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
- Chris King announced the title of his second full length album: Animal.
- Eagles founding member and drummer Don Henley will release his first solo album in 15 years called Cass County. The album is due out on September 25.
- Jewel will release a new album called Picking Up The Pieces on September 11.
- Chris Young has announced his new album will be released on November 13.
- Rascal Flatts have released a new single called “I Like the Sound of That.”
- Josh Thompson will release two EPs called “Change: The Lost Record.” This will be songs Thompson had recorded while signed to RCA. The first volume of the two will be released on October 9.
- Alabama have previewed another song from their upcoming album, Southern Drawl. This new track is a duet with Alison Kraus called “Come Find Me”
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
There’s a menacing assumption that true “success” means only #1 hits, and it’s poisoning the industry (and writers’ morale) at the moment.
— Grady Smith (@gradywsmith) August 31, 2015
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
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.