The 2018 CMA Award nominations were announced a few weeks ago, and singer, songwriter, and performer Caitlyn Smith‘s name was nowhere to be found. When folks were digesting the nominees, and looking for names of who may have been snubbed, Caitlyn Smith’s name never came close to entering the equation. On Wednesday (9-12), The Americana Music Association held its annual awards—an organization that often emphasizes the best, and most resonant music in country and roots that slips through the cracks in Music City. Caitlyn Smith was the farthest thing from anyone’s perspective. She wasn’t even considered for a presenter.
In 2018, the media has been obsessed with Miranda Lambert’s relationship status. Carrie Underwood’s recovery from a fall has been covered ad nauseam. Any time Margo Price as much as talks about smoking pot on Twitter, Rolling Stone Country is writing a story about it. Everyone is looking for personal or political threads to tackle when it comes to country artists to help generate clicks, and everyone professes wanting to emphasize women. But nobody is talking about Caitlyn Smith. Let’s not even get started with radio, and how the format has completely ignored The Cannon Falls, Minnesota native.
But the fans are listening, and they’re doing so in large quantities. The industry and media love to talk about supporting women, but the women they choose to push forward are often tied to political threads or personal taste, or whomever the industry is looking to anoint as the next pop starlet. Meanwhile there has never been more data for us to analyze whose music is truly resonating out there with the public, and if just given a little boost in attention, could explode, and completely change the paradigm for women, and country.
Virtually everyone has been ignoring Caitlyn Smith’s record Starfire, and specifically her song “This Town Is Killing Me.” With almost no press, with absolutely no radio play, and very little attention via streaming playlists, “This Town Is Killing Me” has received well over 5 million plays on Spotify alone since its release. The song “Starfire” has received 7.7 million plays. Compared to Margo Price, or even mainstream artists like Ashley McBryde, Caitlyn Smith is killing it, and without nearly the attention. Caitlyn’s numbers are roughly comparable even to a radio star like Carly Pearce when taking out the big radio-supported singles. And still, nobody is talking about Caitlyn.
But Ed Sheeran just did. On Thursday night (9-13), the megastar posted “Wow…” in his Instagram story as his reaction to Caitlyn Smith’s “This Town Is Killing Me.” And appreciate this is for a song that very much could be characterized as a country protest anthem, and ironically, one about working hard to receive the attention you deserve, and not receiving it. “This Town Is Killing Me” is like the current generation’s “Murder On Music Row.” And again, nobody is paying attention in country. It takes a British pop star to give the song and Caitlyn the attention they deserve. “This Town Is Killing Me” is the ultimate example of art imitating life.
Country music—from the independent to the mainstream—has very much become an extension of lifestyle branding, with the media either looking to capitalize off of gossip and conjecture, or superimpose political narratives as opposed to focusing on the music itself. This can be good for web traffic, but terrible for the media’s imperative to help the public sift through the din of music to find the stuff that is of the best quality, or in this case, is resonating incredibly with the public while being virtually ignored by the press. Caitlyn Smith supplies no fodder for the tabloids. She’s not politically active. But the music speaks for itself.
Caitlyn Smith has written hits for an incredible list of performers, from Garth Brooks to Meghan Trainor. Saving Country Music has tried to do its part, emphasizing “This Town is Killing Me,” and Caitlin’s album Starfire as two of the best in country music so far in 2018. But unless there’s a little bit of consensus from the press and industry, incredible and resonant projects like Starfire still sit under-the-radar.
You can’t just push music from women and expect the public to bite based purely off of your political or personal ideologies. There must be something there that speaks to listeners, and allows a song or an artist to soar. All the ingredients are there with Caitlin Smith, unlike with others the industry and media are trying to anoint as superstars while they’re dragging around subpar records and mediocre singles. Caitlyn just needs that spark, and her career would catch fire. And it shouldn’t take Ed Sheeran to do it.