Why Not Use These Collaborations to Help Develop Some COUNTRY Talent?
First it was country rap with guys like Colt Ford and Jason Aldean that defined the worst of what mainstream country had to offer. This morphed into Bro-Country with acts like Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line. That gave way to Metro Bro with Sam Hunt and Thomas Rhett taking a more metrosexual notion to Bro-Country, and you knew something else would surface in 2016 to be the next scourge of mainstream country music.
But the next trend in country may not be defined by a style or a sound, but who is involved in it. From Demi Lovato working with Brad Paisley, Elle King cutting a duet with with Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney delaying his next record to put together a collaboration with pop star Pink, Keith Urban collaborating on a song with Pitbull, Little Big Town working with Pharrell Williams on an entire album, Blake Shelton singing with that girl from No Doubt, and the long-rumored collaboration with The Band Perry and some hot pop star, you’re starting to see a clear and present pattern beginning to unfold of what we can expect country music’s next big move to be.
Collaborations are not all necessarily bad, and they’re certainly nothing new in country music. The concern is where it all could be taking the genre simply from the sheer number of collaborations hitting the country airwaves, and how high-profile they are—siphoning attention away from songs that feature only one artist. As mainstream country artists and their handlers love to tell you, cross genre collaborations help bring new fans into country music. But are Pitbull fans really who we need filling vacant seats at country concerts?
Willie Nelson collaborated with all manner of pop stars in his day. So did Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. But they also worked with many artists within the country genre. Julio Iglesias and Ray Charles may have enjoyed high profile moments with Willie, but Willie also had a whole series of records with Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, as well as his work with The Highwaymen. He also cut songs from lesser-known artists like Townes Van Zandt, Johnny Bush, and Steve Fromholz, helping to hoist those artists into the spotlight.
The problem with the current trend of collaborations in pop country is they’re not of the traditional country variety of bridging two worlds, or giving a helping hand to an up-and-coming artist. It’s all about doubling up on star power that’s usually pop on pop to begin with, to hopefully launch a super hit. Two big names on a track make for two publicity teams, two Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to promote the single through, and a juicy story for puff piece music outlets in pop and country to blather about.
If you look at the hip hop world where collaborations are the name of the game, there’s actually a method to the “(feat. this guy, that guy, and DJ Scratch n’ Sniff)”. Collaborations are how hip-hop farms and develops musical talent. If you have a young, promising rapper or DJ, they’re fit with a bigger, established name to give them street cred and increase their name recognition. Most of the biggest hip-hop artists at the moment relied on a more established artist to help give them a hand up, and so they’re more than happy to do it for the next promising talent.
But in country music, it’s the exact opposite. Were seeing so many quality problems in country music today because the genre just can’t develop new talent, and there is such a small amount of slots for top-level stars. So much has been made about the lack of recognition for women in the genre, so why can’t some of these top-level country stars collaborate with some female stars within the genre to help share the love? No offense to Pink or Elle King, who are probably not half band if you’re going to pick a pop star to work with. But why not work Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, or Kacey Musgraves into some of these collaborations?
Instead you’re taking all of that attention and pointing it outside the boundaries of country. A similar action happens with all the pop collaborations at the awards shows. Of course many of today’s country collaborations are not interested in featuring new talent because they want the attention for the here and now instead of a payoff in the future. But you’re sacrificing a long-term, sustainable approach for a short-term sugar high with a sometimes fleeting pop star on a usually forgettable song.
Collaborations are popping up all over the Billboard charts in country and beyond because it’s just such an easy way to create attention. Earlier this week, Billboard posted an article entitled “Country Radio Gatekeepers Support Pop Star Collaborations.” Not only does this signal that collaboration is the new direction country music is headed in, but that the promotional apparatus of country music is trying to be out front of it, warming the public and the industry to the idea.
READ: The Country Music Collaborator / Interloper Field Guide
But if collaborations will be the next big trend, how about putting out just a little bit of effort to make sure that the great talent that is going unrecognized in country music itself gets some love, like when Tim McGraw released the solo written “Humble and Kind” right before Lori McKenna is getting ready to release an album, or when Adele’s recording of a Chris Stapleton song was something he could hang his hat on, or how Miranda Lambert’s work with The Pistol Annies shined a spotlight on Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.
The pop/pop country collaborations have always been there. But if collaborations are going to be the next hot thing, let’s use it as an opportunity to take some of the unheralded talent in country music waiting patiently in the wings for their moment in the spotlight, and put them at center stage.
July 21, 2016 @ 8:55 am
I really don’t like this new trend. My biggest issue is male artists getting the Pop tart on their track for hopefully more sales. We already have an issue getting actual talented female country voices on country radio but now radio will be playing POP where a “country female voice space” on radio playlists. Really? I totally agree that there are so many talented ladies who could have been asked. PS the Brad Paisley/Demi Lovato duet really bothers me. He is literally 20 years older than her and it is just CREEPY subject matter !to sing w/ a 23 yr. old
July 21, 2016 @ 9:04 am
I agree completely.
Collaborations between qualified artists can turn out great, but I have no interest in seeing 2 people try to meld country music with another genre (except for DAC’s collaboration with Dimebag Darrell in Rebel vs. Rebel).
July 21, 2016 @ 12:47 pm
You comment points out what’s wrong with a lot of “true country” fans. I love Rebel Meets Rebel, but I believe that a great country/rap combination could exist with two artists true to their respective genres. That’s what made RMR so good. Coe is an outlaw, and the guys from Pantera are brutal as fuck. It made sense for them to work together. And sometimes it fails, see Lou Reed and Metallica.
Also, the more I think about it, RMR wasn’t really a country album as much as it was a kickass, balls to the wall rocker.
The problem is also compatability. The artists need to be able to have similar roots. You find a true to his music guy from each genre that can relate to what the other is saying. Think Coe in his early days working with ODB. Of course he’s dead, but you get what I’m saying.
July 21, 2016 @ 8:12 pm
The big difference between the example you give, DAC and Pantera, is that those two probably truly wanted to work on something together and had respect for each other. Most of the collaborations you’re seeing in the current environment are between two people who have probably no idea about each other’s music and in many cases have never even met before. DAC and Pantera created something that was a labor of love, the current trend is just marketing and merchandising.
July 21, 2016 @ 9:58 pm
thats what I wd trying to say, but couldn’t find the right words. Thank you.
July 21, 2016 @ 9:06 pm
I’m of the personal opinion, and have had this idea since Metamodern was released, a Scott Mescudi (KiD Cudi) and Sturgill collaboration would be legendary.
July 21, 2016 @ 9:22 am
There is barely anything that distinguishes the current “country” music from pop music aside from the fact that there are no female singers on “country” radio and the “country” singers usually have a (probably fake) twang added to their voices. Given the current state of “country” music, would you have expected anything else?
July 21, 2016 @ 10:30 am
But pop has far better melodies .
July 21, 2016 @ 11:35 am
Not just better melodies, the best pop stuff also has better lyrics, & better voices. Not just pop either, really sam Hunt is R&B/pop, but on those stations he’d get swamped by artists like theWeekend & even Bieber, who do what he does, only much better.
July 21, 2016 @ 9:41 am
David Nail- Home (featuring Lori McKenna), also on the new album is a song called Champagne Promise with Logan Brill on backing vocals.
There are artists doing decent collaborations, but they tend to be 2nd to 3rd tier (popularity wise) artists like Nail.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:00 am
I’m not a fan of the new trend of country-pop crossover, apparently everyone now has to have pitbull on their records. And thankfully they’re not totally working the Brad/Demi duet looks like a flop both commercially and at radio.
But, a lot of the artists who have done these duets have also done what you’re asking for: Dierks also has a duet with Maren on his record (& it’s better than the duet with Elle), Jason Aldean (shudder) is cutting a song with Kelsea Ballerini, Blake has done a couple duets with Ashley (label mates) plus a bunch of voice alums etc. Plus they take younger artists out on tour, giving them exposure that way as well.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:09 am
“why can’t some of these top-level country stars collaborate with some female stars within the genre to help share the love?…But why not work Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, or Kacey Musgraves”.
I agree with this Trigger (even though it has already happened to some extent to the artists in question). Blake Shelton collaborated with Ashley Monroe on his song ‘Lonely Tonight’, which reached #1 on the airplay charts and was released just a few months before Ashley released her album ‘The Blade’. Sure her album peaked at #2 and was critically acclaimed, but commercially it never done much and little to no radio play whatsoever.
Kacey has tried her best to branch out to gain a wider audience (going on tour with Kenny Chesney and also touring with one of the biggest pop stars right now, Katy Perry, making that CMT crossroads thing with her too. Most recently she has worked with R&B pop singer Miguel on a remix of his song called ‘waves’ (which is actually pretty good – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtS3SyevpvI). Sadly though, even with a great sophomore album, Pageant Material received little airplay and has sold much less than her debut album. Maybe her Christmas album she will release later this year will bring her a wider audience.
Right now I think the mainstream female country singers are making much better music than the men. I’d much rather listen to Kacey, Brandy, Miranda & Ashley than Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean etc.
Collaborations will come and go, ultimately there needs to be a country radio revolution.
July 21, 2016 @ 11:41 am
“Right now I think the mainstream female country singers are making much better music than the men.”
July 21, 2016 @ 12:38 pm
As a lover of both Kacey and Miguel, that waves remix was one of my favorite songs when it came out – and still is. Now that’s a good example of genre-blending that works. Both artists sound actually invested in the experimentation, instead of striving towards sales.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:28 am
I’ve never really been a fan of Kenny Chesney’s, but I am actually looking forward to hearing this collaboration with P!nk.
I think P!nk is one of the most talented performer’s ever. She is much more than just a ‘pop star’. I think her cover of ‘Me & Bobby McGee’ is one of the best renditions of that song to date.
Also, P!nk’s project back in 2014 with (Dallas Green, AKA City and Colour) You+Me, is more “country” sounding than anything Kenny Chesney’s put out in a long time.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:36 am
Kenny Chesney’s music was actually really good until about 2000. His “I Will Stand” album is a classic in my opinion. His first “Greatest Hits” CD is a good dividing point of his career — before the greatest hits CD he was Kenny Chesney the country singer, and after he was Kenny Chesney the pop singer in a cowboy hat.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:36 am
‘Right now I think the mainstream female country singers are making much better music than the men. I’d much rather listen to Kacey, Brandy, Miranda & Ashley than Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean etc. ‘
Absolutely agree Jamie …and it has been thus for a long while . Maddie and Tae , Sara Evans , Kacey Musgraves , …I’ve been listening to Mindy McCready’s final album from 2010 and man , the writing and sincerity in her performances are SOOO far above what the males are churning out .Maybe THAT’S part of the problem ….guys are intimidated .
July 21, 2016 @ 10:36 am
I just want my country COUNTRY! It is not a lot to ask for but it is a lot to expect these days.
July 25, 2016 @ 2:57 pm
Yes! I don’t know who these people commenting are but they are not the target audience of Saving Country music! Pop collaborations are complete and utter dreck. Pop collaboration is for people who hate country music. I’m with Dale Watson…go Ameripolitan since real country no longer exists on radio. Screw radio altogether…we have other options such as satellite and Internet radio as well as public radio. Stapleton doesn’t need country radio to sell his music, it sells itself. The real stuff is out there waiting to be found…this website will help you find the real country artists.
July 21, 2016 @ 10:47 am
I really liked that Kelly Clarkson duet she did with Vince Gill in 2012, Don’t Rush, which showed that a pop and country collaboration really can work. However, what I don’t like is collaborations mainly aimed for an increase in sales. Plus, we have plenty of talented female country artists for collaborations with the males. Why not work with female Country singers, like what Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood did in 2011 with Remind Me? That song was a big hit for both of them and the two singers had really good chemistry with each other.
July 21, 2016 @ 11:22 am
Also Brad Paisley with Alison Krauss, also Brad Paisley with Dolly Parton.
July 21, 2016 @ 2:30 pm
Kelly Clarkson is an American treasure.. That’s why..
July 21, 2016 @ 10:48 am
Trying to ride into another fan base on the back of someone considered successful in that genre is a marketing ploy that’s been around forever . It ‘s smart business sense for many trying to reach a mainstream audience which doesn’t relate as much to vacuous lyrics as it does to vacuous people . I’m sure its the labels pressuring these collaborations …whey the hell wouldn’t they . Music sales are down another 16 % , album projects are stiffing everywhere , live performance is king in terms of revenue again and generating more interest in your ‘artist’ is more important than ever. Besides , who wouldn’t want to record with Pitbull given the chance ? Especially if you’re gonna be such a sissy about sticking pins in your eyes instead .
July 21, 2016 @ 11:18 am
Here’s my take… What makes it more difficult for collaboration in today’s county music market… if it’s not cross gender or cross genre it shines a huge light on the fact that they all sound exactly the same. I’m trying to think of the tune… but on one recent album there’s a track where it’s two contemporary males and I had to listen several times to even get that.
In contrast, if you listen to something like Hold My Beer Vol. 1, it’s obvious whether Rodgers or Bowen is signing. Their voices are recognizable.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that even in the 90s, when a song came on the radio you could tell which group or artist it was before the lyric even started. Think of groups like Diamond Rio or Sawyer Brown. Artists like Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks… they used the same players and developed their own sound.
It’s difficult to have a collaboration when you’re essentially the same voice, cutting the same songs, written by the same guys, with the same session players.
July 21, 2016 @ 12:05 pm
Yes, you’re referring to the Tim McGraw / Florida Georgia Line song “May We All.” I can barely tell the three singers apart. In fairness, part of that has to do with the fact that the vocal parts are so heavily processed. But good songs bring the best talent out in stars. They create launching pads for talented singers. Today, not so much.
July 21, 2016 @ 11:43 am
You get more of what you reward, and less of what you don’t. If you don’t buy what Whoever is selling, and instead buy what he’s not, Whoever is going to figure out real quick what he needs to do to make money. If people already bought Whoever’s stuff, telling them it sucks does nothing. You’re too late to affect their decision, and you’ll probably just make them defensive and hunker down to buy more of Whoever’s stuff just to spite you.
There’s something called “the international style” in wine-making. It’s brand-driven, artificial, focus-grouped, and utterly unrelated to the soil. People buy it in huge quantities. There is an alternative called natural or “raw” wine that comes from artisanal makers who minimize the amount of manipulation and additives in the wine-making process. In country music, we see something similar: big global artifice industry vs. small local artisans.
July 24, 2016 @ 5:32 am
I heard about this Whoever guy. Isn’t he the one with that song “Girl Sitting On A Tailgate Wearing Cutoffs And Lip Gloss In A Field By A Bonfire Sippin’ On Ice Cold Beer And Supportin’ The Troops On A Saturday Night?”
Man, he sucks!!! But sadly, that song is probably going to be #1 soon on Billboard Hot Country.
Six String Richie
July 21, 2016 @ 12:12 pm
Playing off of what Corncaster just said, I have my own analogy. It’s about the bourbon industry because what could be country-er than that.
Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, bourbon sales were declining steadily in the U.S. as cocktails and dark spirits lost favor with younger drinkers who preferred beer, wine, vodka and other forms of alcohol. Then, in the past 5 years or so, Fireball Whiskey came out of nowhere and has become one of the 10 best-selling spirits in America.
Fireball took whiskey and mixed it with so much cinnamon and sugar flavoring that you barely could even taste the whiskey. Soon, Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Evan Williams and all the other big whiskey companies jumped on board and released fire, apple, honey, peach and cherry versions of their whiskey.
The bourbon industry has seen a Renaissance in the past 5 years or so. Young people are increasingly large consumers of whiskey. This is due partly to the introduction of flavored whiskey. People who liked the idea of whiskey but didn’t like the taste found a way to drink it. All of the whiskey character was removed and replaced with sugar, but the kids could feel like they were having a grownup’s drink.
Same applies to adding all of this pop, hip hop and rock to country music. People who like the idea of country but not the actual sound have a way to listen to it now. Too bad it’s not country.
*As a side note, the bourbon industry is also exploding thanks to Mad Men popularizing whiskey and cocktails to a new audience and a trend in bar tending that has popularized classic cocktails. But for the sake of the analogy, let’s say it’s because of flavored whiskey.
July 21, 2016 @ 2:51 pm
But another side effect of what you’re saying is that young people (like me) who see their friends drinking Jack Daniels Honey and Fireball might eventually delve deeper into bourbon and start appreciating the craftsmanship in really fine bourbons. The same thing happened with craft beer – you have the corporate mass-produced Blue Moon “crafty” beer that acted as a gateway beer for people to enjoy the Dogfish Heads, Stones and Founders out there. And the thing is – I’ve grown to realize that there are people who truly enjoy this “watered down” product. We might treasure our Four Roses and dismiss flavored and sugary bourbons, but there are many people who turn their nose down at complex flavors.
I don’t know what can really be said about this. I’m someone who loves to sit down with, say, a barrel-aged stout and read a nice novel. And at other times, I completely understand when you might want to have cold Bud Lites (tailgating, barbecues). It’s a very similar sentiment when comparing (what many of us around here consider) quality country vs pop country.
So essentially, I agree with what you’re saying – people have found music country sound that appeals to them. Just as pop music had its EDM phase, country music had its time when the songs on the radio were tailored towards those who just wanted to party. That being said, I still think it is very much possible to have radio-friendly, party-friendly, and mass-friendly songs, whether it’s pop, country, or hip hop, that are quality. As someone alluded to earlier, radio pop would eat country pop alive in that regard – but it’s not true for all cases. There will always be pop music that can live and last, and there will be pop music that’s derivative
Regarding pop collaborations: the optimist would say that any exposure is good exposure. Those who like the sugar and fluff wouldn’t appreciate traditional country anyways, and you get to bring over some people who are truly interested in country music tradition. Country music is so far off the radar of most modern pop listeners that investing in exposure over quality might be the safer bet, at the moment.
That being said, I’m skeptical whether a duet between a country and pop singer would do much good. I understand the reasoning, but considering the perception of country from young listeners (from my experiences), it mainly seems like a move of desperation on the labels’ parts.
Six String Richie
July 21, 2016 @ 4:21 pm
Yes, I do agree that flavored whiskey likely has reached young consumers who eventually do enjoy real bourbon.
Also, like you said of yourself, I love sipping a fine bourbon or tequila that has been aged just right while reading a novel. But I also love a few Millers with my friends.
I guess that’s the thing that’s faulty on my analogy. Flavored whiskey I do believe has lead to people enjoying real whiskey. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same thing has happened with pop country. But maybe it will someday.
July 21, 2016 @ 12:35 pm
‘The bourbon industry has seen a Renaissance in the past 5 years or so. Young people are increasingly large consumers of whiskey. This is due partly to the introduction of flavored whiskey. People who liked the idea of whiskey but didn’t like the taste found a way to drink it. All of the whiskey character was removed and replaced with sugar, but the kids could feel like they were having a grownup’s drink.
Same applies to adding all of this pop, hip hop and rock to country music. People who like the idea of country but not the actual sound have a way to listen to it now. Too bad it’s not country.’
Excellent observation and analogy , SSR . Basically , if you water down and homogenize ANYTHING ( remove its character and uniqueness ) it becomes more palateable to a larger cross section of consumers ( or a lower common denominator ) which translates to $$$$$ .
July 21, 2016 @ 2:19 pm
I’ve seen no evidence of core fans being put off by hearing pop stars on their country station and points out that many of today’s fans are more format agnostic due to them being constantly exposed to other formats through other media outlets: Internet, TV, movies as such. Country music doesn’t have a huge footprint on mass media because Nashville is very protective over country music. So the more exposure it can get the better. That’s why country music aren’t into mass media like internet. We can all blame Nashville for screwing up country and mass media stick with junk music like pop. See what I mean? People like young listeners and adults aren’t into country because of Nashville. Therefore, country music only appeals local and North America, not popular music tastes.
July 21, 2016 @ 3:16 pm
“I’ve seen no evidence of core fans being put off by hearing pop stars on their country station …”
I think that if by ‘ core fans ‘ you mean trad , REAL country fans , Peter , you are talking about folks who don’t even tune in to mainstream” country ” music anymore . We know where to find it elsewhere and have been doing so for quite some time now . The folks listening to what radio is calling ” country music ‘ are , indeed ” format agnostic ” as you so aptly put it . Pop, Rock , EDM , R and B, Rap and Reggae have all staked their claims on the Mainstream Country stations . They don’t CARE what it is they are listening to but after 3-4-5 listens …they like it ! That fan and that Mainstream Radio approach does not do a thing for REAL country music in terms of ensuring the genre stays around .
If they took drums and piano , stand-up bass and saxophones off of jazz records sure you’d find someone who’d listen if it was force-fed . But you wouldn’t call it trad jazz. Why do they call today’s mainstream country radio ” Country ” when there’s is barely a trace of traditional instrumentation , substance-driven song narratives , great solo instrumentalists or artists who seem the least bit aware of those traditions ?
July 23, 2016 @ 2:14 am
This might be one of the best explainations I’ve read regarding the loss of the genre.
July 21, 2016 @ 2:25 pm
To be fair, Dierks has also done collaborations with Patty Griffin, Kacey Musgraves, Karen Fairchild, Miranda and Jamey Johnson., Chris Stapleton and Alison Krauss.
July 21, 2016 @ 2:54 pm
“The problem with the current trend of collaborations in pop country is they’re not of the traditional country variety of bridging two worlds, or giving a helping hand to an up-and-coming artist. It’s all about doubling up on star power that’s usually pop on pop to begin with, to hopefully launch a super hit. Two big names on a track make for two publicity teams, two Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to promote the single through, and a juicy story for puff piece music outlets in pop and country to blather about.”
“But in country music, it’s the exact opposite. Were seeing so many quality problems in country music today because the genre just can’t develop new talent, and there is such a small amount of slots for top-level stars.”
I disagree.. I think there are plenty of talented new artists in country. The “machine” doesn’t want country artists. Radio wants pop artists with a twang in the voice. 99.9% of the time we are force fed shyt.
Recent collaborations I really like –
Austin Lucas – Lydia Loveless – Wrong Side of the Dream.
Eric Church – Susan Tedeschi – Mixed Drink Feelings.. (I wonder if this will be a single)
Church has also done a few things with Rhiannon Giddens that just seem good.
You can feel that the artists are on the same page with the same goals and some integrity about the whole thing.
I haven’t heard it, but I am looking forwarded to the new Prine album which is all collaborations. But let’s face it he is not a new artist. LOL
It can be done right for the right reasons.
July 21, 2016 @ 4:01 pm
I’m not saying the talent is not out there. To “develop” that talent, you have to make sure it is supported by sustainable careers as opposed to putting out a sloppy EP, a failed single, and then getting dropped from their major like the fate the majority of female artists face. The talent is there. How to get people listening to it is another story.
July 21, 2016 @ 2:55 pm
I have to admit, I also liked the Grace Potter Kenny Chesney stuff.
July 21, 2016 @ 4:20 pm
I suggest a sturgill- Alison kruass duet.
July 21, 2016 @ 5:17 pm
I agree that the Vince Gill/Kelly Clarkson collaboration was well done. I enjoy them better than the Jason Aldean/Kelly Clarkson collaboration based on VG being a similar singer to KC than JA to KC. I enjoy both, but one is better based on vocal talent.
July 21, 2016 @ 9:29 pm
The only song I like from Chesney is a duet with Grace Potter. I like Elle King too. She has a nice voice. But I get what your saying.
July 23, 2016 @ 10:19 am
Sturgill Simpson and Pitbull duet. Epic.
July 23, 2016 @ 11:24 am
Pitbull with Dolly, or maybe Sturgill with Trampled by Turtles ?