Jamey Johnson is Pop Country’s “Black Friend”

Jamey JohnsonThat’s right, I said it. And I’ll say it again, even though it will probably relegate me even more to being the black sheep of the country music blogsphere: Jamey Johnson is Pop Country’s “black friend.”

No, this has nothing to do with race, and this really has very little to do with Jamey Johnson, the person or his music. It has to do with the ridiculous notion that pop country fans, writers, and industry types have that mainstream country actually offers variety simply because they have accepted Jamey Johnson.

REAL country has yet to go mainstream, but the debate weather the pop influences have taken over mainstream country has. We all know the cliche about the clearly racist guy renouncing his guilt by saying “Hey, I have a black friend.” Well this is the exact way that pop country is using Jamey Johnson. I see it in blogs, articles, comments on message boards and videos: Jamey Johnson, Jamey Johnson, JAMEY JOHNSON, AH! And the irony is I predicted THIS VERY THING in this article.

Alison Bonaguro in this CMT blog recently wrote after watching a Jamey Johnson set that included covers from Waylon Jennings and George Jones, “It just proves to me that the “country is for soccer moms” image is a little warped.” Unfortunately it is not. No need to look at the music to back my point up, just look at the research numbers of who listens to country radio nowadays, and who the country music industry has come out and said is their target demographic.

One guy in a genre filled with pop performers does not constitute variety, regardless if he sings about “country heroes” or has a reference to reefer in one of his songs. And if you think that that is what all of us heathen REAL country fans want in our music and that’s the reason we don’t like Taylor Swift, then you’ve missed the whole point entirely. Yes, honoring past legends and addiction have always been central themes to country music, but so has creativity and soul, two things lacking in the mainstream country genre, with or without Jamey.

And just to play devil’s advocate for a second, I’m also tired of seeing “Well he wrote Honk Tonk Badonka Donk.” Yes, that song is horrible and Jamey will never live that down, but that saying has become as cliched as using Jamey Johnson to say country radio offers variety, or as cliched as country radio itself.

Again, this debate really isn’t about Jamey Johnson. I find it hard to fault him for becoming pop country’s patsy. Compared to most of the stuff on pop country radio, he does have the most soul, and hits more on traditional country themes, though the polished nature of his music is a little tough to stomach, and without question there are much better artists out there that deserve the same exposure.

And that is the reason I continue to debate these points over and over. Some would be concerned if underground artists went mainstream, and I understand that. But what I’m concerned about is that they can pay their bills and make a living. Is it that out of line to think that the most talented people in the genre, the superpickers and superb songwriters would at the least get a fair shake from the industry?

And as these debates go back and forth between pop country and REAL country fans, I think that it is important to note that the main focus is the health of the overall country genre. Good music is catchy, but great music is fulfilling, and inspiring. I don’t want to jump someone’s ass just because they don’t like the same music I do, I want people exposed the the best the genre has to offer. And if they were, the formulaic approach of pop country would become caustic to the ears.

If people could only hear the true soul in Bob Wayne’s “Blood to Dust”, or the pain in Rachel Brooke’s voice: two unsigned artists struggling to get their music out there, who probably wouldn’t sign even if they had the opportunity, because it would mean giving up the best parts of their music, there would be no debate about country music. And I for one look forward to that day.

Just in case you’re curious: