The Band Perry situation is no longer one of simply being “bad” or in “poor taste,” or about making career decisions that are easy to second guess. I’m trying to think of another time that a country act tried to cross over, and it went so colossally bad. And I keep coming up empty.
We thought The Band Perry couldn’t stoop any lower after releasing their debut single “Live Forever” off of their upcoming album Heart + Beat. The song stank, and so did the reception from both fans and radio. But The Band Perry soldiered on. After the disappointment with “Live Forever,” the new album’s original release date of November 20th was scuttled, and they were said to be heading back into the studio to retool. But it wasn’t to revert back to what made them one of the most promising young bands in mainstream country, but to double down on this new direction.
“Well we actually had a date chosen [for the album], and then we had a very exciting collaboration that just happened,” Kimberly Perry said in an interview with News4Jax on November 2nd. “So we kind of got this last jolt of creative energy, so we feel like we’re going to push it back a little bit further to early 2016 … We’re pop tarts at heart. We love all styles of music. And with the new album we made . . . we really wrapped in a lot of our love for pop music, and kind of where that cross pollinates with what we love.”
Rumors that maybe Nicki Minaj would be helping The Band Perry get the attention they need to make their pop transition began to swirl, which was plausible since the producer for “Live Forever” was RedOne, who has worked with Nicki Minaj, Pitbull, and other big pop stars in the past.
Then in the lead up to the college football championship game The Band Perry played a pregame show, and unveiled a new song likely called “Put Me in the Game Coach.” Whatever confusion and uproar “Live Forever” created, “Put Me in the Game Coach” quadrupled the fervor.
Video of the song has been circulating online (see below), and has been met with many jeers. It must be pointed out though, the video appears to take an audio feed that is not a live mix, but perhaps a monitor mix, making the performance sound even worse than in actually is. Nonetheless, the song is deplorable, and The Band Perry look positively clueless on stage trying to play hip-hop stars.
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Let me explain to you exactly what’s going on here, and it dovetails with most every one of the major issues that are facing the financial enterprise of making, distributing, and performing commercial music in 2016:
This isn’t just about an overarching strategy for The Band Perry to go pop, and to do so by bringing in overbearing image consultants to create their whole yellowfied “Heart + Beat” approach. This isn’t just about bringing in an exclusively pop producer in RedOne to help shepherd their transition to pop and to try and make it as seamless as possible, aided by moves from Big Machine Record over recent years to breakdown logistical barriers between pop and country songwriters and producers to make cross-genre collaboration that much more easy and financially lucrative. All of that is in play of course, but these are all ancillary little symptoms to the reason The Band Perry is so obsequiously participating in this charade.
The real reason that The Band Perry went pop, went yellow, released a terrible single in “Live Forever,” and is poised to do it again with “Put Me in the Game Coach” and whatever other dreck Heart + Beat contains, is because The Band Perry was told they needed to become an act that can draw large crowds at live concerts, and not just piggy back on bigger acts as tour support anymore. And you don’t do that with songs like “Better Dig Two.”
This is all the result of Spotify, the parsing of songwriting royalties, the pilfering of songwriting credits by producers and EDM programmers, and 360 recording deals where labels get a share of the live music dollar since the sale of recorded music is no longer economically viable. There’s no money in making and selling records anymore. So either you’re selling out arenas on your own ticket, aggressively working your way towards that goal, or your usefulness to a label is virtually non-existent.
It’s almost better to be an act like The Mavericks or The Cadillac Three (which are also both signed to Big Machine imprints) since there’s no chance they’ll ever be a big 10,000-capactiy draw, but they’ll post solid and steady sales numbers that bring in more money than is spent by the label. An act like The Band Perry though, they need to be dominant in their space. They need to be tops in the country music “Duo or Group” category, or at least heavily competing, or they’re not worth the incredible effort the label is sinking into them.
Meanwhile look at Little Big Town. They’ve been around since the late 90’s, all the principle members are in their 40’s or older, and they just had their best year as a band by a long shot. How did they do it? By taking a chance on a controversial song and having it pay off in spades. While The Band Perry is stuck playing the warmup show leading into the kickoff show leading into the pregame show for the college football playoff, Little Big Town was the belle of the ball at the last CMA Awards, and could be again come Grammy time. And how well does Little Big Town draw live? I don’t know that anybody cares. Little Big Town is doing just fine living within the confines of it own skin.
The Band Perry isn’t the only Big Machine act that was tasked to go big, or go home. Thomas Rhett is also attempting to take this next strategic step. But unlike The Band Perry, his rising action is being aided by big singles.
“I took a couple of lessons. Not necessarily dance lessons, but working with a couple of choreographers a little bit on how to work in front of a camera, and more actual stage movement,” Thomas Rhett told Taste of Country back in September of 2015. “This next phase is going to require a ton of work on our part because no longer are we the three-piece rock band with no lights, and it doesn’t care if I don’t sing well that day because we’re playing at 11:30 in the morning at a festival where you’re strictly playing for white chairs. This is kind of a whole different level … We’re working with a lot of people to make our set look different than anybody else’s. Working with a lot of people on strategic set lists and moments. Next year we want to have a show that’s just full of moments.”
Thomas Rhett is transitioning from an opening act to a mainstream live headliner, and the live show precedes the recorded music in all of the planning and implementation. It’s all about trying to land one of those lucrative spots on Live Nation’s Country Music MegaTicket, because that’s the only way you’re ever going to make major money in country music in 2016.
Not everybody’s cut out to be a big arena or stadium draw. And that’s okay. In the end, Kimberly Perry’s rabid motivation to be a superstar, and her willingness to do anything to get there may ultimately be her undoing. The problem with this “go big” strategy is it’s putting the cart before the horse. Neither The Band Perry nor Thomas Rhett were huge draws live. They just got the coaching on how to act like one, and hoped the attention would come. For Thomas Rhett, it did. For The Band Perry, not so much.
But the worst part about this whole thing is the heartache of The Band Perry fans. They didn’t ask for this. In this day and age of media, fans put their heart and souls behind their favorite acts. The Band Perry is asking its fans to slag through a transition that has seen the virtual eradication of everything The Band Perry has been known for previously, and one that so far has been unsuccessful. Sure, it’s easy for some to laugh off The Band Perry as never being anything more than a breathy singer and her two brothers with Hobbit haircuts. But for the tens of thousands of loyal fans, they feel betrayed. And if the accounts of negative comments being censored on social media are true, then it makes it even worse that they can’t even voice their opinions, or concern.
This is not going to end well for The Band Perry. They’re in so deep now, they have no other option but to double down. But is this approach ever going to work? Did it work for the Eli Young Band? Was it worth it to the Zac Brown Band to alienate so many of their fans by releasing “Beautiful Drug” as a single, only to have it struggle to reach the Top 10? Music is a business, and money must be made. But when it’s done at the expense of your most loyal fans, it’s not only unpretty, it regularly is financially damning in the long-term.
There’s no turning back now for The Band Perry, because they’ve already turned their backs on their entire fan base in a way we many have never seen in country music. The big yellow experiment must work now, or it will be their demise. The wolves are at the door.