Like a persistent venereal rash you think you’ve finally licked, only to experience a severe flare up right before you’re headed out on a hot date, here comes Sam Hunt and a new song screwing up the rally we’ve been enjoying in mainstream country lately thanks to some songs and artists that are actually starting to sound country again.
It’s been a glorious five year reprieve after this college football flunkee turned country music EDM mumble rapper lost interest in his own music faster than his bubblegum fans did, and stopped releasing new songs aside from the failed single “Downtown’s Dead” from 2018. Since then Sam has teased us with retirement talk (we’d only be so lucky), touted Tyler Childers as an influence, and also said that he expects his new music to be more traditional. If you believed that, your as gullible as your uncle who emailed his bank routing number to an Arabian Prince.
Country music is about telling stories, and the story Sam Hunt tells in “Kinfolks” is about a guy who literally sees a stranger walking down the street, and shortly after asking her name says he wants to introduce her to his relatives and friends back home. Some free dating advice ladies: if you’re out there prowling the town and some guy pulls this shit on you, slowly slip your hand into your purse like you’re going for the lip gloss, grab firm hold of the pepper spray, and don’t make any further eye contact until the Uber arrives.
Yes, I’m sure that some people will find the sentiment behind “Kinfolks” as sweet, but in the movie Wedding Crashers, this pattern of behavior was referred to as a “Stage five clinger.” Sam Hunt telling his love interest “You’re the only one of you” sounds more like a backhanded compliment than a savvy pickup line. The premise for this song is a mess. And another piece of free advice: if you do end up going back to the hometown of a suitor and want to impress your future in-laws, for the love of God, whatever you do, never, and I mean never, admit to them that you listen to Sam Hunt. He’s the face tattoo and felony conviction of music.
“Kinfolks” is Sam Hunt thinking you’ll consider this a country song just because the lyrical hook is a rural colloquialism. This is what passes for “country” in Sam Hunt’s book, while we’re supposed to ignore the clap track and hip-pop phrasing. Some ever-so-slight credit should be given to Sam for making this song more country than most of his tracks. Periods of “Kinfolks” actually feature what sound like real drums, and snapshots of steel guitar and such. But still, this is some strange pop song with country window dressing at best.
Sam Hunt left a huge mess behind in country music when he virtually disappeared a few years ago. Perhaps some of the music on his upcoming album will include some more traditionally-oriented stuff. And this is a lead single, which usually represents the worst a mainstream artist has to offer. But the more likely scenario is that Sam Hunt actually thinks “Kinfolks” is traditional country. That is how far the perspective has shifted, thanks to performers like Sam Hunt. But country music has shifted too since Hunt released his debut album Montevallo five years ago this month. Similar to his genre bending boys Florida Georgia Line, time is passing them by as acts like Luke Combs and others shift mainstream country’s center more towards roots and substance.
“Kinfolks” will find a robust initial reception from country radio just because it’s a Sam Hunt track. But it’s not 2014 anymore. The whole Chris Stapleton thing happened, and folks are looking for more roots in their country. And regardless of the kitschy name, “Kinfolks” just doesn’t have it.