The Hodgepodge: The Mainstream Country Music Bubble is About to Burst

Waylon warned you, country music.
Waylon warned you, country music.

Lord it’s the same old tune…

This past weekend the 50th ACM Awards took place and the reviews for it haven’t been pretty. From Trigger at Saving Country Music to Grady Smith at The Guardian to the consensus on Twitter, they all found the show to be pretty bad. I myself found it to be weird and boring. Many of you weighed in on that post and whole heartedly agreed. The show was plagued with production errors and enough medleys to set a person insane. It wasn’t easy to sit through. Really this whole year in mainstream country music hasn’t been easy to stomach. When it looked like we were going to get more traditional country songs on the radio, the hope for that quickly evaporated. Instead we’ve gotten a heavy dose of Sam Hunt’s pop music, bro country rehashes, trend chasing, female artists continuing to get ignored and Thomas Rhett trying to be Bruno Mars. It’s the same old stuff country music has been doing for years now.

Where do we take it from here?

It was clear as day to anyone who watched the 2015 ACM Awards that country music has two big problems. The first problem is that country music has no idea what it is anymore. There’s a clear identity crisis taking place. This show featured performances from George Strait, Sam Hunt, Christina Aguilera and Nick Jonas. Do you see hip-hop awards shows with such a melting pot of performers? Do you rock awards shows with so many different sounds? No because they know who they are. This variety of sounds was touted during the ACM Awards, like this is a great thing. It’s clearly not because you’re sending mixed signals to viewers. They have no idea what the hell country music is because you’re throwing so many different sounds at them. The second problem is country music has zero direction on where to go. They’re chasing the R&B sound. They’re chasing the EDM sound. They’re rehashing bro country stuff. Country music is like a 12-headed monster and each head is going a different way. There’s no cohesion and no identity.

It’s been the same way for years/We need to change

Country music clearly needs to change and quickly. I think that’s obvious to a lot of people. But nobody wants to make the first move. Everyone is too afraid to make a move or say something. Some people will say, “Well what about Sturgill Simpson? He can save country music!” To them I repeat what I’ve said before and what Sturgill himself has said: he’s no savior. One artist can’t save the genre. I find Sturgill to be a trailblazer and a shining example to other independent country artists on how to do it your own way. Regardless of what happens in mainstream country music, Sturgill Simpson will be safe and continue to do his own thing. Atlantic Records will wisely keep him out of that racket and market him more like an indie rock artist rather than a mainstream country artist.

Another thing people will bring up is splitting country music, something that looked very possible last year. The top 40 country artists could go do their thing and the traditional, older country artists could go do their music. It would establish a clear line and everyone could be happy. I’ve advocated for this. But that convenient dream isn’t going to happen. It’s pretty much dead right now. You’re better off dismissing this fantasy as unrealistic. There are other ideas I’ve seen floated out there that could “save” mainstream country music and bring it change, but they’re not even worth addressing because I only see one change on the horizon for mainstream country music happening. It’s a change that they’re in the midst of doing right now and they’re not even aware it’s about to happen.

The mainstream country music bubble is about to pop. No splitting. No country music civil war is going to happen. It’s simply going to break into pieces, something I forewarned of months ago if country music didn’t start to get its act together. It reminds me a lot of how rock music shattered into pieces, became irrelevant as a mainstream genre and disappeared completely off radio. Rock reached its peak in popularity in the 80s with hair metal, which bro country is often compared to. At the beginning of the 90s, Nirvana became huge and grunge became the popular style in rock. The arrival of this group was a godsend for the genre because hair metal along with some other terrible rock sub-genres had made the public bored with rock music. Nirvana brought something fresh and new to the genre. Then Kurt Cobain, lead singer of Nirvana, tragically shot himself. Some people say this was the day rock music died too. Rock music lost its icon and symbol of hope.

Slowly but surely rock music devolved into multiple sub-genres, as several groups failed to duplicate the sound and success of Nirvana. The genre lost direction and popularity. Hip-hop made its rise into mainstream prominence at this time and essentially bumped rock off radio, taking its place. Now look at rock music. You don’t hear any new rock music on the radio. All there’s left of rock music on the radio is a local classic rock station playing hits from rock’s heyday. I see country music going down the exact same path minus the Nirvana part. There’s won’t be a Nirvana because country music doesn’t want a Nirvana walking through the door. Country music would rather continue down the same path it’s on and fall flat on its face. It’s afraid of trying something new, fresh and different. Taking risks isn’t considered business sound, even though business is stagnant and terrible right now.

Somebody told me when I came to Nashville
Son you finally got it made
Old Hank made it here, we’re all sure that you will
But I don’t think Hank done it this way, no
I don’t think Hank done it this way, okay

Now this gloom and doom prediction I’ve just thrown out at you is a real bummer. But ultimately I think country music would become better as a result. A new genre will rise out of the ashes. There would no longer be a mainstream or radio presence by country music. This would mean only the best country artists would get noticed. People would take to the Internet to find country music, just like independent country fans do now. It’s what rock fans do too. The B-list artists that are only known because of manufactured radio pushes by major labels would fall off the radar. This would be anyone who isn’t at a Carrie Underwood/Blake Shelton type level. So you would say goodbye to the Michael Rays and Kelsea Ballerinis of country music. The fluff would be out the door. I wouldn’t have to review terrible music being passed off as country anymore. Come to think of it, this sounds like an ideal scenario.

Heed the words of Waylon and make proactive change, country music. Or a crashing change will eat you alive.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Zac Brown Band will release their new album Jekyll + Hyde next Tuesday. I have no idea what to expect in terms of sound with this album, which makes me even more excited to give it a listen. If you haven’t read it yet, check out the album’s track listing. Also Aircheck confirmed the rumor that the group’s next single will be “Loving You Easy” and will impact radio on the first week of May.
  • Tyler Farr’s new album Suffer in Peace will also come out next Tuesday. The track listing for it suggests a mixed bag. I expect a few good songs and a few terrible songs. Speaking of terrible, I found out via Windmills on the song “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y.” Farr sings about his love of truck nuts. I’ll let you imagine what that song is like.
  • For those who missed it, Jason Isbell announced his new album will be released on July 17 and will be called Something More Than Free. That’s the same day Alan Jackson’s new album comes out too. This is also a significant day because it’s the first week where major releases start coming out on Fridays rather than Tuesdays.
  • Sammy Kershaw just announced recently that he will be releasing his first full-original album in five years on June 9. It will be called I Won’t Back Down. He signed a deal with Cleopatra Records to release the album. This is a great surprise and I’m definitely looking forward to this one.
  • Also for those that aren’t on Twitter: I saw Gary Allen live in concert last Friday and it was a fantastic show. From what I’ve gathered from the show, his new album should be classic Gary. He mentioned that “Hangover Tonight” was the last song written onto the album, which leads me to believe he threw it in to appease his label. Allen played two new songs from the album and they sounded like great country songs. The one was called “Mess Me Up” and I think it has great potential to be a single.

Throwback Thursday Song

Randy Travis – “Forever and Even, Amen” – It was so great to see Lee Brice give a shout out to Randy Travis at the ACM Awards. It was also classy of him to play a couple of lines acoustically from Travis’ classic song “Forever and Ever, Amen.” So I thought it was only appropriate this iconic song would be this week’s throwback song.

Non-Country Album Recommendation 

Rap music’s great year continues, as another fantastic rap album just came out. It’s Yelawolf’s Love Story and it has one of the most different sounds I’ve ever heard on a rap album. Probably because it’s a rap album with heavy country and southern rock influences. What? Yes, you read that correctly. The wording is key: it’s a rap album with country influences and not the other way around. It’s in the right genre too. I always thought though you couldn’t mix these two genres period, but Yelawolf, a southern hip-hop artist from Alabama, proves me wrong. What separates Yelawolf from hick-hop artists like Colt Ford is Yelawolf’s got bars. He understands the craft of rap. The album is a whopping 18 songs long and complex, but it’s well worth listening to from start to finish. Ironically it has even more country moments than many mainstream country albums. Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight” can be heard in the opening song! Rap music is now sounding more country than country music. What world am I living in?

Tweet of the Week

So many great candidates for tweet of the week, thanks to the ACM Awards. But this one took the cake. It’s the perfect analogy.

An iTunes Review That Will Make You Face Palm

Hunt Fans Being Hunt Fans

This was under Sam Hunt’s Montevallo. I…just…I got nothing. What can I say to this?

That’s it for the Hodgepodge this week! Be sure to sound off in the comments! 

19 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: The Mainstream Country Music Bubble is About to Burst

  1. Raymond April 23, 2015 / 11:49 am

    Well for me this would be a good time to list the artists who are mainstream I like that I want to see stick let’s start off with male singers
    Want: Jake Owen Joe Nichols Chris Young Dierks Bentley Brad Paisley Tim McGraw David Nail Blake Shelton Randy Houser Kip Moore Mo Pitney Drake White Gary Allan
    Don’t: Sam Hunt Cole Swindell Thomas Rhett Chase Rice Tyler Farr Dustin Lynch Justin Moore Michael Ray Austin Webb
    Female Singers Solo
    Want Carrie Underwood Mickey Guyton Danielle Bradberry Ashley Monroe Kacey Musgraves Reba Kelsea Ballerini Cam Jana Kramer Martina McBride
    Don’t Cassadee Pope Raelynn Miranda Lambert
    Vocal Duo
    Want Maddie & Tae Brothers Osborne
    Don’t The Rest
    Vocal Groups
    Want LBT ZBB Gloriana Rascal Flatts
    Don’t Lady A and Eli Young Band
    Moving on I don’t want it to break apart cause I like hearing new music regardless of how bad it is cause I’m curious of what is always happening in country music.
    ZBBs album should be the most interesting case of an album ever I heard their latest single and not bad not bad at all about a 7/10
    Tyler Farr however I’m expecting mix at best I’ve heard good things about the track Suffer In Peace so I am definitely intrigued.
    Well let’s hope Gary Allan delivers I heard one of his classics on the radio Tough Little Boys and man that song is a gut punch loved it
    Solid Hodgepodge Good Job Josh

    Liked by 1 person

    • Raymond April 23, 2015 / 1:04 pm

      I’m hoping the acts I like stay and the acts I don’t leave or make better material.

      Like

  2. Zack April 23, 2015 / 11:56 am

    I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m a bit scared either way, you’re right mainstream is just on a roller coaster and it’s looking to ride off the rails. I don’t think it will disappear completely, I think we need a bunch of artists coming together to fight the trends instead of giving up and succumbing to them. You’re right, someone like Sturgill can’t do it alone. We need more people banding together to help save the music. Now will that happen? Unfortunately probably not, it seems like every artist is going towards these trends and those who stay true to themselves (Josh Turner) end up getting fucked over in return. It makes me sad.

    I’m excited for ZBB’s new album. I don’t care much for Loving You Easy, but Homegrown, Heavy Is The Head, and Dress Blues are all extremely solid. I was curious in Tyler Farr’s new album as the lead single and the title track were good (and country) but now I’m not, there’s been bad lyrics, but this takes the cake (congrats FGL, turns out there are worse things than pink umbrellas)
    And my God is Sammy Kershaw an underrated artist…. Super excited by his news. Other new albums just announced are John Anderson’s “Goldmine” (May 26th), and Billy Currington “Summer Forever” (June 2nd) (boy I wonder what the theme of this album will be…)

    Randy Travis is awesome, and it was nice to see him at the ACM’s. Thanks for the throwback song

    The iTunes review this week is just extremely sad…

    Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott April 23, 2015 / 12:18 pm

      Thank you! I didn’t know Currington and Anderson were coming out with albums, so I’ll be sure to add them to my review list. I figured I would have heard about those.

      Yes we need artists to band together to fight for the life of country music. But as I said everyone is afraid and they don’t want to rock the boat. Then you got artists like Jamey Johnson and Sturgill who don’t like the mainstream stuff, but they’re just fine doing their own thing and staying clear of the mainstream crapshoot. I don’t blame them. Something’s gotta give and we should have a pretty good idea by the end of the year if my prediction comes to fruition.

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  3. ron12274 April 23, 2015 / 12:08 pm

    The problem as I see is a disconnect between what the public wants and what country music needs. As far as I know country radio is doing fine and the ratings for the ACM awards was up year to year. The more radio plays the bro country fluff stuff the more people call in requesting it. Its not as if listeners are astute enough to call in and request more traditional songs by some of the artists you’ve reviewed

    Like

    • Josh Schott April 23, 2015 / 12:24 pm

      While the ACM Awards rating were up, I wouldn’t say country radio is doing fine. Check this out: http://www.savingcountrymusic.com/country-in-a-tailspin-with-key-demographic-while-the-mono-genre-comes-to-radio

      The key 18-34 demographic that country music covets is leaving the genre steadily since bro country, which brought them in, is fading away. So in response they’re putting more pop music on country radio and letting Sam Hunt run wild. This is a desperate attempt to win them back. Meanwhile this goes back to my point of the genre losing it’s identity and direction because they’re just throwing shit at the wall right now and seeing if it sticks. This also ties into your point about the disconnect between the public and what country music needs. Some of the listeners are confused. Some are pop fans flocking to the genre because pop music is being marketed as country. Some country fans are flocking away from radio. It’s a real mess.

      Like

  4. Kevin Davis April 23, 2015 / 2:10 pm

    I have to agree, Josh. But I had a very encouraging moment last night. I saw David Nail, Will Hoge, Mo Pitney, Mickey Guyton, and Casey James — all on the same stage, rotating from artist to artist for the whole night, seeing each other interact. It was incredible. David Nail is tragically underrated. He’s the real deal, regardless of what anyone thinks about “Whatever She’s Got.” Watch his Baeble Sessions on YouTube, especially “The Sound of a Million Dreams.” As we expected, Hoge delivered. Mo Pitney is insanely talented, even as a guitar player, and he’s firmly rooted in country and the rural culture (God and family) that generated it. Mickey has a one-in-a-million voice, rivaled only by Carrie Underwood’s voice. The biggest surprise for me was Casey James, who I cared little about. But when it’s just him and his acoustic guitar, he’s phenomenal — much better than his overly-busy recordings.

    Striking Matches opened the show, and I was blown away. I will see them every time they come back to this area. Not only are they virtuosos on the guitar and solid songwriters, but they have a great stage presence. As they introduced themselves, they met while students at Belmont in Nashville, studying music.

    I’ve been to a lot of concerts — more than I can estimate — and this is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kevin Davis April 23, 2015 / 3:19 pm

      Oh, and I forgot to mention — they ended the show with all of the performers singing “All My Ex’s Live in Texas”! Pitney started it off. And, of course, the crowd loved it.

      Like

    • Josh Schott April 23, 2015 / 4:02 pm

      That sounded like such an awesome show! Glad you had a great time. Of course it’s encouraging seeing those artists because they’re actually talented and deserve to be heard. But none of them have a great radio presence. If the bubble pops like I think it does it will be easier for these artists to be heard. Next week I’m going to go into detail of what country music would be like if the bubble pops. I’ll say this: the cream always rises to the top.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. G. Akers April 23, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    I’m not as optimistic as Josh is about this bubble bursting anytime soon. It seems like every time I think this fad has passed, another batch of forgettable pop-country singles appears on the charts.

    That said, I still think there’s a silver lining here: Country music has gone through this before with the rise and fall of the Urban Cowboy movement, and it managed to bounce back. I think the genre is (or will soon be) ripe for a Randy Travis moment, where a new traditionalist appears on the scene and drops a Storms Of Life-type album that sends shockwaves through the industry and brings traditional country music back with a vengeance. Let’s just hope it happens sooner rather than later…

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  6. John in Georgia April 23, 2015 / 4:25 pm

    Zac Brown Band’s new single has a funky, almost trend-chasing sound. Suffice it to say, it’s not exactly my style of country music and it’s far from my favorite ZBB song. However, I find the song to be very pleasant to listen to, which is something I can’t say about the Sam Hunts and Thomas Rhetts of country music.

    “C.O.U.N.T.R.Y” sounds like it would have been a mega-hit two years ago. Farr was going in a positive direction with “A Guy Walks Into a Bar,” but a song about truck nuts doesn’t give me much hope for his new album. It’s good to hear about Gary Allen’s new album. While I didn’t HATE “Hangover Tonight,” it was a song that Allen should have been above. Always nice to hear about new music from Sammy Kershaw and John Anderson. If only the radio still had them in regular rotation.

    On the Sam Hunt iTunes review: I find it ironic that this gem, “Get in your time machine and leave the 1980’s behind you,” was typed two sentences after this one: “Times change, it’s no longer steel guitars and banjos, it’s synthesizers and computers.” Throughout much of the early and mid 80’s, synthesizers drowned out steel guitars and banjos.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Derek Hudgin April 23, 2015 / 5:28 pm

    It seems like the term “country” nowadays has become so arbitrary. Which is sad for the people who actually make country music. I read a Rolling Stone interview with Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen about Hold My Beer, and Rogers sums it up by saying “I feel like Wade and I made country music on this record. If that’s gonna be pigeonholed as Red Dirt or Texas Country or something other than mainstream country, then whatever, but it’s just country to me.”

    Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/wade-bowen-and-randy-rogers-theres-room-for-country-in-country-music-20150422#ixzz3YAajSncS

    And I’m tired of the evolution “argument” that everyone who likes mainstream uses. To them, that arbitrary “country” term is synonymous with their music. Millionaires in Nashville called it country, so it must be true. And I don’t understand why they’re so damn sensitive when people say negative things about their favorite artist or song!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott April 23, 2015 / 5:45 pm

      That’s an awesome interview. And so candid. It’s a shame there’s even a discussion of whether or not there is room for country in country music.

      I’ve given up on trying to understand those fans. And if they ever had the guts to say it to me in person I would just start playing Wade & Randy’s new album in their face. Haha!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Raymond April 23, 2015 / 5:51 pm

      The evolution argument isn’t terrible cause there are some songs on the charts that sound modern that sound country like Say You Do, Homegrown, Raise Em Up, Trouble, but I do agree that the evolution argument is usually bad. The reason why they can’t handle it is because no one wants to hear bad stuff about their favorite artists that’s why I do try and avoid many reviews but I do brush some aside like Josh’s review of Kelsea Ballerini Love Me Like You Mean It because I’m willing to admit I like pop in my music and female voices so that’s why Kelsea hits my sweet spot but I do brush it off cause I myself don’t wanna have the same opinion as you or Josh or Zack or anybody else.

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