The Hodgepodge: How Mainstream Country Music Came To Be a Laughing Stock

The Dixie Chicks
Photo Credit: twice25, Wikimedia Commons, CC Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 license, no changes

If you’ve been following this blog for a while or even just a little bit, you can deduce that I’m not happy with the current state of mainstream country music. How many weeks in row now has the Pulse been in the negatives? I’ve lost track. One discussion I’ve seen pop up from time to time is how mainstream country music got to be such a laughing-stock. For those who would argue otherwise, there are stats that back up my claim that people are hating mainstream country music more and more (kudos to Saving Country Music for bringing this data to light). Traditional country fans have been warning for years that trend chasing would catch up to genre eventually and turn fans against them. I warned against it months ago. Now we’re starting to see some true backlash to the genre’s decision-making.

But before we figure out how mainstream country music will regain people’s trust, I wanted to figure out how it has gotten to the state its in currently. After all you can learn a lot about the future if you look to the past to see what mistakes were made and how to avoid them again. I’ve seen a lot of theories and ideas thrown around as to when mainstream country music began to slip and I’ve thought a lot about each of them. But none of them represent what I feel was the turning point of this genre. Many love to argue that mainstream country music began it’s down turn upon the dawning of the Garth Brooks era. While the pop country of Garth and Shania Twain certainly didn’t help, I’ve found that during their heyday that they were more the exception to the rule instead of the norm. Look throughout the 90s and I think many would agree with me that the quality of country music for the most part was overwhelmingly good. I certainly spent more time listening to country radio than skipping over it like I do now. (This is all subjective of course)

The point where I think mainstream country music started its downward spiral was on March 10, 2003. That was the infamous day where country super group Dixie Chicks denounced the war in Iraq at a concert in London. I’m not going to get into this situation too much because of the political nature and my preference to avoid politics on here. I’ll just leave you with this quote from country icon Merle Haggard:

I don’t even know the Dixie chicks, but I find it an insult for all the men and women who fought and died in past wars when almost the majority of America jumped down their throats for voicing an opinion. It was like a verbal witch-hunt and lynching. Whether I agree with their comments or not has no bearing.

I believe this is the starting point that set off the events that led to today’s state of country radio. First let me give you an idea of how important and big this was for the Dixie Chicks and country music. Up until 2003, the Dixie Chicks won four Grammy awards, 10 CMA Awards, six Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards and eight ACM Awards. Their 1998 album Wide Open Space Spaces sold over 10 million copies and was certified platinum 12 times. Their 1999 album Fly sold over 8 million copies and was certified platinum 10 times. The only country artists to ever sell this many albums or more are Garth Brooks, Kenny Rogers, Patsy Cline and Shania Twain. So when country music fans, radio stations, award associations and artists ran the Dixie Chicks out of the genre, they ran out the top act in country music. Throughout the course of music history has another genre blackballed their top artist like country music did to the Dixie Chicks.

So all of a sudden there’s a giant void at the top of the genre, since the Dixie Chicks haven’t had a significant presence in the genre since they were blackballed. This brings us to the next point, which is the rise of Toby Keith, who had a public feud with Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines over his single “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American).” Maines called the single “ignorant” and said it “makes country music sound ignorant.” A couple of months after the incident in London, Maines wore a t-shirt to the ACM Awards with the acronym “F.U.T.K.” While Maines’ manager said it stood for “Friends United in Truth and Kindness,” many believed it stood for “Fuck You Toby Keith.” Keith went on to win Entertainer of the Year over the Dixie Chicks, despite the Dixie Chicks’ latest album outselling Keith’s latest album by a wide margin.

The Dixie Chicks’ spiral downwards allowed Toby Keith’s stature rise to new highs. The blatant patriotism he injected in his songs from the early 2000s onward and still puts into his music to this day, let him be the anti-thesis to Dixie Chicks. The swell of patriotism in the United States after 9/11 caused country artists to inject more references to country pride and freedom into music and led to it becoming one of the most used clichés in country music. Toby Keith was the poster boy for it. Also it’s kind of ironic that an indifference over political ideas and 9/11 that led to more patriotism in country music gave rise to politicians liking country music more. This explains why you see Presidential candidates talking about why they love country music so much and incorporate it into their campaign. Remember this next time you complain about it.

So Keith rises to new heights. From 2003 onward, he won three American Music Awards (one before 2003) and four ACM Awards (three before 2003). He sold more records than ever before and had several badly written singles go to top 15 at country radio, including doozies such as “Get Drunk and Be Somebody,” “High Maintenance Woman,” “Get My Drink On,” “She’s A Hottie,” “American Ride,” “Every Dog Has It’s Day,” “Made In America” and “Red Solo Cup.” That last one is on my list of worst country songs ever. All of these bad songs had lots of success on country radio and in my opinion were apart of the dumbing down of country music throughout the 2000s. Instead of well thought out lyrics with heart and meaning, we get pandering to patriotism, references to getting drunk and classifying women solely by their looks.

What’s significant about all of these singles I cite above is they all precede or happen around the years 2011-2012. Why is this significant? This leads right into the bro country era, the successor to the checklist era of Toby Keith. Checklist country like Keith’s music evolved into bro country. In 2011, Luke Bryan released “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” as a single. It went to #1 and launched Bryan into superstardom. In 2012, Florida Georgia Line burst onto the scene with their mega-hit “Cruise.” Bro country becomes a huge trend and the rest they say is history. Bro country had a good run from 2011-2014 before now being replaced by the R&B, pop stylings of Sam Hunt.

Now I know some of you are wondering why I failed to mention the rise of Taylor Swift happening. Well I believe Swift had no bearing on the most popular trends of the genre. Other acts and labels figured out quickly they could not replicate Swift’s music. And pop country is something that had existed in the genre for years. Swift had nothing to do with checklist country nor bro country, despite her music also bringing the quality of the genre down. She has left country music now and is in the genre where she belongs, which is something I respect her a lot for and wish her the best.

So as you can I see I believe that the blackballing of Dixie Chicks is what led to country music becoming the laughing-stock it is today. Just think for a second if that incident in London doesn’t happen. The Dixie Chicks were really just hitting their stride and showed no signs of slowing down. They could have went on to become one of the biggest acts in country music history. They were so popular that they crossed over into pop and alt-country with their music. The Dixie Chicks were a group that appealed to casual fans and hardcore fans. If the Dixie Chicks stick around they continue to release quality music and in the process dilute the presence of checklist country music at country radio. Toby Keith doesn’t become as big of a deal. Bro country maybe doesn’t become a thing and therefore R&B country doesn’t become a thing. This is all speculation. We will never know how much of an impact Dixie Chicks could have made on country music. But at the end of the day the dismissal of the Dixie Chicks from country music ultimately hurt the genre.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music & Americana Releases

  • The Voice alumnus Jake Worthington will release his self-titled debut EP tomorrow.
  • Chris Janson’s next single being sent to radio is “Power of Positive Drinkin’.”
  • After weeks of speculation, it’s confirmed that Maddie & Tae will be releasing “Shut Up & Fish” as their next single.
  • Stoney LaRue will release an album he calls a “tribute to his fans” tomorrow called Us Time.
  • Carrie Underwood will be releasing her new album Storyteller next Friday.

Great Music Currently at Country Radio

The very best of country radio right here in a nice playlist. In order for a song to be added to the list, it must currently be in the top 60 of the Billboard Country Airplay chart, so this will be updated weekly.

Throwback Thursday Song

Eddie Rabbitt – “Drivin’ My Life Away” – Now here’s a classic song many forget about. Some might consider this song “too pop,” but I don’t care. I enjoy it and it’s the perfect traveling song.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Father John Misty – “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment” – I’m pretty sure Derek recommended this in The Hodgepodge before, but I’m going to do it again. You need to check out Father John Misty’s album I Love You Honeybear. It is my favorite album of the year across all genres. Above is my favorite song from it and he just released this video for it. A little warning: his videos can get weird and NSFW, so proceed at your own volition.

Tweet (s) of the Week

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/653812441961340928

https://twitter.com/KaceyMusgraves/status/653812927129088000

Another reason to like Kacey!

iTunes Review That Rocks

You Suck, Toby Keith

I promise I didn’t write this (my username on there is CountryPerspective). But when I saw it I knew it would go perfectly with this Hodgepodge. Beating a dead horse is a good summation of the last decade or so of Keith’s career.

Thanks for reading and be sure to weigh in below! 

44 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: How Mainstream Country Music Came To Be a Laughing Stock

  1. Raymond October 15, 2015 / 11:16 am

    Not to be nitpicking but Country Girl Shake It For Me only peaked at 4 on Billboard.

    Besides that yeah I agree. I remember artists like Daryl Worley with that awful Have You Forgotten. Now they are songs involving war or soldiers that are great Travelling Soldier, Just A Dream, 8th of November. If there was one thing intresting in 200s you could find a nice balance of solid country and pop country like you had quality music in Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan, Josh Turner, Martina McBride, Reba, while you had decent pop country with Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, early Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert and while I know you detest Taylor Swift some of her singles I have found to be fairly well written like Fifteen White Horse Back To December. I wouldn’t mind this pop country stuff if it was better written but instead we get mindless drivel like House Party, Dibs, 21.

    Now to the next point The Dixie Chicks man these ladies just their Home album alone was amazing it is still the album that I compare every great country album too and see if they can beat Home no one has yet but we will see. That album has the most gorgeous cover of Landslide and Top of The World. Just hauntingly beautiful and stunning.

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    • Nadia Lockheart October 15, 2015 / 5:13 pm

      It was shocking to some radio programmers at first for sure.

      Yet, “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” is also one of the best-selling country singles of all time. “Cruise”, “Dirt Road Anthem” and “Wagon Wheel”, in fact, are the only country/”country” singles that have sold more than “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” off the top of my head.

      Like

      • Raymond October 15, 2015 / 5:47 pm

        Um I think Love Story Need You Now and Before He Cheats have sold more

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  2. Scotty J October 15, 2015 / 11:29 am

    I think this is a little bit of a stretch. Yes, the loss of the Dixie Chicks was a negative to mainstream country music but there were a lot of years between that incident and the steep decline in quality and to just focus on Toby Keith is also reaching when in all those years after 2003 Alan Jackson, George Strait, Brad Paisley, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and others were as successful if not more than Keith. Was the quality of music gradually declining over those years? Yes, it was but if you want to look to the biggest factor in my opinion then you have to look outside the format to the implosion of the rock radio format that led many performers, executives, radio programmers and fans to look for new homes and unfortunately an insecure country music establishment welcomed them in and that is the biggest development in country music in the last ten years. The number of people in the country music industry that have absolutely zero understanding and respect for the traditional underpinnings of country music is unfathomable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 12:00 pm

      Yes that’s another big factor in the decline of mainstream country. Bringing in the rock people to the genre is what led to creations of Brantley Gilbert and Jason Aldean as huge stars. Of course now we have had several rockers try their hand at country music since then too. Aaron Lewis, Darius Rucker, Uncle Kracker, etc. These were all washouts from the 90s who no longer had a radio home. So yeah my theory is a bit of a stretch, but I still believe it played a larger factor than many let on.

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      • Scotty J October 15, 2015 / 12:16 pm

        I do think if someone were to make a list of the top ten reasons for the sorry state of mainstream country music then the Dixie Chicks loss would be on it but I just wouldn’t put it at the top because I think we would probably be in a similar spot as we are now even that hadn’t happened and their career path had continued on whatever trajectory it would have.

        An underrated reason and one that is kind of hard to really define is the country music establishment’s profound insecurity and inferiority complex that leads them to always chase what they perceive to be the ‘cool’ kids instead of staying grounded in tradition and building off of that.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 1:30 pm

          That sounds like a good idea for a future Hodgepodge: top 10 reasons mainstream country music is terrible right now. This discussion in the comments is really showing how multi-faceted the problems are in mainstream country and how deep they run.

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      • Jeff Sutro October 15, 2015 / 3:58 pm

        It seems to me that the problem with rock singers getting into country is the people doing it today are all second rate. In the late 60s and early 70s you had top flight rock stars (e.g. the Byrds, Dylan, Johnny Cash and a number of others) putting out country material that was high quality. It really helped to make more people aware of country and broaden the audience. Also it served to broaden the horizons of country fans and helped to lay the groundwork for the “outlaw” country movement.

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      • ame006 October 19, 2015 / 11:26 am

        I blame the mainstream media for country music’s sense of inferiority. When your culture and lifestyle is continually bashed and mocked by the popular crowd, you either change yourself to appeal to them, grasp to every caricature for reinforcement, band together in protection, or follow the popular crowd.

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  3. Zack October 15, 2015 / 11:43 am

    I honestly feel it began with Jason Aldean. Once 2008 hit, as well his monster hit, “She’s Country”, everything got louder, the drums, the guitars you name it. There wasn’t so much of a focus on trying to merge a country sound with a contemporary sound anymore. Then he struck again in 2011 with Dirt Road Anthem which led itself to being more open in the genre (meaning less country, more whatever else you wanted). Then we had FGL, Sam Hunt, and the rest is history. So if you ask me, Jason Aldean started a lot of this.

    Liked by 2 people

    • RG October 15, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      I tend to agree to. Jason Aldean really kicked this current version of “country-rock” into high gear. Now everyone seems to emulate that arena style of country music. Although many argue Garth Brooks did that years ago.

      But Aldean opened the door for others to follow and Luke Bryan and bro-country kicked it wide open. And it’s been hard to close that damn door since.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 12:02 pm

      In Aldean’s defense though, he did make good music at first and even when he started to put out bad music there were still several good album cuts on his records. Like Scotty J mentions above, I think the rock holdouts coming into the genre really hurt the genre and this was when I think Aldean became “corrupted” so to speak. The biggest negative Aldean ever brought to the genre was the incorporation of rap into country songs. But mainstream was already going down tubes and Aldean simply speeded the process up with the success of “Dirt Road Anthem.”

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      • lorenzofloris96 October 16, 2015 / 12:08 pm

        Josh I completely agree on Toby being a disgrace to country music, his music is so damn stupid it hurts. I remember hearing “I wanna talk about me” and feeling ashamed for being a country music fan. and I sure think it was terrible that country radio screwed the Dixie Chicks in flavor of this dumb douche.
        but in my book jason aldean is as responsable as keith (if not more) for the current state of country music. he is the one who turned it into an hard rock/rap girls-dancing-naked-on-my-big-truck contest. She’s Country and My Kinda Party are the reason why now we have Brantley Gilbert polluting country radio with his audio abortion called Bottoms Up. 1994, Dirt Road Anthem and Tattoos on this Town are the reason why now we have garbage like FGL, Chase Rice and Thomas Rhett polluting country radio. Burning it Down is the reason why Sam Hunt and Old Dominion talking on R&B songs.
        and trust me when i tell you that Luke Bryan wouldn’t be as succesful as he is today if She’s Country had never been released and if aldean had never took bryan on his tour. Country Girl shake it for me is a direct consequence of She’s Country. Jason Aldean is the ultimate root of this mess.
        the fact he has had some good music in the past doesn’t offer any valid reediming value since even toby keith had started out with some good material.

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      • lorenzofloris96 October 16, 2015 / 12:12 pm

        having said that, I think your theory is spot on. but you should really extend it to jason aldean because his terrible impact on country music just can’t be understated.

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    • Nadia Lockheart October 15, 2015 / 5:16 pm

      Especially since Jason Aldean was struggling somewhat with his sophomore album “Relentless” after collecting two consecutive Top Five hits.

      Michael Knox probably cautioned him his next move would be a make-or-break moment for him, and so it was advised he try something off the middle of the road, at least in terms of production. And “She’s Country” paid off enormously and set the stage for Aldean’s superstar ascent.

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    • Lorenzo October 16, 2015 / 11:54 am

      I completely agree.

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  4. Lisandro Berry-Gaviria October 15, 2015 / 12:10 pm

    That’s an interesting theory, and I think it’s quite possible. Obviously there were problems well before the Dixie Chicks incident, but that was the turning point. On another note…what do you think would happen if the current biggest artist in “country” music (probably Luke Bryan) was blackballed? Would that be another turning point for mainstream country, but this time for the better? (Not like there’s much chance of Bryan getting blackballed for something…but we can always wonder. There was quite a reaction to his outlaw comments this past summer, after all.)

    “Power Of Positive Drinkin'” is even worse than “Buy Me A Boat.” Trigger just posted his review of it.

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    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 1:29 pm

      I doubt we will ever see another artist get blackballed like the Dixie Chicks again. That incident, along with incidents in other genres and demands by labels, pretty much keep artists vanilla and quiet in fear of rocking the boat. It’s all about low risk with these major labels when it comes to all aspects of the business, which is ironically what is hurting them at the moment too. But hypothetically let’s say Bryan, FGL or Sam Hunt would say something really offensive and get blackballed. I think it would change the identity of the genre for a while, at the very least making artists shift away from anything related to the artist blackballed. I guess it would really depend on the severity of the comments and the artist who said it.

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    • Nadia Lockheart October 15, 2015 / 5:20 pm

      What I’ve been noticing over the past four years or so are how country/”country” entertainers don’t want to get political at all with their music. They may not be afraid to hint at politics in interviews, but they are strikingly apolitical with their music.The last song I heard that broached politics and received vast attention (through streaming instead of airplay) was Aaron Lewis’ dreadful “Country Boy”.

      And I have to admit that’s actually a good thing overall to my ears, because what made early to mid 00’s country so insufferable was the political pandering and jingoism. I shied away entirely from country radio at that time, and have to admit I’d rather hear bro-country than obnoxiously loud and confrontational political polemics and tirades. =/

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      • ame006 October 22, 2015 / 2:29 am

        I have no problem with American pride and patriotism in music. The term jingoism is thrown around too often (Not saying that you are indulging in that practice) whenever a “I love America” song appears. An unfortunate consequence of a post nationalist world.

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    • ame006 October 19, 2015 / 11:32 am

      The Dixie Chicks (or one member in particular) spoke their mind and the country music public spoke back with their wallets. (The crazies with the death threats aren’t part of the general public.) There are plenty of singers in the country music genre that bring up their political views. (Rosanne Cash etc) Bruce Springsteen includes political beliefs in his songs.

      Every singer has a right to do that and every fan base has the right to ignore their music. For some reason on country music websites, I notice this is seen as a bad thing.

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      • ron12274 October 19, 2015 / 2:15 pm

        It is a bad thing if the act in question was making amazing music and was punished by being banned from country radio leading to the demise in quality country music. Again the boycott of the chicks is not the sole reason but is one of many.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ame006 October 22, 2015 / 2:26 am

        I have always found the Dixie Chicks to be insufferably overrated so I will disagree with your assumption of amazing music.

        Either way, the following result of their banishment will always be seen as a black eye by people outside of country music. Be it right or wrong, that will be the perspective that remains.

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  5. Ron October 15, 2015 / 2:38 pm

    Another big part is the ‘singlezation’ of music that started in the mid 2000s that started to favor artists who were younger and appealed to that crowd who would download music as opposed to the cd/album buying crowd. Today we see this going on in all genres where listening to an entire album continues to be rare so everything must be a radio friendly single. It seems like this has caused alot of country music artists to be afraid to take risks and put out formulaic crap in order to stay relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Derek Hudgin October 15, 2015 / 3:13 pm

    Take this with as much merit as you deem necessary, but Taste of Country once said that country music started it’s rise in popularity (aka decline in quality) in 2005 when the CMA Awards moved to New York City for the one year which garnered a ton of buzz and that’s the year that Carrie Underwood won American Idol. Their argument was that’s when more eyes and lights shifted toward the Country music genre. Which isn’t that farfetched of a theory (of course, though, this was presented as a great move for the genre).

    Soon afterwards you started to see the quality decline and Aldean cranks up the guitar, “Dirt Road Anthem” and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” become smash hits quickly followed by “Cruise.”

    But, Josh, I don’t think your theory is that crazy. The emergence of American pride propaganda in songs was certainly a springboard for the genre, which definitely helped Toby Keith’s career. But I don’t think it’s as black and white as Dixie Chicks get blackballed, Toby Keith has checklist hits, and bro-country is born. The exile of the Dixie Chicks definitely played a role and their anti-Bush statements certainly added some fuel to the American pride propaganda. But I don’t think their exit was the reason that the door opened for checklist songs.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Sutro October 15, 2015 / 3:35 pm

    While I agree about the low quality of most of country radio / “mainstream country” today, I question whether it’s that much worse than before. By which i mean there’s always been a lot of filler, second rate, by the numbers stuff, but in the past there were also great artists topping the charts and getting airplay. Now there are still plenty of great artists out there, but they can’t get airplay and all that’s left on the radio is the second rate, by the numbers, filler. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me to be an interesting topic for discussion

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  8. martha October 15, 2015 / 4:25 pm

    I always felt that Toby Keith owed the Dixie Chicks a big thank you for helping his career. He was just a second tier artist before all that happened. And as bad as I hate to pull out the gender card, I believe that the fact that the Dixie Chicks are female had something to do with them getting black balled. I don’t think if any of the male artists had done something like that, there wouldn’t have been such a knee jerk reaction by Nashville and country radio.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 5:17 pm

      I think them being female had something to do it with it too. I wanted to discuss this, but I ran out of room. I plan on doing a future piece that addresses this theme though.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. SRM October 15, 2015 / 5:34 pm

    In my mind it works a little this:

    If I had to pinpoint where “checklist” writing came from, I would definitely agree that Toby Keith had a part in it, but I would look to “Redneck Woman” as the start of all of this. Arguably one of the best and most genuine “country pride” list songs, it went on to be one of the defining hits of the decade, and certainly the only thing people associate with Gretchen Wilson nowadays. But beyond that, it brought the Music Mafia, and especially Big & Rich, to the spotlight.

    Big & Rich go on to have a out-of-left-field smash with “Save A Horse”, and bring Cowboy Troy along for the ride, marking the first time we had seen this genre-melding get nationwide attention. I’ve also seen Miley Cyrus blamed for this, as well, with her Hannah Montana faux-country (see “Hoedown Throwdown”), that confirmed the country stereotypes for so many younger listeners while trying to make the genre “cool” by adding in trashy beats and hip-hop cadences.

    But, back to Big & Rich. Their rise also brought along an over-saturation of John Rich, who was writing and producing everything for a while there. He’s also the reason that Jason Aldean first got anywhere. Aldean brought in the same sort of genre-melding, albeit with a lot less of the wit and sophistication that Big & Rich had at their best. He also used the same exact style of checklist writing. Also floating around at this time: “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”. While that song didn’t have a direct relation to Big & Rich, I can’t believe that it could have become the ubiquitous hit that it is if “Save A Horse” hadn’t opened the gate.

    Aldean, of course, goes on to score massive hits with “She’s Country” and “Dirt Road Anthem”, which ultimately made bro-county a thing, and it was driven home by “County Girl (Shake It For Me)” and “Cruise”. After everyone saw “Cruise” become a monster hit only after FGL partnered with Nelly and got the thing in the hands of pop listeners, which in turn blew the country format into the spotlight, it was only a short walk to Sam Hunt/Thomas Rhett/Old Dominion and our current predicament.

    That’s at least my theory, anyways.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 5:41 pm

      Great point about Big & Rich. I completely forgot the impact they made on country music throughout the 2000s and it wasn’t pretty. They have just as much, if not more blood on their hands than Keith. It might also explain why in 2015 they’re still making the top 30 on the airplay chart.

      Like

  10. Nadia Lockheart October 15, 2015 / 5:40 pm

    One crucially important piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been touched on yet is the doppler shift in radio ownership and programming.

    I’d argue the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is one of the most critical turning points of the dumbing down and decline in quality of country radio today. In only seven years, Clear Channel (now iHeart Media) went from being a non-entity to one of the largest media conglomerates in the nation. Before 1996, no company could own more than 40 radio stations at once. That all changed with the 1996 Telecommunications Act. And, by 2003, when Maines spoke her now infamous remark, Clear Channel owned approximately 1,225 stations. To put perspective on that, it dominated the audience share in 100 of the nation’s 112 largest markets.

    Add to that Clear Channel’s dominance of billboard advertising, television station affiliates, venues that artists book for their tours (they also purchased the nation’s largest event promotion company in 2000) and being responsible for about 70% of all ticket sales………………….and you have an unprecedented oligopoly that also fundamentally changed the nature as to how entertainers are marketed.

    But with later declines in album sales, many artists found that touring is where they make almost all their revenue. This is where the insurrection of corporate brands and sponsorships in all of popular music comes into play. When you have reliable brand names like Jack Daniels, Budweiser and Coca-Cola repeatedly involving themselves ever deeply into the branding and marketing of events, artists are able to secure their vulnerable margins of profit.

    But at what cost?

    This gets us to the explosion of corporate shrilling and sloganeering marring mainstream music in general. With artists increasingly relying on corporate sponsors to market their music, this effects the quality of their output. Pitbull has made a name for himself off of being a hustler and businessman masquerading as a danceable rapper, but now the vast majority of top-bill artists are Xeroxing Pitbull’s business model. It becomes less about the music and more about commerce. It becomes less about saying something and more about selling something.

    This is why we see unprecedented degrees of corporate name-dropping in mainstream country/”country” songs. This is why our music has become so pelvis-centric instead of from the heart and soul. This is why the vast majority of lyrics are written at a second-grade reading level. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened the floodgates for the complete fundamental redefining of radio and promotion, set the stage for our cultural oligopoly, and it has since moved one step further with Clear Channel rebranding itself as iHeart Media and pandering aggressively to Millennials via digital technology and services to maintain their stranglehold on culture at large.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. petemarshall724 October 15, 2015 / 6:49 pm

    I’m not going to blame bro-country, Luke Aryan, Jason Aldean, or FGL for this mess.( they put the nails in the coffin for country music) I like to blame Garth Brooks for this or and Billy Ray Cyrus “Achy Breaky Heart” for the mess.

    Like

  12. petemarshall724 October 15, 2015 / 6:56 pm

    Dixie Chicks would have continue having big hits till this day.

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    • ron12274 October 16, 2015 / 9:47 am

      Possibly. We’ll never know for sure. If they went in the same direction for their 2006 album, which was great but more California rock than country they probably wouldn’t have gotten alot of airplay. Maybe they would have done separate projects anyway like they ended up doing. Hard to say.

      By the way great choice for throwback song. One of my all time favorite songs from any genre

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    • fromthewordsofbr October 27, 2015 / 5:10 pm

      I’ve always loved them. Always had, always will.

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      • fromthewordsofbr October 27, 2015 / 5:10 pm

        Oops, I thought you said “big fans”.

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  13. Cobra October 15, 2015 / 8:12 pm

    Interesting perspective (no pun intended). I’ve often wondered if it would be possible to pinpoint or mark where the decline really began, and your answer is as good and as well thought out as any, I suppose.

    Somewhat on topic, somewhat off, I was in line for the Garth Brooks concert on Saturday night (I love Garth Brooks, even if some may consider him, “too pop”), and I happened to encounter an employee of the local “country” station. I mentioned to him that I’d had enough of the Florida Georgia Line and Luke Bryan music. I asked that they start playing some Texas Country, like some Wade Bowen and Stoney LaRue, and quit it with the bro country already. He ended up being the Promotions Director, and said I should talk to the DJs, but he came back and asked me (good naturedly enough) “so you don’t like the music selection?” I told him that I found there to be very little actual country in the mix.

    I highly doubt that it had or will have any effect, but it was nice to be able to voice my opinion to someone who essentially works for part of the problem (the radio is an iHeartRadio station).

    On another note, my local record store had the new Stoney LaRue album a couple of days early and I picked it up yesterday. It’s fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Josh Schott October 15, 2015 / 8:39 pm

      That’s cool! At least he took the time to listen to what you had to say and considered your opinion. More people need to speak up to radio and maybe something could happen. It never hurts to try of course. And I’ll have to check out that Stoney record.

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  14. Paul W Dennis October 16, 2015 / 1:12 am

    I suspect that the Dixie Chicks would have done a Taylor Swift and left the genre anyway. Their best (but not best selling) recordings pre-date Natalie Maines joining the group.

    I don’t think you can blame Toby Keith either, I think the real problem rests with the industry itself. When radio went digital in the 1980s and refused to play anything not available on CD, it meant an entire generation went by without any real opportunity to hear how country music actually sounded, In 1991 very few older country artists had any product released on CD. Even Haggard, Lefty Frizzell, Owens and Pride had virtually nothing available, let alone second tier artists like Kenny Price, David Rogers, Bobby Austin, Sammi Smith, Jim Ed Brown, et al. .

    That generation grew up thinking country music was Alabama, Crystal Gayle, Eagles and Kenny Rogers. The line from that to Rascal Flatts is a straight line progression to irrelevance and blandness

    I have no explanation for Bro-Country. The older country acts sang of John Barleycorn but they were songs of remorse and self recrimination, not celebrating behaving like jerks.

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  15. southtexaspistolero October 17, 2015 / 11:34 am

    there were a lot of years between that incident and the steep decline in quality

    This is true, Scotty, but I still think the Chicks thing could have been the catalyst for it all even if it took a couple of years for the stage to be set. I do think the collapse of modern rock radio also had a lot to do with it, though.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I don’t know how things would have gone had The Incident not happened, but before that the Chicks along with Shania Twain were the biggest things going in country music. And I’ve read elsewhere before that Shania Twain was biggest influence on Taylor Swift, who was arguably one of the main trend-setters in country music after the fall of the Chicks, and whose success it’s been argued that bro-country was a response to. I don’t know for sure that another act would have come along after the Dixie Chicks that would have been influenced by the Chicks that would have been as big as they were, but who’s to say that wouldn’t have happened?

    To put it a different way, you could say that Taylor Swift is this decade’s Shania Twain as far as trend-setters go, but we don’t have a Dixie Chicks to counterbalance her, or to carry the genre in her absence. As I saw it put elsewhere:

    “Had the (Bush-bashing incident) never happened, or at least been handled in a way satisfactory enough to Natalie that she felt supported by the country music community at large, I doubt the mainstream country music genre would be in this big a mess right now.

    “How could it? Home was a monster that would’ve dominated for who knows how much longer….A follow-up album would’ve been equally as big a hit that the whole world would’ve bought. They had years and years of country music dominance left in them.…

    “The real effect of their commercial demise wasn’t the open wound they left in country music but its inability to properly heal. The Dixie Chicks took the high quality of early-2000s country down with them, and the state of country radio has never recovered, more and more a parody of its former self each and every bygone year. They took with them the challenge to be great, to sing intelligent songs, and fill your records with the lyrics of strong insightful songwriters. Think about it. Had the Chicks proceeded as normal, without alienating most Americans, we’d likely been spared such dreck as ‘Tequila Makes Her Clothes Come Off,’ ‘Dirt Road Anthem,’ ‘Truck Yeah,’ and ‘Cruise.’

    “They managed to make bluegrass, the genre Dierks Bentley couldn’t make country radio play with a ten foot pole, not just cool but profitable. They turned a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song into a radio smash. Heck, they put the banjo and fiddle in the forefront of mainstream country again.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nadia Lockheart October 18, 2015 / 12:09 am

      I still think the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (and, thus, the mass consolidation of small radio stations across the country under four major companies and complete sea change to radio focusing on the largest possible demographic reach as opposed to fostering diversity) was the actual major event that resulted in the dumbing down of music as a whole, and the Dixie Chicks “incident” is more of a secondary major event that negatively impacted mainstream country music.

      Had it not been for the Telecommunications Act, I surmise the Dixie Chicks obviously still would have gotten backlash but not quite to the extent they did. Because there would have been a number of small stations not owned by a major company who would autonomously have come to their defense in continuing to play them. So while the Dixie Chicks all but certainly would never have received another #1 on the Country Airplay chart, I definitely think they would have still been able to reach the Top Twenty at least off of subsequent single releases due to major radio markets in “blue states” and radio stations sympathetic of the Chicks having their back still.

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  16. kjh6395 October 21, 2015 / 1:29 am

    I almost entirely agree with you on this one. However, I think Toby Keith did produce some some charted songs after 2001. I think “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue” was perfect in response to the 9/11 attacks, like a big fuck you to terrorists. Yeah the content isn’t the best, but It’s still fun to drunkenly belt out at a tailgate or the Fourth of July. I also think “who’s your daddy”, “beer for my horses”, “I love this bar”, and “God love her” were the only other +1 songs he sang post 9/11. I do agree with all of the other songs you mentioned in this article, they are horrendous. I think the day I heard red solo cup on the radio was almost as bad as the Sam Hunt debuted on “country” radio.

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    • kjh6395 October 21, 2015 / 1:30 am

      Some good charted songs*

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    • ame006 October 22, 2015 / 2:24 am

      Yeah, being embarrassed by “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” is similar to being embarrassed by World War II films. They are/were the products of the world in which they were created.

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