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! 

The 2015 ACM Awards: The Highs & Lows of a Boring & Weird Show

2015 ACM Awards

The 50th edition of the ACM Awards aired last night on CBS and it was many things. For starters it was quite long, as the show ran for three and a half hours. If you were watching live like me, it felt like six hours. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. But then again it was quite boring. A big part of it may have been the fact that the winners of the awards were pretty predictable and there wasn’t any suspense. There were several guests, with some of them adding to the show while others clearly hurt it (I’ll get to that here in a minute). The 2015 ACM Awards had some highs and many lows. We’ll start first with the highs. Before that though I just want to thank everyone again who followed along on the live blog and on Twitter last night. I had a blast talking about the show with all of you. Also welcome new readers! So without further ado let’s get to the fallout of the ACM Awards…

The Highs

  • George Strait’s Performance – King George went out on the stage and did what he always does: sing great country music. He performed a medley consisting of the classic “All My Exes Live in Texas” and his new single “Let It Go.” In addition to the great performance, he gave a classy speech in accepting his Milestone Award. Strait was awesome. Also I guarantee he high-tailed it out of there after this because I didn’t see him the rest of the show. Brad Paisley wanted him to join in on singing “Crushin’ It,” so that gave him more incentive to leave. Thank you, George.
  • Randy Travis Shout Out – Shortly after Strait, Lee Brice gave a very nice shout out to country music legend Randy Travis. The crowd gave him an ovation, which he full-heartedly deserves. He’s been battling numerous health problems over the last year and it was just great to see him.
  • Tony Romo Burns Blake Shelton – I’m not a big fan of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, but I like him a lot more after the burn he put on Blake Shelton. During a little back and forth Blake made a masturbation joke I believe. Romo uttered at him: “Blake, we’re the Dallas Cowboys, we have real balls.” In the words of Michael Scott, “Boom! Roasted!”
  • Martina McBride’s Performs “Independence Day” – The iconic McBride performed her mid-90s hit and sounded good despite terrible production work and being in a cavernous stadium. It just reminded me of how much I would like to hear her back on country radio again.
  • Dierks Bentley Performs “Riser” – It was satisfying to see Dierks Bentley perform this type of song on a big stage. It was also nice for the writer of the song Travis Meadows. Bentley is working on his new record right now, but I hope that “Riser” gets released as a single before the new record is released. Seeing it performed at the ACM Awards certainly gives me some hope.
  • Little Big Town Performs “Girl Crush” – As most country fans are aware, the group’s latest single has been talked about a lot in the past month for it’s “controversy.” I’m glad they performed it tonight and for anyone out there who still thinks this is a “lesbian” song, you’re an idiot. By the way it was a nice performance, as Fairchild’s vocals were spot on.
  • Reba’s Medley – While I didn’t like her most recent single, I thought her medley performance last night was great. While I would rather hear her sing a full song than a medley (another thing I’ll get to in a minute), I thought she nailed her performance. She really hit the high notes well.
  • Taylor Swift’s Milestone Award Speech – While I’m on record as being not a big fan of Taylor Swift’s work, I have come around on her since she has went pop. After listening to her speech accepting the Milestone Award that the CMA basically used to force her into appearing, I think I like her now. She handled such a weird situation with poise and grace. She thanked country music for giving her the start she needed to become a superstar and all of the fans for their support. Swift also reinforced that she has moved on to pop, but did it in a polite manner. It really painted her in a good light. Meanwhile it makes country music look like the ex who just can’t move on from the broken relationship.
  • Dwight Yoakam Being Dwight Yoakam – Just seeing him on the show was nice. Standing out there with duct tape next to faux outlaw artist Justin Moore, who somehow tore his skinny jeans, with a disinterested look was just icing on the cake. Can Yoakam host next year’s show?
  • Brooks & Dunn’s Performance – The last quality performance from the night came from the great 90s duo Brooks & Dunn, who reunited for the first time in a few years. They sounded just as good as ever and reminded me that they were once the ones dominating the duos awards instead of Florida Georgia Line. Simply put the “old people” kicked the younger performer’s asses tonight.

The Lows

  • Stop The Medleys! – Almost every performance throughout the show was a medley and it drove me absolutely nuts. It drove a lot of people nuts. Apparently since many in today’s world have such short attention spans, full songs weren’t to bothered with. George Strait’s medley was the only one where I could remember all of the songs in it because there were only two songs. The rest had so many songs that I couldn’t remember them all. It makes for pretty non-memorable performances.
  • The Production Value Was Terrible – As someone who is familiar with the workings of television production, I can tell you the 50th ACM Awards featured some of the worst production I’ve ever seen at a major awards show. The cameras were all over the place and people constantly couldn’t figure out where to look or they were off on their cues. It made for some awkward moments. Justin Moore looked completely lost. Steven Tyler was cut off. I will cut them some slack for the fact that the show was in the gigantic Cowboys Stadium, where a country awards show should never be done. It made performances sound much worse than they should have. Regardless if I were CBS I would take a good luck at the production team after that show.
  • The Merle Haggard “tribute” – The 2015 ACM Awards kicked off with a Merle Haggard tribute, performed by Eric Church and Keith Urban. This all seemed well enough and any time the Hag gets recognized is a good thing. The problem is the “tribute” sucked. Haggard wasn’t even at the show and he was only featured on the video behind Church and Urban for around ten seconds. I think Taylor Swift got more airtime during the tribute. To top it all off the tribute song was just a terrible rock song and name-dropped Haggard. It wasn’t even a Haggard song. This was a joke of a tribute.
  • Florida Georgia Line Performs “Sippin’ On Fire” – This went about how I expected it to go. It was terrible. The duo was even more off pitch than usual with the performance taking place in a stadium. Which leads me to ask why do people pay money to hear a concert from these two? You’re better off throwing money into a fire pit.
  • Miranda Lambert’s Domination – Now before you Miranda fans start to tear me a new one, let me explain. I’m not saying Lambert didn’t deserve to win her awards, as her Platinum album was one of the best in mainstream country last year. No, the problem is her winning everything at every award show. Ask any sports fan and they’ll tell you they hate it when a certain team dominates for years on end (unless you’re a fan of that team of course). It’s the same case here. It doesn’t look good for country music to have the same artist winning over and over. As they say variety is the spice of life. I have no problem with Lambert winning, but can somebody else win too?
  • Jason Aldean Performs a Medley – This was the kind of train wreck I expected coming into this show. After a minute of this in the background I had to hit mute. This could have passed as the bro country mashup.
  • Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett & Sam Hunt Barely Sing; Suck Anyway – The three finalists for New Artist of the Year award all performed on the show. Thankfully they each sang only two or three lines from each of their latest respective hits. But they still managed to be among the worst of the show. Swindell is still bland as a loaf of white bread. Rhett is a black hole of charisma. Sam Hunt didn’t even sing, he just spoke “Take Your Time.” By the way I realized I shouldn’t have been surprised with Swindell winning. Many Bryan fans are Swindell fans and they almost all threw their massive support behind Swindell. Meanwhile Rhett doesn’t have nearly as big of a fan base and Hunt has pop fans who probably weren’t even aware that the ACM Awards aired last night.
  • The Lesser Known Artists Being Forced to Stand Next to a Truck – This was a sad and cruel joke. All of the second-rate artists just happy to be there were forced to stand next to a truck and deliver transition promos between commercials. I mean Big & Rich doing it was kind of funny. But Mickey Guyton being reduced to this instead of performing is a war crime.
  • Dan + Shay + Nick Jonas = Bad Music – I thankfully missed this performance because I was taking a bathroom break. Great timing, huh? By all accounts this was garbage and I’m not going to watch it to verify. In the comments section, let me know over or under two years Dan + Shay are gone from country music.
  • Terrible Guests That Added Nothing to the Show – Christina Aguilera, Steven Tyler and Dr. Phil were all on this show for some reason. Aguilera performed with Rascal Flatts, in one of the oddest pairings I thought I would never see and never wanted to see. She was only there to promote her appearance on the ABC show Nashville. Still the possibility of a country record is there and as much as I roll my eyes at this thought, I also realize it would be more country than a lot of other mainstream albums. Steven Tyler was barely thrown in towards the end, but what little he said didn’t catch people’s attention. It was his hideous pants. Take a look at them. I’m no fashion expert, but those belong in the garbage. Dr. Phil was the strangest guest appearance of the night. By the time he wondered onto the show I was pretty zoned out. I don’t know why he was there. Maybe some therapy after all of the medleys the audience had to sit through?

Overall I would give this show a C-. The veteran country artists and Taylor Swift of all people saved this show from being a complete waste. This show was also almost too boring to hate. I don’t think I’ll remember anything from this show and that’s bad news for the ACM Awards because this was a milestone show.

What did you think of it? What are your highs and lows? Sound off in the comments! 

The Hodgepodge: Is Pop Radio Better Than Country Radio Right Now?

500px-Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895
A look at the current state of country radio and really mainstream country music in general.

Yesterday in this week’s current pulse of mainstream country music, I was pretty frustrated and exasperated with country radio. The reasons being of course is that nothing new is being tried by country radio and the songs with substance are getting harder to find. They’re simply rehashing the same old crap. Case in point: Jason Aldean’s new single “Tonight Looks Good On You” is surging and will undoubtedly reach #1 on the chart. It’s just another version of Aldean’s 2014 hit “Burnin’ It Down.” On top of that it’s a Dallas Davidson song. I mean come on! I thought country radio had moved passed Davidson’s bullshit, but apparently not.

So as I normally do when I get frustrated with terrible music, I go listen to music I enjoy. As I sat and listened to Hozier’s excellent 2014 debut album, an idea came to me for this week’s Hodgepodge. Why not take a look at pop radio and compare it to country radio? It’s a perfect time to do so when many country stations across the nation are playing blatant pop music. When Kanye West and Ed Sheeran are getting airplay on country radio, you know shit has hit the fan and country stations have run out of answers. So to conduct this comparison, we’ll take a look at the top 20 on the Billboard Top Pop Songs chart from last week and compare it to the top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart from last week. The same exact rules will apply to this as the current pulse that runs every week.

The -3 score on last week’s pulse will not be used, since it’s the cumulative score of the top 30. Only the pulse of the top 20 will be used. By taking away the bottom ten songs, the pulse of the top 20 is 0. That will be the score we use to compare to the pop chart. Today you will get to see the very rare occurrence of yours truly evaluating pop music. See what you’ve done to me country radio? So without further ado let’s take a look at the Top Pop Chart:

  1. Taylor Swift – “Style” 0
  2. Maroon 5 – “Sugar” 0
  3. Ed Sheeran – “Thinking Out Loud” +1 (Sheeran is awesome)
  4. Bruno Mars & Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” +1 (This song is great, despite being overplayed)
  5. Pitbull & Ne-Yo – “Time of Our Lives” -1 (Pitbull sucks no matter what genre he is in)
  6. Ellie Goulding – “Love Me Like You Do” -1 (A terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  7. Kanye West, Rihanna & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” 0
  8. Natalie La Rose & Jeremih – “Somebody” -1
  9. Calvin Harris & Ellie Goulding – “Outside” 0
  10. Ariana Grande – “One Last Time” -1
  11. Nick Jonas – “Chains” +1 (I’m surprised I liked this)
  12. Zedd & Selena Gomez – “I Want You To Know” +1
  13. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space” -1
  14. One Direction – “Night Changes” -1
  15. Lillywood & Robin Schulz – “Prayer In C” 0
  16. Flo Rida, Sage The Gemini & Lookas – “G.D.F.R.” -1 (Flo Rida is the Toby Keith of pop music. He just keeps hanging on.)
  17. Jason DeRulo – “Want To Want Me” -1
  18. The Weeknd – “Earned It” -1 (Another terrible Fifty Shades of Grey song)
  19. Usher & Juicy J – “I Dont Mind” -1 
  20. Tori Kelly – “Nobody Love”

So the total current pulse of pop music is -8. Wow! It’s even worse than country radio! Yet country radio is borrowing from it. It shouldn’t be borrowing period from pop music, whether it’s better or worse. Still country radio is borrowing from a genre that is even worse. There are genre lines for a reason. The only common denominator between both groups of songs is the club theme. You can thank Sam Hunt for bringing this into country music. Music about going to the club is just plain dumb and it’s why people laugh at artists like Pitbull and Flo Rida. I will say though I would take pop’s club music over country’s club music.

After this not very surprising revelation, I think I can safely say that all of radio is nothing but a vast wasteland of garbage songs. Country radio isn’t the only one lacking substance. However it’s imperative if I point out the big different between both. Country radio and pop radio historically have been viewed completely different by listeners. Pop radio is a mix of several different genres all in one place for casual listeners to hear. Upbeat, fun, party songs are the norm for pop and everyone pretty much knows this. You don’t hear a lot of songs that you would consider classics get on pop radio today, save for the likes of Adele and Hozier maybe. In years past you had icons like Michael Jackson dominating pop, but I don’t see any singers like Jackson on the horizon.

Country radio on the other hand was always viewed by people as a place to go for songs about life, love and other themes that explore deeper meaning. It was the genre of substance. You could hear a song like Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain” and be brought to tears. George Strait’s “Give It Away” or Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” connected with anyone out there whoever had their heart-broken. Go back a little over ten years and you could hear a song on country radio like Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” that had a great message to anyone of any age. These are the kind of songs that made country music what it was. It was what made you and me fans of country music.

Now an entire generation views country music as a laughing-stock full of songs about drinking, debauchery and partying. That respect country music once held in popular culture has eroded away. People turn on country radio and don’t even recognize the genre. Some people don’t even turn on the radio. Sure there is plenty of great independent country music out there and sites like this help spread the word of it. But why would people seek it out? After what they hear on country radio, it makes them run away from the genre. They’ve got such a sour taste from country radio that they won’t even try the good country music. Country music fans need something to believe in and hear to reaffirm their faith in the genre. Will we get that before it’s too late? For the sake of country music, I hope so.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • Will Hoge will come out with his new album Small Town Dreams next Tuesday. A couple of months ago we got a taste of what’s to come on the album and based on that I’m expecting this to be a good one. Derek will be reviewing this one, as Hoge is one of his favorites.
  • Kristian Bush’s debut solo album Southern Gravity will also be released next Tuesday. The lead single “Trailer Hitch” was a surprisingly good song, so it’ll be interesting to hear what the rest of the album sounds like and whether the sound of Sugarland is evident at all.
  • The third notable release next week and the biggest in the independent realm is Pokey LaFarge’s Something In The Water. This could quietly be one of the best releases in April.
  • On Monday, Jason Isbell tweeted: “New new album is done and mastered.” So maybe we’ll get this sooner than July? I certainly hope so. We should at least hear the first single from it very soon.

Throwback Thursday Song

George Jones – “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” – You know how I was saying up above about how country music was the genre about life and connecting with everyday people? This song articulates that point perfectly. And it’s a song many country fans wonder today.

Non-Country Song of the Week

AC/DC – “Shoot To Thrill” – This is one of my all-time favorite AC/DC songs. The high notes blow me away every time.

Tweet of the Week

Anti-Bobby Bones tweets are always great. He’s another problem hurting country music, but that’s another post for another day.

Two iTunes Reviews That Will Make You Face Palm

Stupid EYB Comment 2

 

Stupid EYB Comment 3

 

I’ve been sitting on these gems for a couple of weeks. These were under Eli Young Band’s new EP Turn It On. The first one justifies this terrible EP by saying everyone’s going pop in country, so it’s fine. The other says it’s fine because they wrote all four songs. Here’s an easy way to determine whether or not a song or group of songs suck: people having to list reasons to justify why it’s good. People making excuses for it. A great song speaks volumes on its own merit and doesn’t need to be explained why it’s good.

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