I would rather shit a knife than watch Sunday’s VMA Awards on MTV. I’d say the show lost its relevancy years ago, but it was never good for anything beyond a forum for Madonna and Brittany Spears to make out on, or for Miley Cyrus to be faux butthunched by some guy twice her age. Not even the intrigue for the unveiling of Taylor Swift’s video for her terrible new song “Look What You Made Me Do” can get this country boy to tune in. Swift’s turn has been so awful, it feels beneath oneself and cliché to even criticize it.
There will be one point of interest for some country fans, however. One of those “authentic, hardscrabble, Texas country” guys from the new band Midland will be up for no less than four VMA awards during the 2017 presentation. How, you say? Is Midland making such waves with their throwback style of country that they’re even drawing the attention of the VMA’s now? No, not exactly.
You know Cameron Duddy, the bassist for Midland, and the one who had his wedding covered by People Magazine? Well despite all the stories you’ve been reading about how Midland pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and sweated it out in honky tonks all across Texas for years to pay their dues, Cameron Duddy is actually a deeply-connected impresario in the music video business, who’s already been nominated and won VMA’s in the past for his work with international R&B superstar Bruno Mars, and is now up for four separate awards tonight via Bruno’s “24K Magic” video, including a nomination for Best Director.
If you’re wondering how a band like Midland got signed to Big Machine, and how a song like “Drinkin’ Problem” made its way onto the charts, there’s your answer.
“It’s not something that I offer up in conversation with other country acts and people in Nashville. But the word has gotten out,” Midland’s Cameron Duddy tells Chris Willman in an article on Variety. “Everyone loves Bruno Mars, and I quickly realized that it’s a great thing to be associated with him, no matter what kind of music you play. And with Bruno, when we were getting record deal offers a couple years ago, he called one day and said, ‘I just heard your music. If I can help, I would love to sign you. I’m still trying to get my label up off the ground at Atlantic Records, but fly out here to Los Angeles with the band and let’s talk.'”
That’s right, Midland got their record deal with Big Machine by leveraging the possibility of signing with Bruno Mars, and landed a deal with Scott Borchetta that Duddy says, “was an offer we couldn’t refuse.” Doesn’t really sound like the sisters of the poor situation the band has been crying about in interviews to attempt to sell their authenticity, does it?
We’ve seen people complain in the past whenever hip-hop or R&B artists get nominated or perform on country awards shows that you don’t see the same acceptance and appreciation reciprocated by the BET Awards, for example. Well that technically is no longer true. Cameron Duddy won a BET Award back in June for the same Bruno Mars “24K Magic” video. Of course it wasn’t for a country or country-inspired effort, but it does underscore the connected nature of Cameron Duddy, and Midland. The band’s main frontman Mark Wystrach also has a past in entertainment as a soap opera actor and underwear model.
The article in Variety on Cameron Duddy and his VMA nominations also states, “At the moment, the freshman country band Midland has the most-played song in that format in the nation, according to Country Aircheck, with debut single ‘Drinkin’ Problem.'” Actually, it’s #4 in Country Aircheck, unless Variety knows something the rest of us don’t. But it will be a #1 soon enough, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since it was co-written by hitmaker and Nashville power broker Shane McAnally—the man pulling the levers behind Sam Hunt’s success.
What does any of this have to do with the quality of Midland’s music or the infectiousness of “Drinkin’ Problem”? Absolutely positively nothing. Any true fan of music should regard the origins of artists with a grain of sand and ask themselves how good the music is and judge it on its own merit. And when judging the music of Midland, it’s pretty good.
But every time another story comes down the pike painting them as “Texas Country” or “authentic,” it erodes the legitimacy and effectiveness of their careers, at least with dialed-in fans. The fact that Cameron Duddy is up for four VMAs is just further validation, and another reason the band should just be honest about their origins as opposed to telling fans what they think they want to hear.