Authentic American folk music has become overrun with poseurs in skinny jeans calling sexist cliches and even non-country devotees are starting to notice
For the past few years, country music has been engaged in something of a civil conflict. Seasoned starrings without much to gain from get into public spats have taken jab at one another over the instructions given by the genre as record labels have doubled-down on bro-country party anthems.
When Blake Shelton glibly called his detractors old farts and bozoes in a TV documentary, the late Ray Price rallied his fans on Facebook, starting an industry-wide conversation that led Willie Nelson to rename his tour the Old Farts and Jackasses Tour. When the CMT Awards cut short a tribute to George Jones but allowed for a full performance of Cruise by Florida Georgia Line and Nelly, Naomi Judd slammed the network in a scathing letter to the Tennessean.
Tensions reached a boiling point in the summer of 2013 when Zac Brown called Luke Bryans Thats My Kind of Night the worst carol Ive ever heard in a radio interview. The remark sent shockwaves through the industry and drove months of dialogue. It even got lampooned in the opening of that years CMA Awards, as Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley serenaded Brown and Bryan with a rendition of Why Cant We Be Pal?
For the most part, these tensions have remained within country music circles. People who arent fans of the genre have been happy to hop-skip right past the country stations on their radios, figuring that the hymns being played there are still about cowboys in cornfields reminiscing over their dead spouses. But that blissful ignorance has all but disappeared in the past 18 months. Today the discussion about the soul of country music has extended far outside Nashville, and its now safe to say that the genre has a serious image problem. Its not only stalwart country fans that see country being overrun with chauvinist posers in skinny jeans its everyone.
This was more than clear amid all the hubbub that was downed last week surrounding Little Big Towns Girl Crush. In suit you missed it, a Texas radio programmer penned a blogpost claiming that the station was receiving complaints about the slinky chant, with some listeners saying it promoted a gay agenda. Since then, just about every major voice in service industries has come to Little Big Towns defence( even as many stations have denied receiving any such complaints ), and the carol has planted itself at No 1 on the iTunes country chart. Universal Music Group CEO Mike Dungan has dismissed the controversy outright. This is the craziest much ado about nothing that Ive been involved in in eternally, he said over the weekend. Its a reflection on how the media likes to whip up a craze with headlines.
Truth be told, Dungan is likely ecstatic at how those headlines are driving sales of the carol. But at the same period, executives like him should be very concerned about how many outlets hopped on the tale. Girl Crush wasnt simply covered by Music Rows trade publishings and the country music blogosphere the narrative get major attention in ABC News, People, Buzzfeed, Hollywood Life, Mail Online and countless other outlets. That breadth of coverage suggests that not only is the general public get savvier about country radios homogeneous output and its issues with ballads sung by females, but likewise that the perceived close-mindedness of country music listeners is becoming dependable click-bait.
That seemed to be the view of at least one talking head on cable lately. When Republican presidential wannabe Ted Cruz said that he started listening to country music after 9/11, Ebony.com senior editor Jamilah Lemieux said mockingly on MSNBC: Nothing says lets go kill some Muslims like country music. Though the network immediately apologised, it showed that lack of respect for country music is widespread, and could spell trouble for the genre in the long run.
Whats get country music to this degree? Well, its output or at the least the reaction to it. Artists like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line have reached superstar status with anthems that emphasize booze, hooking up, disliking metropoli folk, and not much else. Radio has enthusiastically invested in the copycat generic male artists coming off Nashville assembly lines, and getting airplay to rapidly become a paint-by-numbers game. Throw together enough tailgates, back roads and degrading sex innuendo, specify them to a mid-tempo drum machine beat and some bad electric guitars, and make a video featuring your artist in cheesy chrome jewelry inducing prayer hands in a backlit warehouse, and youre pretty much guaranteed a country hitting. The following formula has temporarily developed the format by attracting some disenfranchised boulder devotees, but its now wreaking havoc on the brand of country music which has traditionally garnered respect as an authentically American storytelling platform.
People are tired of the bullshit and are prepared for the real substance, John Osborne, one half of the buzz-worthy duo the Friend Osborne, told Rolling Stone on Monday. We went through an age of big hit sungs that no one is going to listen to 10 years from now, he continued. Ive always compared it to the early 90 s when whisker metal was so huge, and you had these bands like Warrant, who were more about showing off than they were about the music. It got to a point where it became so huge, it became a bubble, and the only thing that can happen is that bubble is going to explode.
Im inclined to agree with Osborne, and I belief his observation that the bubble is popping is spot-on. In the past two years, a vocal outcry has arisen against the bro-country tendency. In both 2013 and 2014, YouTube videos denouncing the derivative nature of country radio( one make use of yours truly, one make use of songwriter Greg Todd) have gone viral, each achieving about 4m positions. Maddie& Taes debut single, Girl in a Country Song, also satirized the state of the genre and earned widespread coverage on national television before heading toward No 1 on the two countries map. ABCs Nashvillehas informed the public about the difficulties of the industry for female artists. And rising websites like Saving Country Music and Farce the Music( along with lampoon Twitter reports like the must-follow @DrunkenMartina) have taken the piss out of the Nashville establishment. Mainstream country music has been presenting itself as lowest-common-denominator absurdity targeted at cheesy horndogs for years, and now theyre paying the cost in public opinion. Even new artists like Osborne and Kacey Musgraves dont bother to censor themselves or play along with the charade to ingratiate themselves.
As was the case with coverage of the Girl Crush conversation, criticism of country music is now widening far outside its traditional Nashville sphere. Comedy Centrals Kroll Show , a program knows we satirizing Los Angeles publicity firms and Canadian teen soap opera, even got in on specific actions. In a recent episode, Krolls meathead character Bobby Bottleservice moved country in an incisively funny and terribly depressing music video called Broin Country, which wouldnt look at all out of place on CMT today.( It seems to be a roasted of Jerrod Neimanns Drink to That All Night .)
I laughed hard at the clip, which seemed particularly well-informed about the state of the business, but I also winced because country music doesnt need to be a joke in 2015. Its a rich, beautiful and historic genre thats meant to represent the scope of human feelings. Its able to describe life, and all its ache and exultation and humor, with meaningful lyrics and authentic instrumentation. There are so many current artists building music that demonstrates this. But theres little reason to believe anyone would think country is capable of such substance becoming on the radio now.
Country music, as it stands today, is violate. Firms dont respect listeners intelligence. They view country music as a medium through which they can pander to rural and suburban folk and sell vehicles, power tools and cheap brew. Labels dont have a far higher panorama of their audiences, it often seems. Theyve got their eyes on short-term profits, which may be alluring for label executives, but to defend the genres reputation matters much more in the long run, both for the very best of music culture and their own bottom line. So I say bring out the substance bring on the proverbial Nirvana that supplanted the hair metal acts and restored credibility to popular rock music. Because country music image is plummeting with devotees and outsiders alike.
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