2014 was a year of great flux in country music. Where 2013 was dominated by public feuds and outcries by many country performers about the direction of the music, 2014 became the year things began to be done about many of the problems plaguing the genre. With Bro-Country as the battleground, the fight to return some balance to the country format began to make headway, and many of the initiatives launched in 2014, and many of the partnerships made and trends started may affect country music in profound ways in the coming years. Meanwhile 2014 was also a particularly violent year when it came to concerts and beyond, and saw the emergence and re-emergence of artists who will be very important to country music moving forward.
Following are the eleven biggest news stories of 2014. PLEASE NOTE: These are chosen and the order picked by two major factors 1) The importance of the story 2) The amount of traffic and interest in the story evidenced through analytical data on Saving Country Music, sometimes aggregated over multiple stories on the same subject if they exist.
Click on the orange, underlined fields to be taken to the specific stories.
#11 Legendary Artists Setting Records on Billboard’s Albums Charts
As artists whose fandoms represent one of the last bastions of the public that actually buy albums, legendary performers like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, and even Billy Joe Shaver set records in 2014 on Billboard’s album charts. Unfortunately new chart rules will likely put a damper on the fun for 2015, but the year that past saw older artists receiving renewed recognition.
Willie Nelson’s Band of Brothers album became his first #1 in 28 years, and his highest showing ever on Billboard’s all genre Billboard 200 chart, coming in at #6. Dolly Parton’s May release Blue Smoke gave Dolly her first Top 10 on the Billboard 200 of her entire career when she came in at #6. She also charted at #2 on the Country Albums chart. Johnny Cash’s posthumous release of his lost album Out Among The Stars also saw surprising chart success, debuting at #1 in country, and #3 on the Billboard 200. And Billy Joe Shaver charted for the first time ever, with Long In The Tooth coming in at #19 on the Country Albums chart.
#10 The Wayne Mills Autopsy Report Released
The autopsy of slain country music artist Wayne Mills was released, revealing that the star was shot in the back of the head from a far range by bar owner Chris Ferrell, who is currently awaiting trial on 2nd degree murder charges. The autopsy revealed Wayne Mills had also sustained multiple injuries as part of the incident. Wayne’s 4th and 5th ribs were broken, and he had abrasions on his forehead, temple, scalp (unassociated with the gunshot), and contusions on his chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee.
The summary of the autopsy states,
Autopsy findings are significant for an entrance gunshot wound on the posterior parietal scalp with fragment exit and injury to scalp, skull, and brain. A bullet is recovered in association with this gunshot wound. Associated injuries include scalp, subdural, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, fractures to the right frontal and parietal bones, cortical and white matter contusions of the brain, and hemorrhage throughout the wound path. Other injuries include abrasions of the left side of the forehead, left temple, posterior occipital scalp, and abdomen, left-sided rib fractures, and contusions of the lateral chest, arms, forearms, left thigh, and right knee. Evidence of therapy and tissue procurement is noted.
The cause of death is a gunshot wound of the head, and the manner of death is homicide.
#9 A Drunk Toby Keith Blows Show in Indiana
On September 13th, Toby Keith made a tour stop at the Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana just outside of Indianapolis on his “Shut Up & Hold On” tour, and according to many of the concert goers, Toby was too drunk to perform, put on a terrible show, and some fans demanded their money back. A cavalcade of attendees took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about Toby Keith forgetting words, and generally stumbling through his performance.
Later video emerged of Toby Keith stumbling through a rendition of “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue.” Keith can be clearly heard heavily slurring his words and at times trailing off, until at the end of the line, “So we can sleep in peace at night when we lay down our heads,” he descends into an inaudible garble, inspiring the videographer to exclaim, “Oh God!”. Toby Keith and his publicist refused to acknowledge the incident despite it becoming a big story on local Indianapolis news channels.
#8 Male Country Stars Come Out As Gay
Country star Ty Herndon—known for his handful of mid 90′s hits such as “What Mattered Most,” “I Want My Goodbye Back,” and “Living In A Moment”—came out as gay on November 20th, making him the first openly gay male country music star in the mainstream in the history of the genre. Herndon says one of the things that motivated him coming out was seeing Kacey Musgraves win the CMA Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow,” saying that he welled up in tears at the win. “I felt so proud of my city. I hope that trend continues; I pray it does.” Ty’s decision also motivated former child country star Billy Gilman to come out as gay in a five minute video.
However one of the most interesting narratives to come out of the coming out announcements was just how much of a non-story it was. Aside from being the lead story on Entertainment Tonight and touching off mild interest on the internet, the announcements seemed to come as a shock to very few, and didn’t stimulate the type of vitriol some expected from the traditionally conservative music format. It still take a more active and mainstream male country artists coming out while he was still commercially relevant to see if country has finally moved on from its perceived gay stigma.
It was also revealed in 2014 that Brandy Clark was gay, but she took a more subtle and respectful approach to the sensitive subject.
#7 New Hank Williams “I Saw The Light” Biopic Announced
It was big enough news that the long-awaited biopic covering the life of Hank Williams was coming, and that the producers were setting out to make it the definitive movie work on the Hillbilly Shakespeare based off of Colin Escott’s acclaimed biography, with fully-licensed rights to use the original music for the film from Sony ATV. But then as the cast began to be revealed, and specifically that British-born actor Tom Hiddleston would be the one portraying Hank, controversy brewed about the selection of a non-Southerner, especially with Hank’s grandson, Hank Williams III, who publicly criticized the casting.
Then when a video was released of Hiddleston singing some of the Hank Williams songs he’s expected to perform live in the film at a festival with mentor Rodney Crowell, the controversy started anew. Nonetheless, the movie rolled on, shooting in Shreveport, Louisiana beginning in late October and lasting for about six weeks. With a release date roughly scheduled for late 2015, and big expectations for the film as a potential Oscar contender, I Saw The Light might be one of the biggest news stories of 2015 as well.
#6 The Rise of Sturgill Simpson
The rise of Sturgill Simpson could be classified as meteoric, and his dramatic ascent in 2014—from being picked up by Zac Brown Band as an opener, to playing Letterman and The Tonight Show, to being put at the top on many end-of-year lists and receiving a Grammy nomination—is virtually unparalleled in the modern country music world for an independent artist. His 2014 album Metamodern Sound in Country Music has captured the imaginations of many, and given them hope about the future of the country genre. And maybe most importantly, Sturgill Simpson has made fans wonder where he might be headed in 2015 and beyond.
#5 The Return of Garth Brooks
When the best selling artist in country music ever, and the 3rd highest-selling artist of all time comes out of retirement after 15 years away, it is going to cause some reverberations, and that’s exactly what Garth Brooks did when he officially announced a new album and a world tour at a July 10th press conference in Nashville. But Garth’s return hasn’t been all triumphant and pretty. It started off with a debacle in Dublin, when five planned shows were cut down to three by local authorities, resulting in Garth Brooks canceling all of the scheduled performances for which an entire custom-made video presentation and stage setup had been procured and shipped to Ireland on 18 semi-trailers.
Subsequently the sales of Garth’s comeback album Man Against Machine started off fairly lackluster, though being the savvy marketeer Garth Brooks is, sales have stayed strong through the Christmas buying season and are beginning to accumulate into decent numbers. Meanwhile despite Garth’s first single “People Loving People” flopping on radio, he’s selling out live shows left and right, and regularly for multiple dates in the same location as people flock to take in the live Garth experience.
Garth’s return has not been without its setbacks and shortcomings, but his presence has still been felt strongly throughout the country music world, and he promises to remain an important figure in the genre moving forward.
#4 SCM Declares Florida Georgia Line’s Anything Goes the Worst Album Ever
Though maybe not a big “story” in the greater country music world, it was the most-read story on Saving Country Music in history, and by a wide margin, being liked and shared on Facebook over 75,000 times, tweeted nearly 700 times, receiving almost 500 comments, and being viewed nearly 500,000 times.
“Anything Goes can slay all comers when it comes to its heretofore unattainable degree of peerless suckitude. In a word, this album is bullshit. Never before has such a refined collection of strident clichés been concentrated in one insidious mass. Never before have the lyrics to an album evidenced such narrowcasted pseudo-mindless incoherent drivel. Never before have such disparate and diseased influences been married so haphazardly in a profound vacuum of taste, and never have all of these atrocities been platooned together to be proffered to the public without someone, anyone with any bit of conscience and in a position of power putting a stop to this poisoning of the listening public.
“Not to get all old man on your ass, but most of the time I don’t even understand what the hell these dudes are saying. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have their own language, partial to the most grammatically-challenged and stupefying vocabulary lurking in the dankest sewers of the English dialect, but not residing firmly in any specific one of them so no truly proper translation can be obtained. It’s like Pig Latin for douchewads—understood by them and them only. And only with the perfect deficiency of brain cells will their concoction of Ebonics, metrosexual douche speak, and stagnant gene pool rural jargon become anything resembling coherent to the human ear.”
#3 Violence, Arrests, Medical Issues, and Death at Country Music Concerts
The summer of 2014 at country music’s mainstream concerts became one big rolling narrative about fights, arrests, hospitalizations, rape, stabbings, and even two deaths, all which occurred in a few short months during the height of country’s outdoor concert season. It almost felt like the media was embellishing all the violence with the way each week was punctuated with a new headline. “55 People Were Arrested, and 22 Hospitalized” in what local authorities characterized as a “mass casualty” event at a Keith Urban concert in Massachusetts on July 26th. Once again an annual event in Pittsburgh at Heinz Field resulted in huge amounts of trash, as well as many arrests and hospitalizations, even though the event the previous year had drawn large amounts of negative media coverage for similar problems.
Three people were stabbed at We Fest in Minnesota, a woman was gang raped at Michigan’s Faster Horses Festival, a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert in Hartford, and amongst a myriad of other disturbing reports at country concerts, a man was found dead in a dumpster after Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert, thought to be the cause of over intoxication, and another man died at a Hank Jr. concert after he was shoved and his head hit the concrete, though it was later determined it was likely by accident and not foul play.
Meanwhile the artists were not immune from injury themselves. Luke Bryan had three stage falls in 2014, Garth Brooks had two, Tim McGraw violently slapped a woman who ripped off a portion of his jeans, and Dustin Lynch got hit in the face with a full can of beer. 2014 was eventful at country concerts to say the least, making many wonder if it is the depravity in the music leading to such behavior. Without question 2015 will be one to watch to see if the country concert issues improve, or worsen.
#2 NASH Icon & The Impending Country Radio Format Split
Who would have ever dreamed, even at the beginning of 2014, that we could be faced with a scenario where the radio format for country music would be splitting in two, and this action would see the return of many of the older names and songs so unceremoniously shuffled to the side in the mainstream format in recent years? Heretofore the trend has been for country music to become more young, and more current every year, shoving older artists and music aside, even when they continue to prove their commercial viability. Research from radio analysts had been telling country radio for years they were shooting themselves in the foot by abandoning more classic-sounding music, and finally in 2014, they began to listen.
Two huge entities, not traditionally considered friends of traditional country music in Cumulus Media and Big Machine Records, joined forces to launch NASH Icon—a new radio format that includes older country music alongside newer music, and a record label that is looking to add new life to the careers of forgotten artists. Meanwhile simply the idea of NASH Icon stimulated other radio stations to adopt a more “classic” country format. Garth-FM (later The Hawk) was launched, and so was Hank FM, and many other country stations oriented towards older country music, fueling speculation that the movement will eventually stimulate a split of the country format. Furthermore, the NASH Icon affiliate in Nashville is consistently beating its mainstream competitors, including Bobby Bones’ home of WSIX.
Now Cumulus is even planning to add a NASH Classics format. Though none of these stations might be the cup of tea for the most hardened of traditional country listeners, it is a step in the right direction, and breeding a renewed love in more classic-sounding country music we haven’t seen in years. The impending radio format split might very well be the biggest development in the effort to save country music in many years.
#1 The Rise and Fall of Bro-Country
2014 started off with so-called “Bro-Country” as all the rage in popular country music, and ended with Bro-Country still somewhat relevant, but heavily on the wane and declining to a whimper while an anti Bro-Country tune in the form of Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” shattered all manner of records by becoming a #1 hit on country radio.
In late September, Saving Country Music wrote an obituary for Bro-Country, saying in part,
“On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname ‘Bro-Country,’ died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of ‘foul play.’”
Let’s just start this off by drudging the big elephant right out in the middle of the room and shining a big ‘ol spotlight on it. Mike Curb, Herr Führer of Curb Records—the man who has made millions off of the indentured servitude of many of country music’s most famous names, and manipulated consumers with repackaged releases and Greatest Hits bamboozels—has taken his blood money, his ill-gotten gains, and thrown them behind the much-ballyhooed preservation of Music Row’s historic Studio ‘A’ in Nashville, and we all should feel deeply conflicted about it.
It was announced on Tuesday (12-23) that the deal to purchase Studio ‘A’ with the intent to preserve the historic property had finally closed, and that two unexpected, and previously-unannounced investors were joining preservationist Aubrey Preston as partners in the preservation effort. Studio ‘A’, originally built by Chet Atkins and Own Bradley nearly 50 years ago to be the bigger brother of the older Studio ‘B’ right beside it, was sold to a developer earlier this year called Bravo Development, who let it be known their intent was to bulldoze the building that so many greats had recorded hits in over the years to build a condominium complex and a music-themed restaurant. But preservationist Aubrey Preston pulled off an 11th-hour deal to purchase the property for $5.6 million in an attempt to usher it into a more permanent state of preservation.
But Preston may have not been in the position to throw $5.6 million around on his own, and made it known from the very beginning that it wasn’t his intent to own the building himself forevermore, but shepherd it into more permanent hands who could see its preservation into the future. To help buffer the deal, Preston brought on two more partners at closing, and now all three own the building in equal share. The first Preston partner is a healthcare business executive named Chuck Elcan (healthcare is Nashville’s other big industry), and the other is the aforementioned Mike Curb.
Nobody should act surprised that Mike Curb came on board as part of the preservation. In fact, you’d have to have your head in the sand to not see it coming. Mike Curb has worked to preserve other historic places in Nashville, including Studio ‘B’ which like is planned for Studio ‘A’, is now in safe hands to be protected for all time. Curb has also thrown his money around to help build other Nashville landmarks, especially on the Belmont University campus, and as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In August, when some were focused more on being angry about what seemed to be the impending fate of Studio ‘A’ as opposed to crafting pragmatic solutions, Saving Country Music posted an essay about the best ways to preserve Studio ‘A’ (which might have been the least-read article posted on the site the entire year), and observed, “Some large entrepreneurial spirit with an established footprint on Music Row such as Mike Curb or Scott Borchetta could buy the property. It seems like this would be the best option to see the long-term preservation of Studio ‘A’.” It was also pointed out that Curb had already worked with Belmont University on numerous cohabitated properties on Music Row.
But how is the conscientious music lover—many of whom overlap their passion for preserving Studio ‘A’ with the desire to see reform in the way some of Music Row’s major labels do business—supposed to feel about Mike Curb’s involvement in this matter? Meanwhile it can’t be taken for granted that everyone knows about all the ill will Mike Curb has sewed over his sullied career, especially in the last decade plus.
When Hank Williams III began to make a public nuisance about how Curb Records was treating him in the mid 2000′s, many thought it was simply the sour grapes of a foul-mouthed punk. Since then, a parade of artists have come out complaining about how the label has treated them, trainwrecking their careers from their ill-conceived policy of waiting five years between releases, resulting most notably in a massive barrage of lawsuits back and forth with Tim McGraw, who Curb Records did everything they could to keep him perpetually signed to their label by refusing to release his final album, and instead released one Greatest Hits album after another. McGraw, like Hank Williams III, eventually defeated Curb Records in court, but not after great damage had been done to his career.
LeAnn Rimes, Hank Williams Jr., Jo Dee Messina, Lyle Lovett, Clay Walker, and even going back to The Beat Farmers and Frank Zappa, they all have legitimate beefs against Mike Curb and the way they were handled by the country music mogul.
In 2011, Saving Country Music asked if Nashville should be careful of its Mike Curb legacy, pointing out that many important buildings around the city now bear Mike Curb’s name and what this might mean as he continues his unscrupulous business practices. Just last month, yet another Curb Records manipulation was unearthed when it was revealed the label would be releasing yet another round of regurgitated releases from Tim McGraw and Hank Williams III in the hopes of misleading the public into buying previously-released material repackaged to look new—something Curb has been doing for years from the two artists.
At the same time, it is a good thing that Studio ‘A’ is being preserved. The concerns about Mike Curb’s philanthropy have never been about the specific targets of it, which all appear to be worthy benefactors, and it’s not as if he doesn’t deserve any credit for making these types of charitable moves with his money. The bigger concern is where that money is coming from, and if it’s worth receiving it if a stipulation to take it is engraving the name of Mike Curb—and all the baggage that comes with it—on the edifice.
Just to clarify, there’s no plan at the moment to rename 30 Music Sq. West “Mike Curb’s Studio ‘A’” or any other such permanent homage to his involvement in this preservation effort. There’s a good chance that by the time the building finds its eventual permanent ownership environment, Mike Curb won’t even be involved. Nonetheless, the legacy of Mike Curb is not one of a few public feuds and personal grudges. It is of a legacy of the purposeful manipulation of artists which has seen Curb Records shed talent at a record pace, despite the label’s aggressive, and many times illegal retention practices, and then taking the money Curb made through such practices to donate to private, charitable projects to help etch a different legacy moving forward.
Like the preservation of Nashville’s historic places themselves, the legacy of Mike Curb, which only continues to grow more dubious by the month, should be considered when looking at what the legacy of Music City will be moving forward. Mike Curb’s money is as green as anyone’s, but his name is tarnished brown. And Nashville’s institutions should ask if they want that stain sullying their most historic and important places.
Independent music fans love to say “90% of what the mainstream does is crap!” Well then it would stand to reason that 10% actually has some value. And in the interest of pragmatism and inclusiveness that is vital to the charge of Saving Country Music, it is important to not ignore when Music Row and mainstream artists get it right, but to celebrate these moments and achievements in hopes it breeds more of the same in the future.
Mainstream albums are given an equal chance in Saving Country Music’s end-of-year tabulations, so much so that in 2012, a mainstream artist and former American Idol alumni in the form of Kellie Pickler and her album 100 Proof won Album of the Year. Though maybe a stretch to call it mainstream, the Big Machine-signed Mavericks also beat out everyone else with their album In Time in 2013. But 2014 did not see one mainstream album make the end-of-year lists, so in the spirit of equal time, here are some of the best albums in the mainstream in 2014.
And please, to the diehard indies and purists, please don’t complain why we’re highlighting these albums here. If you want to see what comes most recommended by Saving Country Music, please check out the Album of the Year Nominees, and the 50 Essential Albums List.
And please feel free to share what you believe was the best in mainstream country below.
Zac Brown Band – The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1
“The Zac Brown Band finds themselves in a position that most any other band or artist would be lying if they said they weren’t envious of: owning their own label, calling their own shots, and nestled in a niche carved out in the music world where they’re beholden to no industry or radio play or sound to ensure butts fill the seats at shows. At the same time they’ve enjoyed the gracious support of the country music industry, while still openly admitting they veer much closer to the Southern rock side of things, giving the band the latitude to experiment and collaborate outside the genre while receiving much more interest than flack.
“The songs of The Grohl Sessions are marvelously complex, yet still with a heart, still with a pentameter that never stops beating, keeping the music in a pocket, and the ear enraptured. It is a fair argument to say that country hardliners regularly bemoan hip-hop treatments to songs, but when it comes to blending rock & roll into country, it is more often given a pass. The Grohl Sessions are certainly guilty of being way more rock than country, with elements of blues and Motown soul. But nobody ever accused Zac of being country, and just because it isn’t country, doesn’t mean it’s not good.” (read full review)
Caitlyn Smith – Everything To You
(Note: Depending on your perspective, Caitlyn could either be considered mainstream or independent. But since she’s written songs for major heavyweights and works mostly within the Music Row system, we’ll consider her mainstream for this exercise.)
“When you talk about an artist known as a songwriter first, you tend to look for the strength in the lyric. But Caitliyn Smith is very much a multi-tool performer, and her vocals can rival any in country music’s top tier, and she’s a great musician as well. Her style is very sensible—country pop in the traditional sense, with rising choruses, juicy melodies, and familiar themes of love, loss, and hope. But similar to how Caitlyn Smith songs are the ones artists and managers gravitate toward when they’re looking for something with more body beyond a smash radio hit, instilled in all of Caitlyn’s work is a sincerity, authenticity, and the ends of country roots sticking out from the surface.
“2013 was considered by many to be the ‘Year of The Woman’ in country music from the concentration of forward-thinking and nourishing projects proffered to the public by females who could nip at the edges of the mainstream, but still find friendly ears in the independent world. Caitlyn Smith may be a year too late to be considered in that class, but she belongs with the other ladies of country music leadership trying to keep at least a modicum of respect in the genre, even if those women struggle compared with their male counterparts in chart performance and cash flow.”
Dierks Bentley – Riser
Dierks Bentley’s Riser is an inspired, rising effort from stem to stern, with sweeping compositions that generally convey this uplifting, airy and expansive condition, despite a sorrowful and reflective tone beneath the surface. At the risk of sounding cliché, Riser was cut during an emotional time, bookened by the death of Dierks’ father, and the birth of his son, and this type of environment created a work that was somehow both secondary, yet keenly focused. He brought his personal life with him to the studio, and it is reflected even in some of the more commercial material, in a drive to make a project bigger than himself.
Is Riser good ol’ country music done the right way? Of course not. This is a country-inspired rock album. But it is a good one nonetheless that is well-made, inspired, heartfelt, and worth a Hamilton or heavy rotation from your streaming service of choice if you know what you’re getting in to.
Garth Brooks – Man Against Machine
“The truth is, Garth was never going to live up to the lofty expectations many were foisting upon his re-entry into the country fold. Forget the naysayers who still can’t get over his high wire act at Texas Stadium or the Chris Gaines gimmick, there was some thought that Garth may be the only one left with the star power to reignite the spark of true country music in the mainstream once again, however ironic this may be given Garth’s history. But in hindsight, this was sort of like thinking Mike Tyson could still be heavyweight champion in the early 00′s, or that Brett Favre could still win a Super Bowl.
“The purists will pan it because it’s Garth, and the mainstream may mostly ignore it because Garth is such an unknown quantity to their youthful demo. And everyone will question the wisdom of releasing ‘People Loving People’ as a single or the somewhat silly cover art. But Man Against Machine is a solid Garth record, with some sappy moments, some rock and R&B moments, but mostly just good contemporary Garth country worthy of at least an open-minded listen.” (read full review)
Maddie & Tae - Maddie & Tae EP
“Make no mistake, the emergence of Maddie & Tae is the result of tactical gaming of country music’s notoriously malleable masses by label types, but that doesn’t mean that the music can’t be any good. ‘Girl In A Country Song’ really didn’t help answer the question of, “Who are Maddie & Tae?” It exacerbated it. Were the hip-hop elements simply there for irony? Were these girls really influenced heavily by classic country as they said?
“So now the young duo has released a four-song EP, and all of a sudden a brand new set of parameters emerge. You do hear those classic country leanings in the songwriting. You hear fiddle solos and steel guitar by god. You hear two girls singing in close harmony with heavy twang about similar themes once championed by Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. And you begin to realize that whether Maddie & Tae are a machination of Big Machine Records or not, their music truly is living up to the more traditional and tasteful approach they were touted as embodying when they first emerged.” (read full review)
Mary Sarah – Bridges
Close your eyes for a second, and envision a world where a young beautiful bubbly female star—like Taylor Swift maybe—releases a completely traditional country album, not of her own music, but of some of the standards from country music’s sainted past, and not just by herself, but as duets with the very stars that made the songs popular in the first place; the same stars who are very much being forgotten in modern country’s obsession with youth. Think of the possibility of how this could open up an entire new world of music to listeners who are too young to remember where country music came from, ostensibly bridging the future and the past.
Now, open your eyes back up, and you’re ready to enter the world of Mary Sarah and Bridges.
Other Decent Albums
Eric Paslay -Eric Paslay
It’s real easy to lump Eric Paslay and his debut self-titled album in with the Bro-Country crowd because of singles like “Song About A Girl” and “Friday Night,” but a deeper listen to the project reveals a lot of depth of songwriting and some tasteful arrangement and instrumentation. A song like “Country Side of Heaven” isn’t too bad.
Jon Pardi -Write You A Song
Probably a little more fairly lumped in with Bro-Country than Eric Paslay, but still with much more to offer than most of the mainstream.
Tim McGraw – Sundown Heaven Town
Not a good album, but was surprisingly more good than bad from the Big Machine artist. (read full review)
Brett Eldredge’s Bring You Back isn’t completely terrible either.
Best Song – Carrie Underwood’s “Something In The Water”
“A wide, sweeping undertaking, ‘Something In The Water’ sees Carrie Underwood carve out the sweet spot for her voice and make an inspiring and faith-based composition the vessel to illustrate the mighty ferocity of her God-given vocal prowess, along with instilling the moments with an elegance and grace that in unison swell to achieve one awe-inspiring performance height.
“’Something In The Water’ is purely pop country from a stylistic standpoint, but draws heavily from country’s Gospel roots and the ritual of river baptisms to create the compelling narrative at the song’s heart. Though the “something in the water” colloquialism is not wholly unique in this context, the content is nonetheless refreshing in the way it disregards all concern for trends or tropes and instead shows confidence in Carrie’s voice to carry a tune to the top levels of widespread appeal. Resolving with the verses of “Amazing Grace” intermixed with the song’s melody, ‘Something In The Water’ traces a lineage directly back to the very primitive beginnings of country music, intertwining old roots among the song’s otherwise pristine and nouveau passages.”
Very, very powerful. (read full review)
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And yes, if we’re talking about the top songs Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” deserves a mention.
“Girl In A Country Song” becomes:
- First #1 song on radio by a female act in over 2 years.
- First #1 debut song on radio by a female act in nearly 5 years.
- First #1 debut song not by Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, or Taylor Swift in 10 years.
- First #1 song on radio for DOT Records in 40 years.
- Only second #1 debut song from a female duo in Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart 25 year history.
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When Big Machine Label Group’s President and CEO Scott Borchetta signed a completely unknown 18-year-old singing duo based seemingly on the strength of one song, it seemed like a risky move, and one betting on the fact that the country music public was tiring of the Bro-Country trend and heading towards a backlash. Though the rise of “Girl In A Country Song” has been very slow (which is customary with many premier singles from previously-unknown artists in country), Scott Borchetta’s gamble has paid off, and the song is now #1 on country radio according to Mediabase. The distinction shatters a slew of dubious distinctions for the country format, and helps to slay the absolute dearth of female representation on country radio.
“Girl In A Country Song” received 7,986 spins from November 30th to December 6th according to Mediabase, besting its nearest competition, Tim McGraw’s “Shotgun Rider” by an impressive 684 spins. The song also gained 502 spins week over week. These numbers are good enough to land Maddie & Tae at #1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart to be published Monday afternoon.
What does this all mean? It means that country radio has its very first female-led act to hit number one on country radio in over 2 years. “Girl In A Country Song” is the first to top the chart since Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” in October of 2012. That was a whopping 26 months ago. That’s right, not even the Carrie Underwood / Miranda Lambert collaboration “Somethin’ Bad” went to #1 on radio, nor did any of those Taylor Swift blockbusters.
You have to go back even farther, nearly five years ago to January of 2010, to find the last time a country female artist had her first #1 hit on radio. It was Miranda Lambert’s “White Liar.” Even more stunning, you have to go all the way back to 2004—over-10 years ago— to find the last time a woman that wasn’t Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, or Taylor Swift celebrated a debut #1. That would be Gretchen Wilson according to the tabulations of country writer Billy Dukes. This doesn’t take into consideration groups with females in them like Sugarland or Lady Antebellum, but deals solely with solo artists or acts exclusively consisting of females.
Also the super duo The Wreckers made up of Michelle Branch and Jessica Harp had a “debut” #1 single in country called “Leave The Pieces” in 2006, but since both of these women had major singles as part of pop careers previous to their country success, it wasn’t a debut for the artists, just for the artists in the country format.
“Girl In A Country Song” also happens to be the first #1 for Big Machine’s DOT Records imprint in 40 years—which is where Maddie & Tae reside—but that is more of a symbolic victory since the label was mothballed for a majority of that time.
“Girl In A Country Song” has already gone gold, denoting over 500,000 digital downloads, and the video has already received over 13 million views. And all of this from a duo who when listening to their EP, leans more towards the traditional side, and for a song that overtly challenges the role females are cast in with many of country music’s other big hits.
If you needed yet another sign that Bro-Country is on it’s way out, the airplay success of “Girl In A Country Song,” which is a better barometer of the industry compared to metrics that factor in sales and streams, is a pretty good indication. Like the song or not, Maddie & Tae have have just etched an indelible mark on the country music timeline that will be very important for both women and the content of country moving forward.
The downward spiral for mainstream country music continues as evidenced by the following list of some of the most horrible offerings of 2014, though it is interesting to note that many of 2014′s “Worst Songs” selections were released in the first half of the year, and some even in late 2013 but did not rise into the greater consciousness until the change in the calendar. The second half of the year has been pretty light in bad songs, so maybe we are seeing a changing of the tide. Nonetheless, with how terrible these selections are, you could consider this not only the worst songs of 2014, but arguably a list of the majority of the worst songs in the history of country music.
To qualify for this list, the song had to be released as a single. And with such a crowded field, only the worst of the worst were selected. Feel free to share your most vilified songs of 2014 below.
PLEASE NOTE: As Saving Country Music has threatened many times (and then reneged on), the era of “rants” is coming to an end, unless something is so egregious there is no other way to address it. That doesn’t mean there won’t be spirited and pointed (& sarcastic) criticism where it’s called for, but we will proceed in the future under the philosophy that an opinion is more convincing when it is explained to someone instead of screamed at them. So cherish this style of rhetoric while you can.
Brantley Gilbert – “Bottom’s Up”
“In this the season of giving, can we all at least come together as one, regardless of sex, race, orientation, creed, religious, political or social status, or cultural background, and swallow our collective differences, hold hands in the common bond of humanity in a rising chorus of hosannas, and all universally decree that Brantley Gilbert is the biggest douche ass to ever suck air on planet Earth?
“Such a gift from heaven it has been to not have Brantley terrorizing us with new music for a good long while. But apparently Brantley was just resting up, refining his putrid exploration into the very innermost reaches of human vanity and self-ingratiation to then unleash upon his trashy fans with the sweet residue of methamphetamine glistening on the edges of their inflamed nostrils, the purest form of raging narcissism ever witnessed in Western Civilization in the construct of his new diarrhetic single ‘Bottoms Up,’ and it’s accompanying video.
“At one point in the video, three women are surrounding Brantley, rubbing their hands all over him. But these girls aren’t copping a feel, their feverishly searching for Brantley’s beleaguered genitals that have taken the form of two acorns flanking a Vienna sausage that then fled up into his abdomen like a rodent scampering into its hole—the result of a tireless regimen of prolonged steroid abuse; hence the nonstop, headlong pursuit of this song and video to compensate and dramatically oversell Brantley’s manly prowess and masculine superiority.” (read full rant)
Cole Swindell – “Chillin’ It”
“Cole Swindell is the most not-having-any-bit-of-soul-or-culture human being I think I have ever observed on God’s whole creation. He’s the human equivalent of a piece of bleached white bread with the crust cut off, served with a glass of room temperature tap water. He’s more milk toast than Caspar, and more boring than a bowl of vanilla. It’s like a thermonuclear holocaust of culture and personality-scrubbing destruction swept over Cole Swindell while he was swimming in the very fissile material of the root detonation agent, leaving a man that is so vacant of anything interesting or distinguishable that he is the utmost purified and scientifically-verifiable essence of Miriam Webster’s unabridged definition of ‘generic’ that could ever be procured as an example or proffered as evidence.
“’Chillin’ It’, just like Cole Swindell himself, is the refined, filtered, and homogenized version of something that was rapaciously trite and disappointing to being with. The first thing that pops in your head when hearing ‘Chillin’ It’ is that it’s pretty blatantly Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’ version 2.0. Except somehow, inexplicably, Swindell discovered how to do them even one worse by engineering something so aggressively vapid that labeling the song ‘bad’ even seems to bestow this spiritless, prosaic waste of effort with more personality and distinction than it actually contains or deserves.” (read full rant)
NOTE: Was released officially in 2013, but didn’t rise to prominence and become a multi-week #1 until March of 2014.
Tim McGraw – “Lookin’ For That Girl“
“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 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.” (read full rant)
Jason Aldean – “Burnin’ It Down”
“‘Burnin’ It Down’ is a Casiotone piece of impersonal electronic awfulness in which any sign of true human inspiration or involvement has been so antiseptically replaced in lieu of animatronic tones and absolutist perfectitudes, the term ‘soul’ has been completely and forever banished from being associated with this robotic piece of misanthropic pap. This isn’t a song, this is some guy with a MacBook Pro creating an electronic sound bed to send over to Aldean’s studio so he can overlay his Auto-tune’d vocals and call it good. As Tom Petty would say, ‘You put your name on it, but you didn’t do that.’ Even the guitar tones have been been so exhaustively massaged by 1′s and 0′s they sound like the warning signals emitted from a Star Wars protocol droid right before it explosively self-destructs. A kitten aimlessly careening across a Korg keyboard in a catnip stupor could make a more compelling composition than this.
“Sorry Jason Aldean, but this song isn’t sexy, it’s creepy. They should exhume Barry White and make it the sole goal of the international scientific community to revive him for the exclusive purpose of kicking Jason Aldean’s ass for this song. What does Aldean know about sexy time anyhow? Aldean ain’t got the moves like Jagger, he’s got the moves like Grimmace. Mating couples won’t find “Burnin’ It Down” sexy unless they get equally horny for the annual return of the McRib. This song is a awkward as a hard on in a Speedo. ‘Burnin’ It Down’ isn’t for intimate couples, it’s for lonely women to get all lubed up with in anticipation of an intimate encounter with Clyde the battery-powered hammerer.
“The best part of this song ran down Aldean’s pasty inner thigh and ended up as an embarrassing stain on his $700 sheets. He should have worn a rubber instead of inseminating our ear holes with this public health audio pandemic. No, that burning you feel in your genitals isn’t from erotic allure, it’s because this song is the audio equivalent of a pussing venereal onslaught.” (read full roast)
Florida Georgia Line (w/ Luke Bryan) – “This Is How We Roll”
“Like one of those stationary rides in the front of Wal-Mart for toddlers, ‘This Is How We Roll’ makes a lot of noise, has a bunch of flashing lights, bumps up and down a little bit, but in the end, goes absolutely fucking nowhere. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers soundtrack has more sincerity, depth, and nutritional value than this explosion of diarrhea in country music’s bikini cut man briefs.
“An environment of sexual perversion and sheer stupidity permeates ‘This Is How We Roll’ and its respective video from stem to stern, including a scene near the start of the video with a dollop of hussies having consensual sex with a Kenworth. I sure hope these chicks have their Tetanus records in order. And then of course we have Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Florida Georgia Line riding on top of the semi like Teen Wolf, with the same display of doltishness and disconnect with self-awareness many mid 80′s movies like Teen Wolf were horrifically beset with.” (read full rant)
Jake Owen – “Beachin’”
“What’s going on here folks is now that Kenny Chesney has been put out to pasture by the country music powers that be, somebody has to step up and fill the void for swaying, stupid, sand between the toes sonnets of suburban escapism for 40-something women with skin Cancer on their shoulders to hold their Corona Lights high in the air to and scream ‘Whoooo!’ while breathing in the smoke of their Home Depot citronella tiki torches … Now Jake Owen and others are stepping up to fill this void of what apparently is a must-have staple of the American country music radio dial.
“As much as hearing even the opening stanza of a corporate country beach song can make a distinguishing music listener pucker harder than trying to down a cheap Mexican beer without lime or salt, Jake Owen and ‘Beachin’’ makes this exercise even more excruciating by featuring him rapping, yes, rapping the verses … yo yo. And to this end, Owen delivers what has to be the worst white boy rap performance that has ever been proffered to human beings for public consumption that isn’t meant to be taken as ironic. I guess his voice is supposed to be all low and sexy, but the ultra-monotone and lifeless pitch makes Charlie Brown’s teacher sound like Loretta Lynn. Is the term ‘Beachin’’ supposed to be a lyrical hook that delivers some sort of payoff? Because it’s about as unfulfilling as Daytona Beach when you’re dreaming of Cancún.” (read full semi rant)
Maggie Rose – “Girl In Your Truck Song”
“I think we have just unearthed the biggest cultural abomination that has ever been classified as “country” music in its 70 year existence. No, I’m not talking bad, awful, terrible, or any other such adjectives. Even those words would seem to instill this embarrassment with a dollop of undeserved respect. Truth be known, there are songs that officially sound worse than this one out there for sure, or that are more stupid either purposefully or inadvertently. But the degree of slavitude and cultural backsliding celebrated and edified in this song is as abhorrent as it is alarmingly calamitous, and hovers only very slightly, and uncomfortably so, above genuine calls of gender downgrading and the erosion of sexual equality in American society, bordering on downright pleas for date rape. I pray that I have the strength to steady my hands enough to coherently compose just how angry this song makes me.
“From the heartfelt yet respectful concerns of some for how young women were being portrayed in country songs, to downright calls of sexism being perpetrated in country music from the ‘Bro-Country’ takedown of the genre, sincere worry was already being transmitted from many sectors about female’s devolving role in the country music format. Now this alarming trend takes a gigantic leap forward (or backward, as it were), as a young woman voluntarily puts herself directly in the path of the misogynistic and materialistic locomotive that is modern day country music by pleading with her overbearing beau captor to allow her to become the subordinate piece of meat that is portrayed in all the worst hits of the ‘Bro-Country’ era…As one studious observer on Twitter pointed out to me, women in country music have now become so marginalized, Stockholm Syndrome has set in. When Rolling Stone Country talked to Maggie Rose about this song, she said, ‘There are females embracing that role that all these men are writing about.’” (read full rant)
Florida Georgia Line – “Sun Daze”
“At this point, Florida Georgia Line has settled quite nicely into being the great American sedative of our generation. Just as producer Joey Moi did with Nickelback before them, this music affords a vacation from self-reflection or truly beneficial thought. ISIS is beheading people in the Middle East and engaging in horrific genocide, the economic disparity between social classes continues to increase and has never been more pronounced. But that’s okay, you can put on the latest Florida Georgia Line single and all the girls are hot, all the guys get laid, and libations and narcotics are at your beck and call. This is the type of vacationary audio lubrication that keeps the engine of corporate America purring along just fine. Don’t get down; get high and buy shit.
“’Sun Daze’ is a reversion back to the stupid-ass beach bum singalongs—aka the same garbage Bro-Country replaced. Hell, ‘Bacardi’ and ‘flip flops’ are much easier to find things to rhyme with than ‘tailgate.’ Screw that we’re actually heading into the Winter, it’s always sunny in shitty country music la la land. (read full semi-rant)
Jerrod Niemann – “Donkey”
“‘Donkey’ is an uprovocated ass raping of the ears, and if any Niemannites come here preaching to me the virtues of this song because ‘country music must evolve,’ I will personally take a pair of donkey balls and use them to tea bag each and every one of their bedroom pillows when they’re not looking. “Donkey” isn’t just bad, it defines the catastrophic trainwrecking of the entire human evolutionary timeline. 800,000 years of homo sapien progress brought to a screeching halt because one pudgy douchebag wants an arena-sized “country” career before his pubes turn gray. “Donkey” is a harbinger for a dark age for arts, entertainment, and intelligence that humankind is on the precipice of plummeting headlong into.
“The worst song ever? I’m tired to doling out this distinction only to have to offer a revision every six weeks when some other pop country asshole finds a new gradient for rock bottom, but Jerrod Niemann’s EDM-encrusted, braying ass certainly deserves to be in the discussion for that most disgraceful of honors.” (read full rant)
- Billy Ray Cyrus – “Achy Breaky 2″ (disqualified for being released simply for shock value)
- Sam Hunt – “Leave The Night On” (not as much bad as incorrectly filed in country)
- Cole Swindell – “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight” (read review)
- Chase Rice – “Ready, Set, Roll” (still deserves a proper rant)
On Friday morning (12-5), the Grammy Award nominations were inefficiently and unceremoniously announced via Twitter (like we need another reason to bury our faces in our phones), and once again proved that their nose for quality in country music is somewhat better than what we’re used to seeing from the country music industry itself, even if their ability to categorize music remains somewhat curious.
Why is Sturgill Simpson ‘Americana’ instead of ‘Country,’ and Brandy Clark ‘country’ instead of ‘Americana’? Just because one is independent and one is mainstream? And isn’t Nickel Creek bluegrass, which has its own Grammy category? Nonetheless, seeing names like Sturgill Simpson, Brandy Clark, and Nickel Creek receive nods gives a little more hope to the music heart that is regularly dashed by annual award exercises, so the people who spend 363 days a year pretending they’re too cool for award shows can celebrate.
***UPDATE: According to numerous concertgoers, at Sturgill Simpson’s concert on December 5th in Milwaukee, he said about the nomination, “One year ago today we threw together an album in four days, today it got nominated for a fucking Grammy. Not exactly sure what Americana means but apparently it means a lot more than country. I’d rather be in a category with Rosanne Cash and Brandy Clark than fucking Kenny Chesney anyway.”
He actually is not in the same category as Brandy Clark (because she’s in the country category), but the sentiment remains the same.
See you on Feb. 8th for Saving Country Music’s LIVE blog of the Grammys.
Best Country Album Nominees
- Dierks Bentley – Riser
- Eric Church – The Outsiders
- Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
- Miranda Lambert – Platinum
- Lee Ann Womack – The Way I’m Livin’
Eric Church’s The Outsiders is a rock album. Along with her “New Artist” nomination, it appears Brandy Clark is the new critical darling i.e. the Kacey Musgraves of 2014, despite most of her songs being written by committee to formula. Good album and artist, but let’s tap the breaks just a little. Riser and The Way I’m Livin’ are solid nods.
Best Americana Album
- Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
- John Hiatt – Term of My Surrender
- Keb’ Mo’ – Bluesamericana
- Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line
- Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds of Country Music
Progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek was put in this category because they’re more commercially-viable than most bluegrass, and Sturgill Simpson was put in this category because he’s less commercially-viable than most country. Great to see Sturgill nominated, but would have been better if he wasn’t relegated to Americana, which is how this feels because he’s an independent artist. At least they didn’t screw up like last year when they didn’t nominate Jason Isbell at all. Rosanne Cash will probably win this. Maybe Sturgill, or maybe Nickel Creek who’ve the Grammy’s have given love to before.
Best Country Song
(sorry, you don’t get a cool graphic, you get Joy Williams and her bun announcing it in all her regal fabulousness sitting like a Chinese heroin God beside a fire)
Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” is mawkish exploitation. There I said it. Otherwise, a completely dumb list of songs. Even worse than the CMA’s or ACM’s.
- Kenny Chesney – “American Kids” (Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally)
- Miranda Lambert — “Automatic” (Nicolle Galyon, Natalie Hemby, Miranda Lambert)
- Eric Church – “Give Me Back My Hometown” (Eric Church, Luke Laird)
- Glen Campbell – “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” (Glen Campbell, Julian Raymond)
- Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill – “Meanwhile, Back at Mama’s” (Tom Douglas, Jaren Johnston, Jeffrey Steele)
Best Country Solo Performance
Remember, if Keith Urban walks away with this, Sam Hunt gets a Grammy as the songwriter. Carrie Underwood better damn win.
- Eric Church – “Give Me Back My Hometown”
- Hunter Hayes – “Invisible”
- Miranda Lambert – “Automatic”
- Carrie Underwood – “Something In The Water”
- Keith Urban – “Cop Car”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance
Dreck on parade. Even The Band Perry’s cover of Glen Campbell barely raises a pulse.
- The Band Perry – “Gentle On My Mind
- Miranda Lambert with Carrie Underwood - “Somethin’ Bad”
- Little Big Town – “Day Drinking”
- Tim McGraw with Faith Hill – “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s”
- Keith Urban with Eric Church – “Raise ‘Em Up”
Best Bluegrass Album
- The Earls of Leichester – The Earls of Leichester
- Noam Pikelny – Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe
- Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen – Cold Spell
- Bryan Sutton – Into My Own
- Rhonda Vincent – Only Me
Best American Roots Performance
- Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal – “Statesboro Blues”
- Rosanne Cash – “A Feathers Not a Bird”
- Billy Childs with Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas – “And When I Die”
- Keb’ Mo’ – “The Old Me Better”
- Nickel Creek – “Destination”
Best American Roots Song
- Rosanne Cash – “A Feathers Not a Bird”
- Jesse Winchester – “Just So Much”
- Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury – “The New York Trains”
- Edie Brickell & Steve Martin – “Pretty Little One”
- John Hiatt – “Terms of My Surrender”
Best Folk Album
- Mike Auldridge, Jerry Douglas, & Rob Ickes – Three Bells
- Alice Gerrard – Follow The Music
- Eliza Gilkyson – The Nocturne Diaries
- Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy
- Jesse Winchester – A Reasonable Amount of Trouble
Brandy Clark was nominated for “Best New Artist,” and Ryan Adams for Best Rock Song & Album, because he’s not country goddammit.
As first reported on Tuesday (12-3) and then confirmed Wednesday afternoon, President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta has partnered with American Idol to become the show’s new “mentor”—a position that was held for years by producer Jimmy Iovine, and then last year by Randy Jackson who moved into the position from a judge spot on the show. Jackson announced earlier in the year he was leaving the show after being a part of all 13 seasons.
Today we get confirmation of the Scott Borchetta addition, but even more intriguing is what the partnership will entail. Borchetta will not only be American Idol‘s mentor, he will also sign the eventual winner of the show to Big Machine Records—the home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and many others. This extra layer of commitment between Borchetta and American Idol could have big implications for both parties. And as arguably the most influential label in country music currently, it could have a big impact on country music at large with American Idol potentially becoming a proving ground for Nashville-based talent moving forward. Borchetta has already participated in the show’s “Hollywood Week” portion by watching performances of contestants he will be advising moving forward.
All of this news comes in stark contrast to how Scott Borchetta felt about the show in 2010 in the aftermath of Taylor Swift’s now legendary off-key performance at the Grammy Awards. Facing fierce criticism for the performance, Borchetta defended his burgeoning starlet by calling her the “voice of a generation” who was above the criticism of her not technically perfect singing. “This is not ‘American Idol,’” Borchetta said. “This is not a competition of getting up and seeing who can sing the highest note. This is about a true artist and writer and communicator. It’s not about that technically perfect performance.”
American Idol Season One winner Kelly Clarkson took exception to Scott Borchetta’s comments and fired back.
“I understand defending your artist obviously because I have done the same in the past for artists I like, including Taylor, so you might see why it’s upsetting to read you attacking ‘American Idol’ for producing simply vocalists that hit ‘the high notes.’ Thank you for that ‘Captain Obvious’ sense of humor, because you know what? We not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right’ notes as well. Every artist has a bad performance or two and that is understandable, but throwing blame will not make the situation at hand any better.
“I have been criticized left and right for having shaky performances before (and they were shaky), and what my manager or label executives say to me and the public is ‘I’ll kick butt next time’ or ‘Every performance isn’t going to be perfect.’ I bring this up because you should take a lesson from these people and instead of lashing out at other artists (that in your ‘humble’ opinion lack true artistry), you should simply take a breath and realize that sometimes things won’t go according to plan or work out and that’s okay.”
Whether it’s selective amnesia, a change of heart, or simply a savvy business move, Scott Borchetta has officially decided to step out of the shadows of country music label ownership to become a public pop cultural figure, and one who could have a big stake in making sure the next American Idol winner or winners do something that many recent winners have failed to pull off: actually becoming “Idol’s” instead of names forgotten a week after the finale.
That’s right, the The Country Music Antichrist, aka President and CEO of the Big Machine Label Group Scott Borchetta is in talks to become the newest mentor on the singing reality show competition American Idol. He would be replacing Randy “Dog” Jackson—the only member of the show’s original cast aside from host Ryan Seacrest who’s been on the show all 13 seasons. Jackson was a judge for the first 12 seasons, and then moved into Jimmy Iovine’s role as the show’s “mentor” for season 13 before announcing he would exit the show entirely for season 14. Last year’s judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick Jr. are all slated to return this upcoming season.
As a respected talent evaluator in the industry, and one that lately has shown more interest in coming out of the shadows and becoming more of a public personality, Borchetta as American Idol‘s mentor makes savvy sense for both parties. Borchetta was responsible for discovering Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star in the world right now, and Big Machine properties also have under contract Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert, Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, and now Reba McEntire under the new NASH Icon joint venture with Cumulus Media. Scott Borchetta is arguably the most powerful man on Music Row in Nashville, and now he’ll be taking his name international if the reports from US Weekly are correct.
If consummated, it would make Borchetta not just one of the most powerful label owners in music, but also one of the most visible, bolstering both Big Machine’s and Scott’s personal brands. Reports from late October saying the Big Machine Label Group was up for sale were later denied by Borchetta, but remaining one of music’s few major independent labels, sale rumors continue to linger. Scott’s partnership with American Idol could also facilitate more collaboration between the reality singing competition and Big Machine artists in live performances and song choices.
Scott Borchetta was affectionately coined the “Country Music Antichrist” by Saving Country Music in 2009 for his stretching of the term “country” with artists like Taylor Swift. However unlike many of Music Row’s label heads, Borchetta is known for extending more creative freedom to his artists.
Once again Scott Borchetta reveals his desires to be much more than simply a record label head, but a powerful and influential entertainment mogul of the recording industry—a desire that could continue to send reverberations throughout the country music industry.
That’s right, the Curb Records madness continues, and continues to reach for comical, if not maniacal heights.
Apparently Curb Records is readying the release of a new Hank III (not ‘Hank3′ as he goes by now) album called Take As Needed For Pain, scheduled to be made available to the public on April 14th, 2015. Though the album is being credited at the moment to Hank III, early incarnations of this release had it denoted as “Assjack II.” Assjack is the name of Hank3′s early heavy metal project that released a self-titled album with Curb in 2009. The song “Take As Needed For Pain” is a cover song from the metal band Eyehategod that Hank3 turned into a 10-minute epic for the tribute album For The Sick: A Tribute to Eyehategod released in 2007 and recorded under the name “The Unholy 3″ which is the name of one of Hank3′s side projects.
Hank3 also recorded another Eyehategod song for the tribute called “Torn Between Suicide and Breakfast” that could be a pretty safe bet for making the track list of the new album, along with whatever other Assjack or metal songs Curb somehow wrangled out of Hank3 during his years at the label. Why Curb is deciding to go with the Hank III name instead of Assjack might be about marketing, or maybe some country songs will be included on the album as well. One of the issues with some of Curb’s post-contract releases from Hank3 is they haven’t warned consumers they’re buying metal albums instead of country, causing confusion and anger from some fans. It’s pretty safe to say that no matter what finds itself on the track list, it will be music released previously and/or that is already out there on YouTube or other locations. Hank3′s usual response to his fans on these post-contract Curb releases is to “Burn it, and give it away.”
Hank3 entered into a six album contract with Curb in the late 90′s. The Nashville-based label was able to stretch Hank3′s album count to seven by releasing Hillbilly Joker in 2011; a “hellbilly” album Curb initially rejected, but released after Hank3 had fulfilled his contract at the end of 2010. Then Curb released an outtakes album in 2012 called Lone Gone Daddy that brought the total of Curb releases on Hank3′s six-album contract to eight. Ramblin’ Man released in April of this year—another album of previously-released material cobbled together—made it nine. Hank3 also had agreed to the release of one heavy metal album as part of his Curb deal. Take As Needed For Pain would now bring that count to two.
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The grandson of Hank Williams is not the only artist having to shake their head as Curb continues to regurgitate material to try and squeeze as much money out of their name as possible while misleading the public. Tim McGraw has been locked in a public battle with Curb for years, and now has another reason to be angered as the record label is getting ready to release his 10th compilation/Greatest Hits album. That’s right, ten of them. That’s only one less than the total amount of studio albums Curb released during McGraw’s entire career on the label.
Tim McGraw “The Hits Live” is being prepped for release on January 27th by Curb. This goes along with Greatest Hits Volumes 1, 2, and 3, a Collector’s Edition Greatest Hits, a Limited Edition Greatest Hits, A Limited Edition Greatest Hits Volume 1, 2, 3, Number One Hits, Tim McGraw & Friends (duets), and Love Story (his biggest love songs).
In 2010, Saving Country Music published an article mocking Curb for imitating art by releasing seven Greatest Hits albums from McGraw. Subsequently, Curb has released just one studio album, and three additional Greatest Hits compilations. Tim McGraw won a protracted court battle with Curb in 2012 and was finally released from his contract. He now calls Big Machine Records home. Curb tried to delay the release of Tim’s final album under the label called Emotional Traffic to indefinitely keep him under contract.
More Greatest Hits releases are also on the way from previous and current Curb artists. LeAnn Rimes has already had two Greatest Hits releases just in 2014—an album of her Greatest Hits Remixes, and a two-CD Limited Edition Greatest Hits. Now Curb has scheduled an All-Time Greatest Hits release on February 3rd. Rodney Atkins also has a Greatest Hits release upcoming, and Hank Williams Jr. will see the release of previously-released material in a Hank Jr. Sings Hank Sr. compilation.
Curb Records continues to regurgitate material from previous artists on their label as they lose roster names left and right, and carry the reputation as one of the worst labels in town. Aside from some recent success with Lee Brice, a marketable name in Rodney Atkins, and a promising young star in Mo Pitney, the label continues to struggle to find new material to release, and instead insists on misleading consumers with repackaged albums.
Have you ever wondered who actually listens to those awful songs they play on pop country radio? Here are the six primary Archetypes, or as Music Row refers to them, the “target demographics” that make up the audience of the pop country world.
PLEASE NOTE: This is a revised version of the original 6 Pop Country Archetypes published in 2011. The new version takes into consideration country music’s changing demographics. Basically, pop country has become even more of a bastion for sexism and troglodytes.
The Objectified Pop Country Girl
She thinks being condescended by country’s hot young Bro-Country stars is sexy. She used to like female country artists like Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood, but now she is mostly obsessed with male singers, and bases who her favorite acts are at any given time strictly off of who is the hottest. Shirt tied in the front, daisy dukes, boots, bronzer, blonde or heavily-highlighted hair under a cheap Panama Jack straw cowboy hat, she’s an automaton of patriarchal rule wanting to present herself as the perfect country girl to be talked down to just like the ones portrayed in Bro-Country songs. Technologically inept and “so totally going” to every mainstream country concert that comes through town, she is the economic catalyst still keeping corporate country alive by buying deluxe edition CD’s and $350.00 front row tickets on the secondary market. She lives to put her hands in the air and scream when the band tells her to. She won’t dance with you at the honky tonk, but as soon as the DJ starts playing hip-hop, she’s out with her seven friends in the center of the dance floor, twerking and taking selfies. Her face is buried in her phone.
Tight spandex-blended T-shirt, designer jeans, backwards baseball cap, and a Medusa of wallet chains clanking from his waist, he’s the bullseye of Music Row’s target demographic. Those rips in his jeans didn’t come from running barbed wire, but a 70-year-old Laotian woman working at an Armani factory making .36 cents an hour. On UFC stats and Florida Georgia Line lyrics, he’s a expert. He shaves his testicles so his panty-cut underwear won’t chafe, and he treats women like objects. He likes to listen to laundry list country songs about dirt roads and pickup trucks, but his idea of “roughing it” is not dousing himself in Axe body spray before hitting his suburb’s corporate country bar. Don’t mess with him or his frat buddies or they’ll call you a fag right before vomiting in the bushes. He wants to show you his tribal tattoos.
Morbidly obese, woefully unemployed, and draped in whatever his local Wal-Mart stocks in XXXL, he thinks he’s a gangster, but instead he’s just an overweight loser land locked in a small town in America’s breadbasket. If you don’t like Big Smo or Bubba Sparxxx, you’re clearly a dumb, city-dwelling Yankee liberal who drives a Prius and doesn’t get what it’s like down in the South. He got a title loan on his 1994 Grand Am so he could get a tattoo of an alien smoking a joint on his neck. He would move to a bigger city, but he doesn’t have the gas money to even make it to the county seat, and besides, the real gangsters would kick his ass within five minutes. He likes to snort Dr. Scholls foot powder and pretend it’s cocaine because he can’t afford meth. He knows a guy in LA that he sent his demo to, and once he hits it big, he’s getting the hell out of this town. He knocked up some girl that works at Dairy Queen just so he could bitch to his friends about his “baby mama drama.” His problems are everyone else’s fault.
The Red-Blooded ‘Merican
He can’t wait for Armageddon to come so he can start mowing down Muslims unilaterally with his stockpile of guns and ammunition hoarded before the Obama Administration makes all guns illegal and enacts Sharia Law. You’re damn right he likes Toby Keith, and only REAL country like Justin Moore and Jason Aldean. Any opinion that is in opposition to his will be spun into an insult to American troops in combat. He swears he knew the Dixie Chicks were commies way before everyone else did, but he had the plump one sign his Stetson in Sharpie in 2001 (he keeps it hidden in the bottom shelf of his gun safe). He’ll shoot at you if any portion of your tire touches his property line when you’re making a U-turn out on the highway, and if you’re one of them towel-heads, he’ll shoot to kill. He thinks Garth-era printed button up collared shirts are still hip.
The Adult Contemporary Divorcee
Three grown kids, thrice divorced, she’ll elbow a legion of glitter-faced pop country girls out of her way to get eye level with Luke Bryan’s crotch as he does “The Move” on the edge of the concert runway, hoping he waxes out yet again and her ample bosom pads his gorgeous fall. Fueled by boxed wine and Lean Cuisine, the older men of mainstream country such as Tim McGraw and Keith Urban make up the cast of her sultry romance novel-style fantasies that she lives out during elongated bubble baths and bunkerings in her queen-sized bed with bon bons and ice cream pints. Celebrity gossip that surrounds her favorite country stars fuels her obsession, especially stories of heartfelt Cancer deeds and kindness towards animals, reinforcing her misguided view that these artists are altruistic heroes as opposed to plastic personas making calculated publicity stunts. She obsessively posts pictures of her cats/dogs on social media and lives in a mess of animal hair.
The Windshield Cowboy
Always sporting a brand spanking new F-250 truck or bigger, he needs this heavy equipment as a middle management quality control paper pusher in a cubicle farm located in white flight Suburbia. He listens to songs about dirt roads, but’ll be damned if he takes his baby off the blacktop and gets a brush scratch in the paint. Similar politics and mindset to The Red Blooded ‘Merican, but instead of spending his weekends target practicing, he’s towing his bass boat, ATV’s, jet skis, or other recreational vehicles to the lake. Similar to the The Wallet Chain Douchewad, his material objects mean everything to him. He believes owning a truck is a validation of manhood, and whoever is in that rice burner in front of him is ignorant and weak and better get the hell out of his way. He’d like you to think he owns a ranch, but a rancher’s wage wouldn’t even pay his truck’s interest. No, he cannot use his truck to help you move next weekend, he has to wash his truck. He likes songs about trucks.
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Turnabout is fair play, so a revised version of The 6 “Other” Country Archetypes is on the way.
This story has been updated (see below).
The potential sale of the Big Machine Label Group—home of Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Brantley Gilbert, and many more—just got a whole lot more interesting, and now has sprouted tentacles that could have major implications across the entire music landscape as Taylor Swift has unexpectedly pulled her complete catalog from Spotify.
Murmurings of an impending Big Machine sale first surfaced in a Hits Daily Double column posted on October 23rd, and were expounded upon by Saving Country Music on October 27th. Subsequently The New York Post released a story on November 1st reinforcing the presence of behind-the-scenes chatter on an impending sale. Reports have Big Machine President and CEO Scott Borchetta asking $200 million for the label group that includes the subsidiary labels Valory Music, NASH Icon, and joint ventures with Universal Republic Records, Republic Records Nashville and Dot Records. Big Machine is an independent label distributed by Universal Music Group—one of the parties rumored to be interested in purchasing the star heavy label.
From the beginning, the lynchpin of any deal has been centered around superstar Taylor Swift who has one more album to release with Big Machine before the expiration of her contract. Making matters that much more intriguing, and potentially making the value of Big Machine never greater, is the development that Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 released on October 27th has become nothing short of a historic commercial blockbuster. Preliminary sales numbers have 1989 selling 1.3 million copies in its first week—the best one week sales performance for any album since Eminem’s The Eminem Show released in May of 2002. When taking into account the flight from physical sales and now even digital downloads in the face of streaming services such as Spotify, this sales feat is nothing short of miraculous.
One of the factors being given credit for Taylor Swift’s tour de force in sales is the Spotify embargo she usually puts on her releases for the first 60 days to stimulate more album sales. Scott Borchetta told Rolling Stone near the release of Taylor Swift’s Red in 2012. “Why shouldn’t we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we’re done.”
Scott Borchetta had mostly held pat to this Spotify approach until recently. Releases by other Big Machine artists in the last few months such as Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line were released straight to Spotify, though Brantley Gilbert’s Just As I Am released in May did not, holding to the 60 day embargo. Sales for Brantely’s album where much higher than most industry experts expected, and the album has now sold over 600,000 copies—this from an artist who is not considered to be on country music’s top tier.
Taylor Swift’s 1989 did not appear on Spotify upon release, though the lead single “Shake It Off” was available. Then the shocking news came down Monday morning that Taylor Swift’s entire discography was pulled from the Spotify network, singles and all.
“We love Taylor Swift, and our more than 40 million users love her even more,” Spotify posted Monday morning after her music disappeared. “We hope she’ll change her mind and join us in building a new music economy that works for everyone. We believe fans should be able to listen to music wherever and whenever they want, and that artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.”
Billboard on Monday also posted quotes from a Spotify employee with “intimate knowledge of the situation” saying, “This came as a complete surprise. Big Machine is in the process of selling itself, and that can’t be forgotten here. [They're looking to] increase the multiple for the sale of that company. Scott Borchetta is a very old-school thinker. He’s wrong.”
However there may be an element of spin going on from Spotify, or multiple elements of spin. Though Spotify is trying to link the Big Machine sale to Taylor Swift pulling her music, every other Big Machine artist still has all of their music available through the streaming service.
Also in Spotify’s official comments, they speak more specifically about the philosophical and financial dilemma Spotify is posing to the music industry at large. “We believe…artists have an absolute right to be paid for their work and protected from piracy. That’s why we pay nearly 70% of our revenue back to the music community.” Why would Spotify bring up this point if the concern was the Big Machine sale and not Swift seeing the financial benefit for herself and other artists at large by exiting the streamer? Also, is Scott Borchetta though to be an “old-school thinker”? Most in the industry consider Borchetta the opposite, and it very well could have been Swift’s decision, not Borchetta’s, to pull the catalog from Spotify.
In a Taylor Swift op-ed from the Wall Street Journal posted in July, she said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free.”
The impact of Taylor Swift removing her music from Spotify, especially after she just revealed herself as the biggest artist of the last decade-plus and possibly of a generation, cannot be overstated. This could be the moment of leadership music has been waiting for that spurs other artists to stand up to the incremental loss of revenue presented by the streaming paradigm, and it could also have a big impact on Spotify’s standing in the marketplace. Or it could simply mean you can’t stream Swift on Spotify. Either way, the implications of Swift’s decision should be watched very closely, and could have big reverberations throughout music.
Whether the Spotify decision is linked at all to Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine sale is difficult to determine without access to the specifics of any deal. But to be sure, 1989‘s resounding commercial success is necessitating a shift of perspective on how music is sold in America, and the standing of Big Machine Records as one of the most important and influential labels in music today.
Meanwhile streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and others continue to have issues showing how their business model can become profitable, with some looking to negotiate the royalties paid to artists down even more.
***UPDATE (11-4): According to Scott Borchetta of the Big Machine Label Group, the company is not up for sale. Borchetta told All Access, “If you notice, any time we put a Taylor album out this little item comes up again. We are not for sale, but Taylor’s great new album ‘1989’ is!” Of course, companies are notorious for refuting any sale rumors … until they eventually sell. So this should be taken into consideration. As should the fact that if it is true that Big Machine is not up for sale, this would refute the Spotify insider who told Billboard the Big Machine sale has to do with Swift pulling her music.
Nashville’s and country music’s most influential record label is reportedly getting ready to be put up for sale according to a new report from Hits Daily Double, and Taylor Swift’s 1989 album release and pending contract situation could have a big impact on it. $200 million dollars is said to be the asking price for Scott Borchetta’s prized possession.
Despite being a big label with many famous artist and significant subsidiaries, the Big Machine Label Group remains independently owned, operating through distribution deals with Republic Records in the United States, and Universal Music Group internationally. Along with Taylor Swift, the label group is the home of Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Justin Moore, Reba McEntire, and many more.
This is not the first time Big Machine has been rumored to be up for sale. In 2011, Sony was reportedly in negotiations to acquire the label for the same sum of $200 million, and they weren’t the only ones showing interest. Big Machine’s distribution partners Universal Music Group were also rumored to be considering entering a bid on the label.
Key to this new deal would be Taylor Swift according to reports, who after the release of 1989 will owe Big Machine one more record before being free of her contract. Whether Scott Borchetta can re-sign the mega-star, or whether she will decide to run her own labeling and distribution similar to how she does with booking and management remains in question. “Swift’s valuation will be far more meaningful for Borchetta if he can re-sign her, because she’s clearly the jewel in Borchetta’s crown,” says Hits Daily Double. “The fact of the matter is that Borchetta must bring Swift with him in order to make his company truly attractive in the eyes of prospective bidders.”
Taylor Swift is considered one of the biggest artists, if not the biggest artist of this generation, and many of the early estimates of how many albums 1989 could sell have her becoming 2014′s first Platinum-selling act, denoting 1 million albums sold. Her last album Red debuted with 1.2 million in sales on the way to marking over 4 million units moved, but this was two years ago before music streaming took over in earnest. Others are wondering if Swift moving from country to pop will put a dent in her sales from loyal country fans.
Also interesting, and something that has gone virtually unreported is that Borchetta recently dropped his moratorium on releasing albums to Spotify, Rhapsody, and other streaming service until after a certain time period. “We’re not putting the brand-new releases on Spotify,” Borchetta told Rolling Stone near the release of Taylor Swift’s Red in 2012. “Why shouldn’t we learn from the movie business? They have theatrical releases, cable releases. There are certain tiers. If we just throw out everything we have, we’re done.” But recent Big Machine releases from Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line were available immediately on Spotify. So far, Swift’s 1989 released officially on 10-27 has not surfaced on the streaming service, though her first single “Shake It Off” is available. The Spotify quotient could cause cause Swift’s album sales numbers to be more robust compared to other 2014 releases that went straight to streaming.
Another question appears to be the standing of both Scott Borchetta and Taylor Swift in the greater country community. Swift leaving country may have ruffled the feathers of Big Machine’s Music Row bunk mates who also may fill the roster of prospective buyers. Meanwhile Borchetta has been making waves of his own on Music Row, with his aggressive practices angering some in the business. Borchetta tends to play by his own rules as opposed to the unspoken writs of the Music Row oligarchy. His big deals with iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel) on radio play rights, Cumulus Media with NASH Icon, producer Dr. Luke with writing and production work, and similar deals have Borchetta running circles around his Nashville competition, and leaving some with a sour taste.
The Big Machine Label Group was founded by President and CEO Scott Borchetta in 2005 after he left DreamWorks Records, and includes the subsidiary labels Valory Music Group, Dot Records, NASH Icon, and a joint venture with Universal Republic Records, Republic Records Nashville. The label began as a partnership with Toby Keith, but Keith dropped his affiliation with Big Machine in 2006 to start his own Show Dog-Universal label. Keith still owns a stake in Big Machine however, and this is one of the reasons he remains the highest-paid entertainer in country music. Taylor Swift’s father, Scott Swift, also owns a stake in Big Machine. Taylor Swift was Big Machine’s first signing.
On Monday, September 22nd, the subset of American country music known to many by its nickname “Bro-Country,” died at its home in Nashville, TN. It was three-years-old. Bro-Country is survived by its family and close friends, including Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Swindell, Chase Rice, Thomas Rhett, Dallas Davidson, and dozens of other lesser-known country music artists and songwriters. Though the specific cause of death has yet to be ruled on by the local medical examiner, preliminary findings appear to show that Bro-Country had been exhaustively over-utilized over the last few months and years until it finally passed away from overexposure. Bro-Country’s death is definitely being considered the result of “foul play”.
Though the exact date of birth of Bro-Country has never been specifically determined, many place its origins in early 2011 with what was initially called “checklist” or “laundry list” country music. Regularly listing off mundane artifacts of country living such as ice cold beer, pickup trucks, tailgates, dirt roads, hot girls, cutoffs, moonshine, mud, and many other country calling cards, songs like Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” went on to become some of the biggest country music songs during Bro-Country’s life. The name “Bro-Country” wasn’t coined until August of 2013 when culture writer Jody Rosen’s dissertation on the subject described Bro-Country as a, “tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.”
Florida Georgia Line’s song “Cruise” very much typified Bro-Country’s life and legacy, and when the single became the longest-running #1 song in the history of country music, the troubles for Bro-Country began. Predictions of Bro-Country becoming a hyper trend that would grow old prematurely began to spread, and so did public dissent about Bro-Country in what became known as the Season of Discontent. Things began to look especially bleak for Bro-Country when Big Machine Records CEO Scott Borchetta said in December of 2013, “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. So we’ll task our writers and artists to dig a little deeper.”
In 2014, enemies of Bro-Country began to emerge from the country music industry itself, and anti Bro-Country songs like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song” were released to radio, exacerbating Bro-Country’s health problems. Even Bro-Country proponents who had recently given a rosy prognosis for its future, like Sony Music Nashville’s CEO Gary Overton who once said Bro-Country’s demise was “nowhere in the foreseeable future” is now saying “There’s a saturation point.” New albums from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney purposefully avoid Bro-Country. In some ways it seems fitting that Bro-Country would pass away on the last official day of summer, since the party themes and good times of Bro-Country seemed to be perpetually stuck in the year’s warmest months.
Of course there will be some who will not be able to come to grips with the death of Bro-Country, especially many of Bro-Country’s friends who made lots of money during Bro-Country’s life—many of the same people who refused to acknowledge the problems Bro-Country was facing in the first place. There will be people who attempt to carry on Bro-Country’s legacy by singing about the things Bro-Country loved like beer and tailgates, and they may even find some success in the short term. But eventually they will have to face Bro-Country’s death, or be like the mullet-wearing uncle stuck in the glory days.
Bro-Country is scheduled to be buried in the rubble of the historic RCA Studio ‘A’ building set to be bulldozed on Music Row in Nashville. And in Bro-Country’s memory, an edifice to gentrification and homogenization will be erected in the form of a 147,000 square foot condominium complex on the location.
R.I.P. Bro-Country, you smelled extremely manly.
I write these proceeding words fully knowing that many will roll up to this Tim McGraw dissertation looking for a bowl of blood as recompense for the emotional direst recent Tim McGraw singles such as “Truck Yeah” and “Lookin’ For That Girl” have waged on the mental state of many innocent country music fans. But the simple truth is Tim McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town deserves to be spared the most sinister strokes from the poison pen—not because it is “good” by some stretch of that flattering term, but because it symbolizes a turning of the page for Tim McGraw, and potentially, is a symptom of the turning of the page for the entire country music genre.
Welcome to the post “Bro-Country” age ladies and gentlemen—an era that we probably shouldn’t entertain as being filled with audio offerings that will in any way compare in quality with the greater historical panorama of country music, but one where we’ll see a clearly defined and much welcomed improvement overall in the music being offered for consumers’ listening edification.
Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town is an example of this. By golly Tim McGraw is actually learning. After he broke from the bonds of institutional subjugation at the autocratic hands of Curb Records which did everything they could to choke every last bit of life force out of Tim’s once high flying career—as accidentally or purposefully as it may have been—he ran to the open and cradling arms of Scott Borchetta and Big Machine to press restart. And almost as if to make up for the half decade he ceded to Curb, Tim started releasing the most ridiculous, panic-driven panderings to young people radio pop as possible in an attempt to regain his relevancy. However the results were so ghastly, even the deficient country music masses saw through it.
Tim’s first post-Curb single was “Truck Yeah,” and immediately McGraw announced there was no floor to the depths he would fall through to regain his pertinence. And for the most part, the single fizzled, especially considering the muscle Big Machine put behind it to reignite Tim’s career. The biggest single to come from Tim’s first Big Machine album came nearly a year later with “Highway Don’t Care.” As a much more nutritious offering, and one that sat much more comfortably in the confines of the adult contemporary style of pop country that has buttered Tim’s bread for years, it became a #1 hit, and the biggest hit on the Two Lanes of Freedom album.
The same story has played out so far for McGraw’s new album Sundown Heaven Town. The first single “Lookin’ For That Girl” was so far outside of Tim’s comfort zone and anything that could be considered “country” it was laughable, and on cue it stalled in the charts. That stuff may fly for Florida Georgia Line, but not for McGraw’s established brand. Then McGraw released his latest single “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” Once again a song with more substance did much better, making it to #2 in the charts.
The lesson here, at least for Tim McGraw, is that even in this bereft country music landscape we find ourselves in, it’s still better for him to be himself—that guy that makes moms all around the country swoon with his tight shirts and sentimental ballads. Tim can’t run with the young pups, and he shouldn’t try. And whether that was the purposeful approach to Sundown Heaven Town or the accidental result, you get Tim being Tim on this album, which means rooting out some of the best adult contemporary compositions the country industry has to offer and doing them justice.
What surprised me was the lack of drum machine intros, loud overdriven guitars, and ploys for radio play on this album. I was also surprised at the amount of steel guitar. No doubt Sundown Heaven Town still affords some creatively anemic moments, and others moments that are downright awful, but they are nowhere near in the measure you would expect from a Tim McGraw album, or really any mainstream album in 2014. The song “Dust” is probably the album’s laundry list “bro” offering if there was one, and still it’s hard to hate too vehemently. “Keep on Truckin’” trying to capture the vibe of the band Train in the country context, and probably should have been left on the cutting house floor. And songs like “Words Are Medicine” and “Sick Of Me” find McGraw striking out boldly to evoke soaring moments, but the lyrical impact seems to be just a little too flat to achieve those heights.
But even the worst song on the album by a long shot “Lookin’ For That Girl” gets relegated to the next-to-last spot on the track list, where it used to be tradition for track arrangers to bury what they believed was the project’s weakest offering. What McGraw seems to understand with Sundown Heaven Town is that albums are for the hardcore fans these days anyway, so you might as well make them count. You might as well make them where they say something and entice people to listen instead of simply being a landing place for hyped-up singles.
Sundown Heaven Town starts off quite strong with “Overrated,” which is something completely unexpected from Tim, and probably one of the best songs on the album. “City Lights” is also strong, and so are the more traditional “Diamond Rings & Old Barstools” duet with Catherine Dunn, and “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s” with better half Faith Hill. “Last Turn Home” achieves that high emotional response McGraw regularly looks to achieve with his song selections, and even though “Portland, Maine” has some people in that city a little upset (however playfully so), its expedition into the terrible head space proceeding a breakup is effective and resonant.
Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town does not come recommended, but nonetheless comes with praise for affording a template for how mainstream country albums should be made moving forward, and from showing improvement from the artist. Passive consumers who only pay attention to singles anyway shouldn’t be regarded when making albums. And an artist like Tim McGraw is much better off being who he’s always been, from both a commercial and a critical standpoint. Make good albums and you will be on the right side of where country music is headed, and create separation from the lost era when country believed clichés about beer and trucks would line their pockets forever.
1 1/4 of 2 Guns Up.
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Harris Interactive has just released a new poll that queried the American public about their favorite music artists, musicians, and bands, and some noteworthy country music names made the list. When pollsters asked for unprompted responses to the question, “Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”—George Strait was the 5th highest answer, and the highest amongst country music stars. Garth Brooks also made the top 10, coming in tied for 7th with The Eagles, Celine Dion, and Neil Diamond.
Willie Nelson also made the top of two of the lists broken down by demographics, even though he did not make the top 10 overall. Willie was the favorite artist of “Mature Adults” (69 or older), and was tied with The Beatles for the favorite musical artist amongst Republicans (despite Willie’s left-leaning politics). The Beatles came in #1 overall in the poll, right in front of Elvis at #2.
What is even more interesting for country music fans is who is not on the list, and who slipped off the list since the same poll was conducted the last time in 2010. Four years ago, Tim McGraw was #5, Rascal Flatts was #8, and Alan Jackson was #9. None of these country artists made the top 10 again. In 2010 George Strait was #7 in the poll.
With all three of the country entries into this year’s poll being more classically-oriented artists, and none of them being current stars (where is Taylor Swift in this poll?), it speaks to the continued appeal of older country artists and classic country music we’ve seen in similar studies by Edison Research, and in the move to split the country format to give more radio representation to older artists.
The younger artists that made the top 10 of the poll were Beyoncé at #3, and Bruno Mars at #6 who was potentially boosted by his recent Super Bowl appearance.
The Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between July 16th and July 21st, 2014 among 2,306 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
“Who is your favorite singer/musician or band?”
Base: All adults
DROPPED OFF OF LIST IN 2014
U2 (was No. 2), Tim McGraw (was No. 5), Lady Gaga (was No. 6), Rascal Flatts (was No. 8) and Alan Jackson and Frank Sinatra (both ties for No. 9)
TOP MUSICIAN AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS
|Gen X (38-49)||
|Baby Boomers (50-68)||
|Parent of child under 18||
|Not parent of child under 18||
The Cambridge Township Police Department in south central Michigan is looking for information from anyone who may know about an alleged gang rape that occurred on the grounds of the Faster Horses Festival on Saturday, July 19th right as Tim McGraw was finishing his headlining set.
Cambridge Township Police Department Chief Larry Wibbeler says a 25-year-old woman was separated from her group in the parking lot of the Michigan International Speedway at around 12:05 AM where the 3-day Faster Horses Festival was being held, when she was confronted and allegedly raped by three men. The woman was trying to make her way to the parking area near the U.S. 12 entrance. “She was attacked in the dark near the parking area, and there didn’t happen to be anyone around in that parking area,” Chief Wibbeler told Mlive.com.
The woman suffered multiple injuries as part of the sexual assault including contusions, scrapes, and scratches. After the rape, the woman was able to get the attention of other concertgoers who offered her assistance and called police. The woman was then transported to Allegiance Health hospital in Jackson, MI by ambulance where a rape kit was conducted. The rape kit is currently at the Michigan State Police crime lab for evidence gathering and analysis.
Manager of media relations at Michigan International Speedway Brad Kuhbander says the speedway is cooperating with the investigation. “Safety is our No. 1 priority. We work with police, fire, homeland security and the FBI on a regular basis to ensure the safety of all our guests,” he tells mlive.com.
Cambridge Township Police have been unable to identify any witnesses or suspects in the case. The alleged rape happened in a dark area, and beyond the description of “three white males,” investigators have no leads. The incident went unreported by local news until authorities felt they had sufficient evidence a rape had occurred and were lost for leads in the case. Authorities are asking for anyone who may have information on the alleged rape to contact Cambridge Township Police Department at 517-467-4737.
The news comes as stories of country concerts getting out of hand have been in the headlines this summer, including over the weekend when a drunk driver ran over a police officer at a Jason Aldean concert, and 30 concertgoers were taken to local hospitals. During the previous weekend, 55 people were arrested, and 22 taken to hospitals at a Keith Urban show at the Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass. Later it was also revealed that an alleged rape happened in the venue’s lawn section while as many as 15 people stood and watched and took video of the incident. An annual event in Pittsburgh became a national story when pictures of trash and drunken patrons went viral in late June. And a 22-year-old man was found dead in a dumpster in late July after a Jason Aldean concert in what is thought to be an alcohol-related incident.
Despite a rough start to Keith Urban’s week last week when one of his concerts in Mansfield, Mass. descended into a 55-arrest, 22-taken to the hospital & rape allegations kind of night, you could make the argument the country music superstar won the week.
I’ve always believed that character isn’t defined in people during their great moments, but during their bad ones. Keith Urban wasn’t any more responsible for what happened at his concert than anyone else beyond the troublemakers themselves. Even if you like to draw the parallel between the rash of bad behavior at country concerts and the corrupting nature of country music’s current crop of “Bros”, it’s hard to lump Keith Urban into that category (even if you think Keith Urban’s music is a big “lump” of something else). Still, Keith Urban made it a point to offer condolences about what happened at the concert; something that Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and others have refused to do after their own recent concert incidents.
“My team and I were horrified to learn of the events reported in Boston this past weekend and our hearts and prayers go out to all those affected,” Keith said in a statement. “This type of behavior stands in stark contrast to the spirit of our shows.”
Then by golly, Keith Urban took of his personal time to write an op-ed in The Tennessean about the preservation of Music Row’s historic places. The topic has been a hot button issue in and around the sale of the Studio ‘A’ building in Nashville and the studio’s caretaker Ben Folds being forced out. So Urban, whose also known for lending his name to preservation efforts like his big fundraisers for the Country Music Hall of Fame, picked up his pen to show support for Studio ‘A’ and other important landmarks in a piece called “Keep Music Row’s Past For The Future.”
Evolution is a constant part of music and life, but for me what’s always been at the heart of country music is simplicity and community. Music Row is where the past, present and future meet, and that’s a vital part of keeping balance. You can feel it as you drive along 16th and 17th avenues and see so many original buildings, including RCA’s Studios A and B; the house where Warner Brothers first opened their doors; Quad Studios, where Neil Young recorded “Harvest”; and Hillbilly Central, where Waylon Jennings and the boys transformed the status quo by revolutionizing the way artists could take creative control. … Not to mention the countless publishing houses where classic songs were and are written, pitched and demoed….
Nashville’s growth is exciting, but not at the risk of losing the creative epicenter that is Music Row and that truly makes Nashville Music City….
And then late last week, a tweet from Keith Urban (actually composed 10 days ago) started making the rounds on the retweet circuit hard and heavy. Apparently Urban is a big Sturgill Simpson fan, and Jake Owen is to blame. “Have to thank @jakeowen for hipping me to the one and only @SturgillSimpson…the new record will knock your #%^€ in the dirt – SERIOUSLY!!!”
So not only is Keith Urban a big Sturgill Simpson fan, Jake Owen is too apparently, and they’re both willing to proselytize their Stugill Simpson love to others. Then during a show in Indianapolis on Saturday (8-2), Keith Urban gave a shoutout to Sturgill from the stage to the 20,000 attendees, dropping the line “Turtles All The Way Down” into one of his songs. This similar type of peer recognition is how a fellow Kentucky native named Keith Whitley became a big country music player. Whitley was the kind of cool all the other country stars wanted to be, until eventually the Keith Whitely influence could be found everywhere in popular country music. Not saying that will happen with Sturgill, but if artists like Keith Urban and Jake Owen are actively listening to his music, it can’t hurt. And it certainly couldn’t hurt if one of them decided to cut a Sturgill song in the future.
Who knows, maybe we’ll hear Keith Urban singing about reptile aliens made of light in the not too distant future.
Yeah, probably not.
But it does symbolize that Sturgill Simpson is securing his place as a cult icon in country music. And this could eventually lead to bigger things.
***UPDATE (8-12) – Keith Urban has tweeted his Sturgill Simpson love again.
So here we are. It’s the summer of 2014, and the headlines that dominate the country music world have to do with mounds of trash and numerous arrests in Pittsburgh, a man found dead in a dumpster in Cleveland, a “mass casualty” event called by the local fire chief in Mansfield, Mass. at a Keith Urban concert, and then an alleged rape. Where exactly did mainstream country music go so wrong to where it is the new home for irresponsible behavior at concerts? How did a genre seen for over half a century as the bastion for family values and down home fun become one of the worst-behaved crowds in music?
First some perspective might be needed. Though the racy headlines might allude otherwise, how widespread this trend has become is somewhat inconclusive. As some have pointed out, the biggest stories of country concert problems have happened north of the Mason-Dixon Line for whatever reason. Also, numerous arrests for underage drinking, fights, and ambulance rides for numerous ailments are not out of the ordinary for music events by any stretch. The concern is how out of the ordinary they are for country music, at least historically, and how they’re clearly on the rise.
Part of this is simply a symptom of country music becoming the biggest, most dominant genre of American music. The crowds are bigger, younger, and the lowest common denominator is represented en masse. Country music is no longer a community, it is mass marketing. And like rock music of previous eras, it is attracting the most attention, and the most problems. However the idea that all the headlines of problems at country concerts is simply the media making hay upon a problem that has already existed for years is not fair either. Country music is changing, and a deeper discussion should be broached about how to manage those changes, and what the long-term effects those changes could have on the genre as a whole.
If you wanted to point to one single event where the current downward spiral started, you might consider the country concert in Mansfield, Mass. in late July. No, I’m not talking about Keith Urban’s concert on Saturday, July 26th, I’m talking about a Tim McGraw’s show on July 24th, 2011 at the same Mansfield venue.
During the middle of the concert, a 19-year-old attendee named Michael Skehill was jumped from behind by four men who proceeded to beat Skehill to within an inch of his life. The four men were heavily intoxicated, and though the dispute was said by some to be over a woman, the assault came completely out-of-the-blue to Skehill.The 19-year-old was a big man—a football player at Catholic University in Washington D.C.—but was blindsided in the lawn section and never had a chance to defend himself. If it wasn’t for a security guard and ENT responding to the assault as quickly as they did, doctors believe the assault would have resulted in murder.
“He would have died,” Skehill’s mother told a Boston news station at the time. “He had lost two liters of blood and, basically, he would have died.”
Michael Skehill was airlifted to the Boston Medical Center where he immediately underwent surgery. To save the young man, doctors had to remove his spleen. Skehill also suffered a severe concussion and other internal injuries. The four men were arrested and arraigned the next day, and eventually all four plead guilty to assault. It also came out in the investigation that in the lawn section of the venue that is now called Xfinity Center (and was then called Comcast Center), there is a section where young people from Mansfield congregate, and if you try to come into the area, you could be assaulted. In this area, underage drinking and other illicit activities are common. Whether this culture was still in place when the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl happened at this year’s Keith Urban show—sheltering the incident from outsiders and allowing it to occur longer than necessary—has yet to be revealed in the investigation.
The good news is Michael Skehill was able to recover, and besides a missing spleen, is getting along just fine. But the brutal incident went to symbolize the rise of violence, excessive drinking, and other embarrassing behavior for country music’s summer concerts that was trending upwards all across the country. The Mansfield Police Chief Arthur M. O’Neill after the Michael Skehill incident said at the time:
Country used to be an easy night for us. Now it’s anything but. Country’s just changed. I’m a country fan, but the music and the singers have a party motif about them now. It’s all about drinking … These kids, especially the girls, are getting drunker and sicker faster.
Just appreciate, this isn’t the Mansfield Police Chief circa 2014. This is in 2011. At the time, CMT’s Alison Bonaguro asked, “Is ‘Drunk and Disorderly’ the New Rule at Concerts?” in a story that looks eerily similar to ones running over the last few weeks amidst all of the high-profile incidents at mainstream country concerts.
One of the other significant events in country music in 2011 was the rise of the “Country Checklist” song. Though the term “Checklist” never stuck like its later replacement “Bro-Country”, the music the terms describe had been around years before “Bro-Country” was adopted at large. The music style was already monopolizing mainstream country music by 2011, and forcing women into minor roles in the format like never before. As pointed out by the late Chet Flippo in August of 2011, country music found itself for the first time in recent memory with no women in the Top 30 of the songs charts. Many of the trends that would dominate country music headlines in 2013 and 2014 were already in place in 2011, there just wasn’t a universally-recognized name for it, country media was mostly complicit about it, and the backlash was simmering, but not striking out in earnest.
And what was the biggest song of 2011? Jason Aldean’s landmark “Dirt Road Anthem”. The breakthrough country rap song glorified many of the elements that have gone into much of the lewd behavior seen on the rise at mainstream country music concerts. On August 7th of 2011, Saving Country Music asked if “Country Music Checklist Songs Were Causing an Erosion of Values,” citing the Michael Skehill case and songs like Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” specifically.
Yeah, I’m chillin’ on a dirt road, Laid back swervin’ like I’m George Jones.
Smoke rollin’ out the window, An’ ice cold beer sittin’ in the console.
Where ya learned how to kiss and cuss and fight too, Better watch out for the boys in blue.
Ya better mind your business, man, watch your mouth, Before I have to knock that loud mouth out.
But words and actions are two different things, right? They’re just songs.
Well, not really when it came to the culture that was becoming the norm at some of the country music concerts that featured artists that sang these checklist songs. In 2011, “Dirt Road Anthem” co-writer Brantley Gilbert was on the Country Throwdown tour with many other medium and up-and-coming performers. When interviewing another Thowdown Tour artist named Ausin Lucas, he explained how the checklist culture and fighting were beginning to coincide in the live country music experience.
He [Brantley Gilbert] is one of the most popular people on this tour. He’s really doing well for himself, but the thing is, his fans, they cause, they have a lot of fights. And this is nothing against Brantley Gilbert, who I think is a really nice guy. All the guys in his band are amazing people, and a lot of his fans are really cool. But there’s also this element, that country pissing contest, that checklist of things that make you more country, and one of them is fighting.
Fighting, excessive drinking, and other such behavior that were essentials on country’s checklist was beginning to show up in country crowds. Interesting that when the new country female duo Maddie & Tae sat down to write what is considered mainstream country’s preeminent Anti Bro-Country tune “Girl In A Country Song”, they said they made a checklist of all the things stereotypical country songs have. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”
Maddie & Tae also spoke about how the current male-dominated country trend sets subservient roles for young women that they feel they must follow to be considered pretty or popular by men. In the police report of the alleged rape of the 17-year-old girl at the Keith Urban show in Mansfield, Mass., the alleged victim told police that she went with the man because “she was afraid of what would happen” if she didn’t, speaking to the subordinate role many women are taking in corporate country’s current culture.
But are women really emulating the girls in country songs, and are the men really fighting and drinking to excess because they hear about it in the music they listen to? This seems to be an eternal debate, a chicken and the egg argument in music, that there’s probably not an easy answer for beyond pointing out that in the past, country music sang about drinking, fighting, and killing in a cautionary context, where now it is glorified to the point of being used for marketing specifically.
In the June 2013 issue of Playboy Magazine, writer Rob Tannenbaum wrote an extended feature on Eric Church called simply “The Badass.” In the piece, Eric Church and his manager John Peets reference the “Country Checklist” style of writing by name.
For his second album, Church wrote a song he knew was dumb. It’s in the same mold as other predictable rural-pride songs that work well on radio because they celebrate the consumer goods that are iconic in Southern life—call it a Country Checklist song. In this subpar effort, Church lays it on heavy: He mentions beer, barbecue, Jack Daniel’s, college football, fishing, trucks, chewing tobacco, NASCAR and cowboy boots. The only thing missing is something about hunting or tractors.
Church wrote it “almost out of anger or spite,” says his manager, John Peets. Church had seen similar songs amass a lot of airplay, according to Peets, “and he said, ‘If this is the shit that works, let’s just write one.’?”
“That was my Hail Mary,” Church says. “And the sad truth is, it works.” Although “Love Your Love the Most” became Church’s first top 10 single, it didn’t boost his career, because it was so generic. Radio play was up, but record and ticket sales were flat.
Then the Playboy feature took an even more interesting turn. In it, Church and his camp seem to glorify the excesses of his shows—how the crowd is drunk towards the point of incapacitation, fights break out everywhere, and rampant sex occurs right out in the open. “’There are some drunk motherfuckers out there,’ says Marshall Alexander, Church’s cheerful production manager,’” the piece says. Here are some further excerpts:
During tonight’s show, which I watch from the soundboard, the manager of one of the opening acts says he’s seen an average of three or four fights per night. A large part of Church’s success has come from filling a niche in the country market for a rugged, masculine singer.
While watching Church’s set that night, Moore saw a couple screwing in the audience. “A guy pulled a girl’s skirt up, and the dirty deed was going on,” Moore reports. “That was a first for me.”
It’s not a first for Church. He recounts a show last year in Battle Creek, Michigan where “half the crowd was fighting. And I saw guys who had girls bent over the rail, screwing.” His lighting designer—a guy who’d toured with nearly every major metal band, including Van Halen, Metallica and Guns N’ Roses—was shocked. “He said to me, ‘You should call this the Fucking and Fighting Tour.’”
Compared with Battle Creek’s, tonight’s audience doesn’t impress Church much. “There wasn’t mass bedlam, which is what I usually see.” Tomorrow will be wilder, he predicts.
So here was Church, openly bragging about how his concerts had become bedlam where “half the crowd is fighting,” bragging about open sex that from the stage could be hard to determine as consensual, and how this behavior is worse than what is normally seen at Van Halen, Metallica, and Guns N’ Roses shows, speaking deeply to the descent of the country genre compared to other genres. This was part of the Eric Church marketing—the image he wanted to portray: live experiences full of madness that people wanted to see and be a part of. And all of this is coming from one of the most commercially-successful artists in country music, and one whose album at the time had won Album of the Year from both the CMA and ACM—a true leader of the genre. After a while, whether the rowdiness of his concerts started as fact or fiction, the trend began to perpetuate itself and spread to other artists and other concerts.
But I know what some of you are thinking: “Is Eric Church really Bro-Country?”
One of the most curious aspects of the issues a Keith Urban’s recent Mansfield, Mass. concert is that Keith Urban is not one of these typical Bro-Country entertainers who constantly sing about getting drunk and fighting. Urban is from a earlier era, when soccer moms were country music’s primary demographic. His latest single “Cop Car” may veer slightly in the newer direction, but his American Idol judgeship spot notwithstanding, Keith Urban is not the type of artist that appeals to underage drinking fans or Bro-Country knuckle chuckers. So why was it his show that got so out of hand?
Because of the way the country music live experience is set up, it almost doesn’t matter what Top 15 pop country act you go to see, the same culture exists nearly at every concert. Of course there is some variation between every crowd, but not as much as one might expect. This is a symptom of the homogenization of the country format from radio consolidation and the dominance of male stars at the top of country ranks. But it is also facilitated by Live Nation’s Country Megaticket multi-concert package as pointed out by Windmills Country. The Country Megaticket is like a season pass for concert goers that covers most of the major country acts and the venues they play, including Keith Urban, and Mansfield’s Xfinity Center. Buy the ticket, and you not only have access to Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, but Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum. This Country Megaticket culture facilitates the spreading of the undesirable elements to country music shows that they would normally not appeal to. The fans show up for the party, with the music as the backdrop. Country music is the only genre that Live Nation offers the Megaticket for, because it is the only genre that can support it. Once again, country music’s size and dominance is hindering its ability to control and define itself.
One of the reasons the adoption of the term “Bro-Country” last summer was so unfortunate is because it symbolized in many people’s minds the start of a new era when in truth it was the continuation of a trend begun in earnest in 2011, and goes back even farther than that. Saving Country music declared 2011 “The Year of the Country Checklist Song.” This was before Florida Georgia Line had even signed a publishing deal, and six months before they released their first EP. The reason this is important is because to understand what is going on in country music in 2014, you have to understand these trends go back much farther than Jody Rosen coining the term in August of 2013. “Bro-Country” was also a more palatable way to couch the trend compared to “Checklist Country” which explained what the problem with the trend was right in the term. And now Bro-Country has been adopted by the very people it was meant to criticize.
So what can be done? Do venues need to beef up security? Should the artists get involved somehow?
One of the most surprising things about all of the recent headline-grabbing country music concert fiascoes is how silent the headliners have been about them. In 2013, when Kenny Chesney’s name was at the top of the marquee for the first wave of trash that filled the parking lots of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, the singer was curiously silent as the controversy raged. Same can be said for Luke Bryan who was the headliner at the same venue, and at the same annual event when it happened again this year, despite the media swarming the event in anticipation of problems. To Jason Aldean’s credit, he did send his heartfelt condolences out to the family and friends of the man found dead in a dumpster at his Cleveland show, but Keith Urban has said nothing about the most recent incident in Mansfield, Mass.—either about the arrests and hospitalizations, or the alleged rape. In fact Keith Urban removed a video in which he praised the Mansfield crowd, saying at one point, “Gosh, up on the lawn tonight? That was nutso.” So we know Urban’s PR team is on the case, they just simply don’t want to acknowledge what happened.
There are no easy answers here, and it is made harder because of all the money being made at these concerts. It is boom time on the country music touring circuit, and many of the tours are underwritten by the country’s major alcohol suppliers, from Budweiser to Jack Daniels. Though coolers are checked at gates, and ID’s checked at concession stands, there’s clearly a wink-and-nod culture when it comes to underage drinking at concerts, similar to how many venues have a wink-and-nod acceptance of marijuana. Teenagers are going to drink, and that’s an issue beyond country music or country music concerts. But when teenagers are in public places, it makes the situation more perilous, and results in injuries, arrests, and recently, alleged rape. The 22-year-old man who fell five stories into a dumpster at Jason Aldean’s Cleveland concert was said to be “extremely intoxicated.”
The problem can only be solved if there is an acknowledgement of its existence. But as Eric Church evidenced above in the Playboy Magazine piece, what may be bad publicity for some makes for good marketing for others. The lack of even acknowledgement of the issues from the headliners or their management seems to be almost a default approval, or at least a complicit posturing to the problem. The mentality appears to be that as long as the money is flowing and nobody gets killed, let’s keep the party going.
But now, somebody has been killed, and somebody’s daughter has been allegedly raped. Country music cannot afford to turn a blind eye any more.
Brad Paisley has been making quite the spectacle on Twitter over the last two days, claiming to be leaking bits and pieces of his upcoming album Moonshine In The Trunk against the will of his label Sony Music. Or so he says.
The frivolity started Saturday night (7-27) as Brad Paisely took to the social network site to post YouTube links to players that featured 2-second snippets of his new songs, all while supposedly stirring the ire of the “suits.”
“I’m going rogue.” Paisley said. “The label doesn’t know I’m doing this. Seriously. But I made a Moonshine Preview teaser. Don’t tell. Better listen to this while you can. I bet the label tries to pull it down. Clock’s ticking.”
Brad then posted links to the Youtube players, and later screen shots of supposed communications from Sony who was apparently trying to “shut him down” as he continued on his quest to release the teasers. “Hurry up and Listen. I’m going to dentention. Breakfast club!!! Here I come.”
Later Brad Paisely posted, “I really do love my record label. Especially for puttin’ up with my $h@t. But I love y’all even more. Ha! Priorities. Okay suits. Catch me if you can. Take 2: enjoy.”
And this continued with subsequent tweets as Brad Paisley complained that the YouTube players were getting yanked by Sony, and posted further players to circumvent them.
Then similar hijinks happened again on Sunday night. After Brad claimed he was restricted from posting the YouTube previews by Sony, Paisley supposedly recruited Ludacris—rapper and co-judge of ABC’s new reality singing competition Rising Star—to post the players for him. “I promised I wouldn’t post the link myself. Me. Myself. I. I’d love to post another link but they’re watching me like a hawk but I bet they’re not watching Ludacris.”
All of this was happening with ABC’s broadcast of Rising Star bisecting Sunday’s Twitter event. “OK great show everybody! Now back to the rebellion!” Brad said afterwards, along with more screen shots of supposed emails and texts from management.
Normally an artist rebelling against their label, even if that artist or their music doesn’t particularly fit the style of what Saving Country Music would condone, would receive nothing but cheering and steadfast support here. And it isn’t as if the Brad Paisley/Sony Music relationship is without problems. Brad has ongoing court dealings with Sony over the amount of royalties he’s been paid, but even in his “rebellious” tweets Brad said, “I really do love my record label,” and there’s never seemed to be a strain in the working relationship between Brad and Sony.
This Brad Paisley leaking episode is not him acting out against his label, it is pure marketing. Maybe Sony did not know that Brad was planning to leak the 2-second snippets, maybe they did. But either way, the entire episode was planned out, choreographed, and carefully executed by a marketing team assembled by the Brad Paisley camp. Whether Sony was in on the ruse really is inconsequential.
Normally when an artist rebels against their label, there’s a means to an end. All we have here is two seconds snippets of songs, and a remix of his already-released single “River Bank” with Colt Ford. There’s no freedom gained by Paisley, or any particular value for the consumer by posting two-second bits of songs. This is all to create a stir in the public, and by attempting to portray Brad Paisley’s actions as spontaneous, let alone rebellious, it is an insult to the intelligence of the country music fan. The lines in the tweets and texts are clearly canned, and it’s no surprise Brad was in cahoots with DJ Bobby Bones to release the “River Bank” remix. Bobby Bones is another character who is apt to fabricated attention grabs full of canned jargon an ambiguous gripes about “suits” shutting him down.
There are artists in country music and elsewhere that truly labor under unfair, unethical, and sometimes illegal conditions from labels, sometimes with tongue-tying clauses in their contracts that don’t even allow the artists the ability to speak on the matters publicly. Many artists were, and are resigned to this fate under Curb Records, and have to fight protracted and costly legal battles to gain the ability to release their own music, including Tim McGraw, Hank Williams III, and others, sometimes having to wait half a decade between releases as their careers lose momentum. To use this unfortunate reality of country music for many artists as marketing is in poor taste, and Paisley’s own potential short changing by his label for royalties should have made this even more top-of-mind.
Once again Brad Paisley is resorting to headline-stealing histrionics to try to remain at the top of the country music mindset in a move that undermines his natural talents, and his standing as one of mainstream country music’s good guys.
Rebellion my ass.
The Tim McGraw fan who has caused quite the stir over the last couple of weeks after video surfaced of her ripping Tim McGraw’s jeans and then Tim rearing back and slapping her across the face or head is now saying she might sue. Jesslyn Taylor and her lawyer, Georgia personal injury attorney Eric Hertz, say that Tim McGraw acted too aggressively, and that at the least Jesslyn deserves a public apology. Hertz says his client is furious that Tim McGraw is “slinging mud” and publicly humiliating her.
The incident happened in Atlanta on 7-13 at Aaron’s Ampitheatre at Lakewood, and was captured by numerous camera phones. Clearly seen in the video, a woman in the crowd reaches out to touch Tim multiple times before grabbing Tim’s jeans near his left pocket and causing a large rip. When the video surfaced, it outraged for some to see Tim slap the woman so aggressively, while others said he was justified after the fan touched him numerous times, and eventually ripped his jeans right before the slap. A spokesperson for McGraw said about the incident, ““He instinctively swatted to try and keep them from ripping his jeans (which they succeeded at doing), and so he could get to more fans who were trying to slap hands with him before the end of the show. He didn’t know who had grabbed him and was trying to keep his pants from being torn.” Tim was singing his song “Truck Yeah” as an encore performance at the time.
Tim McGraw did not personally respond to the incident until eight days later when he told ET Canada:
Sometimes things can lose context and perspective. I reacted in an instinctive, defensive way from my perspective of what was going on. I think it was an unfortunate situation, I think all the way around. But it happened, it happened in a split second, it was pure instinctive reaction, I think you just got to move on. It is one of those things that happen, nobody feels good about it, but there’s nothing that could be done about it. You are in that position, you are out there, you are vulnerable, things happen and sometimes you react. There’s nothing to be said about it.
Jesslyn Taylor was removed from the crowd by security immediately after the incident happened and detained at the venue. Eventually she was let go. Atlanta police have said no charges will be filed in the incident but Jesslyn could still file a civil suit.
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