A Response to Texas Monthly’s Takedown of Saving Country Music’s Defense of Leon Bridges

Hey mom, look! I made Texas Monthly!

…wait, what?

Well you know what they say, always attack up. Unfortunately in this case I’m being attacked for being a racist for coming to the defense of a black artist, which is a little confusing. But I’m happy to be of service to Texas Monthly if it helps get their clicks up. You know, you always got to help the little guy next in line. 🙂

I just wish that if they were going to devote nearly their entire article to reefing little ol’ Saving Country Music in the nuts when I was nothing more than a bit player in a much bigger issue, they could have at least put my name in the headline, or extended the courtesy of an email to let me know it was coming, let alone the opportunity to elaborate on my position, clarify my comments if necessary, if not offer an invitation to come together to actually broach the subject in a meaningful and subsnative manner to help solve a problem as opposed to playing some game of politically-motivated gotcha journalism with out-of-context pull quotes.

But again, I don’t want to come across as ungrateful for being inked by a periodical I’ve looked up to my entire life. I’d thought I’d made it when I was interviewed by The New York Times and BBC, but I will cherish this distinction proudly until they bury me in the fertile Texas ground.

The reason for the skirmish centers around the Houston Rodeo (or Rodeo Houston as they prefer) booking throwback R&B roots artist Leon Bridges for their upcoming season, and specifically as the entertainment for the rodeo’s Black Heritage Day. Now before we get too far, it appears we’re all in agreement that the Houston Rodeo is so infinitely clueless on how to book the musical talent for its event, it’s an embarrassment to all Texans, and Americans, regardless of their ethnicity or origin. If you’re paying attention and have half a brain, it’s clear the Houston Rodeo gets this so embarrassingly wrong each and every year that it’s an opinion of rare consensus, and the only correct moves the Rodeo does happen to make are tantamount to a broken clock being right twice a day.

So they booked Leon Bridges this year for Black Heritage Day, and there was a big backlash from folks on social media saying that Leon Bridges was not popular enough to have earned the performance slot. And so I came to the defense of Bridges, not because I am a fan of his music, but because I have been on record over many years advocating for more Texans, and more diversity to be represented in the Houston Rodeo lineup. As a black performer from Texas, Leon Bridges embodied exactly the type of artist the Houston Rodeo should be extending an invitation to.

But that is not how it was taken by some who conflated the issue of Leon Bridges being appropriate for the Houston Rodeo, and Leon Bridges being appropriate for Black Heritage Day.

The way the issue was posed by numerous media outlets before Saving Country Music ever brought it up was that nobody knew who Leon Bridges was. His appropriateness to the Black Heritage Day audience was never broached in any other manner. So Saving Country Music illustrated how Bridges was an artist who was plenty popular, it was just the individuals attacking him were uninformed of who he was. In fact as commenters from the Houston community—including representatives from the Black Trail Riders, which Black Heritage Day is supposed to honor—joined in the discussion on Saving Country Music, a consensus of sorts emerged. Yes, Leon Bridges probably wasn’t appropriate for Black Heritage Day for a number of reasons, including that his fan base is predominantly white, and his sound doesn’t really have any kinship to the Black Trail Riders theme. But that doesn’t mean that Leon Bridges is not popular, or that he’s not the type of performer the rodeo should be booking.

But instead of extending this healthy conversation that Saving Country Music fostered, Texas Monthly saw an opportunity to stir even more divisiveness.

There are many flaws to the rebuttal Texas Monthly‘s Senior Editor John Nova Lomax makes in his assessment of Saving Country Music’s opinion that he ultimately resolves into a charge of racism. The first is how he goes about substantiating the basis of the article with anecdotal social media opinions, just as earlier media outlets did to establish their stories of the public outcry about the Leon Bridges booking.

As Saving Country Music said in its article defending Leon Bridges:

It’s hard to tell just how much of the Leon Bridges backlash is real, or if it’s just derived from local Houston media looking for drama. The impetus for a News Channel 2 story on the matter was people leaving feedback on the NBC affiliate’s Facebook page complaining about the Leon Bridges pick. Using Facebook comments as a barometer of public sentiment—or even worse, as the basis for media stories—is one of the fundamental problems with news coverage today. Facebook comments sections are often a slag pit of embarrassing illustrations from the worst of humanity, and I’d offer up your average Facebook comments section of Saving Country Music’s own articles as substantial evidence. They’re like funnels of idiocracy.

Granted, Texas Monthly used tweets instead of Facebook comments to establish much of its argument—as well as comments from Saving Country Music’s comments section—but the issue is the same: Why are we giving unverified, anecdotal opinions often shared from aliases such credence that they become the foundations of news stories or opinion columns? Not to say that there aren’t individuals angry at the Leon Bridges booking, or that social media cannot help gauge public opinion. But sifting selectively through the flotsam and jestsam of social media to establish arguments is not journalism. It’s the death of journalism, as is journalists veering way too far out of their realm of expertise to attack other journalists on flimsy pretenses because their attempting to report on a world they only know from the outside looking in.

Texas Monthly makes some assertions about Saving Country Music that are downright laughable.

…Coroneos unfairly contends that black audiences should be open to an unfamiliar artist, while the bulk of the rest of the Rodeo line-up are tried-and-true country acts popular on white radio, even if they are not to the exacting tastes of country traditionalists. Coroneos, one of those traditionalists, would prefer to see more country purists on the bill, like honky-tonker Chris Stapleton.

Hahahahah!

Chris Stapleton is a “purist” and a “honky tonker” ?!? Oh my word. Twice in just the last week on this website I have gone out of my way to explain how Chris Stapleton is the most vilified individual by country purists in country music right now, and is even more polarizing than Sam Hunt. Furthermore, most purists hate Saving Country Music for being a proponent of Chris Stapleton. This just shows the level of misunderstanding many modern journalists bring to subjects they attempt to be authoritarian over due to a sense of political and moral superiority.

Saving Country Music said in a review of Chris Stapleton’s collaboration with Justin Timberlake (and before I was aware of the Texas Monthly article):

Stapleton has become more polarizing to country purists than Sam Hunt, and that’s not hyperbole. They believe he is destroying country music, that he’s a liar and a complete fake, and wrote all the worst popular country songs of the last half decade.

And trust me Texas Monthly, just look in the comments section of the article to verify that opinion is true, since you’re so obsessed with people’s public comments.

The Texas Monthly article also seems quite obsessed with race in the article, talking about “white” country radio, and at one point saying,

“The people complaining on Facebook don’t care if it’s a Texas native playing Black Heritage Day, or have any desire to potentially discover something new,” Coroneos, who is white, wrote.

“They want Nicki Minaj to take the Houston Rodeo stage in a bodysuit, and rub up against a pole for 90 minutes while she lip syncs, because that’s what they’re familiar with.”

Many African-American fans saw Coroneos’s comments as uninformed, if not downright racist.

But how do you know I’m white, Texas Monthly? Did you email me to verify this? Did you just assume it since I’m such a country purist? Did you cyber-stalk photos of me on Facebook? Perhaps I’m Hispanic, or partly Hispanic. Doesn’t “Coroneos” kind of look like a Hispanic name? After all, I did name the album In Time by the Cuban-American country group The Mavericks Saving Country Music’s Album of the Year in 2013—the only country music periodical to ever name a top distinction like that to a predominately Latin artist or group. Does that sound like the work of a country “purist”? The album isn’t even really country. It’s Latin.

Why did it take so long for Texas Monthly to post its rebuttal to my article of why Leon Bridges belonged at the Houston Rodeo? Is it because I posted an in-depth look at the influence of African Americans in traditional country music and with a current list of black country stars on January 15th, which would have flown in the face of the idea that my white gaze looks beyond the experience of African Americans in music? In fact I’ll hold the record of this website in championing artists of minority status up against any others. And this isn’t just an “I’ve got black friends” argument. This site has posted some 4,500 articles over 10 years. You think you can get an in-depth understanding of what makes someone tick from tearing down one article and sniffing around the Home page for a bit? That’s why a discussion on this matter before Texas Monthly posted its article would have been more appropriate, especially when it came with the gravity of racism charges?

But you’re right, Mr. Lomax. I am white. I’m as white as the wind-driven snow. “Coroneos” is a Greek name, not Hispanic. But I don’t know what the hell that has to do with anything.

Anyway, the crux of the racist accusation comes in later in the Texas Monthly article.

Some R&B enthusiasts found Coroneos’s comments to be offensive as well as incorrect. Houston radio DJ Bobby Phats, host of KPFT’s “The Groove,” which showcases underground hip-hop and progressive soul and R&B, said that Coroneos’s assumption about hip-hop, Minaj and African-American music preferences was “incredibly insensitive” and “inflammatory.”

“The assumption that Black Heritage Night attendees would only want to see a female rapper ‘rub’ against a ‘pole’ while lip-synching is outright ignorant,” Phats wrote in an email interview.  “The author not only assumes that black audiences are not open to new music and artists, but also that only a half-naked female rapper with access to a stripper pole would be sufficient enough to satisfy them.”

But I never said that Black Heritage Night attendees, hip-hop fans, or African Americans in general would prefer Nicki Minaj rubbing up against a pole. What I said very specifically was the Facebook commenters complaining that Leon Bridges was not popular enough to play the Houston Rodeo would prefer that, because their sole argument against Leon Bridges was his lack of popularity. I also said as much in a comment on the Leon Bridges article, but that was selectively left out, while other comments were cut and pasted to corroborate Texas Monthly‘s precomposed argument. Also, it wasn’t just my personal assessment that black music has become a virtual monoculture centered around hip-hop. Questlove of The Roots said this, and I used his opinions as an established and respected black performer as the basis for that opinion.

And obviously, the comment about Nicki Minaj was illustrative hyperbolic bullshit. But of course in this politically-charged world, that can’t be accounted for.

By the way, here’s Nicki Minaj’s most popular video on YouTube if you would like some context to my comments about her. Pay special attention to the line, “Ass on Houston Texas, but the face look just like Clair Huxtable…” That’s what made me think of her.

Look, could I have been more careful with my words when defending the Leon Bridges pick? I probably could have. I probably should have left the Nikki Minaj comment out, and calling the losers on Facebook saying Leon Bridges wasn’t popular enough to play the rodeo “Cretins” was a poor choice of words. I was miffed because finally we got a bona fide Texan on the lineup, and he was the name receiving the most fervent backlash.

But the problem is not that Leon Bridges isn’t popular enough to play the rodeo. The problem is he’s not black enough for certain fans. And hey, that’s fine. I agree that the African American community should have the right to choose whomever they wish to perform on Black Heritage Day, and be representative of their tastes and interests as opposed to some outside critic’s opinion. In fact as I said as a response to one of the commenters on the original Saving Country Music article who was complaining about the Leon Bridges booking,

I think you and I probably have a lot more in common than you think. We’re both frustrated at the Houston Rodeo lineup annually. We both feel like they’re not representing the best interests of the music, or the public. You think real country music fans want to have anything to do with Florida Georgia Line? It’s embarrassing. This is two sides to the same coin. You want to tell me that Leon Bridges is not appropriate for Black Heritage Day because his music doesn’t fit the spirit of the day, then I will defer to your judgement. But what I didn’t want to go unchecked was the idea that Leon Bridges in not popular enough to play the Houston Rodeo, and the precedent protesting his inclusion in the lineup does for the future prospects of artists who do not fit the mainstream mold. We need artists like Leon Bridges, all of us. Just as the Houston Rodeo needs artists of diversity, and artists actually from Texas in their lineup. Leon Bridges fits both of those needs, even if he doesn’t fit in Black Heritage Day perfectly.

We also need to engage with the process, like you said. And that’s is what we’re both doing by voicing our concerns. Even though we may not agree 100%, I think this is a healthy discussion.

But that discussion wasn’t carried on by Texas Monthly, it was befuddled by it. Don’t bring the burden down on a bad booking for Black Heritage Day on Leon Bridges, or Saving Country Music of all places. Bring it down on the Houston Rodeo. Instead of Texas-based media outlets lobbing grenades at each other, how about we come together in discussion and consensus, figure out how to get the Houston Rodeo to listen to all the concerns from not just the African American community, but the Hispanic community that is also disappointed, and yeah, fans of Texas country that feel under-represented at the rodeo each year as well. We all have grievances, and they’re all of the same vein, which means we all have a universal purpose here.

The Houston Rodeo has the unenviable position in trying to keep everyone happy. But it appears they’re not making anyone happy. And that’s how you know there’s a greater problem, and our personal perspectives on it should not get in the way of a consensus that something should be done.