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In 2011, when Jason Aldean’s country rap song “Dirt Road Anthem” became the best selling song in all of country music, the genre’s impending dalliance with rap was ordained. Though the sub genre had been brewing under the surface for many years, and quite successfully for some acts, it had now hit it big, and it was only a matter of time before you would see country music’s top performers experiment with the genre bending style.
When “Dirt Road Anthem” hit, artists like Cowboy Troy and “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Colt Ford had already made successful careers out of country rap for years, despite not being able to rise to the level of mainstream radio acceptance. There were many other acts doing very well at the club level with country rap, like The Moonshine Bandits, Bubba Sparxxx, and The Lacs. Country rap even had much of its own infrastructure, and despite the suspicion it was eyed with from the mainstream, most country rap acts were able to post videos and get views in the millions, Wal-Mart was stocking hick hop on their shelves, while labels like Average Joes, started by Colt Ford, offered material support to some of the bigger country rap acts.
When Music Row decided rap was its future and a potential vehicle to drive the genre out of the malaise it suffered with the rest of music in the decade of the oughts, there were a number of ways the influence could be integrated into the genre. Major labels could sign or otherwise champion already-established country rap acts like Colt Ford and The Moonshine Bandits. Or they could try to impose the new style with already-established mainstream stars who had proven they were palatable with the American public. The latter is the path country rap eventually took. Despite the success of “Dirt Road Anthem,” the song had fought an uphill battle on radio itself. Programmers were suspicious of country rap, and artists like Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton who would later release their own country rap songs, were a known quantity and already under contract compared to unproven talent like Bubba Sparxxx or The Lacs.
But 2012 came, and it was mostly quiet on the country rap front from a mainstream standpoint. As Saving Country Music pointed out in the story Mono-Genre Watch: 2012 End-Of-Year Sales,
2012 did not see either a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
But Music Row is notoriously 18 months behind the relevancy cycle. “Dirt Road Anthem” had taken the industry by surprise, and it took over a year for country’s major labels to retool to the new country rap reality. Then by 2013, country rap came out in full force, with virtually all of mainstream country’s big male stars releasing rap/country songs. Reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Blake Shelton released “Boys ‘Round Here” to a #2 chart showing and double platinum sales. ACM Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan released country rap “That’s My Kind of Night” that spent a whopping twelve weeks at #1, and was the song to finally depose another country rap-inspired single “Cruise” by upstart Florida Georgia Line that became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music.
But 2014 has been a different story already. Whereas 2013 seemed to be dominated by country rap singles, 2014 has so far been the story of EDM, or Electronic Dance Music. Though EDM and hip hop can sometimes be mistaken for each other, especially to the country consumer’s ear and because the two disciplines have numerous similarities (use of electronic beats, sampling, and rapping instead of singing in some instances), there are also many clear differences between the two disciplines.
When Jerrod Niemann released his single “Drink To That All Night” in the second half of 2013, country music’s EDM cherry had been popped, and it seemed to be a harbinger for things to come in the country format. Interestingly the single underperformed in most of 2013, but has been creeping up the charts in early 2014, reaching its highest chart ranking in the last week of February. Though the argument can be made that Jerrod Niemann is still rapping instead of singing, “Drink To That All Night” is full of EDM earmarks: the heavily Auto-tuned electronic-sounding vocals, the digitized beats, and most-importantly the emphasis on perfectitude in the music as opposed to the fallibility of a live, traditional band lineup playing real instruments, reinforced in the video of the song that heavily refers to the EDM/dance club culture instead of the country honky tonk.
Many of the lead singles from country music’s big 2014 album releases from male artists lean heavily towards EDM influences, most notably Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl” with it’s heavily-digitized vocal track and electronic beat bed. Rascal Flatt’s “Rewind” incorporates many EDM elements. And Brantley Gilbert, one of the other co-writers of “Dirt Road Anthem,” his latest single “Bottoms Up” sounds much less like a country rap, and more like a country/EDM effort with more melody to the vocals, and the signature electronic drum bed and digitization of instrumentation.
First, don’t count country rap out. There are certainly more country rap singles from big, mainstream country artists in the pipeline that we’re likely to hear in 2014, if they ever go away completely in the more global trend of the formation of a mono-genre. And in the independent realm, acts like The Lacs and Moonshine Bandits are likely to remain sustainable commodities.
But despite a few lucrative singles, country rap was very hit and miss in the mainstream. The aforementioned “Truck Yeah” by Tim McGraw seemed like an unfortunate career move. Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” followup called “1994″ was a general flop in comparison, stalling in the charts despite a heavy push behind the song. Brad Paisley’s much-ridiculed “Accidental Racist” with LL Cool J wasn’t even released as a single. In the end, mainstream country stars just didn’t make good rappers. Country music is for crooners and twang, and even though these elements are generally lacking in present-day country music anyway, this was the foundation of these singer’s discipline, and rapping never stopped feeling foreign to them, their audience, and most importantly, radio programmers.
EDM on the other hand is a “no experience required” format when it comes to singing. The purposefully heavy Auto-tuned environment allows the performer to simply hit close approximations of the melody the song is built around, and then the studio hands take over from there.
However just like with rap, country music is horrifically late when it comes to the EDM game. The argument that was made during the integration of rap into country is that country music had to evolve. What the people making that argument failed to realize is that rap was already a 30-year-old art form when it made its appearance in country’s mainstream. Similarly, many of the EDM elements we’re seeing in country—especially Auto-tuned lyrics—are already considered outmoded in most other mainstream music.
Similarly, the relevancy arch has moved on in many ways from the heavy electronic sound. An EDM act in Daft Punk dominated the Grammy Awards held in January, and they did so with a live sound. Instead of starting with electronic beats and synthesized hooks, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories featured live, human instrumentation and vocals with minimal electronic treatment. This was the formula that won them 5 Grammy Awards, including Best Album and Best Record. In the end it is not the EDM elements in country music that make it bad, just like rapping in a country song isn’t something that can be completely ruled out as a valid form of expression if it is done in a fresh, artistic way. It is the poor implementation—the awkwardness of the integration of the two influences, and the submissive pose country takes towards EDM and rap—that makes it so polarizing.
Whether it was country rap in 2013, or EDM influences in 2014, it speaks to a systemic problem with country music that the format deems itself inadequate and feels the need integrate influences from other genres to stay relevant, following instead of leading, and making excuses of why it can still be cool instead of educating the public on country music’s inherent virtues.
Saving Country Music has been sounding the warning bell that the big story of 2014 will be the formation of two gargantuan media companies that will absolutely dominate the country music landscape and encapsulate everything from radio, television, print and online media, and social network channels. The Country Music Media Arms Race is being fought by the two biggest radio station owners in the United States: Clear Channel and Cumulus, and during this week’s Country Radio Seminar, we are starting to get some of the specific details of the plans these future massive media companies have, and to say their plans are expansive is an understatement.
Cumulus Media is #2 on the radio ownership totem pole, and to attempt to hopscotch their rival Clear Channel, they are planning massive expenditures, acquisitions, and ventures to push the recognition of their big country music brand: “NASH”. NASH and NASH-FM is the brand of Cumulus’s 70+ station syndicated Top 40 pop country network. We already knew that Cumulus had recently acquired a 50-percent interest in the 17-year-old, 500,000+ circulated Country Weekly magazine to re-brand it as NASH. Now in some recent reports, the beans are being spilled about the extent of just how far Cumulus is hoping to push the NASH brand.
Some of their plans are obvious. Since their rival Clear Channel has now partnered with CMT, Cumulus and NASH are looking for their own television partner, potentially Great American Country or GAC, or re-branding the Destination America and American Heroes cable channels owned by Discovery Communications. Also, after Clear Channel’s streaming service iHeartRadio announced a country music festival in Austin, Cumulus and the NASH brand are looking into doing a festival and/or concert series, as well as a radio-based award show with Dick Clark Productions—the same production company behind the Academy of Country Music Awards, or ACM’s.
But the Cumulus plans go even further than that. Here is a run down of some of the things Cumulus has planned for their pop country NASH brand:
In the vein of Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill chain, or Rascal Flatts’ recently-announced plans for a chain restaurant, NASH wants to open a fleet a family-friendly fern bars to help establish their brand in certain important markets and locations. You could enjoy some Taylor Swift fried cheese, or a Brantley Gilbert blooming onion.
Yes, you read that right. Apparently NASH wants to get into the home improvement game. This move isn’t unprecedented. Big corporate brands such as Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren have dipped their stir stick into the pain business to help solidify their corporate brands in the past, but a radio network? How about a nice Tim McGraw taupe to spruce up that breakfast nook?
Again, not completely unprecedented since you have big artists like Jason Aldean enjoying a big endorsement deal from Wrangler, and Taylor Swift peddling Keds. Some artists also have their own specific clothing lines. Country music and popular culture is a very visual medium, and being able to sell consumers similar clothing to what they see their favorite artists wearing is shrewd business.
Maybe the strangest of the ideas Cumulus is looking into, the company apparently wants to leave no stone unturned, and wants to bring the NASH brand right into people’s homes so they won’t forget who to consume their country music through; a little hard to do when you’re watching NASH TV from your Carrie Underwood signature NASH microfiber couch, muching on NASH leftovers from the night before in a room painted in your favorite NASH colors.
- – - – - – - – -
Cumulus and their NASH brand is out for nothing short of absolute cultural immersion, with the vehicle being the widespread and growing appeal of popular country music. Pop country is seen as very safe and marketable because of its well-liked and clean image. And if Cumulus has its way with NASH, it will become one of the most recognized brands in the United States in the coming years.
Your move, Clear Channel.
So we haven’t even had time since the 56th Grammy Awards to sort out if Madonna had the authority to preside over a mass wedding, or if Pharrell’s hat was indeed copyright infringement against the Arby’s logo, and here only a few days later we’re asked to crunch a fresh batch of data dealing with the nominees for the 2014 ACM Awards on April 6th. There really should be some sort of mandate that the bad taste in your mouth and the horror of one awards show should have long subsided before you have to interface in any way with the next one, but apparently this would have been the case if The Grammys hadn’t been moved up this year because of the Winter Olympics.
Already the ACM nominees have many rolling their eyes and crying foul for various reasons. But folks, don’t ingratiate the Academy of Country Music beyond its value by acting like these awards matter to a greater degree than they actually do. Sure, the presence of the CMT Awards, and now FOX’s ACA Awards have somewhat risen the ACM’s out of the country music award show basement, but they will always be the baby brother of the CMA’s, and will be beset by ridiculous backroom label politics resulting in the anomalies to downright ridiculous notions that some of this year’s nominees represent. Nonetheless, a nomination and win will mean more attention and revenue for a respective label and artist, so it is not fair to discount the matter completely.
Tim McGraw and Miranda Lambert landed the most nominations with 7, and this is where the sideways glances begin. Miranda, though undoubtedly enjoying great success, hasn’t even release an album in over two years. Tim, undoubtedly doing everything he can aside from posing nude or releasing a sex tape to get the public’s attention after years of being saddled by Curb Records, certainly deserves some attention, but like Miranda, is likely being padded behind-the-scenes by a powerful label.
Once again George Strait is up for Entertainer of the Year, gut-checking the ACM constituency into potentially registering a sympathy vote and certainly making this category a subject of great intrigue instead of a forgone conclusion. And the laugh out loud moment is the nomination of Sheryl Crow for Female Vocalist of the Year—the same 5th slot the ACM’s have been stretching to fill for a few years now, with Kelly Clarkson, and Kacey Musgraves before she had even released an album being the other recent anomalies.
Things can change, news can break, and artists can have big months between here and now, but here are some early picks and observations.
Entertainer of the Year
Two horse race between last year’s winner Luke Bryan that had yet another very commercially-successful year, and the sympathy vote for King George. Miranda’s inclusion here is somewhat interesting, and there may be a sentiment out there that at some point Miranda deserves an Entertainer of the Year from somewhere, but it’s hard to see that happening this year. Taylor Swift has no chance, and may not even attend the awards.
- Luke Bryan – Other Potential Winner
- Blake Shelton
- George Strait - Winner
- Taylor Swift
- Miranda Lambert
Male Vocalist of the Year
This comes down to the two hosts of the ACM Awards, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton. Interesting to see Curb Records really pushing Lee Brice in this year’s cycle, but he doesn’t have the cred yet for this distinction. Keith Urban’s influence died off years ago, and Average Joe’s cash cow Jason Aldean’s Night Train just didn’t have the kind of wide impact My Kinda Party did.
- Jason Aldean
- Lee Brice
- Luke Bryan – Winner
- Blake Shelton – Other Potential Winner
- Keith Urban
Female Vocalist of the Year
This is a hard one. Of course Sheryl Crow has no chance, and Taylor likely doesn’t either. Carrie seems like a long shot, and always seems to be underdogged by the ACM’s. Kacey Musgraves has received love from the ACM’s early and often, and if she can make a splash between here and now on the radio, she might have an outside chance. But it’s all setting up to be Miranda’s night.
- Sheryl Crow
- Miranda Lambert – Winner
- Kacey Musgraves
- Taylor Swift
- Carrie Underwood
Single Record of the Year
- Florida Georgia Line – “Cruise” – Winner
- Lee Brice – “I Drive Your Truck”
- Miranda Lambert – “Mama’s Broken Heart”
- Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel”
Album of the Year
Man. This is a completely wide open field, and I have no confidence picking any one of these over the others. Obviously Kacey Musgraves would be the critical favorite. Blake Shelton also has to be considered a favorite since he won the CMA in the same category. It might be a little early for Florida Georgia Line to win an award like this, but it’s hard to argue with that album’s performance. And the ACM’s seem to love Luke, so he can’t be ruled out. Tim McGraw is about the only long shot.
- “Based On A True Story…” – Blake Shelton
- “Crash My Party” – Luke Bryan
- “Here’s To The Good Times” – Florida Georgia Line
- “Same Trailer Different Park” – Kacey Musgraves
- “Two Lanes Of Freedom” – Tim McGraw
Song of the Year
We’ve seen “Mama’s Broken Heart” listed in the category for many of the year’s awards, but does it really have the kind of depth of a typical Song of the Year? “Wagon Wheel” doesn’t really either, but can’t be ruled out. Interesting to see Gary Allan get a mention here.
- “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain)” – Gary Allan Songwriters: Gary Allan, Hillary Lindsey, Matthew Warren
- “I Drive Your Truck” – Lee Brice Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary – Winner
- “Mama’s Broken Heart” – Miranda Lambert Songwriters: Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, Kacey Musgraves
- “Mine Would Be You” – Blake Shelton Songwriters: Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington, Deric Ruttan
- “Wagon Wheel” – Darius Rucker Featuring Lady Antebellum Songwriters: Bob Dylan, Ketch Secor – Other Potential Winner
Vocal Event of the Year
Were the contributions of Lady Antebellum to “Wagon Wheel” and The Pistol Annies to “Boys ‘Round Here” significant enough to consider them true vocal events? “Cruise” is the obvious commercial winner, but voters may shy away from the cross-genre collaboration.
- “Boys ‘Round Here” – Blake Shelton Featuring The Pistol Annies
- “Cruise” (Remix) – Florida Georgia Line Featuring Nelly
- “Highway Don’t Care: – Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban – Winner
- “Wagon Wheel” – Darius Rucker Featuring Lady Antebellum
- “We Were Us” – Keith Urban And Miranda Lambert
Vocal Duo of the Year
I write about country music for a living, and this is the very first time I have ever heard of “Dan + Shay”. Previewing their music, hopefully I never have to hear from them again. Joey + Rory would have been the better pick.
- Big & Rich
- Dan + Shay
- Florida Georgia Line – Winner
- Love and Theft
- Thompson Square
Songwriter of the Year
Shane McAnally is who deserves it. Rhett Atkins would be the commercial pick. Luke Laird also likely has an outside chance.
- Rhett Atkins – Other Potential Winner
- Rodney Clawson
- Ashley Gorley
- Luke Laird
- Shane McAnally – Winner
Vocal Group of the Year
- Eli Young Band
- Lady Antebellum
- Little Big Town
- The Band Perry
- Zac Brown Band
Video of the Year
- “Better Dig Two” – The Band Perry Producer
- “Blowin’ Smoke” – Kacey Musgraves Producer
- “Highway Don’t Care” – Tim McGraw Featuring Taylor Swift & Keith Urban
- “I Drive Your Truck” – Lee Brice Producer: Karen Martin Director: Eric Welch
- “Mama’s Broken Heart” – Miranda Lambert
- “Two Black Cadillacs” – Carrie Underwood
Glam metal band Mötley Crüe 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 Mötley Crüe 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 Mötley Crüe tribute album to be released this summer.
Scott Borchetta was at the press conference announcing the Mötley Crüe retirement, and proclaimed himself a “not-so-secret” fan of the Crüe, saying, “Our album will highlight just how great the Mötley Crüe song catalog is.”
Mötley Crüe 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 56th ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS
• When: 7 PM Central, 8 PM Eastern, 5 PM Pacific on CBS.
• Where: The Stapes Center, Los Angeles, CA.
• Host: LL Cool J
THINGS TO WATCH FOR
More Traditional Country Than One Might Expect
• Though the Grammy Awards are all-encompassing, there will be quite a bit of country, including classic country on the night with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Kris Kristofferson scheduled to perform. Just like we saw with the CMA Awards in November, there is a renewed push to at least include something for classic country’s often-overlooked fans. There will also be a tribute to the recently-passed Phil Everly. See a complete list of the country performances below.
Kacey Musgraves To Push Boundaries…again.
• Similar to the CMA Awards, Kacey Musgraves will be performing her song “Follow Your Arrow.” At the CMA’s, the line “roll up a joint” was censored by ABC. We’ll see if CBS follows suit. She is also up for Best Country Album, Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the all-genre Best New Artist. With her status as a critic’s favorite, and the propensity for the Grammy Awards to traditionally be more about artistic appeal than commercial success, Kacey should at least be considered a strong nominee, at least for the country awards. The 56th Grammy Awards could be where the Kacey Musgraves experiment sticks if she walks away with the top prizes.
THE COUNTRY PERFORMANCES
• Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Blake Shelton will all perform a medley of songs together (which one of these things is not like the others?). The performance will begin with Willie and Kris singing the Jimmy Webb-penned song “The Highwayman.” Then all the men will sing a version of “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” and end with Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee.”
• Miranda Lambert & Billie Joe Armstrong will perform a Everly Brothers tribute. Phil Everly recently passed away, and Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day recently released a tribute album to the brother duo with Norah Jones. No word why Miranda is the duet partner and not Norah.
• Kacey Musgraves will reportedly be performing her current single “Follow Your Arrow” that had the “roll up a joint” line censored by ABC during the CMA Awards in November.
• Hunter Hayes will be performing a brand new anti-bullying single called “Invisible.”
• Taylor Swift is rumored to be performing “All Too Well.”
• Keith Urban will be performing with John Legend in a salute to the Beatles.
• Hunter Hayes, Zac Brown, and Martina McBride will be award presenters.
• See the list of the non-country performances below.
These awards have already been given out as part of The Grammy Award’s per-televised events.
• Kris Kristofferson was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
• Kris Kristofferson‘s first, self-titled album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
• Dolly Parton‘s song “Jolene” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
COUNTRY AWARD NOMINEES & PREDICTIONS
The most shocking story of this Grammy Awards season was the snub of Jason Isbell from even being nominated for the Americana Album of the Year. This is a perfect example that the Grammy community is very much on the outside looking in when it comes to country music, especially the sub-genres like Americana and bluegrass.
At the same time, The Grammy Awards have a better history of picking artists based on their artistic merit as opposed to their commercial success. Remember it was the Grammy Awards that recognized Johnny Cash’s comeback during his American Recordings years when the country music industry was still ignoring him. Similarly the Grammy Awards tend to vote more down political lines, like when they recognized The Dixie Chicks after their blackballing from country music. This all sets up well for an artist like Kacey Musgraves.
The Grammy Awards are notoriously hard to predict, but I’ll do my best.
Best Country Album
I see this as a two horse race. Though the women of country are such underdogs these days, Kacey Musgraves as the critical favorite, and Taylor Swift as the commercial favorite, have to be considered the likely winners. There’s an outside chance for Blake Shelton because of his high profile from The Voice, but he would be an upset. Aldean & McGraw have no chance. In the end I think Swift will take it, but don’t rule out Kacey.
- Jason Aldean, Night Train
- Tim McGraw, Two Lanes of Freedom
- Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park – Other Potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, Based on a True Story…
- Taylor Swift, Red – Winner
Best Country Solo Performance
Probably a race between ‘I Drive Your Truck” that won the CMA, or Darius Rucker’s version of ‘Wagon Wheel.’ Outside chance again for Blake Shelton because he’s so well-known, and there will be pressure to give him something. Understand this award is mainly for the performance, not the song. But if ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ wins, it would be a noteworthy win for songwriters Kacey Musgraves and Brandy Clark, and if ‘Wagon Wheel’ wins, for Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show, and Bob Dylan. Remember when Darius Rucker said he better be nominated or “Country Music’s Screwed“?
- Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Winner
- Hunter Hayes, ‘I Want Crazy’
- Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
- Darius Rucker, ‘Wagon Wheel’ – Other potential Winner
- Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
The Civil Wars have been Grammy darlings in the past, and may still win despite the band dissolving last year. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would be the sentimental vote, but they should be considered a long shot. We may see Scott Borchetta assert his power here and have ‘Highway Don’t Care’ walk away with the hardware. It is cool to see a lot of good country names in this category, including Vince Gill. This is a very hard one to pick.
- The Civil Wars, ‘From This Valley’ – Other potential Winner
- Kelly Clarkson feat. Vince Gill, ‘Don’t Rush’
- Little Big Town, ‘Your Side of the Bed’
- Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift & Keith Urban, ‘Highway Don’t Care’ – Winner
- Kenny Rogers with Dolly Parton, ‘You Can’t Make Old Friends’ – Other potential Winner
Best Country Song
Another wide open field. Lee Brice once again has to be thought of as a front runner, but this very well may be Kacey Musgraves’ moment. This win would arguably mean more to her than any other nominee. And remember, Kacey and Brandy Clark also win if Mama’s Broken Heart’ is ultimately selected. I don’t really see Taylor Swift or Blake Shelton having a chance with this one.
- Taylor Swift, ‘Begin Again’
- Lee Brice, ‘I Drive Your Truck’ – Other potential Winner
- Miranda Lambert, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’
- Kacey Musgraves, ‘Merry Go ‘Round’ – Winner
- Blake Shelton, ‘Mine Would Be You’
All Genre Awards
- Taylor Swift’s Red is the sole country album up for Album of the Year, and it is my pick for the winner. The other strong contender would be Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
- Kacey Musgraves is up for Best New Artist, but it is hard to see her outlasting Macklemore + Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, or Ed Sheeran.
AMERICANA & BLUEGRASS NOMINEES
Once again the Americana genre is saddled by its very narrow perspective in nominees. And except for Sarah Jarosz, they are all older artists this year. Compare this with last year when John Fullbright, The Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and The Lumineers were all nominees. The Americana nominees really show how much the Mumford backlash took root, and how that was very much last year’s trend. Jason Isbell got completely screwed, and so did many other deserving artists.
Not going to make any predictions for these awards because they are all wide open fields. Anybody could win here. These awards will be given away before the televised portion of the awards, so check the Saving Country Music LIVE blog for winners.
***UPDATE – In the pre-televised Grammy presentation….
- The Grammy for Best American Roots Song went to Edie Brickell and Steve Martin for “Love Has Come For You“.
- The Grammy for Best Americana Album went to Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell for “Old Yellow Moon“.
- The Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album went to Streets of Baltimore from the Del McCoury Band.
- And the Grammy for Best Folk Album went to My Favorite Picture of You by Guy Clark.
Best Americana Album
- Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell — Old Yellow Moon
- Steve Martin & Edie Brickell — Love Has Come For You
- Buddy Miller And Jim Lauderdale — Buddy And Jim
- Mavis Staples — One True Vine
- Allen Toussaint — Songbook
Best Bluegrass Album
- The Boxcars — It’s Just A Road
- Dailey & Vincent — Brothers Of The Highway
- Della Mae — This World Oft Can Be
- James King — Three Chords And The Truth
- Del McCoury Band — The Streets Of Baltimore
Best Folk Album
- Guy Clark — My Favorite Picture Of You
- The Greencards — Sweetheart Of The Sun
- Sarah Jarosz — Build Me Up From Bones
- The Milk Carton Kids — The Ash & Clay
- Various Artists; Chris Strachwitz, producer — They All Played For Us: Arhoolie Records 50th Anniversary Celebration
Best American Roots Song
- “Build Me Up From Bones”
- Sarah Jarosz, songwriter (Sarah Jarosz)
- Steve Earle, songwriter (Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses))
- “Keep Your Dirty Lights On”
- Tim O’Brien & Darrell Scott, songwriters (Tim O’Brien And Darrell Scott)
- “Love Has Come For You”
- Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin & Edie Brickell)
- “Shrimp Po-Boy, Dressed”
- Allen Toussaint, songwriter (Allen Toussaint)
OTHER GRAMMY PERFORMERS
- Beyonce and Jay Z will open the show with “Drunk In Love.”
- Gary Clark, Jr.
- Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
- Sara Bareilles featuring Carole King
- Daft Punk featuring Nile Rodgers, Stevie Wonder and Pharrell Williams
- Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
- Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr
- Metallica featuring Lang Lang
- Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Lindsey Buckingham
- Katy Perry featuring Juicy J
- Pink featuring Nate Ruess
- Robin Thicke featuring Chicago
Forget about the intended use of Antares flagship software product known as “Auto-Tune” for a second, and how it can make the rising falsetto of prickly-haired Rascal Flatt’s frontman Gary LeVox sound as pure as the wind-driven snow. Almost since the inception of the pitch-correction software, Auto-Tune has been utilized as a vocal effect as well, and one that has become an indelible part of popular music.
The Cher song “Believe” from 1998 was one of the first popular songs that took the Auto-Tune effect and turned it up to the highest degree to where the tone of Cher’s voice sounded computerized, with the notes having clearly-recognizable steps in between them instead of the more rounded, natural tone of the human voice. And Auto-Tune as a popular vocal effect was off to the races. Next thing you know you have artists like rapper T-Pain using Auto-Tune as a primary focus of their sound.
But country music stayed mostly on the sidelines of the Auto-Tune phenomenon….besides of course behind-the-scenes as that unspoken magic little helper to make up for artists that were big on looks but light on talent. Country music has always been seen as the major American genre that is the most wary of the infusion of technology into the format. Electric instruments were once banned from the Grand Ole Opry stage, and even up to a few years ago, synthesized music or other technological sounds were still frowned upon in country, including Auto-Tune as a vocal effect.
But lo and behold, as yet another symptom that popular country music is fresh out of ideas and would rather become subservient to the influences of other genres instead of engaging in a true search for talent among its own ranks, Auto-Tune here in 2014 has reared its ugly head as an accepted element of popular country music songs.
Of course like all new things in country, the injection of Auto-Tune use was subtle and slow. Music Row seems to think that if they try to be sly about it, nobody will notice, and little parts of popular songs started to feature the vocal enhancement here and there in 2013, and some before that. But here in 2014, the Auto-Tune training wheels are off, and you’re not surprised to hear it in just about any new single from a popular country music artist.
One of the most gross offenses is in the recent single from Jerrod Niemann called “Drink To That All Night.” Though the song hasn’t been a huge commercial or chart-topping success so far, when it came out you could tell it would be a game changer in the way it went in an EDM/Auto-Tuned direction unlike any other song from an established country artist before, pushing the boundaries of what would be acceptable in country. And then last week we heard a new Tim McGraw single called “That Girl” which feels like the big coming out party for Auto-Tune in country music, featuring the vocal effect unfettered and full blast throughout the entire song.
But the alarming thing about the impending country music Auto-Tune phenomenon is not necessarily the use of the technology itself, but how it is yet another symptom of the underlying disease gripping country music of being so demonstrably behind the curve. Country music is constantly feeling like it has to apologize for itself, and to prove to the rest of the world that it can be cool and hip too. With this mentality, country never leads, it follows, waiving its little hand at the side of the popular music stage saying, “Hey, we’re here also! And we can use Auto-Tune too! We’re not just hayseeds!”
The problem is, the use of Auto-Tune in 2014 as a vocal effect actually proves just how lame and behind-the-times country music is. Auto-tune isn’t making country music hip, it’s proving it’s unhip and completely behind-the-curve.
Over the last few years, the trend of country rap emerged in the country genre, with artists and labels insisting that country music must evolve to stay relevant. But what these artists and labels failed to understand that there was nothing current and relevant about rap any more than any other genre. Rap is a 30-year-old art form whose origins go back even farther than that.
With Auto-tune, it’s a similar paradox. Using Auto-Tune was cutting edge when Cher did it in 1998. In the mid-2000′s, Auto-Tune enjoyed the height of its popularity. But today? Today, though the use of Auto-Tune can still be heard in some pop and hip hop songs from artists like Future, it is generally old hat, outmoded, even lampooned and admonished, and T-Pain is the laughing stock in many sectors of the hip hop community. T-Pain is seen as a one-trick gimmick, and it’s expressly because of his Auto-Tune use.
In June of 2009—a good 4 1/2 years ago— hip hop artist Jay Z released a song called “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune).” He was inspired to write the song because he felt the use of Auto-Tune had become a crutch for many artists, and a gimmick. The tipping point was when he saw it used in a Wendy’s commercial….again, nearly half a decade ago. Jay-Z said the point of “D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)” was to “draw a line in the sand.”
The song went on to be called the best song in 2009 by MTV. Did the use of Auto-Tune die by Jay Z’s decree? No, of course it didn’t. But its use was arguably already in decline when the song was released and it has continued to be in decline….until country music found it in the forgotten dust heap of relevancy, brushed it off, and started implementing it en masse as an element of its misguided “evolution.”
Country music doesn’t need to adopt Auto-Tuned vocals to be relevant, it needs to find its own new wrinkle, its own game-changing element that makes other genres look at it and want to incorporate it into their formats. By using Auto-Tune, country music is not leading or evolving. It’s not even following. It’s proving once again how it’s falling behind.
What kind of fresh hell has Tim McGraw unearthed here? Apparently the once high-flying country star has been inadvertently inoculating himself with inebriating bronzer agents from his incessant chemical tan treatments that have now seeped into his blood stream. And combined with an undiagnosed eating disorder that has rendered McGraw’s figure to that of a 55-year-old Venice beach female body builder succumbing to a lifetime of melanoma, Tim has robbed precious nutrients from his gray matter, stupefying him into such an absolute scientifically-infallible vacuum and void of self-awareness that physicists want to employ it to see if it is the ultimate key to tabletop fusion. “Lookin’ For That Girl” isn’t a cry for relevancy, it is a barbaric yawp, a banshee scream, a cacophonous ode to the onset of monoculture and wholesale mediocrity.
The lyrics of “Lookin’ For That Girl” read like a “How To” manual to date rape, which is similar to how this song maliciously violates your earholes with such unwanted and violently barbed penetrations that you find yourself overwhelmed with such desperate loathing for your situation you pray for nothing less than the sweet release of death itself.That girl, she’s a party all nighter A little Funky Cold Medina, little strawberry winer That girl, She’s a love gunslinger Neon Jager-bomb country okie singer That girl she’s a sugar sweet drive by Hold my dreams in her blue jeans, oh my Yellow hammer south Georgia Mississippi chick Trick cherry wine, Louisiana lipstick
Though this song is supposed to be urban and hip, it comes across as the cries of an introverted internet masturbator who never matured past a middle school mentality. Funky Cold Medina? “Hold my dream in her blue jeans, oh my!” are you fucking kidding me? This song makes me hate sex, and is simply a smattering of ultra-stereotypical urbanisms chased by countryisms trying to apologize for itself and accomplish the widest possible splash zone of victimhood with its catchy pap like when a hippo turns his hind quarters towards the herd and scats the hell out of anything and everything aided by a helicoptering tail.
The icing on this urine-drenched urinal cake topped with cigarette butts, spent gum, and used inside-out prophylactics oozing their venereal slurry out on the diarrhea-infested floor is the fact that through the entire drum machine-driven song Tim McGraw is singing through an Auto-tune filter turned to 11. T-Pain, eat your top hat-wearing heart out. I’ve been saying for years now that Tim McGraw is more machine than man, but not even I could have predicted this unmitigated rejection and headlong flight from anything analog or authentic. Hell, why do we even need a human to sing this fucking song? We should just have one of those iRobot floor cleaners sing it. At least that way it would be on hand to swab up the hurl this monstrosity will invariably evoke from enlightened music listener’s disgruntled guts. And like an iRobot incidentally, “Lookin’ For That Girl” will also freak the everliving shit out of your dog.
What made Tim McGraw one of the greatest country music performers for a generation wasn’t his singing necessarily, though he’s a gifted and inspired vocalist without question. It wasn’t his songwriting. And it wasn’t his unique or creative approach to performance. It’s that Tim McGraw could somehow out of the massive crush of song material every artist must sift through, select the very best compositions that would invariably become the soundtrack to so many people’s poignant, life-changing moments. “Don’t Take The Girl,” “Live Like You Were Dying”—these songs inspired millions, and spoke straight to the heart of people looking for meaning and solace in the desperate throes of human emotional frailty. And now we get “Truck Yeah,” and “Lookin’ For That Girl” that makes a two-time Country Music Association Male Vocalist of the Year sound like Stephen Hawking reciting middle school sex ramblings.
The worst country song ever? I’d add the addendum that since there’s really nothing here that is even remotely close to “country”, ingratiating it by calling it the worst “country” song might be inadvertent flattery. And also, we are so early in 2014, this may be an unfortunate signifier of where we’re headed and could be toppled at any moment. But except for these qualifying points, sure, let’s sleep on the idea for a little bit, but I won’t put my dukes up against anyone who would assert that Tim McGraw’s “Lookin’ For That Girl” is the worst song in the history of country music.
You’re 46-years-fucking-old Tim McGraw.
Two guns way down!
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As we head into 2014, country music is primed to have a tumultuous year filled with historic change and big events. We’re looking at a year that has started with the continued dominance of hip hop-inspired laundry list country songs from male performers on the mainstream dial, but countered by a historic backlash from artists, radio programmers, and even Big Machine Label Group’s President Scott Borchetta who recently said, “We can’t keep talking about Fireball and Coors Light and having the tailgate down, etc. So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
Poised to be Big Machine’s 2014 big breakout act is a band called The Cadillac Three—a rough-edged, hard-rocking trio that if not touring honky tonks has been tearing it up in opening slots on big tours for artists like Dierks Bentley and Eric Church, while contributing songs to some of country music’s biggest names including the recent single from Jake Owen, “Days of Gold,” Tim McGraw’s “Southern Girl,” and Keith Urban’s “You Gonna Fly.”
Hard to pigeonhole, and certainly not what one would traditionally consider mainstream country music, The Cadillac Three’s following is fairly small at the moment, but their ability to appeal to mainstream fans, Southern rock fans, and even some independent and underground fans with a sound that despite whatever lack of depth is hard to not label as authentic and gritty, The Cadillac Three could be a band who finds themselves at the nexus of being able to take advantage of the “bro-country” phenomenon, and its backlash.
Cue a devilish cackle from Scott Borchetta.
The Many Names of The Cadillac Three
The Cadillac Three started out as The Cadillac Black, but really the heart of the band goes back to a group called American Bang, and even a group before that called Llama. Lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Jaren Johnston, slide player Kelby Ray, and drummer Neil Mason all grew up together in the Nashville area and have been playing music together since high school.
Name changes have been the name of the game for the band that would eventually be called The Cadillac Three. Llama, originally known as the Dahlia Llamas, was a band consisting of Cadillac Three drummer Neil Mason, a lead guitar player named Ben Brown, and 3 others. It was a high school band, but one that was signed to MCA Records and released an album in 2001 called Close To The Silence. Llama broke up in 2003, and a band called Bang Bang Bang was formed with Neil Mason, Ben Brown, and current Cadillac Three members Jaren Johnston and Kelby Ray. Bang Bang Bang also signed with Warner Brothers Records in 2006, and changed their name to American Bang when they found out another band was using the Bang Bang Bang name already.
After guitarist Ben Brown left, American Bang reformed into The Cadillac Black. When the band signed with Big Machine Records in February of 2013, once again the name was found to be too similar to other existing bands, and too hard to disambiguate with bands like The Black Cadillacs, and The Cadillac Black became The Cadillac Three.
Underground Image, Industry Success
Though the sound, the style, the image and presentation of The Cadillac Three seems to be a very stripped-down, ugly, underground affair, the band and it’s numerous predecessors have mostly existed within the industry and been signed to major labels. It’s interesting to note that when The Cadillac Three signed with Scott Borchetta and Big Machine, they were not slated for one of the label’s side imprints—Valory Music Group or Universal Republic—which some artists are delegated to so they can develop into larger names. From the start, The Cadillac Three are running with the big boys on Big Machine proper.
The band has been the perfect opener for artists like Eric Church and Dierks Bentley because they are a rocket-fueled, full-tilt act that can rev up an arena crowd, yet they offer a fairly narrow range of textures so they won’t upstage their headliner. Boiled down, The Cadillac Three’s lyrics are very typical laundry list fare, relying heavily on Southern artifacts spoken on with great reverence in a revolving fashion and delivered with Tommy Gun rapidity. It’s not that the band doesn’t have songs that shift gears, but The Cadillac Black may be a case where a band is simply doing what they’ve always done, and it’s the relevancy arch that inadvertently coincides with their sound instead of a band attempting to chase the current, relevant trend.
Like when Blake Shelton recorded Rhett Akins’ song “Kiss My Country Ass,” it’s not necessarily Rhett Akins’ fault that a song he wrote many years before became a trendy hit. The Cadillac Three aren’t trying to ape Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan; it’s more like vice versa. But being the less-recognized name may make it appear otherwise.
It’s Their Time
What listeners will not be able to lose sight of is that The Cadillac Three are far from the polished pretty boys currently pervading the top of the pop country ranks. Jaren Johnston’s patchy beard, Kelby Ray’s unruly hair, and three greasy baseball caps with the bill’s pointed in the right direction is not what mainstream country fans are used to looking at. Even their lineup is a little weird, with Kelby Ray handling the bass parts and guitar duty simultaneously through a steel guitar rig.
At the same time, many independent and underground country fans who see this band on paper and think it may be their kind of medicine will immediately be repulsed by their formulaic checklist tunes. Case in point is their first Big Machine single “The South” that features appearances by Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley, and Mike Eli of the Eli Young Band. Yes, “The South” is The Cadillac Three’s coronation into the mainstream if there ever was one.
But what makes The Cadillac Three an enigma for some fans is also what may sets them up to be the perfect storm in mainstream country in 2014—a band with a hard rock sound and catchy, easy-to-get-into lyrics that also has a grit and authenticity that an act like Florida Georgia Line is lacking. While mainstream male country continues to trend toward hip hop, and now EDM elements in their music, The Cadillac Three are holding steady to their guitar-driven, Southern rock sound. And where The Cadillac Three may have been perceived as being too one-dimensional for the mainstream in the past, now the mainstream is nothing but one-dimensional, making the band more relevant than most major label’s current rosters, while at the same time delivering a grit that can make The Cadillac Three appear as an alternative.
It all adds up to 2014 potentially being a huge year for The Cadillac Three, for better or worse.
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, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit?’ I don’t know how to do that. Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?…You start playing [deep songs] to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
When it comes to the business of saving country music, many villains get presented by fans as the face of the erosion of country’s roots, values, and quality; usually huge country music stars like Garth Brooks or Taylor Swift. But behind-the-scenes there are other events, and other individuals that have just as much, if not more of a fundamental impact on country music than any single artist or band.
One of these such events was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that was signed into law by then President Clinton, which for the first time allowed cross media ownership, meaning multiple media businesses like newspapers, and television and radio stations could be owned by a single person or corporation in the same market. The law was meant to deregulate the media business and spurn more competition, despite the concerns raised that the move would see the rise of big media giants and the lessening of local programming.
Within radio, these easing of the rules had a massive impact on radio station ownership. In 1996 when the Telecommunications Act first passed, Clear Channel, the largest radio station owner in the country, had a roster of 173 radio stations. In 2003 the FCC eased the ownership regulations for local radio stations even further, and by 2004, Clear Channel owned over 1,200 stations. In fact Clear Channel grew so quickly, the company incurred massive debt, and ended up going through a restructuring between 2006 to 2008 that included selling some of its stations, to where now Clear Channel owns around 850 stations total.
Since its restructuring as a private company, Clear Channel’s goal has been centralizing and nationalizing programming. The idea is instead of paying one DJ at each country station in the US for example, you can pay one DJ who can then be syndicated to all the country stations owned by the same company. Though Clear Channel’s station ownership has stayed steady, and even slowly increased in the last few years, they’ve been able to slash employees as they slowly implement a nationalized DJ roster. In January of 2009, Clear Channel laid off roughly 1,500 employees, and by May of 2009, that number had grown to 2,440 positions eliminated. Then in October of 2011, even more local positions were slashed, but the exact numbers have never been disclosed.
Then earlier this month, Clear Channel announced a partnership with CMT to create national country music programming to be distributed across 125 country radio stations, as well as some digital and television platforms. The move is meant to match a similar national syndicated format created by the second-biggest radio provider in the United States, Cumulus Media, who launched the NASH-FM national country network on 70 separate radio stations earlier this year. The deal means more programming will be created on a national level, and distributed to local stations. Though Clear Channel says the new deal will be good for local radio stations because it will give them access to national-caliber talent and programming through their syndicated network that local stations would otherwise not have access to, the move continues the trend for radio to lose its local and regional flavor in favor of programming catering to a national audience.
At the forefront of Clear Channel’s country radio ideas is a DJ named Bobby Bones. Originally from Arkansas, Bobby started with Clear Channel as a local DJ in Austin, TX for the Top 40 pop station 96.7 KISS FM, with his Bobby Bones Show eventually being syndicated to a few other regional markets. Though Bobby had big offers to move to the West Coast, he stayed in Austin and became a local favorite, winning “Best Radio Personality” by the Austin Music Awards from 2004-2008.
Earlier this year, Clear Channel finally convinced Bobby to move to Nashville, and to make the switch from Top 40 radio to country. Bobby replaced the legendary country DJ Gerry House at WSIX in Nashville who retired in 2010, though some hypothesize that Gerry, like many other DJ’s on Clear Channel stations, was forced out. Gerry was also a songwriter, and country journalist Chet Flippo once said about Gerry that he was the “only reason I still listen to any mainstream country radio.”
Moving from pop to country, and replacing Gerry House, Bobby Bones symbolizes the changing of the guard on country radio to say the least. Bobby Bones doesn’t look country, doesn’t sound country, says he doesn’t own a cowboy hat or a belt buckle, but he reaches more country listeners than any other country music DJ.
The Bobby Bones Show started on the WSIX flagship station being syndicated to 15 other stations across the country, and in less than a year is already up to a total of 50 stations. With Clear Channel’s new syndicated country radio network coming, these numbers could dramatically increase, and Bobby Bones could cross over into television—something he has already started to do, doing spots at big awards shows, and once guest hosting on Live with Regis & Kelly in 2011. Along with his weekday show, Bobby Bones also does at weekend syndicated show, Country Top 30 with Bobby Bones. He also does a syndicated Fox Sports Radio weekend show with tennis player and friend Andy Roddick.
Bobby Bones is not your normal DJ. He doesn’t have your stereotypical DJ voice, and his quirky, yet honest personality is what endears him both to listeners, and to country artists who seem more than willing to lend their name to his show and stop by for interviews. Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, and many more have appeared live on The Bobby Bones Show, and it is now the highest rated radio show in Nashville.
As a recent CBS feature points out, Bobby comes from very humble beginnings in Arkansas, from a very stereotypical “country” upbringing where his dad left him and his mom was a drug addict, being raised by his grandmother for part of the time. Bobby doesn’t drink or use drugs, and has a very hip, Austin-esque personality while still coming across as genuine to his listeners. Many old-school country fans and older radio listeners hate him. But with his current position at WSIX and Clear Channel’s big nationally-focused plan for country radio, Bobby Bones isn’t just poised to become the Gerry House of the next generation, he’s poised to become the biggest DJ in the history of country music.
After releasing a total of seven Greatest Hits releases in an attempt to keep Tim McGraw under contract indefinitely, after refusing to release his last album on the label Emotional Traffic, after insisting McGraw owed them yet another album and losing virtually every court case and decision while in a protracted legal battle with both McGraw and his new label Big Machine Records, finally releasing Emotional Traffic after they had found out they had lost, and releasing a duets album in an attempt to counteract Big Machine’s first Tim McGraw release, Curb Records is releasing yet another album from Tim McGraw; an artist that hasn’t called Curb Records home officially for over 2 years.
The album will be called Love Story and will feature Tim McGraw’s “12 biggest love songs,” two previously-unreleased recordings, and will be released exclusively through Wal-Mart on February 2nd, 2014.
Mike Curb and Curb Records have a long list of transgressions against their artists, refusing to release music in a timely manner to keep artists under contract, repackaging music to mislead consumers, and releasing music against the wishes of their artists. Along with Tim McGraw, Frank Zappa, The Beat Farmers, LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Jo Dee Messina, Clay Walker, Lyle Lovett, and others help comprise a long list of Mike Curb’s transgressions against artists.
- It’s You Love – Featuring Faith Hill
- Just To See You Smile
- My Best Friend
- When The Stars Go Blue
- She’s My Kind Of Rain
- Not A Moment Too Soon
- Watch The Wind Blow By
- My Little Girl
- Tiny Dancer
- I Just Love You (Previously Unreleased)
- What About You (Previously Unreleased)
Last week pop and R&B superstar Justin Timberlake helped stir the music pot by proposing that he might make a country record. Timberlake told Sirius XM’s “The Highway” show: “I just did an interview earlier today and I said, ‘I’m America, that’s what I am.’ In all sense of the word. [I] grew up outside of Memphis, Tennessee. Listened to country music, R&B music, classic rock, you know, everything…I still got my eyes set on a Best Country Album. There is time for that.”
Timberlake also says about his new single “Drink You Away” that “It’s a country song to me,” referencing the lyrics that refer heavily to the drinking theme common in country music. Timberlake has also mentioned wanting to dabble in country music in the past.
As much as Justin Timberlake on the surface may have the prototypical career track to make him ripe for ridicule by even inferring that he might “go country”—including his past as a mouseketeer turned boy band sensation with N’Sync before striking out on a solo pop career—there would be some fundamental differences between a Justin Timberlake country record or move, and similar moves from other pop or non-country artists like Sheryl Crow, Darius Rucker, and others.
The typical modern “gone country” move occurs when an artist loses support from their traditional genre or entertainment realm in the twilight of their career. But Timberlake is on top right now, and has no reason to shift gears. In fact, it could be risky for Timberlake, especially if he wanted to shift his entire career in a country direction. But likely he wouldn’t. It would simply be a one-off project to fulfill the inner desire of a man who was raised in Memphis and was exposed to country growing up. Would it be good? Would it be true country? We have no idea, but for the same reasons many artists that “go country” get ridiculed, Timberlake deserves a little more latitude because of the levity with which he’s approached his later career.
Most pop performers become polarizing figures of one form or another in the court of public opinion, regardless of the quality of their music, or the likeability of their personality. Being put on a pedestal always lends to spite and ridicule. But Timberlake has weathered this storm better than most, and curiously so. He’s seen as an artist with class and taste, who is above his fellow mouseketeer Brittney Spears, or the Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus’s of the pop world, even though Timberlake’s music is certainly pop, and he’s done such raunchy things as the Saturday Night Live skit “Dick in a Box.”
But there seems to be a much more elevated, unspoken respect for the authenticity of music from Timberlake, and less of a focus on the spectacle compared to his contemporaries. Timberlake is sort of the Sinatra of our time for the lack of a better analogy, though like many modern popular stars, you struggle to find the classic, legacy songs in his lexicon that will outlive his career. “Sexyback”?
You never know when this type of “I want to make a country album” talk is just talk; just a lark from an artist thinking out loud in an interview. Folks were ready to jump on Gwyneth Paltrow a while back when see was rumored to be making a country album in the aftermath of the movie Country Strong, and it never happened. The infamous Chris Brown has been talking about making a country record for years, and Tim McGraw even used Chris as a vehicle to cross over into the R&B world a few years back. But nothing solid from Chris Brown in the country realm has ever surfaced.
Does the idea of a Justin Timberlake country album excite me? None whatsoever, except for the fact that it is bound to make a good discussion point or curiosity piece. The problem has never been artists from outside the genre dabbling in the country format. If an authentic desire to make country music rests inside of an artist, they should express it. The Ray Charles album Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music remains one of the greatest country albums of all time, and there’s other examples where such endeavors have been critically successful.
It’s not that a Justin Timberlake country project is something that doesn’t warrant curiosity or outright concern. But giving a quick listen to country radio, there are much bigger issues with country music that are not hypothetical, but actually infecting the country airwaves. If Justin Timberlake is one of the last bastions of class in mainstream pop, he might even be an improvement to the mainstream country format. It’s hard to see how he could be any worse.
So we’ll take a wait and see on Justin Timberlake, and in the meantime do battle with what we already know is bad. Besides, he already knows how to mock Taylor Swift at award shows.
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If you’re a male performer in country music right now, you may no longer have a choice. If you want to see your singles and records reach the top of the charts, if you want your songs played on the radio, and if you want to be in contention for the big awards, you better add some hip hop elements into your music.
It seems almost inexplicable that this statement could be made about American country music, but when looking at the top performing songs, albums, and artists in the format, and how many of them have at least some form of the hip-hop culture embedded in their music, the statement isn’t controversial, it is conclusive. And Saving Country Music isn’t the only one pointing this out.
“You hear the hip-hop thing start kicking in, and you start going, ‘Is that what we gotta do now to have a hit? Is that what I need every one of my songs to sound like now?” says Toby Keith, who not only was the best-selling country artist from the 2000′s decade, but is the owner of the influential Show Dog Universal label, and the highest paid person in country music from his stake in multiple record companies.
Even as a top label executive, Toby is having trouble convincing his own people to push music that doesn’t include electronic beats or rapping. According to Keith, when he brings them country songs, they tell him, “Eh, it doesn’t sound like what’s going on the radio today.”
The two best-charting, biggest-selling songs of 2013 so far have been songs that lean heavily on hip-hop influences: Florida-Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” and Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night.” Both songs broke records in 2013, with “Cruise” breaking the all-time record for any country single with 23+ weeks at the #1 position, and “That’s My Kind Of Night” breaking a record for the most consecutive weeks at #1 for a solo male performer—a record held since 1966.
Currently, the #1, #2, #6, #7 songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart feature hip hop influences, while Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, and Tim McGraw at the #4, #5, #9 positions respectively have all had major country rap singles, including Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” that was the biggest-selling song in all of country in 2011. Three of the five nominees for both Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year for the upcoming CMA Awards have cut country rap songs.
But just because a song has hip hop influences, doesn’t make it bad. It has been the combination of country rap and the laundry list style of lyricism that has been the 1-2 punch to the integrity of the country genre, and especially the material emanating from male talent. This trend has caused a recent uproar, with many artists speaking out, including artists who have themselves participated in either the country rap or laundry list trend, including Jake Owen who recently said, “We need more songs than just songs about tailgates and fuckin’ cups and Bacardi and stuff like that,” potentially dissing Toby Keith’s hit “Red Solo Cup.” Keith was also arguably responsible for the first country rap song in the modern era when he rapped the verses in his 2001 hit “I Wanna Talk About Me.”
It may not be as much that Jake Owen and Toby Keith are being hypocritical as much as they are big stars that are expected to deliver hit singles, and they are sick and tired of chasing the current trends where there is little or no room for substance. When Keith spoke about his recent single “Hope On The Rocks” that stalled at #18 on the Country Airplay chart, he said, “…you start playing it to a twenty-something audience, and it’s like, ‘Naw, man, there ain’t no mud on that tire. That ain’t about a Budweiser can. That ain’t about a chicken dancing out by the river. That ain’t about smoking a joint by the haystack. That’s about somebody dying and shit.’”
So does that mean we can expect Toby Keith to go the country rap route? “I don’t know how to do that,” Keith explains. “I’m not going to change much. And when it quits working, I’ve got other stuff to do.” But if he doesn’t, Keith runs the risk of losing his relevancy as a mainstream country artist. That is why we’ve seen middle-aged country performers like Tim McGraw and Ronnie Dunn cut country rap songs recently, and why most of the up-and-coming country males that are making their mark are doing it through country rap.
Peer and financial pressures are making it mandatory for male country artists to start off their songs with a hip hop beat, or rap the verses to their songs, even if it is just a verse or two. Forget the stigma of trying to bring hip hop into the country format. If you’re a male country star in 2013, you can’t afford not to.
The last few weeks might go down in history as one of country music’s most feud-laden moments. From Gary Allan going off about country music and indirectly accusing Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood of not being country, to Zac Brown calling out Luke Bryan’s song “That’s My Kind of Night,” and Jason Aldean calling out Zac Brown in Luke’s defense.
Though country music feuding may be on a sharp rise here recently, it is not an uncommon or recent occurrence in country music by any stretch. Many artists have had a beef with the Grand Ole Opry over the years, including Johnny Cash and Stonewall Jackson. Curb Records has been in the middle of many feuds, most notably with Leann Rimes, Hank Williams III, and a big one with Tim McGraw that pitted cross-town heavyweights Mike Curb and Scott Borchetta against each other. But nothing gets folks talking like a good old artist on artist donnybrook. Here are some of the most infamous over the years.
Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner were one of country music’s most legendary pairings, but when Dolly wanted to leave the Porter Wagoner camp in 1974, things turned heated. Parton did the best she could to leave Porter’s side in an amicable way, even penning and performing her legendary song “I Will Always Love You” for her long-time singing partner. But Porter turned around and sued her for $3 million in a breach of contract suit in 1979.
However, the two made up eventually, and Porter performed with Dolly on her TV variety show in 1988. Dolly Parton was also by Porter Wagoner’s side when he passed away in 2007.
In the midst of Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart” success, Travis Tritt was asked what he though about it, and always willing to be a lightning rod, Travis Tritt responded, “I haven’t seen his show so I can’t say anything about that. I haven’t seen the man personally, so I can’t say anything about him personally. I haven’t listened to his albums, so I can’t make a statement about that. But I have seen the video and I have heard “Achy Breaky Heart”, and I don’t care for either one of them. It just seems kind of frivolous. The video doesn’t appeal to me because it shows him stepping out of a limousine in front of thousands and thousands of fans, and nobody’s even heard of this guy.. Garth Brooks didn’t even do that. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.”
Travis Tritt recalled in his autobiography Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof, “I apologized to Billy Ray, told him I hoped he sold ten million copies of the record. Went home. I sent Billy Ray a peace lily and a get well card because I heard he’d been feeling bad enough to cancel his Fan Fair appearance. Headline in the local paper the next day. ‘Travis Tritt Trashes Billy Ray Cyrus.’ The more I said about it, trying to rectify the situation, the worse it got.”
Waylon Jennings really didn’t like Garth Brooks, and wasn’t very good at hiding it. Though in the portions about Garth in Waylon’s autobiography he was careful not to use Garth’s name, during interviews in the 90′s Waylon would regularly let his anti-Garth anger slip. For example in an interview with The Inquirer form September, 1994, Waylon said about Garth, “I think he’s the luckiest s.o.b in the world. He’s gotten more out of nothing than anybody I can think of. I’ve always accused him of sounding like Mr. Haney on Green Acres.”
There’s another Waylon quote about Garth that goes something along the lines of “Garth Brooks did for country music what panty hose did for finger fucking.” But there has yet to be a verifiable attribution of the quote.
Still to this day, not much is known about the exact details of the feud between these two men, but in the mid-70′s you couldn’t find two artists more tied to the hip than Waylon and Tompall. Tompall was the proprietor of Hillbilly Central in Nashville—a renegade studio where Waylon mixed and mastered his album Honky Tonk Heroes, and recorded his album This Time. Waylon and Tompall appear together on Wanted: The Outlaws—country music’s first million-selling album. The two became close friends and were kindred spirits from their hated of Music Row’s business practices. They would spin long hours battling each other on pinball machines or picking out tunes or playing pranks on each other. But when the friendship went south in the late 70′s, it went south hard, and the two men never resolved their differences before their respective deaths, despite both men still insisting on their deep love and appreciation for each other.
The crux of the beef between two of country music’s most famous sons is that Hank3 felt Shooter Jennings stole his persona. Hank3 had a song called “Dick In Dixie” that included the line, “I’m here to put the Dick in Dixie, and the cunt back in country.” Shooter, who previously had been in a rock band called Stargunn, came out with his first country record entitled Put The ‘O’ Back In Country in 2005, and Hank3 perceived the title was a little too close for comfort.
If you wanna go down that road and rip us off, mutherfucker, I’ll see you in ten years and five thousand shows down the road.” Hank3 said. We’ll see where the fuck you’re at. You know, I called him out and just flat out said, “fuck you if you’re gonna rip us off like that on your first release.”
Shooter for his part seemed unwilling to reciprocate the feud, saying “You know what, I don’t even comment on these things, really. I don’t even know him. I met him once, I think, for a second. And somehow all this stuff started about how he hates me. I don’t know. It’s, like, stupid.”
In fairness to Shooter, Carlene Carter had used the line “If that doesn’t put the cunt back in country, I don’t know what will” at a show in New York in 1979 when her mother June Carter and father-in-law Johnny Cash were in attendance. Eventually Shooter and Hank3 reportedly buried the hatchet.
Hank3 is the legitimate son of Hank Williams Jr., but Hank Jr. was not Hank3′s everyday father. Hank3 was raised by his mother, and usually only saw Hank Jr. once a year when growing up. In 2001, Hank Jr. began collaborating with Kid Rock in songs like “The ‘F’ Word” and others, and Hank Jr. often referred to Kid Rock as his “rebel son.” This stimulated a rumor that Kid Rock was in fact Hank Jr.’s biological offspring. Though both men denied it, the urban myth grew legs, and Hank Williams III began to be asked by people if Kid Rock was his brother, which didn’t sit too well.
Then the situation escalated when Kid Rock accosted Hank3 at a show in Detroit, trying to patch up the strained relationship between Hank3 and his father. “He kept trying to come on the bus, you know, him and Pam Anderson, and all that shit,” Hank3 recalls. “And I said, ‘Tell that motherfucker I got nothing to say to him,’ and then he finally get his way back in there and tells me how I need to be treating my father, and I’m like, ‘All right, you crossed the line motherfucker.’ And I don’t know how many times I have to say it: No, he’s not my fucking brother . . .”
The altercation eventually led to the line in Hank3′s song “Not Everybody Likes Us,” “Just so you know, so it’s set in stone, Kid Rock don’t come from where I come from. Yeah it’s true he’s a Yank, he ain’t no son of Hank, and if you though so god damn you’re fucking dumb.”
It is considered one of country music’s most legendary moments—when Charlie Rich took out his lighter at the 1975 CMA Awards and burned the envelope announcing John Denver as Entertainer of the Year while Denver watched via satellite. Rich had clearly been drinking, and his antics were taken as an act of defiance against the intrusion of pop influences into country music, and have since become a rallying cry for country music purists.
Recently when video surfaced of the incident, people began to question what Charlie Rich’s true intentions were because Rich didn’t appear to look as malicious as the moment had been materialized in many people’s minds without the aid of the archived footage. Though historians and the Country Music Hall of Fame clearly spell it out as being considered a conflict at the time, Charlie’s son Charlie Rich Jr. says that his father was simply trying to be funny. So maybe there was a Charlie Rich vs. John Denver, or maybe there wasn’t, but the moment still makes for great country music lore.
Probably not much more than the names of these two needs to be said to to infer that they wouldn’t get along. Maines started the scuffle in response to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue” saying, “I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture—and not just the bad people who did bad things. You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass’ … ”
Toby Keith’s response? “I’ll bury her. She has never written anything that has been a hit…” Maines kept up the heat, wearing a shirt with the letters F.U.T.K. on the 2003 ACM Awards. And of course, all of this was exacerbated when Maines criticized President George Bush at a concert in London a month before.
Keith was the one to publicly bury the hatchet, saying in August of 2003, “You know, a best friend of mine lost a two-year-old daughter to cancer. I saw a picture of me and Natalie and it said, ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough’ People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up. One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”
Toby Keith vs. Kris Kristofferson
It sure made for a juicy story at the time, but according to both of the named belligerents, it was a feud that never was. In April of 2009, actor Ethan Hawke published a story in Rolling Stone that without naming his name, accused Toby Keith of saying to Kris Kristofferson at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday in 2003, ““None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.” According to Hawke, a rolling argument ensued that ended with Kris Kristofferson saying, ““They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’” (see Waylon Jennings vs. Garth Brooks above.)
However, according to both Toby Keith and Kris Kristofferson, the incident never happened. Even more damming to Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone, though Toby Keith became famous from his flag-waving songs, he’s a registered Democrat, making the likelihood Kieth saying to Kristofferson “lefty shit” very unlikely. Ethan Hawke and Rolling Stone stood by their story, but the press who perpetuated it got an earful from Toby about it at the 2009 ACM Awards.
Feuds that involve accusations of songs getting ripped off can get especially nasty, and this was the case when Jason Isbell took to Twitter to accuse Dierks Bentley of ripping off his song “In A Razor Town.” “‘Dierks’ has officially ripped off my song ‘In A Razor Town.’” Isbell fired off. “Dierks is a douchebag. The song of Dierks is called ‘Home.’” Isbell continued to pummel Dierks through Twitter, even getting political because of the flag waving nature of “Home.” Dierks in his defense referred to an interview one of the song’s co-writers Dan Wilson did with ASCAP that explained how the song came together.
The result? Though Isbell went silent after he said he was told to do so by his lawyer, if there was ever litigation over the song, the results were never made public. Isbell has since in interviews blamed his heavy drinking at the time for his Twitter tone. Though the two songs do sound similar, whether it was truly a ripoff or not seems to remain inconclusive.
Robert Earl Keen put Toby Keith in his crosshairs when he believed Keith lifted the melody from his song “The Road Goes On Forever” for his 2010 song “Bullets In The Gun.” Keen recalls, “I got all these calls from my friends. They were saying, ‘This is ridiculous. What are you gonna do? I felt like this individual had been picking on me for a long time, and I was sick of it. So instead of getting really ugly about things—I don’t really believe in lawsuits or threats—I took the Alexander Pope road and answered this guy in song.”
Keen recorded “The Road Goes On And On” as a shot at Toby Keith (though he never mentions his name), with lines that included:
You’re a regular jack in the box
In your clown suit and your goldilocks
The original liar’s paradox
Your horse is drunk and your friends got tired
Your aim grew weak and uninspired . . .
Toby Keith has never formally responded to the accusations.
This battle of heavyweights ensued when Eric Church was quoted in Rolling Stone in late April of 2012 saying, “Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That’s crazy. I don’t know what would make an artist do that. You’re not an artist. Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that’s what it is. I’ll never make that mistake. I don’t care if I starve.”
Miranda Lambert, who is married to Blake Shelton and also has a reality show past, came out swinging, saying through Twitter, “I wish I misunderstood this . . .Thanks Eric Church for saying I’m not a real artist. You’re welcome for the tour in 2010,” referencing Church’s opening spot on one of her tours.
Eventually Eric Church apologized, saying, “The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success… I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry…I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish. This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue.”
As some have pointed out since, Eric Church apologized to Miranda, but never apologized to Blake.
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Eric Church also created a firestorm with Rascal Flatts in 2006. While playing in an opening slot, he purposely played too loud and for too long after numerous requests to respect the tour’s wishes, resulting in him being kicked off the tour. It also resulted in a young starlet named Taylor Swift getting a chance to open on the big tour, which many experts give credit for helping Taylor’s meteoric rise.
Blake Shelton vs. Ray Price
When Blake Shelton’s comments about how he considered country music’s traditional fans “Old Farts and Jackasses” came out, Country Music Hall of Famer Ray Price shot back, saying, “Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song , have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God’s answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF “OLD FART” & JACKASS”) ” P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED.”
Blake Shelton later apologized, saying, “Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.”
Ray also later apologized to Blake Shelton for being so harsh, and along with wife Miranda Lambert, they attended a Ray Price show in Oklahoma to patch things up in person.
I like Will Hoge. I think he’s a good songwriter. A few months ago I wrote an article about 7 Men Who Could Immediately Make Country Music Better, and I included Will Hoge on that list.
Will Hoge is a man who could make a difference. While delving into the business of Saving Country Music, folks can get baited into falling into the routine of lampooning anything construable as pop country, and championing anything independent or traditional. But in the end it may be artists like Will Hoge who reside between these two worlds—who have both commercial appeal and artistic substance—that have the greatest chance of making fundamental change in the mainstream music world.
When Will Hoge scored a #1 as a songwriter for Eli Young Band, he was destined to become a hot Nashville commodity, and that is exactly what has happened. His latest release is a song called “Strong,” and like so many of Will’s compositions, it demonstrates heart, depth, soul, and taste. There’s a lot of emotion in this song. It’s weighty. But in the immortal words of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, it’s….
That’s right. The song itself is not a commercial per se. It was written to stand on its own. But just like Bob Seger’s “Like A Rock,” and John Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” it has been tapped to become the official song of the Chevy Silverado—destined to be played half a dozen times during every single football game for the next two years at least, and maybe longer. You may love this song now, but let’s see how you feel about it after the Super Bowl in 2015.
Unlike the other Silverado songs, “Strong” was never released on its own before being assigned this distinct position. Here in 2013, the official song of the Chevy Silverado feels just as much like an indelible American institution as anything. You can guess someone’s age by asking them what song they heard in Chevy commercials growing up. Does it make it somewhat shady, or blur the lines even more between commercial and artistic content that the song was never given its own legs before being released in this way?
I say no, and yes. By definition, this is a sellout move by Will Hoge, whether we like him as an artist, or not. Would it be fair to give him any less criticism than some people give an artist like, let’s say, Toby Keith, who’s made many appearances in Ford commercials over the years, and calls himself “The Ford Truck Man”? Does it make any difference that, unlike Toby’s Ford jingles, “Strong” actually has substance, and that it’s from an artist whose built a career on sincerity?
And then we get to the whole business of trucks, commercials, and country music to begin with, and my little semi-conspiracy that auto companies have been targeting the country music demographic with their marketing, and that is why there are so many truck songs in country music these days. And this leads to the conversation about the blurring of lines between what is music, and what is marketing. Jay-Z releases an album for free to people who buy a certain phone. Will Hoge releases a song through a Chevy commercial. At some point, it may become commonplace for artists and labels may use commercials and promotional product giveaways to release music in lieu of radio. But then again, who can blame them when corporate radio has become so collusive?
In the end, is the song good? Yes. For certain fans that worry about such things, is it unfortunate that it was released in a commercial? Of course. It’s a new paradigm that were likely to be faced with increasingly as music revenue continues to dwindle and artists and labels continue to try and discover new avenues to get their music to the masses. In the end, it was probably better that it was Will Hoge getting the payday for his truck song (that only mentions a truck once), instead of Jason Aldean or Tim McGraw, and that we will all be subjected to “Strong” over and over through the NFL season, and not McGraw’s “Truck Yeah.”
1 1/4 of 2 guns up.
(the 1 1/4 for a good song, the 3/4′s for releasing it as a commercial)
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Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the LIVE blog for the 2013 broadcast of CMA’s Fan Fest, dubbed over the last few years as “Country’s Night to Rock.” Since our live blogs for mainstream country’s big awards shows have been so successful over the years, and because we had many requests to also create a platform for commiseration as what they call “country” music will dominate ABC’s airwaves for the next 3 hours, it was decided we’ll give it a shot for this event too.
This is not a live event. It is culled from footage taken during the CMA’s Fan Fest in downtown Nashville June 6th through the 9th at LP Field. As the night progresses, we will post our observations in an attempt to give voice to the other side of the country music spectrum. You are invited to join in through the comment section below. All times Central time.
Here we go!
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10:05 PM: Welp, that sucked. The show, most of the performances, the fact that my online stream crapped out twice, throwing me off my game considerably. But thanks anyway for everyone showing up, and to all those that participated in the comments (positively and negatively).
Now let’s cleanse our palettes with some true Nashville rising stars that exude soul and true country artistry.
9:59 PM: So hard to pick the most evil pop country star right now, but it certainly is a male performer, and Luke Bryan makes a real good case for himself.
And yes, you have NO idea how hard it is for me right to not make a certain off-color remark about a portion of Luke Bryan;s anatomy. But I made a promise not to revisit that line of humor….
9:57 PM: Just don’t understand The Band Perry appeal.
9:49 PM: Kip Moore would get his bung hole bleached on stage if he thought it would make him a star. No scruples.
9:48 PM: From SCM’s rant on “Wagon Wheel”:
As if legions of college town string bands full of anthropology majors mercilessly regurgitation “Wagon Wheel” over and over to try and score hummers from undergrads after the show in their Volvos with the back windows tattooed with political stickers wasn’t enough, now Hootie has lent his back to the collective toil of the Western World to do everything humanly possible to run this song into the proverbial ever-loving ground so hard that it taps the mantle of the earth and causes a catastrophic volcanic and tectonic event that wipes out the entire human fucking race.
9:45 PM: Who is Old Crow Medicine Show? Huh, never heard of them.
9:39 PM: Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood will host the CMA Awards again in November. Are we surprised? They have pretty good chemistry when the writers give them decent material.
9:36 PM: And yes, we sort of found a new online stream, though it’s kind of like trying to find a nipple through 1980′s cable filter fuzz.
9:33 PM: Kid Rock is like the accidental anchovie on my Zac Brown / Blackberry Smoke Hawaiian pizza right now. The reason his nickname is the “Wet Cigarette of Country Music” is because he can take anything and make it trashy.
9:26 PM: Yes, you absolutely positively can’t have any single music event in the English-speaking world regardless of genre or context without a washed up Sheryl Crow showing up and wheezing into a microphone at some point.
9:24 PM: A lot of people observing that Will Hoge’s Chevy Truck commercial is the most country thing on this presentation.
9:20 PM: If Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” didn’t mention “motorbotin’,” and “motorbotin’” didn’t have an adolescent sexual connotation, the song would have never made it out of ASCAP’s songwriting cubicles.
9:17 PM: Just remember folks as you’re watching Lenny Kravitz, he later flipped off this same crowd when they wouldn’t get into his 12-year-old rock anthem.
9:15 PM: Carrie Mess on Twitter:
“Hey Miranda, your boobs are on fire.”
“Are those vegan leather boots Carrie [Underwood]is wearing? Is she vegan pocahontas?
9:13 PM: Alright , so as we work to re-connect to the broadcast, well share some observances from other folks on Twitter and from around the web…
9:10 PM: Still trying to find a good online stream of the program folks! Looks like the CMA’s are shutting all the live online feeds down like the creativity in a Music Row recording studio. We’ll keep trying!
8:58 PM: Sorry folks, still trying to re-connect. All of our fail safe online TV watching outlets are not working at the moment. If anyone can procure a good link, please share in the comments section.
8:48 PM: Sorry folks, we are on the West Coast, and the only way to watch live is online, and our stream just got yanked. We’re working on getting re-connected!
8:43 PM: Aaaaaannndd, there goes our live feed. Working to re-connect!
8:42 PM: Got no problem with Zac Brown, though he’s not really my bag. Interesting footnote: Shooter Jennings, an artist that struggles to pack 350-person venues is charging $85 for meet and greet packages at his shows. Zac Brown band who regularly sells out 15,000-20,000 person shows at arenas, has an “eat and greet” where you eat a meal with Zac Brown and the band…. $55.
8:38 PM: Eric Church is not Outlaw, just ask him……but he’ll sell you an Outlaw T-shirt.
8:35 PM: Wait a second, did this asshole in Little Big Town really compare Eric Church with Willie, Waylon, and Cash ?!?! Blasphemy!
8:32 PM: There’s something especially sad a desperate about idolizing Luke Bryan and trying to craft your career around learning from his success, but falling short. That’s where Jake Owen is.
8:28 PM: “Double wide trailer back in the holler on a country road”? Jake Owen lives in an antiseptic penthouse suite and spent $800 on a fung shway expert to align his modernist couch and nouveau coffee table with his Tao.
8:25 PM: Hillary Scott is wondering why her man doesn’t take her downtown anymore? Because she’s got one 8 months in the oven. We don’t need anyone’s water breaking on the subway.
8:23 PM:Um, music?
Actually screw that, I’d rather see this chick school these dudes in ping pong than a Lady Antebellum live performance any day.
8:22 PM: How stereotypical is it that they got an Asian to be the super ping pong shill in this stupid bit?
8:15 PM: The name of this song is “Highway Don’t Care (hot pop star saves struggling has-been star’s dwindling career in label-forced collaboration)”.
8:12 PM: Who knows how much they cleaned this up for the tele, but this is the most on-pitch live performance I’ve seen from Taylor Swift in a while.
8:08 PM: Watching Taylor Swift 2013 is like watching the awkward girl next door nearly breaking her ankle trying to walk around in high heels. Just be yourself.
8:06 PM: Someone ask Taylor Swift what Max Martin, Shellback, and Scott Borchetta did with her soul after they stole it.
8:01 PM: What the hell is this? It ain’t even at the CMA Fan Fest. Jason Aldean is such a tool, and “1994″ was a total dud.
8:00 PM: They edited out the part when Jason Aldean got his various wallet chains stuck in the braces of one jubilant 14-year-old fan in the front row.
7:56 PM: I just don’t get these country music groups like Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum. It’s hard to identify with the various players. It all seems so arbitrary and random. One of the reasons we love music is through identifying with individuals. These groups are simply designed to take advantage of award show nominations.
7:51 PM: Working to confirm that Blake Shelton’s drummer was indeed injured before the performance, and was replaced by a Chippendale’s dancer, complete with sleeveless tuxedo and white tie.
7:49 PM: Yes, here’s the reigning Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year….to sing a rap song. Beam me up.
7:47 PM: Leave it to pop star Kelly Clarkson to be the first performer to feature some traditional country instrumentation.
7:46 PM: SECURITY! There’s a banjo on stage!
7:44 PM: Man, that opening riff of Kelly Clarkson was straight up ripped off from Led Zepplin’s “Heartbreaker.”
7:42 PM: This show teases work like disclaimers. “WARNING: Coming up, Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, and Taylor Swift collaborating with Tim McGraw.”
7:39 PM: Interesting factoid, it took 7 Hobbits using shoehorns to squeeze Luke Bryan into his skinny jeans.
7:37 PM: Interesting factoid, The Perry Brothers’ hair was used by Peter Jackson to model the hair of the Hobbits in his latest movie.
7:35 PM: Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry needs to focus more on delivering an inspiring vocal performance instead of her pop-inspired stage gesticulations. They make her performances annoyingly breathy, though this is admittedly better than her AWFUL ACM performance.
7:32 PM: And “Ho-Hey” by the Lumineers is now officially the most ubiquitous song in the history of music.
7:30 PM: Going back to Carrie Underwood opening with a Guns & Roses song—this is par for the course for primetime country broadcasts. They feel the need to apologize for being country, so they always start off with a off-genre song.
7:25 PM: Of course we couldn’t get the performance of Brad Paisley with Charlie Daniels from Fan Fest. That would be against their “no gray hair” policy.
7:23 PM: The thing is Hunter Hayes is a good musician, who apparently can play anything. But he uses his talents for the forces of pop evil.
7:21 PM: Hunter Hayes on the Ellen Show, courtesy of Farce The Music:
7:20 PM: Hunter Hayes is the Justin Bieber of country music. Eternally pre-pubescent.
7:18 PM: So apparently I missed Carrie Underwood channeling Axl Rose?
7:16 PM: What??? They allowed Brian Kelley to sing??? That 7 seconds right before the commercial was the first peep I’ve heard from that dude during a performance in 2 years.
7:14 PM: Sorry folks, our online stream crapped out, but we got a good one now! Right in time for….oh, Florida Georgia Line.
7:00 PM: Here we go!
6:58 PM: In the spirit of full disclosure, I am currently located on the West Coast, so I am trying to hop 2 time zones away so that I can pick up the live feed. This may result in some broadcast interruptions as our feed has already gone down numerous times.
6:55 PM: One performance we will probably not be seeing is the one put on by Lenny Kravitz. During CMA Fan Fest, he went 15 minutes over his appointed set time, trying to get the crowd engaged into chanting a 12-year-old rock song. They would have none of it, and eventually Kravitz chided the crowd for not being able to “get with love,” and then ironically, flipped them the double bird as he walked off stage. So much for his upcoming “gone country” career.
6:52 PM: So according to Saving Country Music intel, the event is going to be hosted by Little Big Town, and will feature performances by Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Eric Church, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz, Lady Antebellum, Jason Mraz, Kacey Musgraves, Jake Owen, Kellie Pickler and Darius Rucker.
It was November of 2008 at the annual Country Music Association Awards, and Kid Rock came out on stage to perform “All Summer Long,” a remixed rap rock song that borrows from Lynyrd Skynyrd and Warren Zevon. Never before had such a non-country genre-bending song been performed on the CMA stage, but considering Kid Rock’s strong ties to the country music industry, the performance seemed par for country’s course of slowly contemporizing away from its traditions….except for one curious thing.
Trailing Kid Rock out on the stage was hip-hop icon Lil’ Wayne. It was curious that Lil’ Wayne was there, but not completely surprising. Lil’ Wayne had performed “All Summer Long” with Kid Rock only 2 months before at MTV’s VMA Awards. But instead of rapping like he did at the VMA’s, Lil’ Wayne just sort of stood there, pretending to strum a guitar that clearly was not in the mix.
Why was Lil’ Wayne there? Nobody was quite sure, but at the time Saving Country Music surmised that this was an act of desensitization from Music Row in Nashville. Facing nearly a decade of declining sales and needing something to shake up the landscape, allowing rap to infiltrate country’s inner sanctum could be a way to grow country’s fan base, entice younger listeners, and maintain the commercial viability of the industry. The country music industry would have to warm the country fan base up to the idea first. So bring Kid Rock out, and Lil’ Wayne with him, but don’t allow anyone to rap just yet. There would be time for that down the road.
Just 2 weeks after the 2008 CMA’s, country rap king Colt Ford released his first major album Ride Through The Country, and soon small but well-supported independent country rap outfits like the LoCash Cowboys and Moonshine Bandits began to emerge, creating a substantial country rap underground that saw significant success in the YouTube realm, garnering 5 and 6 million hits on some videos despite having no initial label support, and no radio play. Country rap had already been around way before 2008, with Cowboy Troy releasing his debut album Loco Motive back in 2005, and many other independent artists dabbling with the genre blending concept years before. But Colt Ford began to open the door of acceptance for country rap in the mainstream by collaborating with country artists like Jamey Johnson, John Michael Montgomery, and Brantley Gilbert. Country rap songs were still not receiving radio play or award show accolades though. The country rap commodity was just too risque for mainstream labels and radio programmers to get behind, and it remained a very small sliver of the greater country music pie.
Then came Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” a song that initially appeared on Colt Ford’s first album and co-written with Brantley Gilbert, and everything changed. A mild-mannered song compared to most country rap, and coming from a polished Caucasian performer that the mainstream country community was already comfortable with, country rap was able to finally find it’s acceptance on the popular country radio format. In early June of 2011 at the CMT Awards hosted by Kid Rock, Jason Aldean came out to perform the quickly-rising single, and hip-hop artist Ludacris joined Aldean on stage, this time to actually rap. “History has been made baby!” Ludacris declared from the stage, and it had been. Mainstream country now had its country rap cherry officially popped, and rap was now a viable, accepted art form in country music.
And it would become a commercially successful one too when “Dirt Road Anthem” eventually hit #1 on the Billboard charts in late July of 2011. The effects of “Dirt Road Anthem” hitting #1 were significant. Radio programmers who had been reluctant to bring country rap to the airwaves for years had officially waved the white flag. At the time Saving Country Music also predicted:
Just like how you can blame a blizzard on a rash of births nine moths later, the Music Row machine undoubtedly is being retooled to meet the burgeoning country rap demand, and we will be seeing the results in the upcoming months. The only question is, in what form will it be? Will we see established artists adopting the new style? Or will it be the popularization of the Colt Fords and Moonshine Bandits of the world?
The prediction of Music Row retooling to become a assembly line for country rap was correct. What was not correct was the timeline. Apparently 9 months lead time was a little too optimistic, and after “Dirt Road Anthem” dominated the charts, country rap went somewhat dormant in mainstream country for nearly 1 1/2 years. “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best selling single in all of country in 2011. But in 2012, country rap was virtually absent from the mainstream country scene. As Saving Country Music explained looking at 2012 end-of-year sales numbers:
Rap sales were significantly down in 2012, bucking the trend of being one of the few areas of strength during music’s decade-long decline. Similarly, unlike 2011 when Jason Aldean’s country-rap “Dirt Road Anthem” was the best-selling single in all of country, 2012 did not see a dominant country-rap single, album, or artist. Rap is still asserting itself as an influence in country, but may not be finding the commercial strength it needs to stick. 2012 mono-genre songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” underperformed to expectations, never cracking Billboard’s Top 10 on the country chart.
Then came 2013, and “1994,” Jason Aldean’s follow-up country rap to “Dirt Road Anthem.” Though the song was a little too fey for mainstream country ears and topped out at #10 on the Billboard charts, it was the spearhead to what would become a massive and historic influx of country rap songs and influences flooding the country music format heading into the summer of 2013.
Blake Shelton, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and influential personality from his work on the popular reality TV show The Voice, released his own country rap song “Boys ‘Round Here” that quickly became a #1. Country duo Florida Georgia Line who regularly incorporates Ebonic verbiage in their songs achieved a #1 single with “Cruise” that is currently poised to become the best selling song of 2013. When the duo remixed the smash hit with hip-hop star Nelly, it created yet another chart-topping country rap collaboration.
All of a sudden, hip-hop influences were, and currently are dominating the top of the country music charts, asserting just as much influence, if not more than indigenous country influences, with a bevy of new country rap tunes from numerous artists ready to be released, and mainstream artists lining up to try and be a part of the trend. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J made waves by collaborating on the country rap song “Accidental Racist.” 90′s country star Joe Diffie, the muse for Jason Aldean’s country rap “1994,” has released an “answer” song called “Girl Ridin’ Shotgun” with the Jawga Boyz to attempt to exploit the renewed attention for his career. And Luke Bryan has recorded a country rap song with Auto-Tune maestro T Pain to be released soon.
But the infiltration of country rap is not just confined to underground circles and mainstream collaborations, it has touched the very foundations of country’s traditions and history. In May of 2013, the rapping grandson-in-law of Waylon Jennings named “Struggle” released an album with 7 of the 9 songs being Waylon tunes with Struggle rapping over them. The country rapping LoCash Cowboys have a song called “Best Seat in the House” from their new self-titled album that includes a collaboration with the recently-deceased George Jones—an icon of traditional country fans who traditionally do not favor the influx of rap influences in country music. The country rap collaboration is possibly the final track George Jones ever recorded.
Other artists that are traditionally seen as respites from the commercial trends in Nashville like Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and their mutual band The Pistol Annies have participated in the country rap craze, leaving mainstream country fans that are looking to avoid the trend few options. The Pistol Annies appeared in Blake Shelton’s country rap song and video “Boys ‘Round Here,” and Miranda Lambert participated in the “celebrity remix” of the song, even though at one point she took to Twitter to proclaim that remixes “pissed her off.”
Ashley Monroe appears in a just released acoustic version of the Macklemore rap song “Thrift Shop.” June of 2013 has been jam packed with new country rap song and video releases, with new collaborations rumored seemingly every day as artists and labels scramble to figure out how to capitalize on the country rap phenomenon.
Which begs the next question, is this a craze that will show a predictable lightning-fast life span and quickly fizzle, or are we seeing the long-forecasted dramatic, wholesale, long-term change in the traditional genre formats of American music, where all genres coalesce into one big mono-genre where contrast and diversity between disparate art forms will be resolved, leaving no true regionalism and no cultural separation, just one homogeneous corporate American music culture?
That remains to be seen. But wherever country rap goes, we can say with confidence that the way country music sounds in the summer of 2013 is very similar to the way the mono-genre would sound like if it is realized in the long-term.
Potential Ramifications of Rap’s Infiltration of Country
The benefits of the emerging mono-genre can be the breakdown of musical prejudices across genre lines, but the main impetus is the broadening of markets of music consumers for record labels to take advantage of. Though traditional genres can be helpful to consumers by classifying the style of the music so they can choose if it is worth their time, genres limit the scale of potential consumers for a given music franchise.
The problem with the mono-genre, especially for country music is the potential loss of autonomy and control over the music by the genre, both sonically and through the genre’s infrastructure and institutions. During music’s lost decade of the 2000′s when the industry bobbled the move to digitization, country music weathered the storm much better than other genres because it had its own built-in institutions like the CMA and ACM Awards shows, and the Country Music Association itself which unites US radio broadcasters around the country format. And unlike hip-hop or rock and roll, country music is heavily steeped in tradition, with legacy institutions like The Grand Ole Opry acting as pillars for the music. But if the term “country” can’t define a well-recognized sound, it risks diminishing the effectiveness and viability of these country music institutions in the long term.
Since the beginning, country has taken a submissive role to hip-hop in the formation of the mono-genre. Though you may find some small exceptions, country influences have not encroached on the mainstream hip-hop format virtually at all, and certainly haven’t risen to the point of dominating the hip-hop charts, like hip-hop influences are now dominating the country charts. Helping this trend along is Billboard’s new chart rules that take into consideration sales and plays of music from other genres in rating country artists. So country artists whose songs cross over to the pop or hip-hop formats gain extra points compared to their pure country counterparts.
Hip-hop is in the cat bird’s seat in the mixing of the two genres. Artists like Ludacris, Nelly, and Lil’ Wayne can benefit from the exposure the country format gives them, but hip-hop doesn’t have to return the favor. The reason there are no country-influenced songs at the top of the hip-hop chart is because the hip-hop community would not allow it.
Hip-hop as a genre is secure and confident in its standing with young demographics, and in its future, while country seems to be constantly wanting to apologize for itself and find new ways to attract younger listeners. Hip-hop artists are just sitting back, waiting for the managers of mainstream country artist to call looking for collaborations, and all of a sudden the hip-hop artists’ name and music are exposed to an entirely new crowd.
Some mainstream country artists like Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift have participated in hip-hop collaborations not featured in the country format, but the collaborations are almost always done on hip-hop’s terms, with the purpose of exposing hip-hop artists to a wider audience primarily, instead of vice versa.
The debate about the encroachment of rap and other hip-hop influences into country is much broader than disagreements based on taste. To maintain the autonomy and integrity of country music’s institutions, the genre music keep in check influences from other mediums. The argument regularly made for allowing hip-hop influences to infiltrate the format is that country music needs something new to continue to grow and appeal to new audiences and younger people. What this argument fails to recognize is that rap in itself is an over 30-year-old art form, and that it has a dubious history when mixing with other genres at the mainstream level.
When rap mixed with mainstream rock in the mid 90′s with acts like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, it was seen as the beginning of the mainstream rock format losing its identity, and the diminishing of rock music’s control over its radio format and institutions. This gave rise to “indie” rock, and punk and metal undergrounds that purposely avoided mainstream rock avenues and robbed talent from the mainstream ranks. Soon rock ceased to be the catch-all term for guitar-based American music, and country and hip-hop emerged as the more dominant and influential genres. Eventually rock artists like Darius Rucker, Sheryl Crow, Aaron Lewis of Staind, Kid Rock, and many more had to solicit country for support in the aftermath of mainstream rock’s implosion.
It is unfair to completely hypothesize what will happen with the mixing of country and hip-hop by what happened in the past because of the tremendous flux the music industry is experiencing due to the ever-evolving technology quotient. Everything an educated guess at best these days in music. But what we do know is that we will discover what the effects of the mono-genre will be because it is unquestionably upon us. The next question is, will it stick around, or will the mono-genre break back down into its traditional genres in the future? How country music as an institution will endure the changes remains to be seen, but country would be wise to keep open a debate on influence, tradition, and autonomy, with a very long-term perspective always in mind. Because if not, country artists could be finding themselves searching for another genre for support, just as rock artists did in the aftermath of hip-hop infiltrating its genre.
Every time the topic of country rap is broached, accusations fly that people who oppose the emerging sub-genre are simply opposed to country music evolving. But songs like Tim McGraw’s “Truck Yeah” and Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” would be bad even if the verses were sung instead of rapped. The vast majority of country rap is garbage to begin with because its aim is either strictly commercial, or it is a cry for relevancy from an aging artist. Trying to mix two forms of music that are naturally foreign to each other just makes the offense that much worse.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to mix elements of American roots music with elements of hip-hop and end up with something that is an honest artistic expression, full of creativity and respect for both art forms; something that can entertain a wide audience not by appealing to the lowest common denominator, but by offering an inspiring demonstration of talent.
Enter Adam Matta, an extraordinary and gifted old-school beat boxer who skills downright defy comprehension. Even better, Adam Matta is enthralled by the art of collaboration, including working with roots musicians. Over the years, Matta has lent his talents to the Grammy-nominated Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Wiyos, and the rootsy sound composer Sxip Shirey to name a few.
Adam Matta is just one example of a positive collaboration between the country and hip hop world. Others like to cite the bluegrass and dance beat-melding Ganstagrass. Beck has done some interesting things in the genre-bending realm that still treat the music with respect. And the Carolina Chocolate Drops even without Adam Matta have dabbled in blending music from the traditionally black and white worlds for years.
So when someone accuses you of being closed-minded to country rap or to country music evolving, give them a snoot full of Adam Matta as an example of cross-genre collaboration done right.
We all know them and we all hate them, those ubiquitous and ridiculous pop country songs that make us hang our heads in shame, embarrassed to call ourselves country fans, constantly making us having to explain that no, we don’t listen to that type of country. They pursue us doggedly, on the radio, over the speakers at the grocery store, blaring from a car full of high school kids at a red light.
Please note that this list has a few ground rules, namely that a song must have been released as a single to qualify (i.e. no Brad Paisley’s “Accidental Racist”). Also, songs that may have been classified by radio as “country” but were classified by artists or their labels as pop (principally Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”) will not be dignified by being included on this “country” list either.
Positively nothing more than a pop dance song with a banjo, Luke Bryan commands country girls to “shake it” for the birds, the bees, for the crickets and the critters and the catfish swimming down deep in the creek, for the gerbils crawling way up his rectum to massage his prostate… oh wait, he left that line out, but you get the point. This song is like a frozen sledge hammer to the balls of anybody who has any sort of musical taste or dignity.
Yes my friends, this song actually exists, and was even released as a single. How do you out cornpone your corny competition? Make a pun about corn and insert into a sexually-charged urbanism, aka the Honky Tonk Badonkadonk songwriting formula. The writers of this song Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor are not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you for buying into this worthless piece of drivel. If you think “Corn Star” is funny, then the joke’s on you.
13. Stuck Like Glue – Sugarland
This song sounds like it was made with a bubble machine. I don’t know what I hate worse in this song, the reggae breakdown, or the way Jennifer Nettles sings way on top of every note making this song especially unbearable to listen to. At least Sugarland’s cries for relevancy were answered by the song reaching #2 on the country charts, and eventually being certified double platinum. However since then, they have yet to have another hit single, and both Sugarland members are pursuing solo careers.
Florida Georgia Line is a horrible combination of Rascal Flatts pretty boy hyper-pop, and designer jeans Jason Aldean “backroad” laundry list pap. They are everything bad about quotation mark “country” combined into one big stuffed crotch sandwich. Punctuating how pathetic “Cruise” is, is the fact that these two dudes apparently don’t know how to use punctuation. The first line of the song goes, “Baby you a song,” instead of, “Baby you’re a song.” But what else can you expect when the title of their first EP was It’z Just What We Do. Yes, it’s one of those albums, blurring the lines between Ebonics and idiocracy. (read song review)
11. Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy) – Big & Rich
Big & Rich may think they’re saving horses with their fringe-lined parasols, dandy top hats and prancing midgets, but it is at the expense of our hearing. “Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)” acts like a good healthy turn of a corkscrew right after it’s been inserted in one’s earhole. “Save A Hose” has the the shelf life of a knock knock joke. Hear it once and maybe it makes you smile. Hear it twice and you can’t reach for the radio dial quick enough. This song is the reason fans of other genres think all country music sucks.
Boy, little did we know back in 1999 that this machination of mixing sex and farm machinery would become such a prevailing trend in country music. Chesney should’ve just stuck to figuring out what to rhyme “coconut” and “flip flops” with in his idiotic and incessant beach songs. What Kenny and his sexy tractor cohorts lost sight of is that the beauty of country living is in its simplicity.
9. Brown Chicken Brown Cow – Trace Adkins
Some songs we call “a joke” figuratively. This one is a joke, literally. No really, they took a punch line and figured out how to build a song out of it. “Brown Chicken Brown Cow” mentions corn fields and slopping pigs, but since these days less than 2% of Americans actually live this type of traditional farm lifestyle, he is not using these things to relate to people, but to disguise the fact that this really is a hip-hopish rock song, and that he isn’t singing to country folks, he’s singing to suburbanites that like to listen to this kind of smut as a form of escapism. Trace Adkins has become one of the kings of gimmick songs, with his super hit “Honky Tonk Bandonkadonk” being his most well-recognized hit. But even Trace had to admit later that”Brown Chicken Brown Cow” went too far, saying, “I guess I went to that well one too many times.”
8. Red Solo Cup – Toby Keith
That’s right ladies and gentleman, raise your red solo cups high, and let’s all toast the onset of idiocracy! This is not only one of country’s worst songs ever, it was possibly the first song written to be a video first and foremost. Make a stupid viral video for an even more stupid song and you have the spoon fed public eating out of his hands. And just because Toby Keith admits this song is stupid, doesn’t mean it’s still not in fact stupid.
A creatively-repressed Tim McGraw finally breaks free from the 20-year-old bounds of Curb Records, and like an out-of-control Catholic schoolgirl unsupervised, releases this scandalously ill-advised attempt at country rap, forever soiling his reputation. Realistically speaking, this may be one of the worst, if not the worst song on this list. But since it’s creative depravity is so heinous and obvious, it petered in the charts, and its impact was marginal compared to the Frankenstein-like super hit McGraw and new label partner Scott Borchetta were hoping to score.
“Achy Breaky Heart” is country music’s version of waterborading. The song itself was not as awful as the machine gun frequency and pandemic-like omnipresence it terrorized society with throughout 1992, until it and Billy Ray Cyrus’s atomic mullet rose to the level of becoming a national embarrassment that America will likely never absolve.
5. I Wanna Talk About Me – Toby Keith
Yes, you forgot about this little bit of mullet-era Toby Keith awfulness, didn’t you? Before there was “1994″ and before there was “Dirt Road Anthem,” there was this wretched piece of pseudo country rapping released in 2001, written by Bobby Braddock of all people. The song was supposed to be a hit for a young, emerging Blake Shelton, but his label turned it down as too risky. “I Wanna Talk About Me” wasn’t even Toby Keith’s first country rap. He had another single “Getcha Some” in 1998. But it isn’t just the rapping that makes this song awful, it is the self-centered arrogance of the lyrics.
4. Honky Tonk Badonkadonk – Trace Adkins
The title says it all. No really, it does.
3. Boys ‘Round Here – Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” is songwriting by algorithm and analytics, fashioning together words and sounds known to have the widest impact on mainstream radio’s weak-of-mind demo. It is the worst combination of both mainstream country rap and laundry list songwriting. The “boys” in the title of “Boys ‘Round Here” is fitting, because this song is rank immaturity. It’s the audio equivalent of sneaking out of your mom’s house to smoke pot behind a Pizza Hut. Though Jason Aldean’s “1994″ may be a worse song, “Boys ‘Round Here” might be more dangerous as because it is a chart-topper.
This song seems rather innocuous now compared to the newest wave of country rap that has given rise to songs like “1994,” “Boys ‘Round Here,” and “Truck Yeah.” But at the time, “Dirt Road Anthem” was the edifice of awful, the one that broke the doors open for country rap. As the best-selling song in country music in 2011, the impact of “Dirt Road Anthem” cannot be understated.
1. 1994 – Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean and his crack team of producers and songwriters were exhaustive in their efforts to compile only the absolute worst elements from every corner and crevice of popular music and then assemble them together to compose this ode to the decay of Western Civilization. At their dispose are hip-pop, wiener rock, laundry list country, Auto-Tune, and the general douchebaggery awfulness caused by a complete lack of self-awareness that Jason Aldean is a exemplary specimen of. These ingredients are then extruded into a feces-like industrial slurry that is injected into the hollow, mulleted, cop-mustached corpse of 90′s country semi-star Joe Diffie’s dwindling career.
In Music Row’s everlasting quest to train all of its resources on scouring America to unearth only the finest, most purest form of audio diarrhea, they have struck the mother of all motherloads originating from Jason Aldean’s unholy bowels. Yes Nashville, pat yourself on the back, let all of the Auto-Tuned stars sing out in unison as Stratocasters bray out a cacophony of stadium rock riffs in unified celebration–you have officially discovered the shittiest country music song to ever touch the human ear drum. (read full review)
In yet another landmark deal, Big Machine Records founder and CEO Scott Borchetta has commenced a joint venture in the songwriting realm with the pop world’s Dr. Luke. A songwriter and producer, Dr. Luke’s publishing company boasts 30-40 big names in the pop world–names like Katy Perry and Ke$ha. The objective of the joint venture is “to allow the two companies to co-publish songwriters with the goal of bringing country and pop writers into each other’s realm.” In other words, the deal will likely mean even more pop on country radio, as pop songwriters and producers collaborate more intimately with Big Machine’s growing roster of country talent.
The seeds of the deal were planted when Scott Borchetta suggested Big Machine artist Taylor Swift collaborate with songwriting producers Max Martin and Shellback on her latest release Red. The relationship resulted in two multi-platinum mega hits: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble.” As Billboard states about the deal:
The goal for both teams is to keep an eye open for the other, sending writers to L.A. from Nashville and vice-versa to fit the needs of the two teams. Naturally, both sides see the current landscape in pop music as receptive to the merging of the two cultures, evidenced by Swift’s use of various non-Nashville experts to assist with her music on her latest Big Machine release ‘Red.’
The new deal will mean that at the very inception of the creative process–the writing of songs–pop writers and producers will have more input in country music. It will also mean that since Dr. Luke’s pop songwriters will be working under the same corporate umbrella as their country counterparts, the collaborations will be more financially lucrative for the parent companies. The deal could also erode the genre integrity of the pop world, as country producers and songwriters from Nashville swap their tastes with LA-based pop acts. Similar to Clear Channel monopolizing radio markets and offering less choice to consumers, the Borchetta/Dr. Luke deal could mean the erosion of choice and contrast between country and pop.
The reason Saving Country Music often refers to Scott Borchetta as the “Country Music Anti-Christ” is not because of the way he handles his Big Machine roster. Compared to many Music Row CEO’s, Borchetta offers incredible creative latitude and financial fairness to his talent bin; a bin that now includes names like Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire, and The Band Perry. But Borchetta might also be the most responsible party for the erosion of the term “country” in the history of the genre, as he continues to market songs and artists that are either pop or mostly pop through country channels.
Most of all, the new deal reaffirms Scott Borchetta as one of the leading minds in the music business. Country fans can hate on him all they want, but Borchetta has proven himself to be smarter and more shrewd than his Music Row brethren time and time again.
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