You hate to keep coming back to this stupid topic of Zac Brown going off the rails with his two latest releases—The Zac Brown Band’s The Owl, and his solo album The Controversy. There’s just too much great music out there right now to keep harping on this subject. But once again Zac Brown is spouting off in the media, and drawing us offsides by compelling, and really necessitating responses to his pretty insulting and incendiary assertions. At this point Zac Brown is doing more harm than good for himself by trying to explain away the criticisms for the direction his career has taken. But he just doesn’t seem to have the capacity for self-awareness to know how to stop, which is the same underlying problem with his new music.
Fed up with the critics of his two new records, Zac Brown hooked up with the pop culture reporter for The Tennessean for an interview, and Zac preceded to go on a tirade about how unfair he’s being treated by his detractors.
“I would love for people to really listen and artistically understand my music,” he told the Nashville-based paper. “I realize it’s an impossibility … It’s a matter of what other people have been exposed to. If all they’ve known is to hate things that are foreign to them and to not listen for something that moves them and to be open, they’re (not going to understand). I think my traveling has given me the ability to be open and take in so many different things. All of those tastes combine into making me who I am. I’ll dive deep into someone’s music and … I’ll start to realize what’s really good about something.”
But what Zac Brown doesn’t seem to get is that the critics of his music are not just complaining because it’s not country and they aren’t cultured enough to understand it “artistically.” It’s that the music is just not good no matter what you call it, nor is it something you would regard as “artistic.”
Most country fans are music fans first. Many country fans like other types of music as well, including EDM and hip-hop, which Zac Brown’s latest records have ample elements of. But what they don’t like is bad music, no matter what genre it is. That is where Zac Brown is running afoul of people across the board, and not just country fans. And it’s patronizing to act like it’s the listener’s fault for not being open-minded or well-traveled enough to understand Zac Brown’s brilliance. It’s 2019. Everyone is exposes to everything.
“Gucci bag, stacks on stacks. Diamonds fill up the champagne glass. Veyron whip, G5 high. You have class that they just can’t buy,” The Zac Brown Band’s rap-tastic song “God Given” goes, done even one worse by the song “Swayze” off Zac’s solo album that uses the word “Bitch” 16 times. The new Tennessean article finds Zac addressing these two songs specifically, pleading his case of why the criticisms of these songs is unforunded, before running through virtually all the songs on the two new records, enumerating their virtues unchallenged.
“You can’t please everyone,” he says. “I go back to this speech that Teddy Roosevelt did called ‘Man in the Arena,’ and the first line reminds me to have the courage to make what I want to make as an artist. It’s not the critic who counts.”
Zac Brown later says about the song “Leaving Love Behind,” “There’s nothing that a country purist could hate about that song.” And he’s totally right. But it’s the very last song on Zac Brown Band’s record The Owl, and it was the one song Saving Country Music gave Zac Brown credit for in the review of the record. The truth is there’s a few quality songs on both The Owl and the solo record The Controversy.
But Zac Brown is missing the broader perspective of why critics are universally panning his efforts. It’s not just “purists.” It’s Zac Brown’s own fans. It’s outlets that usually work as the house organ for the industry such as Rolling Stone Country who doesn’t criticize anything except the political leanings of country artists. It’s critics like Grady Smith who regularly champions the best of today’s mainstream country music. And a couple of good songs will never, and should never make up for incredibly bad efforts like “God Given” or “Swayze.”
The reason critics criticize music is not to feel morally superior, or to blow off steam pent up from their own inadequacies—at least if it’s a critic who is worth their own salt. It is to offer perspective and guidance and opinion in a constructive manner to let artists know why people aren’t connecting with their music. Saying critics are unqualified because they’re not cultured enough is to misdiagnose why Zac Brown is facing so much criticism. But then again, it fits into the whole lack of self-awareness pattern we’ve seen from Zac lately.
At some point you stop being mad and frustrated at Zac Brown, and just feel bad for him. Clearly he is going through some personal issues. The one silver lining Zac Brown can look towards is that the sales of The Zac Brown Band’s new album The Owl have actually been curiously decent, despite all of the strong criticism, including from his established fan base. Perhaps some of the streams and sales are from people wanting to see what all the hand wringing is about, or rubber necking on a wreck. But Zac Brown is lucky this hasn’t become the absolute career bloodbath some critics and fans were predicting, at least not yet.
If Zac Brown truly wants to improve or be regarded artistically, he would be smart to listen to the artistic criticism that seems to have nearly universal consensus behind it. There’s rarely universal consensus behind anything these days, but there is consensus behind the opinion that Zac Brown’s music these days is just bad. Insulting his detractors as not being cultured enough just digs the hole Zac Brown is making for himself even deeper. If Zac was truly confident in what he’s doing, he would ignore his critics as opposed to constantly feeling like he needs to undercut their perspectives.
Or maybe I haven’t traveled enough to have a qualified opinion.