Metro-Politan: Country Music’s New Cancer

The-King-the-Mice-and-the-CheeseIn 1965, the Canadian-American children’s book author and illustrator Eric Gurney published a book with his wife called The King, the Mice, and the Cheese about a Arabian monarch who loved cheese, but was nearly run out of his palace by all the mice his cheese fetish attracted. So he called on his wise men to advise him on how to get rid of all the mice. The wise men suggested getting cats who could chase all of the mice away, but soon the cats became a problem in themselves. So the wise men then suggested dogs be brought to the palace to chase away the cats. Then lions were brought in to chase away the dogs, and eventually elephants to chase away the lions, all replacing the previous menace before them, but leaving the king altogether unhappy with his increasingly undesirable palace mates.

It’s a similar story for country music and it’s recent history of chasing hyper trends. Just as you begin to applaud the dying arch of one awful earache, another one emerges. First it was teen pop and the rise of Taylor Swift to the very top spot of the genre, symbolized by her 2009 win for Entertainer of the Year at the CMA’s. The next menace was country rap, symbolized by Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” becoming the biggest country single in all of 2011. Then country rap gave way to Bro-Country—the most dominant torment to country music arguably in the genre’s entire history. Now what looks to depose Bro-Country as the next malevolent hyper-trend? For the lack of a universally-recognized term for it at the moment, let’s just call it “Metro-Politan.”

Yes, you know I’ve been secretly jealous of New York Magazine writer Jody Rosen ever since he bested my term “Laundry List” to articulate to readers what is now recognized by even the Cambridge Dictionary (in whatever infantile stages) as “Bro-Country,” so I thought I’d try my hand at some unilateral neologism myself. In reality though, what you call it and why is pretty inconsequential compared to what the effects could be of this abhorrent vogue. EDM-infused urban dance country—destined just as its predecessors to to burn flaming hot for 18 months to two years before being relegated to the the dust bin of history and a laughing stock—is country music’s new preeminent pestilence, and it needs to die.

Metro – Originating from and being indicative of an urban locale. Commonly referring to a male that is hyper sensitive about his appearance and hygiene, but is a heterosexual that frequents urban clubs and listens to music indicative of said clubs.

-Politan – Comes from the Greek word “polis,” meaning city or city-state. A suffix with history in country music, once used in “countrypolitan” to describe the refined sound of 60’s and early 70’s country music meant to appeal to a more urban and well-healed audience.

Metro-Politan – A subgenre of country music with absolutely no material ties to country, simply using the mainstream country genre as a convenient delivery system for EDM/R&B/Dance-inspired music.

…or something like that.

*Alternative – Metro-Sexual

What, it’s not catchy enough? Doesn’t snap off the tongue? Too easily-confused with the word “Metropolitan”? Well then screw it, call it whatever you want. But you know what I’m talking about when I say Metro-Politan: This Sam Hunt bullshit.

Yes, you can point to some other early culprits who dabbled in mixing dance club rhythms with country window dressing before. Look no further than the reigning Grammy Album of the Year winner Beck and some of his work in the 90’s. But the man responsible for bringing this most unfortunate trend to the forefront of mainstream country music initially was Jerrod Niemann.

Drink-to-That-All-Night-Jerrod-NiemannThe doughy, semi-successful country star was looking for a spark to his quickly sliding career, and decided to take a chance on a song called “Drink To That All Night,” and it paid off in spades. You would think that a song that offered so little of anything country, and that was so obviously a beast of the EDM/Club Dance world, would be a hard sell to the country music constituency, but no dice for Jerrod Niemann’s detractors. The song traced a slow but steady ascent throughout 2014, eventually becoming a #1, and birthing a new generation of copycats like a Northeast blizzard does autumn babies.

But the thing about Jerrod Niemann and “Drink To That All Night” is that it immediately tipped the hand to the fickleness of the Metro-Politan trend. Though the song delivered renewed attention to Niemann and marks the greatest success of his career, that success was incredibly short-lived. The follow up single “Donkey” was hoping to capitalize even further on Jerrod’s new dance club angle, but it might go down as the worst song in the history of the genre, and was dead on arrival at radio. But Niemann had done his job. He was the EDM canary sent down the country music mine shaft, and he had returned healthy—at least initially. That’s all the country music producers needed to know, that the pliable country music public would find the approach palatable as long as it was done in a very polished way. Humor and histrionics, not so much.

Has anyone heard from Jerrod Niemann lately?

So then to allow the trend to gain traction you find an established superstar to take this specious Metro-Politan style to the next level. And who is a better candidate than Jason Aldean?—the same man who broke down the country rap barrier in the mainstream and helped bring along the eventual rise of Bro-Country. Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down”—the first single from his Old Boots, New Dirt album, written in part by Florida Georgia Line—was the perfect way to integrate sexy R&B/EDM influences into the top of mainstream country, and open the floodgates for a litany of opportunists to come along. Panned by critics, castigated even by many Aldean loyalists at the beginning, of course “Burnin’ It Down” went on to become a mega hit, and one of the fastest-rising “country” singles in the genre’s history.

But to really set the Metro-Politan trend on the fast track to country domination, you needed to find a pretty face who could be a complete construct of the trend from stem to stern, similar to Florida Georgia Line with Bro-Country. And with a few good producers, you could turn a middling, semi-talented singer into a superstar performer emerging from the shadows of obscurity faster and higher than the genre has ever seen before.

Enter Sam Hunt.

sam-huntA modestly-successful songwriter, Sam Hunt was willing to take the mother of all plunges with fellow songwriter, and apparently producer Shane McAnally—revered for his work with Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves among others—and make an entirely EDM-based record to sell to the country music public under spurious pretenses. The results have been nothing short of historic. With Hunt’s second single “Take Your Time” now cresting the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart (following the #1 “Leave The Night On”), while at the same time Hunt’s album Montevallo is the #1 album in all of country here nearly 3 1/2 months after its release, the Metro-Politan king is the biggest cash cow in the country genre right now—and there’s nothing country about his music.

But enough has been said about how Sam Hunt is not country, and if you want to peruse over expanded coverage of this assessment, feel free to click here and here. But to even argue this point further at this juncture in the Metro-Politan timeline is to give Sam Hunt and his music a shred of credibility it doesn’t deserve.

However it’s one thing for Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and their co-conspirators to get insanely rich off of this complete and utter farce being perpetuated on the country music public. It’s another to be impugned for even offering a sensible and spirited dissent about what is happening. Question Sam Hunt’s country-ness, and be chastised for misunderstanding what music is all about, and be tarred and feathered as a outmoded speedbump in the way of country music’s “evolution.” As if drum machines and synthesizers aren’t 40-year-old technology being employed as a last ditch resort to squeeze commercial viability out of a dying art form. Can’t these pricks just count their money and laugh at us in private, instead of using phony intellectualism to attempt to justify what they know is unnatural and potential noxious, maybe fatally so to country music?

But let’s not just zero in on Sam Hunt and take our eyes off the bigger picture. Sure, he’s the poster boy for Metro-Politan and deserves the fiercest of lampooning if anyone does at the moment. But just like Bro-Country eventually had even the women singing along and defacing themselves in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, Metro-Politan is surely to sprout even more unfortunate tentacles before it will invariably fade like all hyper-trends do, taking its primary culprits with it down the toilet bowl of history.

When country rap was amidst its reign as country music’s misguided bastard craze, the non blood-related country rapping grandson of Waylon Jennings named Struggle took an entire album of Waylon songs and remade them into shallow and senseless country rap before being put in a penitentiary on meth charges. As I said at the time, this “leads country music down a very slippery slope where the catalogs of other country music greats could be opened and re-interpreted by country rappers or for other commercial purposes, forever soiling or superseding the original versions, and eroding their legacy.”

Well that’s already happening with Metro-Politan, and we haven’t even decided if that term is up to snuff. Say hello to Curb Records signee Ruthie Collins, and her debut single “Ramblin’ Man,” a Metro-Politan remake of the Hank Williams song. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, nothing’s sacred when it comes to culling out country music’s past to make up for the shortcomings of an industry bereft of artists with new ideas, and full of fear to develop or deal with those who do.

But is Ruthie Collins’ “Ramblin Man” bad? Even some of Sam Hunt’s music isn’t as immediately offensive as some of the worst of Bro-Country. None of it makes it right, or good, or healthy for the genre to entertain as its own when its home should be on KISS-FM. With Metro-Politan, country music is playing a dangerous game of eroding its autonomy from other genres in a way Bro-Country couldn’t even sniff. That’s because Metro-Politan’s perpetrators openly profess that genre’s don’t matter since they can’t objectively tell you what is country about their music. Maybe Ruthie Collins can come up with a defense for her “Ramblin’ Man” cover, but it is symbolic of country’s continuing trip down a slippery slope.

As has been pointed out in this dark corner of the internet before, Taylor Swift blew the cover for these Metro-Politan blokes when she said, “You can paint a wall green and call it blue, but it’s clearly not blue. That would go over badly, because people know. When people trust you, they believe you’re investing them with a piece of your life and their lives in turn, so you want to keep that trust at every level.”

And then Taylor Swift summarily left country. Like her music or not, Taylor Swift had the guts to be honest with herself, her fans, and the public in a way Sam Hunt, Shane McAnally, and the rest of these Metro-Politan sham artists refuse to, no matter what critical plaudits they may list on their resume.

So back to the little children’s storybook The King, the Mice, and the Cheese. Here was the king in his palace, surrounded by elephants that the wise men had used to scare the lions away, and the big and clumsy elephants were destroying everything. What was the king’s solution? Eventually he brought the mice back, who scared away the elephants (as mice are known to do). Then the king reasoned with the mice, concluding “I’ll learn how to get along with you, if you learn how to get along with me.”

Does that mean we should reason with the perpetrators of Metro-Politan for an amicable solution? Of course not. Metro-Politan is the elephants, Bro-Country is the lions, Country Rap is the dogs, and pure pop is the cats. What country music should learn to do is to co-habitate and reason with the pop country and country rocking performers of the world—the Carrie Underwood’s and Dierks Bentley’s . Because one of the things that sent country music down its current spiral was the feeling that country wasn’t country enough, starting with Taylor Swift, and resulting in Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line machine gunning out a laundry lists of reasons why they were countrier than thou.

Balance is what is needed in country to inoculate the genre from such silly hyper-trends we can see being foiled before they even begin in earnest. Because who knows what will be the hyper-trend that will break the country music circle forever? Sustainability should be what is strived for, not the next sugar rush. Is there anyone that thinks that a song like Sam Hunt’s “Take Your Time” is going to be around in 17 years? Of course it won’t be, but the damage it leaves behind might. Metro-Politan is a scourge, but you can almost guarantee it will be around for the next 1 1/2 years or so.

Let’s just hope we can repair the damage afterwards before the palace walls fall forever.

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