Billboard’s Country Charts at a Critical Crossroads
On March 5th, Billboard‘s long-time senior chart manager in Nashville Wade Jessen passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack at the Summit Medical Center in Hermitage, TN. His passing came as a shock to not just the Billboard community, but the country music community at large. Jessen was made chart manager in 1994, and also was known to many as a DJ on SiriusXM’s Willie’s Roadhouse channel covering the night shift. Before moving to Billboard, he was a program director at Nashville’s prestigious WSM-AM where he was once named by Billboard as the medium market “Program Director of the Year.” He was just 53-years-old.
Wade Jessen’s passing and the changeover at Billboard‘s senior chart manager position in Nashville comes at a critical time in the chart’s history, and the history of country music at large. Though the discussions and arguments about what is country and what isn’t are as old as the genre itself and can many times boil down to semantics and subjectivity, a serious case can be made for the integrity of country music being on the most spurious footing yet, and what the term “country” means to listeners never being more intangible.
Even at other times in country music’s history when the genre appeared to be at a critical crossroads, like at the height of the countrypolitan era right before the rise of the Outlaws, or the malaise of the 80’s rescued by neo-traditionalists like Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam, and onto the “Class of ’89” with Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, it’s hard to look back at any low point—creatively or commercially—and say the music still wasn’t grounded sonically in something resembling a country music sound.
In 2015, the names and music residing at the top of Billboard’s respective genre charts seems topsy-turvy and misguided. While Sam Hunt and his music that resembles next to nothing country is at the top of the country charts, an artist like Brandi Carlile who does uphold some of those country standards has the top album in rock. A very serious case can be made that those two artists should be switched, and that the fans of both genres are being underserved. And you can’t simply blame the fact that Sam Hunt is on a country label for the oversight, because so is Taylor Swift who now officially resides in pop. The charts are very tied to radio play, but radio play is the one sector where Sam Hunt’s success—as well as the success of other non-country acts in the country genre—has been seriously lacking, and the legitimacy of their presence in that medium has been called into question too.
So who is asking the question of who is country, and who probably fits more intuitively on another chart in Billboard‘s genre array? Is anyone, or are Music Row’s major labels left to do as they wish without any governor? The question about a song or artist may not even be if it is country or not not, but if it is more rock/pop/dance/hip-hop/R&B, and so more appropriate to put somewhere else. In October of 2012 when Billboard moved to increase the chart performance of crossover songs, the editor-and-chief at the time Bill Werde said he looked at the country chart, and still saw plenty of country. Would he still be able to say the same thing today?
Country music lacks leadership, and not just from artists, but in many of the civilian positions in the media that help set some common sense boundaries and parameters about what should be considered country on charts, for awards, and other accolades that are used to recognize achievement and dole out distinction in the genre.
Long-time Rolling Stone editor turned CMT senior columnist Chet Flippo, and The Tennessean‘s long-time music columnist Peter Cooper, used to be two members of the media in strong positions who would give opinions about the important doings in country music, and help establish greater opinion at large. At one point a couple of years ago these two important taste makers battled publicly around the issue of whether the Country Hall of Fame should allow more members in annually or continue their of policy of austerity. Which side of the debate was right was not as important as the fact that the debate was happening, and the issue was being discussed in a public dialogue. Such debates help spurn greater knowledge and understanding surrounding important issues.
Now any strong-voiced columnists or personalities helping to keep country music in check and doing so for an established country music media institution are virtually non-existent. Chet Flippo died in June of 2013, and for all intents and purposes was never replaced. Peter Cooper has moved on to work for the Country Music Hall of Fame in a position mostly out of the public eye, and The Tennessean‘s parent company Gannett is searching for a new Nashville music columnist. Add on top of that the departure of Sony Nashville CEO Gary Overton at arguably the most powerful label position in country music, the ostensible replacement of radio DJ Gerry House by Bobby Bones a couple of years ago, and the loss of Wade Jessen at Billboard, and some very critical spots have been lost permanently, while others that look to be filled in the coming months could have big implications on country music’s future.
Without strong-willed and unbiased voices and decision makers helping to guide country music, especially in the current environment where so much of country entertainment media is simply a sound board for the industry, label heads, managers, and publicists are allowed to do as they wish with little to no dissent or question being offered. So if Sam Hunt wants to release an album that would probably be more fit to be labeled under any other major genre but country, there’s nobody to hold up a stop sign and take a more long-term perspective by understanding the implications such a move might have.
Clearly the label executives and managers are unwilling to set up some very basic and sensible parameters of the country genre; they’re taking advantage of the fact that they’re working under a system where there appears to be few to no rules about what can be released as country. So then it falls to Billboard‘s chart managers, or country music columnists for example, or maybe an umbrella organization like the CMA to ask simple questions and make sure everything is kept in check. Monitoring industry is the duty of media—not to simply be a 3rd-party promotional arm.
Though it may be the opinion of certain fans, critics, columnists, DJ’s, or other media types that an act like, let’s say, Florida Georgia Line might not be very good, if their music falls under some very basic parameters of what country is or isn’t, then they should still be allowed to be considered for country music distinctions. Thoughts of taste should be divested from discussions about genre. But when an artist, like for example, Sam Hunt, is clearly not meeting those very basic country music benchmarks, then he should be designated to a more appropriate Billboard chart.
There was nothing keeping Taylor Swift from releasing the exact same songs that she did from her recent 1989 album to country radio and having them dominate the country charts along with the pop charts as she’s done before … except for her her conscience. There is no material difference between Taylor Swift’s recent singles, and the music of Sam Hunt, or recent singles from acts like Jerrod Niemann and the Eli Young Band.
It is time for Billboard and other organizations to step up and ask itself if the songs, albums, and artists being represented on their country charts would not be better represented elsewhere in the genre spectrum, and allow the artists who uphold at least a semblance of a country sound a little more of a fair shake moving forward. Because otherwise, every country artist will have to resort to sounding like something else besdies country to simply compete on the country charts. In fact, that might be exactly what we’ve seen recently with artists such as Gary Allan and the Eli Young Band.
Country music isn’t just charts, numbers, and units sold. It’s a people’s culture and a people’s identity. It is something to draw strength and character from, and something to calibrate a compass to. Other genres are based on breaking rules, while country is based on preserving them. Country music is something you can count on being there no matter how strange the world might turn, or what calamities may come to pass. That is why it is important for country music fans, artists, media, and industry types to safeguard the institutions of country music, fight for their integrity, and preserve them for the long-term.
“To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards of men” –Abraham Lincoln
March 19, 2015 @ 9:37 am
Country music had lost it’s identity since 2012.
March 19, 2015 @ 9:43 am
Well the Mayans did say the world would end in 2012, it just happened to be the country music world
March 19, 2015 @ 9:48 am
it’s been dead a lot longer than that
March 20, 2015 @ 6:27 pm
The day they buried George Jones was the same day they buried country music.
March 25, 2015 @ 10:03 pm
I would agree with that statement but I believe you got the year wrong. When Mutt Lange got involved in the early 90s is when traditional country lost its way. I hung around a few more years and couldn’t take it any more. Bubblegum country was as prolific back in the 90s as it is today. When I first heard clay walker, I tuned out. Now I listen to the Texas scene, or what I refer to western music.
March 26, 2015 @ 4:46 pm
March 19, 2015 @ 10:34 am
Trigger ..your last three paragraphs above crystallize the issue beautifully . Very well articulated indeed .
Further to my recent comments on the “big picture ” , I believe that its an outright insult and inexcusably offensive to the creative people – songwriters, artists , incredible musicians , singers and dedicated label people -involved in the country music industry over its history , to allow greed and the accompanying corporate mandates to destroy what those creative artists have lovingly worked so passionately to put in place and preserve over their lifetimes .
Culturally speaking , indeed a genre’s identity is important not only historically , but to ensure diversity, variety and the right home for a creative artist’s vision to be realized not compromised , explored not exploited , and celebrated for its contribution to the identity of the genre , not the identity of a label head and not watered down to be spoon feed to an uncaring , uniformed and unwitting audience . An artist needs to be inspired by the knowledge that his work WILL find the appropriate forum , not undermined and discouraged by a lack of understanding , commitment and integrity on the part of the industry ‘powers that be ‘ .
I do not want a landscaper doing my carpentry .I want carpenter who respects the craft and brings his experience and passion for the trade to the job site every day , uses the right tools for the job at hand , takes the time to do it right and doesn’t compromise on materials .
March 19, 2015 @ 10:37 am
All very true but I have not seen any evidence that the people you mentioned like the CMA or Billboard are willing to step up. And the main reason is that they have all become so incestuous that they don’t have it in them to take a stand against their members (in the case of the CMA) or their advertisers (in the case of Billboard). And as you pointed out there really are no elder statesman with any kind of sway to shame them into addressing some of these problems.
There’s a big part of me that thinks the game’s up for real country music as a mainstream genre. That doesn’t mean that real country music won’t be made and that some of it won’t be great but that the days of a real country artist breaking out big (and I mean culturally) may be over.
Really hope I’m wrong but the way society is headed I’m pretty pessimistic.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:23 am
The real problem stems from the fact that no one wants to say anything in fear of “offending” others. My service fraternity has the same situation, we disregard our guidelines all the time. Anything goes means no standards.
March 19, 2015 @ 11:21 am
Yes country music is part people’s culture. I have been screaming about this disrespect to my heritage for some time. And supposedly Sam Hunt has some country heritage in him so he’s taking a turd on his own roots. I understand the money machine yaddaa yadda yadda but why is mainstream society seems to pretty much not care at all about it own music history and culture. I mean young and old people. I know plenty of older folks who adore Sam Hunt and Taylor Swift and blabber about this great new cuntry sound. UGH. I wonder is traditional Irish music in Ireland is suffering the same indecencies?
March 19, 2015 @ 3:25 pm
Do older blacks bemoan what’s become of R&B? Soul? Do they wonder why the blues and gospel roots have been pissed on by what tops the charts as black music today?
Not being facetious, but I see parallels.
March 19, 2015 @ 3:35 pm
Yes, they definitely do. And not just older fans. There was much unhappiness from the Hip/Hop R & B genre when Billboard changed the chart rules a couple years ago for many of the same reasons mentioned in this article.
March 19, 2015 @ 3:41 pm
I’m not black, but I love a lot of old R&B, particularly from the 80s. Unfortunately, hip-hop fundamentally changed R&B.
March 19, 2015 @ 10:46 pm
Yes hip-hop and RNB are in the same boat. I remember Missy Elliot saying, “Hip-hop is definitely not what it used to be, which was creative, original music.”
And in hip-hop sampling is a part of genre and the culture but is seem like back in the beginnings people knew most of the samples, they had context. Now it seems like kids think the whole song was created brand new in the past 5-10 years.
I am not sure about blues and jazz as they are not mainstream though I know “smooth jazz” has done it’s damage to traditional jazz. I’m looking at you Russ Freeman and you too Kenny G.
But since there are parallels in so many genre, well rock is dead in the mainstream world, but anyway there are similarities in all genres even Heavy Metal. So maybe the best plan of attack or solution is for the genres to unite NOT as a mono-genre but like The Justice League and fight the industry all together for the benefit of all. Because maybe in larger number we’ll have greater impact in more areas. I mean every fan wants the same thing better quality music and artists in ther repective genre and less stranglehold on mainstream radio and more avenues to get good music promoted and heard.
March 19, 2015 @ 10:51 pm
I would disagree about the jazz point. Smooth jazz is the only type of jazz that I derive any emotional impact from.
March 20, 2015 @ 12:13 am
Interesting I really am only into swing era jazz and singers 20s-mid 50s and the 50s era singers like Chet Baker and June Christy and Sarah Vaughn. Some new cats are OK like Jacqui Naylor, Karyn Allison. Kurt Elling, John Pizzarelli etc…
March 20, 2015 @ 12:56 am
My favorite type of jazz is the solo-singer style from the 1950s and 1960s. Here’s an example of a jazz song that I love, due to the beauty of the vocals, the smooth melodic style, and the fun yet geographically informative nature of the lyrics:
March 19, 2015 @ 11:34 am
Great article Trigger!
March 19, 2015 @ 1:10 pm
I feel, as recently as even five years ago, country music in the mainstream is no longer regarded, in the default sense, as a family tradition.
It is now viewed as a state of mind.
And this has unprecedented, serious implications………..because when you approach something loosely as a state of mind, you wind up deluding most ANYONE: “………..wait! I’m country too!”……………..and the problem with that is that country music is quntessentially defined by the blood, sweat and tears of real-life experience that suffuse the soils around it and tell stories. I use the metaphor of a banyun tree to explain my appreciation of country music among friends………where each of the elongated branches resemble its diverse traditions including Red Dirt, Bakersfield, Appalachian folk, Lubbock, Rockabilly, etc.
But when you approach country, rather, as merely a state of mind……………….it becomes insular. And when a bunch of people insist they’re country just because they have a country state of mind………………it results in an impersonal recognition of the broader tradition because of how insular their take on country is.
Forget about the fact Sam Hunt’s instrumentation, production choices and songwritig have virtually nothing to do with country for a minute. When you listen to a song like “Ex To See” or “Take Your Time” or “Speakers”, do you hear any sort of qiver or ache in Hunt’s vocals that articulates a culture he is drawing strength and character from? Of course not. He doesn’t sound emotionally invested in any of those songs. His delivery comes across as absolutely flat with the exception of “Ex To See”, where he just comes across as pissy and whiney.
Brandi Carlile, in contrast, has a body of work that constantly channels emotional realism. I mean, I wouldn’t consider it straight-up country, but I would confidently argue her most recet work at least is more consistent with country than rock, and either way it’s great music.
March 19, 2015 @ 4:05 pm
I know this really does not address your point (which is a good one) but please don’t send Sam Hunt to the rock charts, we don’t want him either.
March 20, 2015 @ 5:56 am
Agreed. If I ever heard something sounding like Sam Hunt on a rock station (if I still listened to the radio), my first thought would be “did they change the format to top 40?” His music wouldn’t even qualify as “bad rock.”
March 20, 2015 @ 7:30 pm
Most bro-country certainly qualifies as bad rock.
Sam Hunt is actually quite a bit better. His music is smoother and his lyrics tell a story rather than simply listing country artifacts.
March 19, 2015 @ 4:06 pm
Sam Hunt’s success at radio is lacking compared to everything else? How so? His first single hit #1, his second single is close to doing that too (though it may yet not). At the very worst, it’s a Top 10 hit that’ll be Platinum. I fail to see how that’s unsuccessful, especially for a still ‘new’ artist.
March 20, 2015 @ 12:26 am
That point was a little undercooked, I admit. But I think Sam Hunt’s success has been built from streaming and sales, and then country radio has reacted to that, instead of vice versa. And I think his sales and streaming has outperformed his radio success overall.
March 20, 2015 @ 7:57 am
And Sam Hunt is perhaps the only country star to get radio to notice his streaming success. It’s failed to help most other artists (perhaps RaeLynn has been helped as evidenced by her Gold sales for a barely Top 20 hit single and recent debut high on the digital sales chart with her follow-up single). But that point is there.
If radio really cared about streaming, regardless of label affiliation, they’d be playing Aaron Watson’s “That Look,” a song I contend should be RIGHT in their wheelhouse. But, as usual, it’s because of label dollars and working the phones that Sam Hunt’s had the success he’s had and unfortunately, I don’t see Billboard’s new chart manager having any real say in what is ‘marketed’ as mainstream country via radio or downloads. That’s usually something the labels do together with Billboard (evidence Taylor Swift’s RED/1989 singles not even sent to country radio and Zac Brown Band’s rock track with Chris Cornell).
March 20, 2015 @ 10:08 pm
Radio notices streaming for many artists but it’s only one programming factor. The problem for country music is that radio ignores streaming and sales for some of the best country artists and music and instead plays the hell out of pure pop like Hunt, so the better country doesn’t get noticed or streamed as much by the audience. People can’t stream what they don’t know about and a lot of the streaming comes after they hear songs on the radio. A reason why Aaron Watson and Brandy Clark’s country isn’t getting played on mainstream country radio is because Sam Hunt’s pure pop is, which is a point Zac Brown made. And many “country” music websites are endorsing the pure pop. That’s why this article is needed.
March 20, 2015 @ 7:58 am
I’ll also add that given her sexuality, mainstream radio would have nothing to do with Brandi Carlile if they’re not gonna play the more mainstream ‘friendly’ Brandy Clark (as an artist).
March 20, 2015 @ 9:42 pm
Hunt’s “hot” looks, pop/R&B music, and success (via payola?) at “country” radio are why he’s selling. Are you defending him? If so, isn’t this article partly about you? You also gave Clarkson’s awful pop/rock Tie It Up, which was very disliked on country radio, a grade A review right? Why on earth would a country music site do that and defend bro-country? Who is paying you guys to stand up for pop?
March 19, 2015 @ 5:03 pm
Sam Hunt don’t belong to country music. he belongs to pop. Sam Hunt’s cd is bland and boring. anyway Hunt has no business in the country music industry.
March 19, 2015 @ 10:10 pm
Sam Hunt is only in the country genre because he knew it was a “get famous, get rich quick” scheme. theres an assload of pop music artists, I’m more than sure he didn’t want to compete with the masses, as he would’ve if he had released his music in that genre. No one has to worry though, just like Florida Georgia Line will fizzle out as some time passes, Sam Hunt will do. His 15 minutes of fame won’t last years down the road like true country artists.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:06 am
Really? You know what Sam Hunt is thinking? You think he decided to come to Nashville to make a gazillion dollars? You clearly don’t understand artists (even ones you admire) if you believe that even for a second. Just because someone is in the mainstream or the polarizing music they make seems to taken the “path of least resistance” doesn’t make it true.
Feel free to question the music. Feel free to hate the artist or the music. Feel free to call it boring as the guy above you did but don’t ever question why any artist decides to go to Nashville to be an artist. Unless you were able to have a conversation (that you recorded for proof) don’t question their integrity as a creative person by saying stupid stuff like “Sam Hunt is only in the country genre because he knew it was a “get famous, get rich quick” scheme.” It’s just not true.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:28 am
People have the right to question his motivation when he absolutely sounds nothing like country.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:33 am
I don’t see it. What if his path was exactly as it is now but he was playing stuff like Isbell and Hank3 and was scoring the very same success? Would you question him then? By your statement you wouldn’t because you’d like what he’s playing and consider it country.
But recording songs in a mainstream environment that sound like Isbell or Hank3 is just as radical as what Hunt was doing when his music came out. It was different than anything else in the mainstream country environment at the time. Especially when he was giving versions of his music away before final studio versions (that aren’t that different) came out.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:44 am
I haven’t listen to Hank3 or Isbell yet. Regardless, if it doesn’t have a thread at all to previous country work, it doesn’t belong on the country format. Sam Hunt is a talented pop singer. Keep him off the country format.
March 20, 2015 @ 10:34 pm
“Unless you were able to have a conversation (that you recorded for proof) don”™t question their integrity as a creative person by saying stupid stuff like “Sam Hunt is only in the country genre because he knew it was a “get famous, get rich quick” scheme.” It”™s just not true.”
But Hunt’s music isn’t the least bit country or country/pop and that is true. And country radio playing it and websites endorsing it only makes the problem worse. Now many teens are convinced Hunt is country and radio will play more pure pop instead of country. My guess is Hunt is in the country genre because his label Universal put him there for marketing purposes, and they and radio are partners in the country going pop movement.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:25 am
I’ll also add that even claiming that he was making a cash grab of any kind is false because who was making music as “R&B” as his music on country before he came along. He’s not “bro” he’s making something different. It was a huge risk that country radio would play him (even the current single “Take Your Time” with the Drake-like sing-song verses was a risk after the more ‘normal’ first single). It’s pretty clear he took a risk and didn’t know if it’d work until after he started gaining success thanks to The Highway as an indie artist who actually GAVE AWAY ‘acoustic mixtapes’ of the demos he and his co-writers made. Many of these songs ended up on his album.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:41 am
Sis Boom Bah!
Jeez it’s these kind of comments that make Roughstock one of the most sycophantic websites in country music.
I suggest a new tagline ‘If the labels push it Roughstock LOVES it’.
March 20, 2015 @ 8:55 am
Really? Roughstock has routinely praised stuff outside the mainstream. It’s just that the music in the mainstream isn’t nearly as bad as some who comment here claim it is. The favorite albums of the year list may include an album like Sam Hunt’s (because it was really strong to me) But I also praised and continue to include chart numbers about Sturgill, I LOVE the Asleep At The Wheel project, Aaron Watson’s music is fantastic (and not just because they put our quote front and center on a major trade ad buy).
Roughstock has never been a “sycophantic” website. We write about the mainstream because as a country music site, that is where a large portion of the audience is. But how much have the sites you’d consider “sycophantic” with Roughstock (The Boot, Taste Of Country, CMiL, etc.) written about artists like Sturgill, AATW, Aaron Watson, Texas acts in general? That’s right, they don’t. We also rarely report on gossip or fluff (outside of a freelancer’s exclusive on a mainstream star’s marriage or child every now and then).
March 20, 2015 @ 9:07 am
Defensive much? I never said you didn’t praise independent acts and I have absolutely no problem with covering mainstream country music but I do have a problem when virtually every review or post reads like a press release talking about the next ‘star’ or whatever. Just as it’s hard to take someone who hates everything seriously it’s equally hard to take someone who seems to just love everything seriously.
I’m sure you’re a nice enough fellow but it’s these kinds of websites that focus on mainstream country that could do some good by pointing out that there are serious issues with a lot of what is being released by the major labels.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:08 am
Also, Scotty, how did anything I wrote denying Sam Hunt’s perceived ‘cash grab’ have anything to do with “sycophantic” stuff?
Everything I wrote (which you replied to) was written about him chasing a style of music that wasn’t even “mainstream” when he started making it. It was a huge risk for him and his management team to undertake, right down to giving all of the music away (which is so not the Nashville way of doing things).
March 20, 2015 @ 9:25 am
I was only defensive of the use of the word “sycophantic.” And if you notice Roughstock’s not all about reviews and Never was. We actually rarely ‘review’ anything anymore because, nobody really reads reviews. There are only weekly album reports (where a paragraph at most is devoted to a project) and weekly single review posts where we will give one or two sentences on a song.
March 20, 2015 @ 10:43 pm
“It”™s just that the music in the mainstream isn”™t nearly as bad as some who comment here claim it is.”
Really? Because some of it is terrible and artists say it is too. Hunt’s record might be better than some. For a teen pop record it’s a B at best. For a (completely fake) “country” record it’s a F-. Cue the “why do we need and who cares about genres, it’s all music” trolls. Ok, then why have any separate radio formats? Screw it, merge them all and have just one station and chart for radio, itunes, and everywhere.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:15 am
My comment was more in response to all your comments about him on this thread as opposed to the one I replied to.
And to clarify I have no problem with you or anybody else liking Hunt or anybody else but it’s all this glossing over the serious issues that this kind of music has for country music and it’s traditions. Maybe that is not important to you but it is to me and many others.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:33 am
I grew up knowing and respecting traditional country music but I’ve long held that the song content is the real heart of country music and not the melodical “wrapping” that goes around it.
But I can even concede that the trend with seemingly everything about moonlight, pickup trucks, and parties being too much. I will contend — as someone that grew up in the middle of nowhere — that field parties, driving down dirt roads, and other country tropes DO still happen. But it definitely gets old to have every other song seemingly a mid to uptempo track about these topics when great songs like “She Don’t Love You” and “What We Ain’t Got” struggle at radio (as is Little Big Town’s similarly strong torch ballad about envy, “Girl Crush,” despite connecting on a sales level).
I really hope someone like Mo Pitney can break out at Radio because I firmly believe this guy is what the format needs at the moment. I think having him around would help bring some of the traditional song topics (life, faith, family, dogs, etc.) back even if it’s never going to be able to return whole-heartedly like it used to always do. There’s clearly room and desire for at least some of the mainstream to be actually rooted in country’s traditions, even if it’s only lyrically and not musically.
March 20, 2015 @ 9:50 am
But I would argue that the lyrical content of someone like Sam Hunt is just as if not more problematic than some of the ‘drinking beer on a dirt road next to a river bank with my girl’ people.
Anyway I just wish there were more websites that would take country music seriously and not just the country music industry because they are two different things. And when the ‘industry’ is allowed to basically do whatever they want without strong voices pushing back against them we get the environment we are now in.
March 21, 2015 @ 9:02 am
Actually, Chris, Sam Hunt’s label didn’t put him in country’s genre. HE and his management did. He was already in Nashville for many years trying to be like everyone else. His first single with this sound (“Raised On It”) was sent to The Highway on SiriusXM. It got played. The label just smartly kept him there because fans already know him as country.
March 22, 2015 @ 5:18 pm
Does the backstory matter to country music fans who want to hear country music on country radio? If a powerful label didn’t market Hunt as country and push his singles to country radio, his pure pop would not be taking space and airplay away from country songs on radio, the iTunes country chart, country streaming charts, awards shows and CMA Fest.
Look at the Slacker country streaming chart http://blog.slacker.com/eq/
Hunt’s pop songs are taking up 2 of the 40 spots and some of the bro-country acts are taking up more than 2 because radio constantly overplays them. The Billboard Country Update streaming chart only has 20 songs so Hunt takes up 10% of that chart. Without heavy airplay he wouldn’t be on the chart. XM played a few women for a week then proclaimed in Country Aircheck (for all programmers to read) that no one is interested. Playing a few women for a week isn’t a serious effort and there are women they didn’t play that week with better music and doing better. And playing pure pop probably makes many listeners less interested in country. Where’s the gatekeeping? Why can’t people who want to hear pure pop just listen to pop radio? There’s no shortage of pop stations.
The label and radio gatekeeping sucks and went from grade B to F overnight and that’s why mainstream country is screwed. Hunt is one of the new tools or puppets in the country going pop movement. Maybe he wanted to be in the country genre but his music is not at all country in genre and if he wanted it to be country it would be.
Hunt is new and didn’t have to be marketed to country radio. It’s not like he was a Luke or Jason already on there for years so they are going to be played anyway. He’s a new pure pop guy taking up another top slot from far better country artists with any kind of country from pure to country/pop. Many country artists deserve that #1 slot before and more than Hunt, and Kacey Musgraves, Mickey Guyton and Josh Turner are on the same label with him. Universal can say country radio isn’t playing women or country but putting Hunt’s pure pop on country radio isn’t helping the situation. Labels see the Sam Hunts and country radio as another way to sell more pop and don’t care if it screws over country music, artists and listeners. What would Taylor Swift and other pop artists think if labels and pop radio screwed them over by saying “we’re going country” and played pure country instead of her and other pop artists?
The point of this article is just because we’re being lied and force fed pop doesn’t mean everyone in the media should play along and act like pure pop music is country or good for country music, making the problem worse. Don’t be afraid to call a spade a spade.
March 19, 2015 @ 5:07 pm
I realize it’s childish, but can we collectively start referring to this guy as “Sam Cunt”?
March 19, 2015 @ 6:03 pm
Yes it is childish Clint.
March 19, 2015 @ 6:05 pm
Is that 1 vote for “no”, Pete?
March 19, 2015 @ 6:38 pm
March 19, 2015 @ 6:39 pm
March 19, 2015 @ 6:40 pm
I thought about it Clint and I do agree with you about Sam Cunt it’s funny.
March 19, 2015 @ 10:11 pm
how about Sam Blunt? oh wait….nah…he might like that….Sam Hunt sounds like a rapper name as it is, let alone “Sam Blunt” LOL
March 19, 2015 @ 11:04 pm
I’d say this thread has strayed to the point where it has almost nothing to do with anything anymore . Kinda like the country music genre ……
March 20, 2015 @ 12:25 am
lmao…..excellent point, man!
March 23, 2015 @ 8:00 am
Great article, Trigger. Heartfelt pleas like this are what all of these greedy executives need to be bombarded with. It’s less to do with traditionalism than integrity. As I’ve said a handful of times, I’d say that country music still had integrity around 2007 or so. However, a little later someone in Nashville figured out that you couldn’t spend integrity on a new house or put it into savings, so it’s on the outs.
Articles like this are why I started regularly reading this site. As they’re wont to do, a lot of people complain (myself included), but what you do here is very much appreciated by this individual, Trigger. It’s good for the soul. They may not know it yet, but when you eventually quit writing for SCM (whether that be in 1 year or 30) people will miss you when you’re gone (not that I want you to go anywhere! 😀 )
June 25, 2015 @ 5:47 pm
I still can’t understand just how exactly everybody blames Taylor Swift for the entirety of country music’s downfall. She was a pop artist taking control of the country genre… but what really defines a song to a genre? …Well, once you get rid of all the politics and people marketing a song just because of money, what really makes a song belong to a certain genre?
“A music genre is a conventional category that identifies pieces of music as belonging to a shared tradition or set of conventions.”
Ok, so what distinctifies a song from being pop or country?
That can sometimes be difficult to answer, but the way the song is mixed can sometimes clear this up. While most other genres mix vocals where you can just hear them a little bit in front of the music, country has always focused more on the vocals than the actual music that it is being played too.
…So, the main focus of a country song is the lyrics, but the music still has something to do with it. Country music has never been known for its aggressive bass lines, punchy electric drum loops, or synth stabs.
The main instruments of country are acoustic drums, bass, acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and possibly a harmonica.
Now that I’ve finally gotten all that established…
It could be argued that until Max Martin’s inclusions in the album “Red,” Taylor Swift was a country artist. Her songs worked around the lyrics, which were for the most part (exception being the country remix of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”) real emotions that were being felt. There was substance in her lyrics, and they were conveying messages about loves found and loves lost, which are typical themes of the stories told in country music up to 2012.
Ok, so, Taylor, for the most part, wrote songs that were deep and heartfelt on her first four albums (minus the three Max Martin tracks on “Red.”) The instrumentation also drew from the instruments that were normal in country music. When stripped down, most Taylor Swift songs were: an acoustic rhythm guitar that provided the main melody, an acoustic drum kit to give it a beat, a base guitar that held the low end, and piano chords that came in behind the chorus. The rest of the song was done by accenting electric guitar, piano, strings, ect.
Taylor was not the one who starting using the electric drum loops that instantly kill country songs. The only songs she has ever had an electronic drum kit in have been songs marketed to pop radio. One of the first country artists that I remember using e drums was Blake Shelton with “Sure Be Cool If You Did” in 2012. That song spent five consecutive weeks at number one and even received the most airplay for the last two of those weeks. After one week of “Wagon Wheel…” that’s when it happened: the re-release of “Cruise.” “Cruise dominated 2012 and even extended its tyranny in 2013.
Florida Georgia Line spent nineteen consecutive weeks at #1 with their bro country anthem of the summer before it was dethroned by another bro country anthem. Luke Bryan then got his chance to take charge with “That’s My Kinda Night” that was #1 for twelve weeks. (For the record, “That’s My Kinda Night” was the second big song to feature electronic drum sounds followed shortly by “It Goes Like This” by Thomas Rhett and “Little Bit of Everything” by Keith Urban which both recieved the most airtime for a week a piece during “That’s My Kinda Night’s” #1 period.) After thirty one weeks at the top , bro country had made it’s impact. Those two songs had spent 59% of the year at number one. This trend appears again in 2014 just after Flordia Georgia Line gets another #1 with “Stay.”
After taking control in 2013, both Flordia Georgia Line and Luke Bryan again dominated the charts in 2014. After eight weeks of their somewhat better material (“Stay” and “Drink a Beer”), Cole Swindell takes the charts for two weeks with “Chillin’ It” which is known for its memorably synth melody in the intro, after the chorus, and outro. It is then replaced by another bro country song that also recieves two weeks at #1, “Bottoms Up” by Brantley Gilbert. Then FLGL (for simplicity) and Luke Bryan get the number #1 position again with their earworm, “This is How We Roll,” that is known for its rapped second verse. “TiHWR” spent a month at number one before becoming a distant memory before yet another Luke Bryan song takes the top AGAIN. “Play it Again” with its headlight circles and dixie cups full of adult beverages takes eight consecutive weeks before being dethrowned by “TiHWR” for another week. But don’t be sad, it gets another week at the top afterword before falling from the charts. The sky starts to clear, and we see some Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, but then……….
“Burnin’ it Down” happens. Jason Aldean follows in the footsteps of possibly one of Tim McGraw’s biggest mistakes ever. This song was born from the ashes of “Lookin’ For That Girl.” Unfortunately, this EDM in country clothing song would not be as easily forgotten as Tim’s autotuned classic. “Burnin’ it Down” spent an astonishing fourteen weeks at the top before Aldean finally smoked the cigarette and went to sleep.
I could go on, and I could continue talking about every bad song that’s been released, (and God, I’d have to say something about “Kick the Dust Up,” wouldn’t I?) but that’s not the point. I didn’t actually feel the massive decline in country music (Don’t bring up “Banjo” by Rascall Flatts.) until 2012, which coincidentally is the year that Taylor Swift released one of the most country songs of the year, “Begin Again.” I don’t think Taylor was the problem.
I think it was a two pronged attack. The first prong of the downfall was using electronic drums. Once an electronic drum loop is put into a track, it no longer resembles anything country. (cough cough, Sam Hunt.) I can literally only listen to the drum loop next to the guitars and think, “Oh God, what have they done?” With the inclusion of electric drums, artists were pushing to make songs sound more and more catchy by making them more more and more edgy until the last bit of the soul of that song is gone.
The second prong of this attack was actually three people: Luke Bryan, Flordia, and Georgia. (I’m sure they have names, but I don’t care at the moment.) Through a combination of good looks, and catchy songs about trucks, girls, drinks, and sex under a bridge, they were able to completely dominate the charts. Once they made their mark, other artists wanted to attempt their own take on the ‘truck songs’ so that they could get the #1 title. …and here we are now. Some artists are still trying to put out songs with actual meaning and country instrumentation, such as Dierks Bently’s “Say You Do,” but right now, the fight for quality music looks bad.