Kane Brown Thinks Johnny Cash & Merle Haggard are ‘Red Dirt’?

Wait, what ?!?

It appears like Kane Brown is as apt to get lost in the scary landscape of country music as he is his own 30 acres. Sure, navigating through some of country’s subgenres can be a little confounding for the musical civilian. But this is a guy that’s made millions off of being a supposed “country” star. You’d think he’d have a cursory understanding of it.

Maybe it’s forgivable that he doesn’t know the in’s and out’s of the who’s who in Red Dirt. After all, it’s a regional scene. But to believe Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard were somehow tied to Red Dirt shows as spectacular lack of extremely basic country music knowledge.

Kane Brown has been on a massive media tear lately, I guess to promote the release of his lame Mixtape Vol. 1 EP where he collaborates with guys like Khalid, Swae Lee, and Nelly. Yeah gee, it’s a wonder he thinks Johnny Cash was a Red Dirt artist, right?

Anyway, Kane was talking with the British publication Standard late last week, when he dropped some quite revealing and inadvertently humorous observations. It starts off rather innocently, with Kane saying,

“Everybody already calls me ‘pop country’ so I just want to go ahead and claim that title. I want to have songs on pop radio and I want to have songs on country radio. I don’t see why that should be a problem.”

And generally, it shouldn’t be. Country songs have been crossing over into pop for many decades. Hank Williams did it. Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton did it. Johnny Cash had a hit in pop when “A Boy Named Sue” blew up in 1969. The difference was that in most of these cases, these were songs and artists that were so good, popular music in America couldn’t ignore them, not because the performers formulated the music to appeal to the pop audience, either partially or exclusively, like Kane Brown and many others in popular country do today. Another difference is those songs were actually good, regardless of what you called them.

But whatever. Good on Kane Brown for fessing up to being a “pop country” artist. It’s patently true, with the only quibble perhaps being the “country” part when considering some of his output, especially when you take a swim through his current mixtape EP. But it’s what he said next that rendered some rolling on the floor, or apoplectic.

“There are people who are, you know, ‘red dirt country’, who are still on Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, and they can’t stand me. My fans love all genres of music.”

Now look, maybe what he meant is that Red Dirt fans are the ones who are regularly hounding him on the internet, and they also happen to be fans of Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash too. But Red Dirt isn’t exclusively country either. It’s an umbrella term covering Oklahoma artists as varied as Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Bob Childers, and the Turnpike Troubadours.

Honestly, Red Dirt fans aren’t usually the ones that get bent out of shape over Kane Brown. They’re too laid back to worry about whatever is going on in the mainstream. Maybe there’s a segment of the Red Dirt audience that fits that profile, but it’s mostly traditional country fans, and Outlaw fans who get their underwear tied in knots over Kane Brown’s music—the kind of scum that frequent a site like Saving Country Music.

Perhaps a 26-year-old self-identified pop country artist shouldn’t be expected to know about The Louvin Brothers, or have intimate knowledge of the Emmylou Harris catalog. Sure would be nice if they did, but that’s probably expecting too much. But Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard are Top 10 all-time titans of the music.

And Kane Brown certainly is easy to pick on. His recent episode of getting lost on his own property is a perfect example. But give the kid credit for being able to laugh at himself, and tell the story and be the brunt of many jokes and take it in stride like he did.

Kane Brown has enjoyed some great success in music, but lately he’s been slipping back in prominence. Tyler Childers’ Purgatory is now consistently beating Kane Brown’s latest record Experiment in the album charts without any big press or major radio play on Tyler’s part.

The reason it’s important in music, especially in country music, to be versed in the artists of the past is to draw from the inspiration, the influence, the lessons, and the lineage of these greats afford to pay the music forward. It’s important to have a map of the genre to understand your place in it, because you need to know where you’re from to know where you’re going. And if you don’t, you might end up embarrassingly lost with no idea the direction home.

(See what I did there ?!?)