Sorry, but Jaime Wyatt Is NOT “Pop Country”

photo: Brad Coolidge

For going on five years now, Jaime Wyatt has been one of the most important and entertaining artists in all of independent country music. Her 2017 album Felony Blues about her time in a California State Correctional Facility was one of the best releases of that year, and earned a Saving Country Music Album of the Year nomination. Then her 2020 album Neon Cross produced by Shooter Jennings was released by New West Records, and took her career to the next level.

The combination of her smoky voice, authentic story, and real-world lyricism have made Jaime Wyatt a favorite of many, and has earned her deserved support from places such as the Sirius XM Outlaw channel, streaming playlists, and festival slots on main stages, not to mention that she can rock a Western suit harder than just about anyone. In the male-dominated Outlaw country world, Wyatt is one of the few artists you can present right beside the longbeards and get a rousing reception. In a word, she’s a badass.

Jaime Wyatt symbolizes and represents a lot of important things in country music, including when she came out right before the release of Neon Cross with no gruff or cause for concern from anyone. She’s also a sober artist, which is inspiring as well. But one thing that Jaime Wyatt most certainly doesn’t represent by any stretch of the imagination is “pop country.”

At first, I didn’t want to say anything about this, because overall, we should be appreciative that an outlet like The Tennessean is even mentioning an artist such as Jaime Wyatt, even if this once important newspaper to country music as Nashville’s home paper has experienced a precipitous fall over recent years due to new corporate ownership, and been rendered inert on a national level due to an intrusive paywall. But this situation really exemplifies the ineptitude, and at times malfeasance now pervasive throughout country music media. It’s also insulting to Jaime Wyatt, and could be harmful to her career. And the more I thought about it, it’s really insulting to all independent country musicians, and needed to be formally addressed.

A June 17th feature in The Tennessean called “Jaime Wyatt brings her ‘Rattlesnake Girl’ outlaw cool to Nashville Pride Fest,” seemed pretty innocuous at first, or maybe even compelling from the title. It was the subtitle that was problematic.

“Pop-country’s least likely rising star discusses the realities of her career, coming out, and embracing stardom.”

Wait, what? I thought you just said in the title that she was “outlaw cool”? Isn’t that the opposite of pop country?

The tweet accompanying the article, and the introduction on Facebook also caught the eye of many, with the introduction, “Pop-country rising star Jamie Wyatt, who is appearing at Nashville Pride Fest, discusses coming out and embracing stardom.”

Of course, to independent country fans, and fans of Jaime Wyatt specifically, “pop country” is a euphemism, and is recognized as such straight off the palate. An artist like Jaime Wyatt is the outright antithesis of pop country. And though the term may have been simply misappropriated, it’s not only misleading, it could be considered an excoriation by the very people that Jamie Wyatt’s music may appeal to, doing way more harm than good, no matter the context. “Pop country” is so offensive, I will often reverse the word order to “country pop” whenever referring to country music with either a mild or significant pop influence that is nonetheless being regarded favorably.

In the article itself, Jaime Wyatt in no way refers to herself as pop country, but you can tell the author Marcus K. Dowling is trying to impress that upon her. She says early on, “I’m kind of the underdog in pop-country.” And later, “People are embracing me in country music because I make honest, emotional music about everything I’ve lived through. I think female outlaws are acceptable now. I’m grateful that things are changing.”

Again, “Outlaw” would be the term to refer to Jaime Wyatt with, which is the polar opposite of “pop country.” But that’s not the term that pops out when you breeze by this article on The Tennessean home page, or on social media. And as we know, for every 10 clicks an article receives, the heading and subheading receive 1,000 views or more. These things are what commonly leave the most lasting impression.

But perhaps even most troubling is the premise of this article that portrays Jaime Wyatt—and all independent music artists by proxy—as something less than their mainstream counterparts. Author Marcus K. Dowling commonly attempts to take the role of kingmaker for artists, hyperbolically over-inflating them, even though he has no such power. He says of Jaime’s appearance at the Nashville Pride Festival this weekend, “Wyatt’s mainstream star-making moment is defying numerous expectations.”

But that’s not what’s happening here at all. Sorry, but performing on one of three stages at 3:30 in the afternoon this Sunday at a Pride fest will not result in a “mainstream star-making moment.” I wish it would, because Jaime Wyatt deserves it. But this is ludicrous. She’ll be seen by way more people when she makes an appearance at the independent Under The Big Sky Fest in Montana come mid July that shirks most mainstream artists for independent superstars like the Turnpike Troubadours and Cody Jinks, who regularly sell more tickets than many mid-level mainstream stars.

Sure, touring as part of CMT’s Next Women of Country presentation and this Pride event are important opportunities for Jaime Wyatt, and she’s smart to take advantage of them. Wyatt may even want to be associated more with the pop country world because that will mean more fans and more support. She may not even mind being called pop country personally. But many of her fans do. Other potential fans can and will be scared off by the “pop country” term, while pop country fans will be scared off when they actually hear Jaime Wyatt’s more Outlaw-style country music.

Trying to hype Jaime Wyatt’s prospects in the “mainstream” portrays Jaime Wyatt as something less at the moment, like she comes from the Sisters of the Poor just because her success has mostly been confined to the independent world. You see this very commonly in the media, as if an artist can’t succeed without the mainstream. Zach Bryan, who has never received a lick of support from country radio or anything of that sort released the biggest debut album so far in 2022 with American Heartbreak. This idea that artists need mainstream radio, Music Row, or major labels to succeed is so 2014.

There are worse things than being mischaracterized in the subheading of a dying and diminished outlet, but it’s indicative of a deeper issue where the individuals tasked to write about country artists are just not familiar enough with the lay of the land to the point where they’re doing things that are detrimental, inappropriate, or downright irresponsible on a fairly regular basis. Portraying Jaime Wyatt as “pop country” is a rookie mistake in what is supposed to be a veteran outlet. Marcus K. Dowling is a regular offender in these matters, though sometimes editors or underlings write the title and subheadings. It can’t be assumed this was Dowling’s handiwork.

I tried to reach out to Marcus K. Dowling for clarification, but he’s blocked me on all platforms, like a lot of these journalists do, further insulating and cloistering their reality from healthy criticism and differing perspectives. I also tweeted a response to The Tennessean‘s Twitter post, hoping it may compel them to reconsider their verbiage. They didn’t.

So this is my letter to the editor of The Tennessean to just say “do better,” understand the implications of these terms, and if need be, reach out to colleagues in the journalism pool who are more familiar with these artists and the world they come from. Places like Saving Country Music were touting Jaime Wyatt way before it became fashionable simply based off of Twitter signaling and identity politics, and could tell you to avoid referring to her as “pop country.”

Though the think piece journalists and academics love to portray country music, it’s fans, it’s artists, it’s labels and radio infrastructure as bigoted and closed-minded in total, Jaime Wyatt has been embraced in the independent country music community for years. Her coming out didn’t hurt her prospects one iota. If anything, it made her more of a badass, and allowed even more attention to flow to her career. The Tennessean would otherwise probably not be writing about her at the moment.

Where the judgement will come down from her true country and Outlaw fans is if she chooses to pull a Kelsea Ballerini and go full blown pop, or if the media portrays her as such. Meanwhile, the biggest victims of discrimination in country music continue to not be based on race, sex, sexual orientation, or creed. It’s if you have the audacity to play actual country music. That is why Jaime Wyatt has yet to have her “mainstream star-making moment.” She’s too good, and too country.

…now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go listen to some Jaime Wyatt.

© 2023 Saving Country Music