Independent music conspiracy theorists love to pontificate how the entire music industry is controlled by behind-the-scenes oligarchs like the man behind the green curtain in the Wizard of Oz—pulling cords and levies to deem who makes it and who doesn’t without any say so by the American public. Though there is certainly an interconnected “kinky sex” network that helps the wheels church and stay greased, in truth there’s still a lot of happenstance and public feedback that goes into launching superstars, and like all industries, the record business is too mired in corporate bureaucracy and incompetence to pull off any true underhanded plots.
However sometimes the layers of the onion get peeled so far back, it’s almost laughable how lacking of self-awareness the industry can be, and how little they think of the public as they try to pull off some ruse for their own benefit in what is supposed to be an impartial scenario. We saw that when the Academy of Country Music Awards purposely disobeyed their own stated rules by nominating, and then awarding Justin Moore with the New Artist of the Year trophy in 2014. And now we’re seeing it from The Voice, and big time.
The murmurings that America’s reality TV singing shows are secretly stacked with ringers coming from interconnected agents and managers have been out there for years. Even though they present themselves as trying to vet the entire American public to find the next hidden superstar, in reality singers with the right handlers can get shuffled to the front of the line.
We had confirmation that NBC’s The Voice was looking to stack the deck this year when it was revealed Americana music star Jason Isbell was approached to participate in the reality singing competition last November. It became this huge, laughable moment in the independent music world, not only because The Voice producers we so lacking in self-awareness that they even considered for a second an artist like Jason Isbell would participate, but that he could do so and be passed off as some unknown, or even a struggling music performer. This is a guy who has headlined festivals and won the Americana Music Association’s Album of the Year. It showed the daftness of The Voice and how they had eradicated any pretenses of looking to break stars, and instead were looking for established stars maybe slightly under the radar to call their own.
Now we’ve received word that another established star actually accepted the advances of The Voice. Meghan Linsey, the female half of the once Big Machine-signed duo Steel Magnolia, and a solo artist in her own right, will be participating on the newest season of the singing competition.
I mean, are you kidding us? Steel Magnolia’s 2011 album charted at #3 on the country charts, and #7 on the Billboard 200. They had a Top 5 hit with “Keep On Loving You.” This was a major label-signed duo that was nominated by both the CMA and ACM Awards for Vocal Duo of the Year. By any and all measurements, Meghan Linsey is “established” as a music artist beyond all reasonable doubt. Even as a solo artist, she’s already been releasing singles to radio. Saving Country Music even wrote a review for her ill-conceived anti Bro-Country song “Try Harder Than That” way back in August of 2014.
What this illustrates is:
1) The Voice is dispensing of all pretenses of trying to find unknown or even middling stars needing a big break, and simply stacking the deck with established talent in the face of the show being unable to launch viable music stars.
2) The mainstream country music industry continues to struggle so mightily in its top-heavy system to develop talent, especially female talent, we’re now to the point where artists and managers are turning to reality TV competitions as a last resort.
The whole thing speak to the systemic ailments of the country music mainstream industry. Music Row should be embarrassed that this is what it has come to for certain artists, including last season’s winner Craig Wayne Boyd, who also was in the midst of a moderate career when The Voice tapped him to participate in the show. And no offense to Meghan Linsay. She’s just trying to get attention in an industry uninterested in looking beyond its top established stars, especially when it comes to women.
It should also be understood that compared to American Idol, The Voice doesn’t attempt to pass itself off as a pure vetting of the American public. But the inclusion of Meghan Linsey, and the courting of Jason Isbell, should tell you all you need to know about the ruse this singing show franchise is attempting to pull off on the American public.