Look, you can make too much of these kinds of things for sure. But coming from a big platform and going completely unchecked, a little bit of marketing could turn into a big aberration of the truth, so some spirit dissent is warranted in this situation.
NBC’s singing competition The Voice is coming back in October, and once again Blake Shelton will be taking his A1 spot as a judge on the show. In a new marketing promotion for the show’s return, the claim is being made in multiple mediums that “The King of Country is BACK” and “Blake Shelton: Country King.” In a video clip, girlfriend Gwen Stefani says, “Obviously, he’s a country King.”
Yeah, not so much. Perhaps in other genres, such jargon can be bandied about harmlessly as flattery and marketing. But in country music, history means something. And being able to proclaim someone a “country King” is reserved for a very exclusive few, which Blake Shelton in no way qualifies for—an opinion even many Blake Shelton fans would probably agree with.
Fellow judge on The Voice Kelly Clarkson—who’s shared her own disdain for today’s country last year—was incapable of letting the claim slide herself, proclaiming playfully, “I must have missed George Strait in this video.”
Consulting Saving Country Music’s compendium on country music’s Royal Court and Founding Family, there are only three men who can legitimately claim the right to be called “Kings” of country music: Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, and “King” George Strait. Blake Shelton—with all due respect—doesn’t even come close to the kind of legacy and importance these three men accrued.
And look, that’s not a knock on Blake Shelton specifically. And to be fair, Blake Shelton doesn’t even appear to be making this claim himself (even though he might be fine with letting it happen). Perhaps if he had chosen to continue his career in actual country music as opposed to devoting a lion’s share of his time to a reality show and getting swept up in Bro-Country with songs like “Boys ‘Round Here,” maybe he would be a contender for such a distinction. But he didn’t.
Truth is, in the next ten years ago—or God forbid when George Strait moves on to country music heaven—we may be on the lookout for the next name to proclaim “The King of Country.” But with all due respect to Blake Shelton, unless he somehow dramatically reversed course and was able to offer the type of lasting influence Roy Acuff, Hank Williams, or George Strait did, his name isn’t even worth shortlisting. And Blake Shelton would probably be the first to tell you that.