It’s now beyond madness, this whole Bebe Rexha situation, and the story of her song “Meant To Be” that has now spent over five consecutive months atop the Hot Country Songs chart. And now this week she lands at #1 on country radio for the first time, and who knows how long she will be there, while “Meant To Be” continues to creep towards shattering even more records on its historic run. And instead of showing humility and gratitude, Bebe Rexha is out there now flaunting her success, lashing out at critics, and acting as if she’s entitled to country’s bounty as the cries at the injustice of what her song is doing are beginning to swell and to become more mainstream.
At this point, it’s fair to start characterizing what is happening with Bebe Rexha and “Meant To Be” as an existential threat to the institution of country music as we know it, and not come across as a hysteric. It’s not just what “Meant To Be” is doing, it’s the precedent it is making for pop artists invading the country space.
Now Bebe Rexha herself is acknowledging this, and sees her success as an opportunity for anyone and everyone in the pop world to make the jump into country without any preparation, any respect for the genre or its traditions, or any recourse from either other artists, radio, Music Row, the CMA, Billboard and other chart publishers, or anyone else. It’s open season as any and all delineation between who or what is pop or country in American music has never been more hard to define.
Bebe Rexha started off a Twitter storm on Thursday afternoon (4-27) first retweeting a previous quote from herself that read, “I want more pop artists to do country collaborations, and I bet that will happen a lot more in the next five to six months. I want to pave the way.”
Then she went on to say, “I truly believe ‘Meant To Be’ paved the way for other artists to jump into country. This is the most fulfilling thing to me more then #1.”
She then went on to say about herself, and not quoting anyone else, “Breaking boundaries. Fearless. Genre Blending.”
This is all from an artist who is exclusively pop, and hasn’t even released her debut album yet. There’s no respect for country in Bebe Rexha. There’s no respect for the process. Bebe Rexha has the record for the longest-charting song by a woman in the 60-year history of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and she’s giving herself props on Twitter for opening pop’s floodgates towards country.
And this pop invasion isn’t just a hypothesis from Bebe Rexha and others, this is exactly what’s happening. Just this week Billboard posted the headline, “Bebe Rexha Joins P!nk, Demi Lovato & More in Pop Parade Atop Country Airplay Chart.” Keith Urban just released a new record with two new pop collaborations, one of which with Julia Michaels called “Coming Home” is currently climbing the charts. As first reported by Saving Country Music, pop star Camila Cabello just released a remix of her song “Never Be The Same” featuring Kane Brown, with many fearing this is the impetus to bring the song to country radio, and thus, to the country music charts. It’s already being populated on big mainstream country streaming playlists.
Now there is even trouble brewing between pop star Stan groups, with some Bebe Rexha fans accusing Camila Cabello of playing copycat with Bebe Rexha, and declaring Bebe as the current “Queen of Country.” In fact this was the likely impetus for Bebe Rexha addressing the issue on Twitter. And note that if Camila Cabello’s “Never Be The Same” does end up at country, once again it will not be the country artist as the primary performer, but the pop one. And meanwhile there is still not one single solo country female in country radio’s Top 20, and all of the country women in country radio’s Top 40 fell spots this week, partly due to the surge of pop women in “country” collaborations.
Along with the other problems they present, these pop women populating the country charts let country radio programmers off the hook for the lack of women representation on the radio dial, while not developing or supporting any actual country women who’ve devoted their lives and careers to the genre.
At this point, the concern of what is happening on the country charts with pop collaborations is no longer a fringe opinion. You don’t have to be of the mindset that everything in country music must sound like Hank Williams to worry about the integrity and long-term viability of the country music genre and industry if as Bebe Rexha is flaunting on Twitter, pop stars can just “jump in” and find themselves at the top of the charts for historic runs.
Sam Hunt pretending to be a country artist was bad enough, but at least he emerged on Music Row. Very fundamentally, what is happening with these pop stars encroaching into country is the siphoning of dollars away from Nashville and towards the two coasts, while these collaborations are doing nothing more than promoting the pop side of the radio dial.
Someone, anyone, needs to put a foot down and make the very reasonable point that an artist like Bebe Rexha who hasn’t even released a debut album should not be able to dictate the future of country music, and talk down to those showing fair concern about the sonic integrity of the genre.
It’s not Bebe Rexha’s fault that she’s been at #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart for 21 weeks, or any of the other pop stars involved. It’s Billboard’s fault for making this possible through their chart rules, and doing nothing about it when it clearly became an issue. There are a dozen or more country artists who would have been able to proclaim a #1 on Hot Country Songs and used that to promote their music that will now not have that opportunity due to Bebe Rexha’s continuing monopoly at #1.
But now Bebe Rexha feels so confident in her success, she’s flaunting it, and deserves direct scrutiny herself. Do you think Bebe Rexha even knows who George Strait is, let alone Hank Williams or Waylon Jennings?
This madness must end. A reasonable voice with a large audience—even someone such as Luke Bryan or Blake Shelton—should say something, make the country industry take stock of the situation, and hopefully give a long-term assessment of what the industry wants to be moving forward. Does country want to be a genre where pop stars can just “jump in” as Bebe Rexha asserts? Or does it want to dance with the talent the brought it to this point in history as a strong and viable format that represents rural people, and the sounds and stories they share?