Zac Brown just can’t help himself. You can’t fault the guy for wanting to follow his musical passions, if in fact that’s the motivation here and not just padding his pockets. But he’s broken a promise to country fans once again by releasing a song that is admittedly not country to country radio.
When the 2015 Zac Brown Band record Jekyll+Hyde was released and was led off with the incredibly EDM-influenced “Beautiful Drug,” it showed that Zac Brown was willing to take the band wherever he wished at the expense of his die-hard fans who preferred the more rootsy and down home Zac Brown sound, and who had built one of the most loyal, grassroots fan bases in country.
But as the uproar ensued over “Beautiful Drug,” assurances came from the Zac Brown camp that it was just Zac Brown stretching his legs a little bit. He wasn’t going pop or EDM or anything. “Beautiful Drug” wouldn’t be released as a single. It was just for fun. I mean jeez, quit being so uptight.
….and then he went ahead and released “Beautiful Drug” to country radio anyway, and of course it ultimately ended up at #1. Now all of a sudden a band that used to be a breath of fresh air in the mainstream was part of the problem. And it wasn’t without recompense. Zac Brown Band had spent over a decade not just selling Southern music, but a Southern down home lifestyle complete with a clothing line and food brand, and those loyal fans let Zac Brown hear it, and loudly enough where it appeared he listened.
But Zac wasn’t going to give up on his newfound appeal for EDM, and whatever other audio weirdness he was off into. And so he compartmentalized that audio fetish into a side project called Sir Rosevelt, and brought Zac Brown Band back to its roots in the 2017 album Welcome Home. Unlike a lot of mainstream stars who pull a sellout move, it appeared that maybe Zac Brown had actually come to his senses. But it may have been too little, and too late, and a lot of those fans weren’t there for him when he returned.
It also didn’t help that Welcome Home felt a bit uninspired, even if it was a return to the more rootsy sound of the band. The album has yet to sell 300,000 copies, and the two singles stalled outside the Top 10, with the latest one “Roots” sitting at #36. Beyond a lack of passion from Zac Brown, there appears to be a lack of passion from his new label, Elektra.
So is the Zac Brown Band done? Certainly that’s not true on the touring side. But on the radio side, it doesn’t appear there will be a 3rd single from what used to be a mainstream stalwart. Instead, Zac Brown has sprung the news that his newest radio offering will be from his Sir Rosevelt side project in the form of the song “Something ‘Bout You.” Yep, even though the whole point of the side project was to keep a nice clean divisional like between Zac Brown’s country and EDM/pop passions, he can’t help but play this card now that he drained the life out of his primary project.
You may listen to “Something ‘Bout You” and think it doesn’t feel too far off from what we expect to hear on country radio these days. But unlike the sharks who try to swindle the country music consumer by releasing pop songs and calling them country, the fact that this track originates from a project Zac Brown purposefully created to compartmentalize his pop fetish should leave no doubt about what is happening in country music right now.
Combine “Something ‘Bout You” with the rise of the Bebe Rexha track “Meant to Be,” Taylor Swift’s “New Years Day” (which luckily appears to be floundering post-Holidays), and even Kid Rock getting into the game by releasing “American Rock ‘n’ Roll” to country radio, and it’s pretty clear 2018 will be the season for anyone to release anything they want to the format, and finding little question from country’s program directors.
“Something ‘Bout You” as a song is quite mild itself, and may be dispensed with in a proper review in the future. But it’s release to country radio is more about the bad trend it foretells, just like the Bebe Rexha track. The boundaries have been so stretched that with impunity, you can release a song originally labeled pop to the country market, and receive little or no gruff about it. Bebe Rexha is just a pop tart who knows no better. But Zac Brown does.
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“Something ‘Bout You” is scheduled to impact country radio on February 12th.