The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country’s Lack of Artistic Integrity

hodgepodge

More and more every day, country music finds another artist to release a pop song to pass off as the next country hit. Honestly, ever since the official departure of Taylor Swift from country into pop, it seems that mainstream country is simply trying to chase after her in their own world. Curiously, it’s the pop world that seems to find women with sustainable music careers with the likes of Katy Perry, Nikki Minaj, and Swift herself releasing hit after hit. Whereas in country music, it’s the male acts who have that same sustainability.

Seemingly, in order to fight the controversy of TomatoGate and compete with the pop world, country music has severely tainted itself by turning towards pop music. While the slew of EDM-inspired music from acts like Sam Hunt, Chase Rice, Luke Bryan, etc. can’t be ignored, it seems to be the female acts and female led groups who most notably deliver pop songs in the shadow of stars like Perry, Minaj and Swift.

It was Danielle Bradbery’s newest single, “Friend Zone” that fueled this post. In the comments below the review, a conversation began of who’s to blame for a country act churning out a single like this. To some extent, I believe labels, executives, and producers need to be held accountable. Music is a business, and a business first when it comes to Music Row in Nashville. As evidenced by the bro-country onslaught and recent pop garbage, mainstream label executives are chasing the dollar signs. And that means molding singers into whatever style allows for the biggest audience.

Now I don’t know how songs on music shows like The Voice are selected, but look at some of the titles Danielle Bradbery sang while on the show: “Wasted” (Carrie Underwood), “Maybe It Was Memphis” (Pam Tillis), “Heads Carolina, Tails California” (Jo Dee Messina), and “Born To Fly” (Sara Evans). Now if you listen to those songs in comparison with Bradbery’s first singles of “Heart of Dixie” or “Young In America” you’ll hear a common theme of pop country that still sounds very much country. If I had to guess, I’d say this is the kind of music Bradbery would prefer to sing, especially if she was allowed to choose said songs while competing. This sort of pop country mold is where I think her musical wheelhouse resides and where she shines as a singer. And I think the only reason we’re seeing the terrible pop song “Friend Zone” is due to the fact that she was strongly encouraged by Big Machine to be more appealing to younger pop fans.

And if we move further and look at the musical arcs of The Band Perry and Dustin Lynch, we can see similar shifts. From the folky self-titled debut album with songs like “If I Die Young” and “Postcard from Paris” to singles like “DONE!” “Chainsaw” and now “Live Forever”, The Band Perry are all over the place musically. We’ve talked about evolution a lot this year, and there’s no natural evolution of The Band Perry’s sound from their first album to the second, to now. My theory is that they were pushed to make a more pop rock type album for Pioneer, and now they’ve essentially been molded to be a crossover act with “Live Forever.” And Dustin Lynch has moved from the excellent pure country sound of “Cowboys and Angels” to bro-country and R&B inspired songs. A recent interview even reveals Lynch’s admiration for Luke Bryan’s career and how Lynch would like to emulate that with his own music.

All this begs the question of do these acts have any artistic say in these decisions and directions? Does Danielle Bradbery really, truly want to be the “female Thomas Rhett” or does she want to release music that carries the spirit of Dixie? Does Dustin Lynch want to be a pretty boy pop singer in a cowboy hat, or want to sing country songs like his lead single or album cuts like “She Wants A Cowboy”?

One theory proposed in the “Friend Zone” comments suggests that these younger singers simply don’t know who they are and who they want to be. And I think that has some traction. But I think Bradbery, Lynch, and The Band Perry all know what they want: to be famous, successful singers and musical acts. However, the way they’re accomplishing that life mission is through a willingness to sing whatever their label suggests they sing. There’s no artistic integrity to the music; they’re just singing whatever will bring in the money, even if that means releasing a new album that’s a 180 degree difference from the one before it. Music is a business first, and these are just some examples of the puppets that help labels become successful businesses.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

Today in Country Music History

  • Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried is released in 1968.
  • In 1995, Littlefield, Texas celebrates Waylon Jennings Day with Johnny Cash joining Jennings in concert during the day.
  • Faith Hill has the number one country song on Billboard with “Mississippi Girl” in 2005.

Today’s Country Music history facts come courtesy of RolandNote.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Gone Country” by Alan Jackson. I love this Alan Jackson song; it’s one of my favorites from him. The song almost acts a critique of how everyone wants to come to country music because that’s where the money is. Funny, this song was released 21 years ago and is still relevant today. “The whole world’s gone country”….. most in name only, though. Perhaps the best thing about this song, though, was Jackson’s performance of the song on the ACMs as a protest to singing along to pre-recorded tracks. Keep your eye on the drummer in the video above.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week


T. Hardy Morris Hardy & The Hardknocks: Drownin on a Mountaintop. This is one of the more interesting albums I’ve heard this year. Farce the Music tweeted about this album and described it as “grunge country” which seems to be the most fitting description. There is some undeniable country influence in a few of the songs, with a steel guitar being a prominent instrument throughout the album. Most of the album, though, sounds like hard rock with a steel guitar. However you decided to look at it, it’s an entertaining album to listen to with some unique production you won’t find in many other artists.

Tweet of the Week

I think this has been mentioned numerous times on the site, but hits and #1s are not the only way success can be achieved. There are many ways singers can be successful without having a radio hit. I think if a singer follows the assumption that #1s is the only way to be successful, than that singer has missed the point of music entirely.

An iTunes Review That Makes Me Shake My Head

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 2.51.52 PM

This was left under Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up. While “Crash and Burn” and “Vacation” are the only songs available for download from iTunes currently, reviews and comments are already swarming in. Apparently Thomas Rhett’s music is magical and evokes a lot of emotion to this listener and reviewer. Therefore, we must be open-minded about what country music is because the music of “Vacation” and “Crash and Burn” is magical (the absurdity of that felt necessary to repeat). But I disagree with this reviewer, so that must mean I’m a hater.

17 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Mainstream Country’s Lack of Artistic Integrity

  1. Fat Freddy's Cat September 3, 2015 / 10:43 am

    “Haters need to back off”

    Hmph. People whose sole argument is “U R a h8ter!!!!” need to grow up.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Vianca September 3, 2015 / 10:54 am

    I recently came across your website and although I do not agree with everything 100% I really do like your Perspective on some of the songs and artists. Although I do like some of this “new country”, “pop country”, “bro country”or whatever we want to call it, the new songs by D.B and TR are just terrible. They were nowhere near country, but they were also nowhere near being a good song period. And I have liked other songs by these two. I am not really sure what they were going for. As far as the change/evolution of Lynch, Band Perry, I am not feeling it either. This is just very confusing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. fromthewordsofbr September 3, 2015 / 11:05 am

    Yeah, a music video with underage girls in bikinis is supposed to evoke actual emotion in me?

    Like

    • fromthewordsofbr September 3, 2015 / 11:07 am

      On the bright side, the album has a paltry 3 stars on iTunes!

      Like

  4. Raymond September 3, 2015 / 12:12 pm

    I think and hear me out. I think artists do want fame and money I also believe the bigger the artist the more say they have.

    I might hate Luke, Jason and FGL with a seething passion but I believe those songs are the ones they wanna release.

    Now to the three mentioned Bradbery, TBP and Lynch.

    Danielle I honestly think it’s the label struggling with what to do with her. Also judging by some of the other songs of hers that are new it appears she literally has no identity

    TBP is simply Borchetta overreacting and wanting a complete change up due to Chainsaw underperforming so what better thing to do then try for a complete pop song.

    With Dustin I feel like he’s trying to appeal to Luke Bryan Fans since well Luke’s the hottest thing right now. Now I also believe Dustin will with each album try and balance the modern and traditional I just wished the writing was better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Megan Conley September 3, 2015 / 12:58 pm

      What you are saying here makes a lot of sense and is largely why Luke Bryan is one of the worst offenders, even worse than FGL in my opinion because he could literally release whatever he felt like and be successful, but he chooses to chase every trend but country. However, the glaring problem with this theory is Maddie & Tae…by this theory, they should have little to no say in what they sing, but obviously they do. I think Danielle might have more of a say if she actually had a clue what she wanted to sing, and maybe she did have a clue on The Voice. But it seems that ultimately she will release whatever the label tells her to, and that is a product of not having an identity in the first place. Same with The Band Perry and Dustin Lynch.

      Like

    • Derek Hudgin September 3, 2015 / 1:23 pm

      I agree that Luke probably does have more say in what music is included on his album than Dustin Lynch. But at the same time I still the label dictates some of the songs, especially more single worthy songs. Luke, FGL, Jason Aldean, they’re all different offerings of the same brand. So their labels will protect that brand that they sell. So even though Luke probably does have some say in his album cuts, I’m sure he couldn’t say “I want 12 ‘We Rode In Trucks’ type songs.”

      Like

    • Jason September 3, 2015 / 3:52 pm

      If what you say about Danielle is true I wouldn’t be surprised. The problem is that (in my opinion) there’s not enough examples of successful females in the mainstream. It becomes a guessing game as to what’ll be the next big hit, and since Taylor Swift was the biggest female star, they emulate her. It flops, the artists copying her disappear, and the cycle repeats. The labels have no clue what to do, so it seems they just throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It’s not who can be the next female country star, but who can be the next Taylor Swift. Hopefully as more artists like Cam or Maddie & Tae hit the mainstream, this will change and things will become more balanced on the radio, and there’ll be more original and higher quality music, at least from females.

      Honestly I have no clue what Dustin’s doing. He doesn’t really have an identity to me, he’s just another face in the bro-country crowd. Nothing really sticks out about him to me.

      As for Luke, I don’t think he’s got as much control as you think. Looking at every song up to “Move” on his new album, and it’s clearly radio fodder. After that, there’s a big jump up in quality. “Love It Gone” thru “Scarecrows” are actually decent, and I’d imagine that’s more of what Luke wants to sing, considering he almost sounded embarrassed to me on songs like ‘Move’. I think a lot of the problems with country are due to the labels chasing trends, because they only seem to see the bottom line. A perfect example is Brett Eldredges debut; look on his YouTube and there are much better songs that didn’t make the cut in favor of more pop-like offerings. I imagine that’s what happens often, and why there’s so much crap on the radio and in the mainstream.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Derek Hudgin September 4, 2015 / 9:07 am

        Jason, you make a ton of great points here. It’s actually quite amazing how much influence Taylor Swift still brings to mainstream country, however indirectly. Your point to having little sustainable females to emulate is a huge point that probably deserves it’s own post! haha.

        Which to bounce off that, it amazes me how labels don’t try to mold another Carrie Underwood type female artist. Taylor Swift was huge in country: she rose to the top quickly and stayed there, and continues to be huge in music. But Carrie Underwood has seen a vast amount of success over, roughly, the same time period. Clearly there’s a place in Country music for a pop country star who balances hits with hokey songs like “Cowboy Casanova” and quality songs like “Something In The Water.”

        Like

  5. jb September 3, 2015 / 1:02 pm

    Since the rise of “American Idol” and other such vehicles, I have always wondered if young artists understand the concept of “artistic vision”—if there’s anything they want to accomplish with their art besides becoming famous. I rather suspect not. I recall reading—although it’s been a long time and I might be misremembering—that Kelly Clarkson’s first post-Idol contract allowed her management to replace her with another singer at any time, who could also be called Kelly Clarkson. You don’t do that if you feel like you have something unique to offer.

    The Idol-ization of pop music has been going on for 13 years now, which means a whole generation of young stars can’t remember a world where artistic vision mattered. It’s enough to look the part—and fake the music, or sing whatever piece of product they hand you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin September 3, 2015 / 1:19 pm

      That’s a great point, jb. I do think the reality singing competition does have a lot to do with this. Carrie Underwood appears to be the anomaly of it all.

      Like

      • RG September 3, 2015 / 4:42 pm

        I pick up on that too JB. These days the goal is to get famous, not necessarily contribute meaningful music driven by an artistic vision. And whatever means to get famous, either music, social media, reality tv, etc…, then so be it. Just get “famous” is the aim here.

        And it’s especially troubling because it seems young girls/women, like Bradberry and some others, are taken advantage of because they are willing to do whatever it takes to just get “famous”. Of course a lot of guys do it too but it bothers me more because the message young female artists deliver to their even younger fans, is that it’s ok to act, look, and represent this very loose attitude towards relationships and life in general.

        But I know I prob sound like an old fogey here. Hehe.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Cobra September 3, 2015 / 7:02 pm

    Great HodgePodge Derek!
    I agree that there is a complete lack of integrity among “artists” today and Megan put it right when she said Luke is one of the worst offenders. Even up through his “Tailgates & Tanlines” album, he had some pretty good album cuts.

    Like Barbara Mandrell sang, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” Country music used to be unique; it used to be different; it used to be special. Artists went their own way; almost every artist had a distinct and unique voice; you knew who was singing the songs. Honestly, if it weren’t for the internet, I’d be unable to differentiate between Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, and Florida Georgia Line. They’re nothing but copies of one another.
    All “country music” is doing now is trying to fit in; to be popular at the risk of any artistic value.

    But listen to real country music, the stuff you guys promote here: Sturgill Simpson, Stoney LaRue, Wade Bowen, Jason Eady – they all have a distinct voice and style while still remaining very firmly country. Same with the female artists: Lindi Ortega, Courtney Patton, Jamie Lin Wilson – distinct original sounds that you can actually differentiate between.

    That’s part of what draws people to the mainstream crap: it all sounds the same and they don’t have to think about it – the artists know it sold once so it will sell again. There’s no real risk involved in being followers and copiers.

    Now, I’m going to say something that’s a bit controversial: as much as I hate Jason Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem,” at least give the song credit for being a risk, a trend-breaker. Yes, it is what may be solely responsible for bringing rap into mainstream country, and it was a horrible trend to set, but he took a risk and did something different. That’s no small feat in the current “country” environment, no matter how much we hate the song.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. petemarshall724 September 3, 2015 / 10:07 pm

    Are or Big Machine is trying to make country artist turned to be pop singers? I am not a fan of pop music and I will never will be a fan of it. I am very concerned about country music nowdays that it sounds like rap and pop or EDM that I don’t really care for. It’s 2015 not 1950-1980’s country or the 1990’s country. I will have to listen to it but I don’t really like most of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Derek Hudgin September 4, 2015 / 9:01 am

      Yeah, Nashville labels are desperate for another big cross over hit. As you’ll see discussed above, they’re trying to push females to be the next Taylor Swift it seems like. Taylor’s move to pop with 1989 has been successful for her, you could even see the evolution to pop over the course of her first four official country albums.

      It’s a good theory to suggest that they’re molding their females to be like Swift, which is why Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It” was pushed heavily by her label & country radio, and why Danielle Bradbery recorded “Friend Zone.” Specifically Big Machine, I think Scott Borchetta is desperate for another cross over success like FGL had with “Cruise”, so it seems to be why The Band Perry have a full fledged pop song with “Live Forever.”

      That’s why Josh and I have been focusing on expanding the range of other Country and Americana we cover here lately. Mainstream continues to move further and further away from the core of country for the most part (save for acts like Dierks, Kacey, and Maddie & Tae to name a few). So 1. we seem obliged to provide more coverage on quality music that deserves to be heard and 2. we simply want to cover quality, country music.

      Like

      • Cobra September 4, 2015 / 10:57 am

        Give Josh Ritter’s new album a listen when it comes out next month. It’s more on the folk/traditionalist side, but there’s some real country influences in his music, and I can’t say enough good things about his work.

        Like

  8. Zack September 5, 2015 / 9:58 pm

    Finally getting around to reading this. You make awesome points, especially in Taylor Swift’s move to Pop having a deeper impact than we think. It’s not so much that acts like Eli Young Band, The Band Perry, and Danielle Bradbery are making bad pop music, it’s that it makes no sense as to WHY they’re doing it. The total pop sound is so far removed from any of their styles (even Danielle’s niche of Country-Pop) that it just screams, “we want to be relevant!!”. And the thing is, it hasn’t worked. Eli Young’s, “Turn It On” pealed at #37, and The Band Perry is off to a bad start. It makes no sense from a musical aspect nor a business aspect. Big Machine is the most successful label in Nashville and their decisions lately just don’t add up.

    As for someone like Dustin Lynch, he reminds me of Tyler Farr. They both have songs that are pretty unique to themselves (“She Wants A Cowboy”, “Suffer In Peace”) and they instead choose to release songs that are so pedestrian and safe. Granted, the label tried “Withdrawals” for Tyler (and yeah, whether this is a good song or not is a polarizing debate, I know) but they tried during the summer months, no wonder a song as dark as this didn’t take off (especially in today’s radio climate). Songs like “Hell Of A Night”, and “Better In Boots” might generate you a few years in the business, but you need to execute one of your meatier songs to get ahead.

    I’m personally very excited for that Josh Thompson album. I think he’s got great potential with his southern rock/traditional sound, he just suffered from chasing trends on his last album (though there were quality songs on there). I’m excited to see what his forgetting stuff sounds like, especially since I loved “Comin’ Around”

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.