other for what, seven years or something? I mean I feel like going, ‘If you think I talk redneck, go hear my mom talk.’ I don’t have the time or the energy, or whatever has the thought process out there for people who have said that mine’s fake. Why in the world would I want to talk fake for the rest of my life?”
But a few will probably still believe that Justin Moore is faking it, probably because other performers without native accents will probably continue to employ it in their country music. Why? Because the Southern accent is a hot commodity in country music right now, and we can probably expect things to get even more twangy and drawn out from here.
At Sunday night’s 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards held in Las Vegas, Big Machine Records recording artist Justin Moore walked away with the night’s coveted “New Artist of the Year” prize.Â “I was beginning to think there was a height requirement,” Justin Moore joked in his acceptance speech, before getting very emotional after receiving his very first industry award. However, Justin Moore was clearly ineligible for the award according to the ACM’s stated rules. Moore’s nomination and win calls into question the legitimacy of the ACM Awards, the effectiveness of its rules, and the ethics behind the organization. Beyond Justin Moore not passing the eyeball test as someone most country fans would not consider to be a “new artist” since he signed to Big Machine in 2008, had a #1 single in 2009, and a #1 album in 2011, there are concrete ACM requirements for the award that Justin Moore does not pass. The ACM’s rules for New Artists clearly state:
Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album (with general exclusions of specialty albums, such as seasonal or live recordings) according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category.
Justin Moore is the owner of two separate albums that sold more than 500,000 copies: His self-titled Justin Moore album released on August 11th, 2009 that has been certified gold with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me released on June 21st, 2011 that has been certified gold with 577,000 copies sold.
In early February, the Academy of Country Musicâs President Bob Romeo responded to the calls for a clarification on Justin Mooreâs eligibility in a story published on MusicRow.com. Bob Romeo stated in part:
The Board finds that being in step with trends and acknowledging the country music landscape has improved our process and guaranteed the best candidates over the years. This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Boardâs right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success.
In short, Bob Romeo & the ACM’s Board of Directors decided to call upon a provision in the rules that states that the rules “may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music.” However the rules were never amended in the case of Justin Moore, only broken. The ACM’s set the precedent of changing the rules before nominees were announced if they felt a potential nominee was being excluded by them in 2009, when the sales requirements for the Album of the Year award were reduced to 300,000 so Jamey Johnsonâs critically-acclaimed That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. The ACMâs also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing the nominees too early.
Accusations of backroom deals, block voting, and vote swapping have swirled around the ACM Awards for years. But now that they have clearly violated one of their own stated rules and let an artist win an award he’s clearly ineligible for, the calls for more transparency and fairness at the Academy of Country Music could get much louder, especially from the fans of artists who lost out to an ineligible nominee.
One of the big stories leading up to the Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday April 6th has been the ineligibility of Justin Moore for the New Artist of the Year award that he’s nominated for, and is considered a front runner to win. Now Justin Moore has responded to the concerns, and the issue has gone all the way to making the front page of Fox News.
âItâs really exciting for us to finally get this monkey off our back,â he told Connecticut radio station 92.5. âI feel like forever I was the coach who could win games, but not the big one. Somebody asked me the other day what I felt about being up for ‘New Artist’ and my response was “I would take ‘Female Vocalist’ if they’d give it to me.’ It sounds kind of funny, but Iâm kind of a country music history buff. Throughout the history of this award, people have won it well into their careers. [Kenny] Chesney won it five, six, seven years after his first album âŠ so it sounds a little funnier than what it historically has, whoâs won it over the years, so hopefully weâre the next one in line. Weâll see.â
On the surface, Justin Moore is right. Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, and others have won the ACM’s New Artist of the Year award many years after the initial start of their career. But that is not what is at issue. Despite their prior years of service, Kenny Chesney and Eric Church were both still eligible by the stated rules laid out by the ACM’s voter guidelines when they were nominated and won the award. Justin Moore is not.
Justin Moore, similar to the ACM President in his response on the issue, is trying to deflect from the core of the problem. It’s not only that Justin Moore doesn’t pass the eyeball test as a “New Artist” with his first hit single “Back That Thing Up” being almost six years old, it’s that there are specific rules governing which artists are eligible for the awards so that the integrity of the awards can remain in tact and impropriety cannot creep into the system. The ACM’s rules specifically state:
Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album (with general exclusions of specialty albums, such as seasonal or live recordings) according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category.
Unfortunately for Justin, his name is on two separate albums that canât jump this hurdle: His self-titled Justin Moore album released on August 11th, 2009 that has been certified gold with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me released on June 21st, 2011 that has been certified gold with 577,000 copies sold. Any talk of where Kenny Chesney was in his career when he won the award, or how much Justin Moore might deserve it, are irrelevant. Furthermore, the stipulations of the ACM’s rules give the ACM President and Board of Directors the ability to change the rules if they wish, but they don’t give anyone the unilateral ability to break them. The New Artist rules have yet to be amended to reflect the realities of Justin Moore’s nomination, and even more inconvenient for the ACM is the fact that they set the precedent in 2009 when they changed the rules to make Jamey Johnson eligible for Album of the Year before the nominations were announced.
History buff or not, Justin Moore is still ineligible, and the Academy of Country Music still refuses to do anything about it. The sad part for Justin is, none of this is Justin Moore’s fault, though he may ultimately get stuck with the blame from some fans. Justin Moore, with two gold albums under his belt, probably does deserve some recognition from these top level awards that have ignored him for years. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the rules that are set up to make sure the ACM process is one that is governed by clear statutes, one that resides above corruption, and one that is handled with transparency.
The Academy of Country Music Awards have always been surrounded by accusations of block voting, vote swapping, and other manipulations of the system at the hands of country music’s major labels, as label representatives work to ensure the artists, songs, and albums they want to push get rewarded. There’s been so much talk about it over the years and plenty of indirect evidence that it almost goes as understood that behind-the-scenes political gaming of the system is how the ACM’s wheels are greased.
The ethics and transparency of the ACM system has been under extra scrutiny this year with the revelation that New Artist of the Year nominee Justin Moore is undeniably ineligible by the ACM’s own stated rules, yet the ACM’s are unwilling to do anything to rectify the situation. With The ACM Awards less than two weeks away and nothing being done about the Justin Moore issue, it sets up an interesting scenario if he ends up winning, with fans and representatives of the other two New Artist nominees–Brett Eldredge and Kip Moore—having a legitimate beef with why their artist was overlooked for a nominee who should have been disqualified.
The ACM’s New Artist of the Year, just like their Entertainer of the Year, is presented to the public as a fan voted award, though the final winner is actually chosen by a combination of fan votes and the “professional membership” of the ACM’s. Unfortunately for fans though, just how much their vote counts is not revealed, the results of the fan votes are never published, and the exact ratio of fan votes to professional votes that is used to choose the eventual winner is not public knowledge, if there is a dedicated formula for picking the winner to begin with.
It must have been that “professional membership” quotient that resulted in Luke Bryan’s shocking win for Entertainer of the Year in 2013, because there’s no way the PR machine of Taylor Swift and legions of team Swifty fans armed with cell phones could ever be out dueled by any other artist, especially Luke Bryan at his prominence in early 2013.
The announcement of Luke Bryan as Entertainer of the Year came as a shock to fans, industry, and media alike. Luke Bryan wasn’t even considered a front runner for the award by most pundits entering the show. It certainly shocked Saving Country Music, and I said as much on the ACM live blog at the time. Today also called it “shocking” and a “huge upset.” If anyone was going to upstage Swift, it should have been the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year, and The Voice personality Blake Shelton. Without sly maneuvering behind-the-scenes, it’s hard to see how Luke Bryan would even have a chance in a vote where fan votes were part of the equation.
Exacerbating the heartbreak for Taylor Swift’s fans was the fact that later on, the ACM’s actually announced Taylor Swift as the winner on their website.
The error (or truth when it came to the popular vote) was discovered on May 12th, 2013 and later changed, but not after it sent conspiracy theories swirling that the ACM’s had given Taylor, and the millions of fans that had taken of their time to vote for her on a daily basis leading up to the awards, a raw deal. Of course the thing about a conspiracy theory is you don’t actually have to prove anything, you just have to create doubt. But that’s exactly what the ACM’s did, and have done in their voting system by ostensibly ruling all of the votes cast by fans irrelevant when they chose Luke Bryan as the eventual Entertainer of the Year winner. If the ACM’s wanted to refute this, they could do so by releasing the 2013 vote tallies through a reputable accounting house showing where Luke Bryan ended up in the standings, or an explanation of how the system declared Luke Bryan the winner. But of course they won’t.
So the next question is, why would any fan vote for the ACM New Artist or Entertainer of the Year this year? Their votes didn’t count for the Entertainer award last year, and this year, the front runner for New Artist of the Year isn’t new, and isn’t qualified to receive votes by the ACM’s rules. The whole fan voted element to the ACM Awards seems to be more about creating attention for the awards, and generating traffic for ACM’s web properties. The nominees make videos prodding the fan bases to vote, even though the results may not matter. Some are also asking why Australia was added this year to the countries eligible for voting. As one of the few artists that has focused on the Australian market, this might work out well for Taylor Swift … if those votes actually count.
Then there is the issue if fans should be voting for the ACM Awards in the first place. Kenny Chesney, who won the ACM’s Entertainer of the Year Award four years straight, had some pretty damming words about the ACM’s allowing fans to vote in 2008—the first year the ACM’s allowed fan voting for Entertainer of the Year, and the last year Kenny Chesney won the distinction. In a press conference after the ceremony, Kenny said:
It is an industry complaint that I have. That’s all. I’m so excited to stand up here tonight, and that’s important for everybody to know. I’ve got to choose my words wisely here. I think it’s important to know that I do think the fans should be a part of this awards show. I really do. But I’m probably one of the guys in the audience that didn’t think it should be for Entertainer of the Year. The Entertainer of the Year trophy is supposed to represent heart and passion and an amazing amount of sacrifice, commitment and focus. That’s the way Garth [Brooks] won it four times. That’s the way I won it. That’s the way [George] Strait won it … and Reba [McEntire] and Alabama all those years.
I think it’s a complete disrespect of the artist — what they’ve lowered us to, to get Entertainer of the Year. … Because of that, it really diminishes the integrity of the music that we’re making and how much work goes into it. That’s what really matters. That’s what Entertainer of the Year really is. It’s not about flying somebody to some shows and giving free songs away — and giving this and that — and seeing how hard you can push people’s buttons on the Internet. As much as I love the ACMs and what they’ve done for my life, that’s how I really feel about it.. And I can say that because I won tonight.
I’m honored to be up here for four years in a row to tie Garth’s record, believe me. I may not ever win it again, but I know I’ve achieved this. I just think we all need to be careful how we give this award away in the future. … If somebody stands up here in the future, they should do it because they sacrificed a tremendous amount.
The lack of transparency in the ACM’s system, the fan voting, and the woeful disregard of the rules they do have in place, is eroding the integrity of the awards not just amongst grumbling, disenfranchised traditional country fans and industry gadflies, but amongst fan bases of big, mainstream names like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood (whose fans feel like she’s continually snubbed), and Entertainer of the Year alum Kenny Chesney.
The question country music fans, the industry, and the ACM’s themselves should be asking is what will happen first: more transparency and stronger adherence to the rules by the ACM brass, or a lowering of the integrity of the awards to a point where their ultimate relevancy comes into question long term?
And as far as voting for New Artist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year through the ACM system, the best thing a concerned country music fan who wants to put the music first could do is not vote at all, and have their voice tallied as one that desires more transparency, more fairness, and a better adherence to their own rules by the Academy of Country Music.
…that includes Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Thompson Square? Ugh…
Not since the second installment of the Waylon – The Music Inside series was released with the names of Colt Ford and Justin Moore making their way on the track list have we had such a quizzical collection of artists for a tribute album. As cool as it is to see any attention paid to Merle these days from the mainstream establishment, and to see Merle’s much-deserving song Ben Haggard make the cut of contributors, hearing Luke Bryan covering “Pancho & Lefty” (and is that really a Merle song anyway?) or Dustin Lynch taking time from singing about tractor sex to offer his take on “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is not what’s going to get your average Merle fan’s motor running.
The Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard compilation out April 1st (no fooling) is being put together by Broken Bow Records, and of course, just like many of these tributes recently, it’s mostly a showcase of label talent with a “tribute” as the backdrop. Jason Aldean, Kristy Lee Cook, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols, Randy Houser, Parmalee, and Thompson Square all reside on Broken Bow and bow in on the track list, most with two contributions.
And if you were hoping that maybe they would approach this thing with the Merle spirit, just listen to what Luke Bryan has to say about his veryÂ “Mumford & Sons” take on “Pancho & Lefty”: “The original had a Spanish-Mexican flair. We took a real different approach with it …. something with some edge that moves along pretty good. It’s an interesting take.”
Something else interesting: They begged Garth Brooks to allow them to use his cover of “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” from his recent blockbuster Blame It All On My Roots box set. But just like the box set, you can only get the song if you buy the tribute from Wal-Mart.
Complicating the love-hate relationship a true Merle fan might have with this compilation, the ACM Awards being held April 6th are planning to bestow Merle Haggard with a Crystal Milestone Award as part of the ACM festivities, with this tribute as the centerpiece. Once again, it’s great to see the ACM’s or anyone in the mainstream acknowledge Merle (even if it’s half a decade after Taylor Swift was given the same Crystal Milestone Award), but you wonder how much of this is just a platform for Broken Bow to display their own talent.
Luckily if you’re looking for Merle Haggard tributes with not as many question marks swirling around them, there’s been a few of great ones released recently. Suzy Bogguss released Lucky last month: a 12-song tribute to The Hag. And Vince Gill with Paul Franklin paid tribute to Merle & Buck Owens last year with Bakersfield.
Track list for Working Man’s Poet: A Tribute to Merle Haggard:
- Misery and Gin, Randy Houser
- Footlights, Joe Nichols
- Going Where the Lonely Go, Jason Aldean
- Today I Started Loving You Again, Kristy Lee Cook
- Carolyn, Toby Keith
- Pancho and Lefty, Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley
- Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, Garth Brooks (Walmart edition only)
- You Take Me for Granted, Thompson Square
- Mama Tried, Ben Haggard
- That’s the Way Love Goes, Dustin Lynch
- Make Up and Faded Blue Jeans, Jake Owen
- I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, James Wesley
- Workin’ Man Blues, Parmalee
- Are the Good Times Really Over, Jason Aldean
- Let’s Chase Each Other Around the Room, Thompson Square
- I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, Dustin Lynch
- The Fightin’ Side of Me, James Wesley
- My Favorite Memory, Joe Nichols
- Ramblin’ Fever, Randy Houser
- Sing Me Back Home, Ben Haggard
I first want to congratulate you as the President of the Academy of Country Music for the continued success of your storied institution, and your ability to extend the ACM’s as a viable and vibrant forum from which country music can be promoted to the masses in an engaging and exciting presentation that stops down America on an annual basis to celebrate what your institution deems is the best talent country music has to offer.
It is in the spirit of wanting to keep the viability and the storied nature of the ACM’s in tact that I write you to address a concern that I, as well as other country music writers and fans have voiced over the eligibility of Big Machine Records artist Justin Moore for the New Artist of the Year award at the 49th Annual awards set to transpire in a month from now.
Please don’t let it come across that I am assuming or alluding that you are not aware of your own rules, because I’m sure you are more aware of the ACM rules than anyone, but it is clearly stated in your voting criteria that artists are not eligible for the New Artist of the Year distinction if they have sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album according to Nielsen Soundscan. Unfortunately Justin Moore, one of the three remaining nominees for New Artist of the Year, has no less than two such albums that have crossed the 500,000 sales threshold: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold, at last count.
I understand you are aware of this concern and specifically addressed it as Saving Country Music and others had asked you to do. And though your statement does help us in establishing both that the Academy of Country Music is aware of this issue, and what the official stance on this issue is by you as the President of the ACM, unfortunately it doesn’t go any further in resolving it.
You told Music Row Magazine, “This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Boardâs right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success.” But unfortunately, with all due respect, the decision is not in line with your criteria, and though the decision might be inclusive of Justin Moore, it is exclusive of other artists who are indeed eligible under the Academy of Country Music’s eligibility rules that were drafted by the ACM itself.
As for “the Board’s right to be flexible,” I presume you’re referencing the provision in the voting guidelines that states, “The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music.” However this rule only grants the Board the ability to amend the rules, not break the rules. As Saving Country Music and others have stated throughout the transpiration of this eligibility matter, the Academy of Country Music has every right to amend their own rules, and I and others have encouraged the Academy of Country Music to do so if it sees an issue with the stated criteria for the New Artist of the Year category.
But no such rules changes have been implemented. Furthermore, the Board of Directors for the Academy of Country Music set the precedent for amending rules before announcing nominees in 2009 when the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category was reduced to 300,000 so that Jamey Johnsonâs critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominations. More importantly, the ACMâs also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees in 2009 while you and the Board of Directors finalized the rule change, making sure you did not violate your own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
What’s even more concerning in regards to precedent is the one that will be set if the Academy of Country Music Board of Directors unilaterally breaks its established rules instead of amending them, which will happen if the Justin Moore nomination is etched in stone by not resolving it before the awards ceremony on April 6th. Even worse could be the precedent if Justin Moore wins.
What bestows the honor behind the Academy of Country Music trophy is the prestige the ACM has built into the awards over its 49 years of history. The rules behind the awards are the very foundation of the institution and of the awards themselves; they are the framework from which the ceremonious credence in an otherwise inert trophy is bestowed, regularly bringing recipients to tears upon receiving it.
But all of this can be called into question, and the weight with which the awards are regarded diminished if the rules are ignored. And this issue is not just about one specific nominee or recipient in one given year. If the rules are disregarded, that decision could become effusive, and impinge on the integrity of the awards in their entirety, including awards given out in the past and future. Murmurs of block voting and label impropriety have swirled around the ACM Awards for years, and not just from spurious sources and industry gadflies such as myself, but long-term, trusted journalists like radio personality Jimmy Carter, and previous recipients of ACM Awards themselves.
And beyond the rules specifically, Justin Moore, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, does not pass the ‘eyeball test’ as a ‘New Artist’. If he did, and it was the rules that seemed to be either unfair or non useful, instead of the clear action of breaking of them, then maybe some consensus could build behind making an exception. Ironically, if there is any consensus between the ACM Board, and many of the voices of concern for the rules oversight, it is that Justin Moore, with his clear commercial success, probably does deserve some sort of distinction from the Academy of Country Music in 2014. But it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of a clear and transparent rules regime put in place to make sure nothing unethical transpires in the process, or the spirit of the ‘New Artist’ award of giving a hand up to a new artist instead of locking one out by including an established artist, which the inclusion of Justin Moore ostensibly does.
Furthermore, with the financial windfall an artist receives for being nominated or winning an Academy of Country Music Award, and the rules oversight in this particular case being both obvious and unprecedented, I think it is fair to ask if there wouldn’t be any legitimate legal grievances by the parties that were replaced by Justin Moore’s illegitimate inclusion in the New Artist category, and/or his potential win of the award.
And so, with nothing but the ACM Awards’ best interests in mind, I plead with the Academy of Country Music to second guess your nomination of Justin Moore for New Artist of the Year. How you wish to resolve the matter specifically is not my place to say. Whether you disqualify Justin, amend the rules in a way that somehow resolves why the amendment wasn’t made before the nominations were announced, or make some other distinction for Justin Moore to be eligible for, something must be done. And if nothing is done, then I and others, as is our journalistic duty, must call into question the legitimacy of the awards themselves.
The ACM Awards have gone 49 years without allowing their rules to be violated. Let’s try to make it 50.
Kyle “Trigger” Coroneos
This week in Nashville is the annual CRS or Country Radio Seminar where executives and personalities in country radio gather with executives and artists in the country music industry to hobnob, network, and attend workshops and presentations about the direction and future of radio and country music. This year the backdrop of CRS most certainly will be the Country Music Media Arms Race breaking out in 2014 (see more about this below).
Bits of interesting news about the country music radio industry tend to trickle out of CRS week, like a couple of years ago when an Edison Research study concluded that country listeners wanted more classic country on the radio. Edison Research President Larry Rosin said at the time, âI believe that we as an industry have really made a mistake in our conception of our own stations. While many people donât want to listen to classic country music, some still do, and weâve let them float awayâŠWe run the risk that we just are more and more pleasing to fewer and fewer people until all we are is ecstatically pleasing a tiny, unsustainable number of people.â
Scott Borchetta Quizzically Compares Big Machine Music to a Ferrari,Â not McDonald’s.
Even before the CRS events got started in earnest Monday evening, many interesting pieces of information about radio and country music emerged in the run up to CRS. Big Machine Records’ Scott Borchetta had the most puzzling quote, choosing a strange, if not unfortunate analogy to compare his label’s music to when explaining why he chooses to delay releasing music from artists like Taylor Swift and Justin Moore on Spotify and other streaming services until months after the release date has passed. Borchetta told The Tennessean:
âIâm not McDonaldâs. Iâm not 1 billion served. Iâm much more in favor of building a Harley-Davidson or a Ferrari and take that 1 or 2 percent of the population who love what we do and super-serve them.â
It seems like that analogy needs to be flip flopped, but big power players like Borchetta, and their ability to control the market with landmark deals with Clear Channel and others entities will certainly be one of the big topics at CRS 2014.
Why Radio Still Matters
Every time Saving Country Music broaches the subject of country radio, the alternatives such as satellite and streaming services are brought up as evidence of why radio doesn’t matter anymore. Though radio may not matter to a specific consumer, when it comes to the research, the experts, and to the culture and listeners in country music specifically, radio is still by far the most dominant format, especially for consumers to discover new music.
“Time and time again when studies are done, broadcast radio remains the No. 1 source for discovering new music,” Broken Bow Records executive Jon Loba told The Tennessean ahead of CRS. “Radio is still 80-plus percent of your music exposure. One thing I remind staff at least once a month in an artist development meeting when we are focusing on other mediums of exposure that are important â streaming, or press for TV, or whatever else â I try not to let everyone get in the weeds with that. Radio is still the primary form of exposing new music.”
Despite dramatic growth in music streaming across the board, just like with the transition from CD’s to downloads, country music is lagging behind other genres in the changeover, allowing country radio to continue to hold onto its power over consumers. As Nate Rau writing for The Tennessean explains:
“An analysis of music streaming data for 2013 shows that, despite growing noticeably, country still lags behind the other genres. Of the top 10,000 streamed songs last year, 28 percent were rock songs, 28 percent were hip-hop/R&B songs, 19 percent were pop songs and 8 percent were country songs, according to Nielsen data. But on traditional radio, country music outranks all other genres as the most popular format.”
Radio Losing Its Autonomy From Record Labels
Whereas in the past many radio stations were independently or regionally owned and their charge was to serve their communities with music, now that radio consolidation has put the majority of radio stations in the hands of a few select companies, principally Clear Channel and Cumulus, the point of radio in many instances is not to serve communities, but to serve record labels. As Broken Bow’s Jon Loba explains:
“When I got into the business, at my first CRS in 1997, I remember radio stations saying, ‘It is not our job to sell records. Our job is to keep listeners tuned in to our station. That is it. If we happen to sell records as a byproduct, thatâs fantastic, but itâs not our job.’ [Now] thereâs a much more symbiotic relationship, not just in words, but actually in action. CBS and Clear Channel both are taking the time to say very proactively, ‘We want to help you highlight your priorities, we want to help you sell records. We know healthy record labels are a large part of our business.’
The Country Music Media Arms Race is Heating Up
Similar to how all popular music is coalescing into one or two huge mega-genres or mono-genre, the media that covers and serves country music fans in radio, print, online, television, and social formats is consolidating around two big media players: Clear Channel & Cumulus—the two largest radio station owners in the United States, supported by partnering or gobbling up other important players in the country music media realm.
In December of 2013, word came down that Clear Channel had cut a deal with CMT to create nationally-focused country music programming to be distributed across the 125 country radio stations owned by the company, as well as some digital and television platforms. This move was in response to Cumulus, the 2nd-largest radio station owner in the United States behind Clear Channel, which had created its own national syndicated format earlier in 2013 under the NASH-FM brand, serving 70 separate radio markets.
Then Cumulus matched Clear Channelâs cross-media move by partnering with the long-running magazine Country Weekly to migrate the NASH-FM brand into print and online media. Announced in late January, Country Weekly in the next couple of quarters will become NASH Weekly. Cumulus has also registered nashweekly.com, and is expected to make an online presence for the NASH brand a focus. Then yesterday, even more ventures and partnerships were announced from Cumulus, including a television station, live concerts and events, even potentially restaurants and consumer products will be part of the massive NASH brand expansion.
Personalities and cross-platform promotion are what is driving the media arms race. CMT’s Cody Alan who now also appears in Clear Channel’s syndicated radio network can do an interview with a big country star, and use that interview both on television and in radio, transcribe it for print and/or online media, and promote it through both company’s social networks. However there are obvious trappings to having one or two companies control all of country music’s media.
âFrom the record company standpoint, it is absolutely more efficient and cost-effective with respect to reaching a larger audience in one shot,” says Broken Bow’s Jon Loba. “But it can also be somewhat scary in that there are fewer voices and opinions being heard out there.â
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What’s for certain is that in 2014, country music media will go through the biggest paradigm shift in the genre’s history, touching every facet of how consumers engage with country music, and creating two massive companies who will dominate the media landscape, partnering with the country music recording industry and blurring lines between covering music and creating music like never before.
On Tuesday the Academy of Country Music announced the finalists for their “New Artist of the Year” award to be given out an the ACM Awards on April 6th. By the results of fan voting, the eight-name list of nominees was narrowed down to three performers:Â Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore, and Justin Moore.
The announcement comes as questions continue to loom around the eligibility of Justin Moore for the “New Artist” nomination. As Saving Country Music first pointed out on February 5th with help from Windmills Country, Justin Moore was not eligible for the award according to the Academy of Country Music’s stated rules. According to the ACM, artists whoâve sold over 500,000 copies of any previously-released album are not eligible for the ânew artistâ award. Justin Moore has two such albums: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold.
Subsequently, when this information was reported on by Windmills Country on Country 92.5âČs âElectric Barnyardâ show, representatives from Justin Moore’s label Valory Music—a imprint of Big Machine Records—contacted the radio station and asked them to take the audio down.
Also today, the Academy of Country Music’s President Bob Romeo responded to the calls for a clarification on Justin Moore’s eligibility in a story published on MusicRow.com. Bob Romeo states:
The Academy of Country Music Board of Directors â which I have been a part of for 25+ years â has a long history of supporting new country music acts. The Board finds that being in step with trends and acknowledging the country music landscape has improved our process and guaranteed the best candidates over the years. This decision is in line with our criteria, and the Boardâs right to be flexible in our efforts to be inclusive vs. exclusive of a young artist who has had budding success. We have to remember that Justin is a new face to mainstream music fans, media, and the like. He has earned this nomination and we congratulate him and all ACM Award nominees, and look forward to celebrating their work at the Awards in April.
According to the Music Row story, though Justin Moore is in clear violation of the stated rules for the “New Artist of the Year” category, and the Academy of Country Music is not disputing that, they are citing another global stipulation in the rules to justify his nomination. The rule states:
The criteria and voting procedures are set forth by the ACM Board of Directors in accordance with the bylaws, and may be amended from time to time as the Board deems appropriate in the best interest of Country music. Any disputes shall be resolved by the Chairman of the Board in accordance with Robertâs Rules of Order.
In other words, the Academy of Country Music reserves the right to amend their rules at any time, and that’s fine, and this is something Saving Country Music has stated in both its previous articles on this issue. However, the 500,000 copy rule has still yet to be amended. A check of the PDF of the ACM’s rules located on their website shows that the 500,000 copy provision is still listed, and no specific amendment that would make Justin Moore eligible for the “New Artist of the Year” award has been published.
Though the global provision allows the ACM’s rules to be “amended from time to time,” it doesn’t give anyone the right to break any rule. And though the global provision says that “Any disputes shall be resolved by the Chairman of the Board,” there is no disputing Justin Moore’s ineligibility. A “dispute” would only arise if there was an ambiguity or loophole in the rules that needed to be resolved or clarified—something that is not the case with this specific issue.
Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music set the precedent in 2009 of making rules amendments before nominees were announced, and even delaying the announcement of the nominees to allow the rule amendment to be drafted, finalized, and be entered into the public record.
This is an exact excerpt from Saving Country Music’s article posted yesterday (2-10) on this subject:
The eligibility rules for the awards are written by the Academy of Country Music, and thereâs no reason they cannot change them if they see fit. If the ACM wanted to nominate Justin Moore for the 2014 awards cycle, they could have written out the 500,000 copy provision, or increased the amount of copies in the rule for Justin Moore to maintain his eligibility. Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music has a history of doing this very thing. In 2009, the ACMâs reduced the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category to 300,000. The reason for this was so that Jamey Johnsonâs critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. More importantly, the ACMâs also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
Not only have the ACM’s yet to amended the “New Artist” rules, they did not delay the announcement to amend them. The reason this is important is because with the lack of a clear rules regime in place to create protocols around the eligibility of artists, there is the potential for improprieties and corruption to creep into the process.
Though the attempt at clarification by Bob Romero of the Academy of Country Music is appreciated, the issue of Justin Moore’s eligibility remains far from resolved, if Romero’s statements don’t raise further questions and concerns for country music fans. If the Academy of Country Music wants to make a rules amendment so that Justin Moore can become eligible for for the “New Artist of the Year” award, then that amendment must be made and entered into the public record.
But this would still not resolve the issue. Since the ACM’s made an exception to their stated rules by nominating Justin Moore in the first place, a deeper explanation of how that happened should be given, along with an accounting of how the rules regime transpired in the process, and why specifically Justin Moore was given the exception to make sure no improprieties or corruption occurred.
To the artists that have ACM Awards displayed prominently on their mantels or in their trophy cases, and to the fans of those artists that celebrate the wins every April, the reason these awards mean so much to them is because of the integrity the ACM’s have built around their awards during the organization’s 49 year history. The integrity of the process of how the ACM’s vet and select their nominees and winners is the very foundation for the prestigious weight these accolades hold. And if questions arise about the integrity of these rules, then so will questions about the importance or legitimacy of these awards. Nobody deserves to have an asterisk beside their ACM Award because of an oversight of the rules, including Justin Moore.
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On February 5th, Saving Country Music posted an article detailing why Valory Music Group artist Justin Moore should be disqualified from the ACM Award’s “New Artist of the Year” category for which he is nominated along with seven others. Stipulated clearly in the Academy of Country Music’s rules, artists who’ve sold over 500,000 copies of any previously-released album are not eligible for the “new artist” award. Justin Moore has two such albums: Justin Moore from 2009 with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me from 2011 with 577,000 copies sold.
Saving Country Music was first tipped to this oversight of the rules by Windmills Country on Twitter, who on February 5th appeared on Connecticut Country 92.5′s “Electric Barnyard” radio show to discuss the rules oversight. What happened next was an acknowledgement by Justin Moore’s label Valory Music—an imprint of Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records—of the apparent rules violation, and apparently an effort to suppress that information. This leads to further questions of why the Academy of Country Music continues to not address this issue, and other potential improprieties clouding the ACM nomination process.
After Country 92.5 posted the audio of Windmills Country’s appearance on the station’s website, they were contacted by The Valory Music Group and asked to take the audio down as can be seen in this Twitter thread.
So the next question is, “Why?”
Accusations of block voting, vote swapping, and other behind-the-scenes gaming of the Academy of Country Music nomination and voting process have been around for years. In 2011, country radio personality Jimmy Carter spoke specifically on how labels decide which artists they want to push through the ACM’s, saying:
Itâs crazy political. . . You have to just say, âOK, these awards are what they are. Theyâre bragging rights, theyâre an infomercial for the record label.â And like I was told off the record yesterdayâŠthat Miranda Lambert got all those nominations because the record label had to decide. Are they going with Carrie Underwood this year, or Miranda Lambert? Both are on the same label. They figured it would help Miranda more than it would help the career of Carrie Underwood.
Once again Miranda Lambert leads the 2014 ACM nominations with seven, despite not having released an album in over 2 years. But the Justin Moore eligibility issue specifically might be the first time a label and/or the Academy of Country Music have been caught red-handed showing favoritism to a particular artist; the first concrete evidence of impropriety in the nomination and voting process of one of the industry’s biggest awards.
Valory Music and the ACM’s may hope that this issue just blows over, but the removal of the Windmills Country audio has arguably exacerbated it, and fed the suspicion some country fans have surrounding the awards process. If there is an explanation for the discrepancy between Justin Moore’s eligibility and his nomination, the fans of country music have yet to hear it. And if there is no explanation, the Academy of Country Music and its label partners are allowing the legitimacy of these awards to be called into question.
The eligibility rules for the awards are written by the Academy of Country Music, and there’s no reason they cannot change them if they see fit. If the ACM wanted to nominate Justin Moore for the 2014 awards cycle, they could have written out the 500,000 copy provision, or increased the amount of copies in the rule for Justin Moore to maintain his eligibility. Furthermore, the Academy of Country Music has a history of doing this very thing. In 2009, the ACM’s reduced the amount of copies an artist must sell to be eligible for the Album of the Year category to 300,000. The reason for this was so that Jamey Johnson’s critically-acclaimed album That Lonesome Song could be included in the nominees. More importantly, the ACM’s also delayed the announcement of the Album of the Year nominees that year while they finalized the rule change, making sure they did not violate their own rules by announcing their nominees too early.
Out of the respective entities in this issue, Justin Moore might be the least culpable. As he said in November of last year, his exclusion from award shows up until this nomination, including not being asked as a performer or even a presenter, has been quite curious when compared to his overall commercial impact in the genre.Â At the same time, his exclusion speaks to the collusive nature of country music’s top awards, and the narrow cast of names country’s awards continually draw from.
As unfair as it might be that Justin Moore has been excluded from the awards show process, as Windmills Country points out in their own article on the subject, it is even more unfair to the truly “new” artists that got excluded from this year’s nominee list because of the inclusion of established artists like Justin Moore and Lee Brice. The issue is especially exacerbated because of all the concern with country music’s inability to develop new female talent. Only one female artist, Kacey Musgraves, is included in the category, as the lack of female representation in country music has been making major periodical headlines left and right.
If the Academy of Country Music wants to keep a level of integrity around their awards and the process of determining nominees and winners, this Justin Moore eligibility issue must be addressed in a public manner. If there is an explanation, if a rule change needs to be made, then make it. Until then, it is fair, if not imperative on the country music community to question the legitimacy of the ACM’s nomination and voting process, and thus, the awards themselves.
For years, country music and other award shows throughout the industry have been making an aberration of the term “new” when nominating and naming their “New Artist of the Year” awards. Many times the nominees and winners have spent half a decade or more in the music business, and not just as an independent artist slogging through the honky tonks waiting on a deal, but signed to major labels, releasing charting singles and albums, and appearing on industry tours.
The spirit of “New Artist” awards is to help cultivate new talent in the industry, giving the nominees and the winner a hand up in their career. But as we have seen more and more well-established artists crashing the “New Artist” nominee lists over the last few years, it is beginning to become a default category for second-tier industry talent that can’t cut it with the other major awards, but that labels still want to showcase in the awards format.
Such can said to be the case when the Academy of Country Music, or ACM Awards announced their candidates for New Artist of the Year for 2014. The ACM fielded a list of eight candidates, with fans voting on who the final 3 candidates will be. Included in that list are artists like Lee Brice, who signed with Curb Records seven years ago, and Kip Moore, whose been signed to MCA for five. But the most quizzical inclusion to the ACM’s list of “new” artists is Big Machine Records’ Justin Moore.
Forget that Justin Moore signed to Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint in 2008, that he had a #1 single in 2009, and a #1 album in 2011; as first pointed out by Windmills Country, according to the Academy of Country Music’s specifically-stated rules of eligibility for the “New Artist” category, Justin Moore should be disqualified because he’s had not one, but two albums certified gold in previous years—gold albums denoting over 500,00 copies sold.
Here are the eight initial nominees for the ACM New Artist of the Year:
- Lee Brice
- Brett Eldredge
- Tyler Farr
- Justin Moore
- Kip Moore
- Kacey Musgraves
- Thomas Rhett
Though the ACM’s annual naming of performers as “New Artist” nominees may or may not pass the eyeball test, there are actually established rules that govern these matters just to make sure no impropriety takes place.
This award is presented to an outstanding male vocalist, female vocalist, vocal duo or vocal group in the country music industry who gains either initial fame or significantly greater recognition through their efforts during the prior calendar year of November 29, 2012 to November 27, 2013. The artist(s) must have success in digital media; in addition to having charted a single in the Top 40 on Billboardâs Country Airplay (BDS) or Country Aircheck (Mediabase) country charts; and/or selling 100,000 album units reflected in Nielsen SoundScan during the qualifying period. The top eight (8) vote getters determined by a nomination ballot, subject to the approval of the Board, will be considered semi-finalists, with the final three (3) nominees being determined by a combination of votes from the ACM professional membership and fan voting (online). The winner is determined by a combination of votes from the ACM professional membership and fan voting (online).
Okay cool, so nothing in those rules specifically disqualifies Justin Moore, or any other artist from this year’s nominee list. But it is the second provision to the New Artist category that unequivocally disqualifies Justin Moore two times over.
Any solo artist that has sold 500,000 copies of a previously released album (with general exclusions of specialty albums, such as seasonal or live recordings) according to Nielsen SoundScan, are not eligible for this category.
Unfortunately for Justin, his name is on two separate albums that can’t jump this hurdle: His self-titled Justin Moore album released on August 11th, 2009 that has been certified gold with 550,000 copies sold, and Outlaws Like Me released on June 21st, 2011 that has been certified gold with 577,000 copies sold.
In other words, by the Academy of Country Music’s own stated rules, Justin Moore should be disqualified from the 2014 New Artist of the Year Nominee pool.
So the next question would be, how was Justin Moore nominated in the first place? How was this rule overlooked? Did some impropriety transpire between Justin Moore’s label and the Academy of Country Music? Who would have been nominated in Justin Moore’s stead? And is the damage already done, even if Justin Moore is disqualified because of the increased exposure another candidate would have received upon the announcement of the nominees?
And the most important question is, what will the Academy of Country Music to resolve this gross oversight?
Glam metal band MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe confided in the world today that they are calling it quits after three decades, and are doing so in a dramatic fashion by signing a legally-binding contract that stipulates that the band cannot tour after 2015—the time after an upcoming 75-city final tour is scheduled to wrap up.
But buried in the litany of announcements and side stories about the MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe retirement was a little nugget of info with a country music angle. Apparently the band has signed a contract with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records—the home of Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, and Tim McGraw—to produce a country-themed MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe tribute album to be released this summer.
Scott Borchetta was at the press conference announcing the MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe retirement, and proclaimed himself a “not-so-secret” fan of the CrĂŒe, saying, “Our album will highlight just how great the MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe song catalog is.”
MĂ¶tley CrĂŒe will not be playing any of the music on the album, and the band is not planning to “go country”. Instead the music will be handled by a list of current country stars. Confirmed artists already on board for the tribute album include Big Machine artists Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, and Justin Moore, as well as LeAnn Rimes Eli Young Band, and reality star Cassadee Pope.
Insert your favorite anecdote about how modern country is nothing more than rehashed 80′s hair metal here.
The Season of Discontent in country music continues with yet another big name country music personality lending his voice to decrying the wayward trajectory of the genre. But this time it’s not a performing artist, it is Scott Borchetta, the label owner of Big Machine Records, affectionately known at Saving Country Music as the Country Music Anti-Christ, and arguably the most powerful man in the country music business.
Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine label is the home of Taylor Swift, Rascall Flatts, Tim McGraw, Brantley Gilbert, and most importantly in 2013, Florida Georgia Line, whose song “Cruise” shattered all manner of records in 2013, including becoming the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music. However as Saving Country Music contributor Deb Bose pointed out in August, the record is virtually meaningless because of how it was achieved, and because it was bolstered by a remix with rapper Nelly. NPR’s Neda Ulaby also pointed this out recently in a piece entitled, “How A Hip-Hop Remix Helped Make ‘Cruise’ The Year’s Biggest Country Hit” (listen below).
In the piece, Scott Borchetta is asked to comment on what some are calling the “bro-country” phenomenon, and Scott Borchetta, just like many of his artist contemporaries, states that he believes country music has gone too far with all the references to alcohol and tailgates, and needs to get back to music with more substance.
“Everybody in Nashville must be drinking 24-7. We’re a bunch of drunks down here,” Borchetta jokes to NPR, but then turns serious. “There’s too much, to be honest with you. We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc.”
But what Borchetta says next is the most intriguing portion of his comments. “So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
This is something that would be easy for anyone else to say, but few like Borchetta actually have the power to task writers and artists to do anything. Sure, Borchetta may just be paying lip service to what he believes the NPR crowd wants to hear. In October Saving Country Music pointed out that Borchetta was personally responsible for Justin Moore’s sophomoric song “I’d Want It To Be Yours,” and this isn’t the first time that someone has called out country music’s wayward trajectory in 2013 while also being personally responsible for it. But here at the end of 2013, everywhere you look there is criticism being levied at country music’s beer and tailgate songs, and a smart and savvy businessman like Borchetta must see that the trend is not sustainable, begging the question if the tide has turned for country truck songs.
Borchetta is actually not the first label executive to speak out about country’s recent flight from substance. Though he’s known mostly as a performer, Toby Keith is the owner of the Show Dog Universal label and helped start Big Machine with Scott Borchetta before the two labels split. Keith had some critical comments about both hip-hop in country and beer/tailgate songs himself in October, saying,
You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, âIs that what we gotta do now to have a hit?â I donât know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?âŠYou start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and itâs like, âNaw, man, there ainât no mud on that tire. That ainât about a Budweiser can. That ainât about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ainât about smoking a joint by the haystack. Thatâs about somebody dying and shit.ââ
So here you go ladies and gentlemen, the worst of the worst that 2013 had to offer in country music. As you might suspect, a list of mainstream countryâs worst misdeeds in 2013 is mostly populated by an ear-serrating cacophony of country rap songs. With only a couple of exceptions, country rap has replaced what last year at this time was a parade of laundry list-themed songs.
PLEASE NOTE: To qualify for this list, the song had to be released as a single. And with such a crowded field, only the worst of the worst were selected. Feel free to share your most vilified songs of 2013 below.
Jason Aldean â â1994âł
When I originally ranted about this song in February, I called it the worst country song ever. If I only knew what the rest of 2013 would have in store.
“In Music Rowâs 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, Georgiaâs 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 celebrationâyou 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 â1994âł 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)
Florida Georgia Line – “Cruise”
What can make a bad song worse is when it becomes so ubiquitous throughout society that it pursues you like a bad nightmare—playing at the grocery store, blaring out of the car next to you at a red light. “Cruise” was officially released in 2012, but since this was the year it achieved historical success as the longest-running #1 in the history of the country genre (though that record when you look deeper into the numbers is somewhat spurious), it would only be fair to include 2013′s summer anthem here.
“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 Nashvilleâs private and exclusive Belmont University. I know, right? Doesnât get more country than that! Apparently they were both enrolled in the âHow To Be A Upper Middle Class Douchebag But Pretend To Be A Country Boy And Filch Rednecks Out Of Their Hard Earned Money, 101âł 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 âbackroadâ laundry list bullshit. They are everything bad about quotation mark âcountryâ in 2012 combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich.” (read full rant)
Blake Shelton â âBoys âRound Hereâ
“The Decider’s” offering to the 2013 resurgence of the country rap trend.
âJust 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.
âBlake Sheltonâs âBoys âRound HereâÂ is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radioâs weak-of-mind demo. The âboysâ in the title of âBoys âRound Hereâ is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. Itâs the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your momâs house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut.â (read full review)
Montgomery Gentry – “Titty’s Beer”
Yes, this actually exists, was even released as a single with an accompanying video.
“This isnât a cry for relevancy folks, this is a blood-curdling scream; a banshee yawp from the innermost depths of holy hell, destined to beset the eardrums of all rationally-minded music listeners with a cursed memory so potent and terrible, it will be well-documented as a clinically-certified precursor to the most acute and debilitating onset of post traumatic stress disorder, terrorizing the very sanity of any semi-intelligent human.
“If a truly good country song is represented by a delicate pair of supple female breasts, then Montgomery Gentryâs âTittyâs Beerâ would be a rack of cellulose-addled man boobs replete with coarse and graying disheveled chest hair, pock marked with skin Cancer and bisected by a grizzly double bypass scar. Originally recorded by the Country Music Grimmace Colt Ford, âTittyâs Beerâ is an ode to idiocracy and a battle hymn for the forces of misogynistic cultural reduction. The premise doesnât even make sense, but you can see some oaf going, âWell hell. I like titties, and I like beer, soâŠ.â (read full rant)
Joe Diffie feat. D. Thrash â âGirl Ridinâ Shotgunâ
What is worse than Jason Aldean’s “1994″ ? Joe Diffie’s “answer” song.
âDid 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 90âČs semi-star has released an âanswerâ song to what many consider the worst song in country music history, Jason Aldeanâs country rap â1994,â and it is as embarrassing as puberty.
âThe beats for âGirl Ridinâ Shotgunâ sound like they were composed by a 7th grader who just snorted his ADD meds, just like all of the beats of the Jawga Boyzâs bombastic and trashy tracks. The beat doesnât even get five seconds into the song without going off meter. Thereâs biscuit crumbs in Joe Diffieâs mustache that could compose a better beat. And then D Thrashâs first line doesnât even rhyme. Are you effing serious with this song? âGirl Ridinâ Shotgunâ makes me want to make out with my cousin and bet on a dog fight.â (read full rant)
Tyler Farr – “Redneck Crazy”
There’s bad, and then there’s downright wrong. Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy” crosses that line.
“Tyler Farrâs âRedneck Crazyâ isnât for jilted male lovers looking for solace, it is for socially awkward, introverted, creepy-ass chronic masturbaters that hold a minor in megalomania. This song doesnât need a rant, it needs a restraining order and ankle bracelet. Itâs an insult to both the terms âredneckâ and âcrazy.â True rednecks ride their problems out, rub their wounds in the dirt and move on, not whine about them like a panty waist, eliciting threats and enlisting their loser friends to enact adolescent acts of vandalism as some sort of self-righteous recompense.”
“About the only thing this song is good for is turning in for stateâs evidence of why Tyler Farr shouldnât be allowed within 200 yards of his exâs or any elementary school.” (read full rant)
Luke Bryan – “That’s My Kind Of Night”
Outmatched only by Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” for the longest-charting single in 2013.
“Letâs 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 Bryanâs âThatâs My Kind Of Nightâ is a #1 song is because bored suburban moms and their daughters want to fuck him. Luke Bryanâs 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 âDo your worst.â 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. âThatâs My Kind of Nightâ 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.
âA little Conway a little T-Pain?â Yep, that pretty much sums up American music in 2013, sans the Conwayâreplaced by Luke Bryan and his vomit-inducing country rap trend-chasing ilk.” (read full rant)
Jerrod Niemann – “Drink To That All Night”
Listening to this song is as traumatic as waking up naked in a stranger’s bed, with pacifiers and spent glowsticks littering the sheets around you, other people’s bodily fluids encrusting on your bare skin of your midriff, your eyebrows shaved, and the unsettled sense like you spent the night before indulging in designer drugs and weird sex against your will. Yes ladies and gentlemen, in 2013, country music when there—to the techno-rave glitterdance sounds of Jerrod Niemann and his woman’s ball cap that he got on clearance from Ross.
When the words kick in to this awful, awful song, you think it must be some sort of Saturday Night Live parody. But no, this song is a serious single from Jerrod. Luckily it skidded off the charts pretty rapidly, but “Drink To That All Night” symbolizes another new low for country music in 2013, with an excruciatingly-boring video.
- Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel,” spared only from the above list because in the end “Wagon Wheel,” however ubiquitous, is still a good song.
- Justin Moore’s country rapÂ “I’d Want It To Be Yours,” spared from the above list because it was never released as a single, and because it was released at the insistence of Scott Borchetta.
- Brad Paisley’s haphazard and ill-advised “Accidental Racist.” Also never officially released as a single.
- Any song from Florida-Georgia Line, including the stupid “Shine On” and the just-released single “It’z Just What We Do.”
Sometimes you can find the most stunning beauty in the strangest of places.
The Fox Network’s 2013 American Country Awards did not go particularly well by a number of measures. Forget that the fabricated awards show really has no weight in the grand country scheme compared to its more established and revered competition in the CMA and ACM Awards, and it seemed to struggle to garner both media attention and top tier country music talent in support of its 2013 effort. The simple transitions between performances, presentations, and commercial breaks seems to find new frontiers of live TV awkwardness, while the fumbling of words was at moments excruciating.
We all can make mistakes and feel the pressure of the live television camera, but Gary Allan wobbled so hard in one segment he had to start completely over. Co-host Trace Adkins invented a new word, “Simular,” which is a cross between ‘singular’ and ‘similar’, which ironically mean the exact opposite things. And the half-assed feel of the entire night was encapsulated when the night’s biggest award for Artist of the Year went to Luke Bryan, but instead of playing a Luke Bryan song as the star made his way to the stage, a Florida Georgia Line song played instead.
It’s not clear if the snafu was the fault of a lowly board operator, or the house DJ (yes, instead of a band, the ACA’s had a DJ), one Deejay Silver, who brought the audience back once from commercial break with a straight up hip-hop song—not a country rap or even a rap song by a country artist—just simply a rap song, which seemed somewhat appropriate on a night when rapper Big Smo said on national TV, âThere was a time when you had to choose between country or hip-hop. But not any more!â
The ACA’s generally served their purpose of selling ad time to sponsors, and showcasing some second-tier names that normally don’t receive any face time on the bigger award shows, artists like Justin Moore, Kellie Pickler, and Rhett Atkins, but the whole thing felt tainted, because of the circumspect nature of the awards themselves, and because the production and writing team did no favors for the hosts, presenters, and performers.
But then here came a Patsy Cline tribute in the last quarter of the show and the whole sad sack theme of the night did a complete 180. In a year that saw the death of George Jones, honoring anyone but The Possum seems a little strange on its own, and why after a solid 1 1/2 hours of smearing the legacy of country’s roots the producers decided to go in this direction seems even more curious. But there was LeAnn Rimes, singing a medley of Patsy Cline songs, and who better to do it than her? Since the beginning of LeAnn’s career, the Patsy comparisons have come pouring in.
But LeAnn, a once top flight country artist full of promise, has fallen on hard times in the court of public perception. Unfavorable headlines about infidelity and divorce have put her at odds with the foot the country music industry wants to put forward with its female artists. LeAnn has been virtually forgotten by the industry, but ironically that’s what made her a perfect fit for the ACA’s.
So the LeAnn Rimes medley of Patsy Cline songs starts, and you’re glad to have a respite from all the pop country shenanigans, but you’re not expecting too much. Medleys are always frustrating to some extent because you never get to feel the full brunt of any individual song. But LeAnn, having been a tireless student of Patsy Cline since her formative years, continued to elevate the moments more and more as the tribute transpired until your attentive hate watching of a circumspect award show fell by the side and you were completely enthralled at the channeling of Patsy Cline’s ghost transpiring before your very eyes. And at the end of the medley, when LeAnn went a capella, and the tasteful sepia filter that the ACA’s had placed on the cameras to afford a vintage feel on the first part of the tribute turned back to color, a downright evocation emerged during Patsy’s “Sweet Dreams” that even the embattled and valiant LeAnn Rimes eventually couldn’t even fend off, bursting into tears during the final turn of the chorus.
No video will ever do the moment justice, because it was a moment you had to share in live. At some point you saw LeAnn smile, like she recognized the spirit of Patsy had entered the room, and then the emotion immediately began to well up in LeAnn, and all who were paying attention.
Trace Adkins, after the commercial break, broke script, took off his hat, and complimented LeAnn with a sincere token and acknowledgement of that singular moment LeAnn was able to create, that was anything but similar to what the ACA’s, and really any modern country music award show is able to deliver.
In a mainstream country landscape searching for female stars, to the point of going outside the genre to field awards show nominees, and in a genre that has virtually abandoned its roots, LeAnn Rimes proved that there’s female talent screaming to be showcased, and continued value in music that has withstood the test of time to deliver moments to remember. Booty-shaking anthems and buxom broads singing songs forged in a cubicle farm aren’t just unfortunate because of the lack of nutritional value of their tunes, it is because they push aside those sweet musical moments that we will reminisce on for the rest of our lives.
Two guns up!
Founder, president, and CEO of Big Machine Records Scott Borchetta, affectionately known around Saving Country Music as the Country Music Anti-Christ, and arguably the most powerful man in Nashville, continues to reign in on the freedom and creative control of his performers, and significantly influence their musical decisions—something that is in stark contrast to one of the benchmarks that made Big Machine one of the most sought after destinations for artists as one of the few Nashville-based major labels that generally allowed their roster to do what they wanted.
During the writing and recording phase of Taylor Swift’s last album Red is when Borchetta first notably inserted himself into the creative process, suggesting to Taylor that her songs were not good enough, and that she solicit the help of Swedish pop producers Max Martin and Shellback to help write, record, and produce songs, resulting in Swift’s most pop-oriented material to date.
Now according to Swift, she had to go against the wishes of Scott Borchetta and strong arm Big Machine Records to release her latest song “Sweeter Than Fiction” as part of the upcoming film One Chance.Â âI had to fight to do this,”Â Swift told the BBC,Â “I had to go around and ask people, ‘Can I please, please put something out?’ even though we’re supposed to be going quiet.Â My management, my label were like, ‘No new music until the next album comes out.’“
Eventually Taylor Swift did get her way and the song was released, but the song has received little push from Big Machine.
Scott Borchetta was initially bestowed the nickname “Country Music Anti-Christ” because he was the principle man behind-the-scenes slowly eroding the integrity of the term “country” by using country channels to push pop music, cross-genre music, and manufactured “Outlaws” to take advantage of marketing angles.
One such example is Justin Moore from Big Machine’s Valory Music imprint. Arguably the most audacious of the “new Outlaws” looking to capitalize commercially on growing anti-Nashville sentiment, Moore released an album in 2011 entitled Outlaws Like Me. His latest effort Off The Beaten Path just released in September includes a song called “I’d Want It To Be Yours;” an awful, immature example of both the tasteless direction of mainstream country, and the country rap trend. The song includes hip-hop elements, a small bout of rapping, and references to pop celebrities like Snoop Dog and Kim Kardashian—all from a guy that claims to be too country for Nashville.
In the eyes of Justin Moore’s critics, “I’d Want It To Be Yours” is the worst offering from Justin Moore’s new album, and one of the worst songs of 2013. But according to Justin, he didn’t want to record or release the song. It was at the insistence of Scott Borchetta that “I’d Want It To Be Yours” made the final cut.
“‘I’d Want It To Be Yours’ is ridiculous,” says Justin in the EPK for the song. “It’s just me being a perverted idiot in all honesty…I never thought it would end up on an album. We wrote it just kind of as a joke.”
The song seemed to take a very similar life to the infamous track “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” that even lends a lyric to “I’d Want It To Be Yours.” It was written sarcastically between a few songwriter buddies looking to blow off steam. But Scott Borchetta saw something different.Â “When we were playing stuff for the label, Scott Borchetta said, ‘You have to put this on the album.’” Justin Moore explains. “And I’m going, ‘Really?’”
As Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records continue to win market share and talent from its rival labels on the Music Row campus, his propensity to inject himself more and more into the creative process could become a bigger problem. Excessive control of artists is the classic sin of Nashville’s big music labels, and as Big Machine gets bigger, so could the artistic control dilemma, and the dilemma of maintaining control over the quality and purity of the term “country.”
These are lines pulled from the opening track of Justin Moore’s new album Off The Beaten Path, and with a steel guitar riding high in the mix accompanying Justin’s imperatives and a wide-brimmed cowboy hat crowning his backlit visage splayed across the album cover, the distinguishing music listener who doesn’t care too much for today’s country radio may conclude they have just found a keeper.
Then of course a few songs later, Justin seems to forget his own proclamations and manages to name drop Kim Kardashian, J-Lo, Snoo P Double G, filch a line from “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” and even try his hand at country rapping. And that’s just in one song. Hey we’ve all got to eat, right?
Justin Moore’s 2011 album Outlaws Like Me was declared the worst album ever by Saving Country Music up to that moment in time; a diagnosis I still stand behind with puffed chest. Earlier this year when Moore somehow sniveled his way onto the lineup of Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic, as I stood 50 feet from the stage listening to Justin attempt to Svengali the crowd into believing that he was an industry outsider and one of the last champions of real country music, the only reason I didn’t rush the stage was because I didn’t have a good plan of what I would do when I got there, and I wanted to still be around later for Willie’s set.
Despite a few moments of respite, Off The Beaten Path is like an expeditionary campaign to discover and exploit every single worn out modern lyrical trope of American country music, and to try and make some new ones. Luke Bryan may be the latest of the discipline, but Justin Moore was the first to master disregarding any and all independent thinking or self-desired creative penchants to simply become the country music equivalent of Silly Putty for the suits to do whatever they choose with. And the fate they chose for Justin was to be Big Machine Record’s representative for attempting to re-integrate the revenue of anti-Nashville sentiment by misleading the public into believing Justin’s career was the result of a repressive industry looking to dog him at every turn because he was too country. Yes, he’s an Outlaw, bucking the system, flying in the face of artists like Taylor Swift….whom he shares the same record label with.
But though it would be easy and romantic to declare Justin Moore’s 2013 offering as bad enough to depose 2011′s Outlaws Like Me at the shameful peak of crap mountain and use this album as a vehicle to vent any and all unresolved anger held over from my personal life in the form of the most venomous of rants, the real truth of the matter is that Off The Beaten Path is not nearly as bad as one would initially assume.
It’s still more bad than good without a doubt, with a strong contingent of country checklist songs eroding any redemptive moments on the album and then some. But I was surprised how unpredictable this album was, how some songs took a really progressive approach instead of just relying on rock guitar riffs, and how many slow, meaningful songs made the final cut.
The only reason the song “Old Back In The New School” could be considered bad is because it’s coming from Justin Moore, rendering it hypocritical. But on it’s own, it’s not too shabby. Neither is the slow and sincereÂ duet with Miranda LambertÂ “Old Habits.” In fact, it’s downright good, and wouldn’t be a bad contender for the “Vocal Event” categories of the big country award shows. If it weren’t for lines like “We work hard, play hard, take our paychecks straight to the Wal-Mart. Girls will out drink you, boys will out Hank you…” the song “This Kind Of Town” could really be something sensational in the way the song is crafted.
But unfortunately, that line does exist in the song, and so do a dozen other cringe-inducing moments on Off The Beaten Path. Really, it’s the words of this album that hold it back the most. There’s some authentic country instrumentation here, and some really sweet moments sonically. And then there’s songs like the title track that feel oh so cliche in both words and structure, and the aforementionedÂ country-rapping name-dropping abomination known as “I’d Want It To Be Yours” that will probably receive its own dedicated diagramming and ridicule in due course.
As bad as it is, I have to give Justin Moore and his songwriters credit for guile in crafting the song “Country Radio” that will flatter every programming manager from coast to Clear Channel coast and probably make it into radio rotations despite its shortcomings. “For Some Ol’ Redneck Reason” that features a crotchety, borderline disturbing appearance from Charlie Daniels in a moment of token Patriotism probably won’t. Whatever happened to going to LA via Omaha?
But color me surprised. Certainly not a good album, and I’m definitely not recommending it. But on Off The Beaten Path, Justin Moore peels himself off the very bottom of the country music mat, and proves that maybe if he wasn’t such a tool, he would have a little something.
1 Âœ of 2 guns down. 2 of 5 stars.
In the constant, eternal, and sometimes nauseating back and forth argument about the direction of country music, it is easy to focus in on the big celebrity franchise names who sing and perform the songs as the primary culprits for the consternation about what country music has become. But it may be short-sighted to think that these select few celebrities, or even the industry professionals behind them, are singularly to blame, or even deserve the majority of criticism.
In Zac Brown’s recent disparaging comments about Luke Bryan’s hit “That’s My Kind Of Night,” Zac went out of his way to lay as little blame as possible on Luke Bryan. Instead it was the song itself, and its songwriters that drew the brunt of Zac Brown’s ire. “You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs,” Zac said. “Thereâs been like 10 number one songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and itâs the exact same words, just arranged different ways.”
Though Zac didn’t name any names, the likely target of Zac’s criticism was country songwriter Dallas Davidson. Davidson was one of three songwriters on “That’s My Kind Of Night,” and is one of Nashville’s hottest songwriting commodities with a string of major hits to his name.
As one of the primary originators of the current country checklist / tailgate craze in country music, as well as the trend of instilling urban jargon and themes into what is traditionally considered rural music, you can point to Dallas Davidson just as much as the artists that perform his songs as one of the primary drivers of country music’s current mainstream sound.
Dallas Davidson is the reigning ACM Songwriter of the Year, was the 2011 Songwriter of the Year for BMI, and has also received 3 CMA “Triple Play” awards, which recognize songwriters for having three #1 songs in the same year, including six #1 songs in 2011 alone. As songwriters go, Davidson is as decorated as any at the moment. Dallas isn’t just one of the most influential songwriters in Nashville, he’s one of the most influential individuals right now in the entire country music business, with his songs dominating the charts and influencing the current direction of the format.
Davidson’s first breakout song was “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” co-written by Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser. The troika wrote the song in 2004 when hanging out at a club together, and reportedly completed it in an hour. When Trace Adkins released it as a single in 2005, it became a huge commercial success. “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” is given credit for launching the careers of all three of its songwriters, but where Jamey Johnson would veer towards becoming one of the mainstream’s few traditional-leaning singer/songwriting performers, and Randy Houser would go more in the pop country performance direction, Dallas Davidson stuck to being primarily an off-the-stage and behind-the-scenes writer of hits.
“Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” could be counted as mainstream country’s first major country rap hit, making Dallas Davidson one of the first country rap hit songwriters, predating Colt Ford and Cowboy Troy. But Davidson wouldn’t stop there. Here 8 years later, Davidson is responsible for both the #1 country rap singles of 2013—the aforementioned “That’s My Kind Of Night” performed by Luke Bryan, and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.”
In between, “Honky Tonk Badonka Donk” and today, Dallas Davidson had Luke Bryan cut his country rap dance tune “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” and wrote many other prominent singles that have made it onto the Billboard charts, including Luke Bryan’s 2010 #1 “Rain Is A Good Thing,” Lady Antebellum’s #1′s “Just A Kiss” and “We Owned The Night,” Justin Moore’s #1 “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” Brad Paisley’s #1 “Start A Band,” and Billy Currington’s #1 “That’s How Country Boys Roll.”
Dallas Davidson has accumulated more songwriting success in the last 3 years than anyone, but his output would probably be better characterized as potent as opposed to prolific. He’s not one of these songwriters who seems to have half a dozen singles on the charts at any given time, but the songs he contributes to tend to have demonstrative success and impact on the sonic and lyrical direction of country.
Another prominent songwriter who is contributing to the sonic direction of country music and the emergence of country rap is Luke Laird. Luke was the writer of Jason Aldean’s “1994″ and Trace Adkin’s “Hillbilly Bone.” At the same time, Luke Laird has worked intimately with many other stars from a wide swath of the country music world. Laird co-wrote the majority of songs on Kacey Musgraves’ recent album Same Trailer, Different Park. He co-wrote 3 songs on Eric Church’s 2012 CMA and ACM Album of the Year Chief, he co-wrote Little Big Town’s big hit “Pontoon,” and 10 songs for Carrie Underwood in the last 5 years. In fact it might be easier to list the artists Luke Laird has not worked with than the elongated list of artists that he’s contributed lyrics to since starting in 2005.
Same could be said for the ultra prolific professional songwriter Shane McAnally, who co-wrote Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round” with Luke Laird and Kacey, as well as 8 other songs on Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park. He also co-wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” with Musgraves and performed by Miranda Lambert, giving McAnally two songs in both the Single and Song of the Year nominations for the 2013 CMA’s.
What’s quizzical about McAnally’s output is how he seems to be all over the map in regards to his tastes and influences. On the surface he seems to be a writer who works with more substance compared to Luke Laird and Dallas Davidson, but he’s also given credit for co-writing Florida Georgia Line’s “Party People,” and Lady Antebellum’s ultra-saccharine “Downtown.” But then McAnally turned around and wrote Wade Bowen’s recent single “Trucks,” which pokes fun of Music Row’s recent country checklist trends, perpetrated by songwriters like Dallas Davidson.
But more importantly, you put these three songwriters together, along with a handful of select few others, and they constitute and impressive block of what makes up mainstream radio’s playlists, while populating many of the top spots of the country music charts. The faces of the performers may change, but the names of the songwriters tend to stay the same. Where it is seen as counterproductive by the music industry to have an artist with multiple singles on the radio at the same time competing with each other, songwriters don’t have such restrictions, blending into the background and rarely being regarded by the mass public.
The mass public may also be perplexed why the songwriting process always seems to happen in 3′s. Dallas Davidson is from Georgia, and is a member of the industry famous “Peach Pickers” songwriting team with co-writers Rhett Atkins and Ben Hayslip. A long-standing tradition in country songwriting called “Third For A Word” makes it possible for songwriters and performers to simply contribute one word to a composition and be awarded an equal share of credit and royalties for the song. Recently this trend has seen some big name performers jumping on to contribute very little to a song, but snatching up lucrative royalty compensation for their small contributions. Songwriters might allow this to happen so their compositions will get cut by big celebrity performers. Similarly, if songwriters like Dallas Davidson, Luke Laird, and Shane McAnally have their names on a song, it can mean a significant spike in interest from labels and performers since they are such hot commodities.
Country music is a copy cat business, as can be seen in the continuance of using the same songwriters over and over in songs that sound very similar both sonically and lyrically. As explained in a recent article about the science behind music, popular music is losing its diversity. It is easy to single out the artists who are performing these songs, but many times they are simply following orders. Some artists are given certain latitude in picking the songs they will cut, and some like Miranda Lambert, or artists on Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records may have more latitude than others. But as industry professionals attempt to spy trends and exploit them commercially through a label’s talent roster, more and more the songwriting process becomes very streamlined, relying on formulas and professionals who know how to optimize ideas for optimum radio play.
But beyond the process, the songs coming out of the Nashville / Music Row system are stimulating a backlash from their lack of quality like never before. Since the beginning of country music, there has always been sects that believe country is being influenced too much by other genres, but in the last few weeks, artists who have reached the very top of success in the industry are speaking out in greater numbers. As much as Music Row and certain artists may want to laugh off this criticism, it speaks to the larger issue of substance in the genre, and how it could jeopardize the long term viability of the format.
In responding to Zac Brown’s criticism of the current state of country music, songwriter Dallas Davidson said, “We write about what we know about. What I know about is sitting on a tailgate drinking a beer. Hell I live on the river. When Luke called me to tell me about what happened, I was literally smoking Boston butts on my homemade cooker at my 800 square foot river house with about four of my buddies with their trucks backed up, sitting on a tailgate.”
Davidson’s comments reaffirm what an independent Texas songwriter named Possessed by Paul James told Saving Country Music in a recent interview. “When looking at the majority of music, itâs not a cultural voice of change, itâs just a reflection. Itâs not encouraging us to do anything, itâs just reflecting, like on my âRed Solo Cup.ââ
Songs about tailgates are not inherently bad, and certainly every song does not have to be about a deep subject. It is the monopolization of the format with the same homogenizing subject matter where it becomes a problem—where one tailgate song leads into another tailgate song, and yet another, regardless of the song’s performer because the person or persons that wrote the song are the same, or are being influenced by similar trends.
Whether it is a financial portfolio, and educational environment, or an environmental eco-system, diversity is always championed as the key to a healthy balance and to long-term sustainability. As the pool of songwriters contributing to mainstream country’s sound continues to narrow, it leaves country’s future resting on the output of a few select pens.
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