Adele & Taylor Swift Move on Country Radio with Chris Stapleton

There is a new pop invasion happening at mainstream country radio, and the conduit is Chris Stapleton.

Taylor Swift released Red (Taylor’s Version) as the latest installment of her re-recorded albums on November 12th, and on November 15th, a bonus song from the set called “I Bet You Think About Me” featuring Chris Stapleton was sent to country radio. Sending a single to country radio is not unprecedented for Taylor Swift since she officially left the genre in 2014. “New Year’s Day” was sent to country radio in 2017 from her album Reputation, and fizzled at #41. In 2020, they tried out the song “Betty” from Taylor’s album Folklore, and it failed after reaching #32.

Though in some ways country radio seemed receptive to the one-off Swift single if it somewhat fit the format (both songs were a bit more understated and “rootsy,” though not really “country”), these songs really didn’t seem to fit the bill exactly. “I Bet You Think About Me” though, it is giving off strong indications it could have significant impact on country radio.

Receiving hourly radio play on iHeartMedia stations, “I Bet You Think About Me” became the coveted “Most Added” track on country radio last week, and debuted at an incredible #23 on the charts, already blowing all of the other post-country Taylor Swift singles out of the water. Expect the song to fall slightly this upcoming week as it loses its hourly spins, but there is a significant chance this single could be the big return to country radio Swift’s new label Republic Records has been gunning for.

Another interesting development: iHeartMedia has decided that moving forward, they will only play the re-recordings of Taylor Swift’s songs once they become available across all of the company’s stations as opposed to the original renditions done for Big Machine that were eventually sold off, stimulating the re-recordings. Since nearly all of Swift’s re-recorded material spans her country era, this also has a significant impact on country radio. It also signals a cozy relationship between Swift and iHeartMedia, which could have implications in the future.

“I Bet You Think About Me” was co-written in 2011 with Lori McKenna at McKenna’s house in Massachusetts when Swift was performing in nearby Foxborough. It’s a wordy, meandering, longish story full of rather spiteful rhetoric about a girl who grew up on a farm, fuming about some guy from a big city and high society. Like many bonus tracks, there’s probably a reason it was left off the original release. Remember, at the time one of the prevailing criticisms about Swift was how all of her songs were about her ex-boyfriends, which for the most part, they were. This one is apparently about Jake Gyllenhaal.

“I Bet You Think About Me” is also about as “country” as all of Taylor’s material from that time—meaning, not very country at all—with apologists leaning on the occasional harmonica as justification for its inclusion on country radio, and of course, Chris Stapleton’s appearance.

And it happens to be that Taylor Swift is not the only massive pop star who espied Chris Stapleton as a smart conduit for getting their stuff played on country radio. Even before Chris Stapleton’s meteoric rise from obscurity in late 2015, Adele had been one of his earliest champions, was one of the first to record one of his songs, and both Stapleton and Adele have spoken about their desire to collaborate someday. We finally receive that collaboration in the form of the song “Easy On Me,” which is one of the bonus tracks on Adele’s new album 30.

As opposed to just appearing as a harmony singer like he does on the Taylor Swift track, Stapleton actually sings verses on this soulful, emotionally-driven piano ballad with no percussion. Comparing it with the Swift single, “Easy On Me” is probably the superior selection. A solo version of the song is one of the anchors of Adele’s 30 album. And similarly to Swift’s “I Bet You Think About Me,” iHeartMedia has already graced “Easy On Me” with hourly radio play, meaning that it will also debut high in the charts, and likely be the “Most Added” track on country radio.

And herein lies the problem with all of this. Could you claim that one or both of these songs are better than your average selection at country radio, not taking into consideration genre? Perhaps. Similar to Jennifer Hudson and Chris Stapleton blowing everyone off the stage at the recent CMA Awards (where Stapleton walked away with 4 trophies), when you put a generational pop star up against the inferior talent of most of pop country, there is no competition.

But you also have a new crop of country women working to replace artists such as Taylor Swift who abandoned the format, and they are getting hopscotched and potentially shaded out by these big pop names. CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Carly Pearce’s single “Never Wanted The Be That Girl” with Ashley McBryde got leap frogged by Taylor Swift’s new single last week. Swift debuted at #23, while Carly Pearce was at #27. Miranda Lambert’s “If I Was a Cowboy” sits at #29. Morgan Wade’s debut country radio single is trying to find traction as it sits in the mid 50’s.

With all the talk about how country radio will only play a certain percentage of women, who those women are is important. It’s not that country radio should be hostile towards Taylor Swift or Adele. Since Swift left the format admitting she had always been more pop, in some ways country owes her a debt of gratitude for being honest—something many of today’s “country” stars should also try. And undoubtedly, Adele is one of the greatest singers of our time (as is Stapleton), and “Easy On Me” is a great song.

But nonetheless, these are pop stars using the country format for attention and notoriety. And no different than Bebe Rexha, Gwen Stefani, Pink, and other pop stars who collaborated with more native country acts and usurped attention from country’s women, their appearance on country radio is problematic. Deference should first be shown to the women who’ve shown loyalty to country music like Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde, Miranda Lambert, and Lainey Wilson. Whether Chris Stapleton is involved, or not.

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