Here we are with a nice, tidy little bow wrapped around 2018, with the barrage of end-of-year lists finally published and in the past, the confetti from New Year’s celebrations all swept up, and the promise of an exciting new year of country music on the way. But how good or bad really was country music in 2018?
There’s nothing new about staring at the “New Artist” nominees for a country music industry awards show and being bewildered at the names you see. It’s an annual exercise. This year the names included in the CMA’s “New Artist of the Year” category were no different.
I feel like Al Pacino in The Godfather III. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!” I’ve moved on from the whole questioning of Midland’s media narrative thing, and numerous times. Ultimately, it’s all about the music, and Midland’s music is better than most anything else in the mainstream.
“Countrypolitan” or “The Nashville Sound” are the terms used to describe the lush, orchestral approach to country music that took root in Nashville in the 60’s, which embellished the music with strings and chorus sections to make it appeal to a more distinguishing audience of the time. It was Music Row’s answer to the counterculture revolution.
So here we are once again staring at a list of the nominees for the ACM Awards, with few surprises, lots of predictable stuff, and finding ourselves full of self-reflection on if we should even care about the annual country music gala that is most susceptible to bloc voting and horse trading.
While in the independent realm of country music, 2017 went down as a record year for quality projects, the mainstream was downright abysmal pretty much across the board for both songs and albums. There actually were quite a few pretty good songs, but most struggled to gain traction in the charts.
The nominations for the 2018 Grammy Awards were announced Tuesday morning (11-28), and among the most nominated names are multiple traditional country and roots music favorites, including Chris Stapleton who comes in with three nominations, tied with award show favorites Little Big Town for the most nominations in country.
“If I ever meet that guy from Saving Country Music he is gonna see just how Country I really am!” says Mark Wystrach of Midland, while calling Saving Country Music’s coverage of the band “lies” and “click-bait.” But it was never about how “authentic” Midland was. It was about their attempts to unnecessarily embellish their back story.
What Jon Pardi has done over the last year is prove that an artist can stick to a more traditional style, and not only sustain, but turn in career marks, even in this difficult environment for traditional artists in the mainstream, and a stacked field for artists looking to be launched. “She Ain’t In It” is a classic country crooning heartbreak song…
“I feel like we manifested [Midland], because this is our playground…,” says Shane McAnally. “When these guys walked in and were a vehicle for those kinds of songs, and also quite capable of writing them as well, it was like ‘Weird Science,’ like, it wasn’t our design, but it’s almost like we put into a machine what we wanted, and out came Midland.”
With all the talk about the cheeky machismo of Midland lately, including many assigning the trio savior status for finally returning a semblance of traditional country back to the mainstream of country, folks seem have forgotten that William Michael Morgan did that very thing with a single called “I Met A Girl” in 2016.
I can’t stand these Midland guys. I can’t stand their faces, I can’t stand their bullshit Tom Selleck circa 1985 mustaches, I can’t stand their stupid getups, or the fact that they’re making a mockery of the authenticity of scores of Austin-based country artists, and legions of traditional country performers across the globe.
There will be one point of interest for some country fans at the 2017 VMA Awards on MTV. One of those “authentic, hardscrabble, Texas country” guys from the new band Midland will be up for no less than four VMA awards during the 2017 presentation. How, you say?
At the moment there are exactly zero women in country radio’s Top 20, and a whopping total of 4 in the entire Top 50 for an abysmal 8% representation. In fact this 4 out of 50 ratio has been pretty consistent now for the entirety of the “Body Like A Backroad” reign at #1.
Mainstream country is not stupid. They see the rising tide of Americana artists cresting the country albums charts on a regular basis, the big Americana names selling out large venues and headlining festivals, and doing it all without the help of Music Row or corporate radio, and continuing to encroach into their overall market share.
Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” has now topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart for 17 straight weeks. Meanwhile, “Body Like a Backroad” continues to pick up crossover spins. Unfortunately for Miranda Lambert, her current single “Tin Man” is headed in the opposite direction.
As we continue to ponder what country radio might look like after the impending implosion of iHeartMedia and corporate radio as we know it, some very interesting developments emerged on the country radio charts this week.
As time has gone on, I find myself disliking these dudes more and more because I can’t beat back the obvious reality that we’re being misled about these guys. Midland is a machination of the big Music Row industrial complex, no different than most major label artists.
They’ve decided to divide opening duties among a total of 26 separate openers across the 65 total tour dates, as opposed to taking the usual stance with openers, which is to drag the same two or three lightweight mainstream up-and-comers around with them for six months. Even more surprising are the names selected to open.
There may be no better example of how the mainstream country music industry has completely bought into the shifting of the paradigm to more traditional and more substantive music than the signing of the band Midland to Big Machine Records. It’s this pretty strange development that speaks to just how deeply rooted this movement has entrenched itself into the industry now.