Tag Archives: Carrie Underwood

Advice to Young Girls Seeking Country Airplay

You know the days when you could turn on the radio and hear all sorts of interesting female voices? That’s been true throughout country’s history, from Loretta and Dolly on down to Martina and Faith. Nowadays, it’s Miranda and Carrie–well, no, not even Miranda, as her latest single struggles mightily to chart despite its sales and critical acclaim. Better to say Carrie and Kelsea. Anyway, to all the young girls out there who might be pursuing a career in country music and are wondering just how to shatter the glass ceiling on country radio, here’s some tried-and-true advice.

1. Don’t, under any circumstance, release something traditional. Fiddle, steel, mandolin, throw them all out. Even if they might make an appearance on your album–which is also discouraged–at least do what Maddie & Tae did with “Girl in a Country Song” and release a single with electronic beats and pop elements. Keep all the traditional fans guessing at your intent, wondering if the beats are serious or sarcastic, because it’s better to hold them at arm’s length or even to alienate them altogether if you want to get a #1 at radio.

2. Ignore all the misogynistic bullshit thrown at you by radio programmers, record executives, and in many of the male songs on country radio. Katie Armiger spoke up about that a couple years ago, and look what happened to her career.

3. Don’t date anyone in the industry, or better yet, don’t attempt to have a personal life on any level. Lindsay Ell taught us that.

4. Trivialize the female problem on country radio and in the industry. Kelsea Ballerini’s got success, and she barely admits to the problem. Meanwhile, the ones who speak up about such things struggle for recognition. Just worry about breaking in yourself, and don’t try to help other women along the way.

5. Forget just ignoring the misogyny, try writing lyrics about being these types of women. Throw all your dreams and hard-hitting lyrics to the side and sing about tailgates and tight jeans. If at all possible, try accepting the objectification and embracing this role.

6. Try not to veer too far from singing songs about love or getting noticed by men. Under no circumstances should you speak up about the type of songs that women are often stereotyped as singing.

7. Don’t be sexual or have sexual desires, and if you do suffer from these afflictions, don’t leak them into your music, for God’s sake.

8. Talk about your outfits more than your music. It’s not okay to be sexual in your songs, but it is important to be viewed as desirable at all times.

9. If all this fails, sing one or two lines on a male song, and you’ll soon have a #1 hit. It doesn’t matter if you sound like a glorified backup singer, take it from Maren Morris.

10. Finally, remember that your awards, sales, and most importantly, your perspective, do not matter in this industry and on the radio. Let go of these archaic notions, and you might soon be one of the only four females in the top fifty. Here’s to being one of the fortunate 8%, and I look forward to your #1 hit!

What Happens When you Take Women Out?

I debated whether or not I should write this piece because it’s really quite personal, and I’m not sure if it will be relatable or have a point when I’m done here, but it’s still on my mind after a couple of days, so I’ll try my best to be articulate as I express my thoughts.

The inspiration for this piece came after the news that Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” fell from #38 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week to #42, despite its sales and the ridiculous spike after her ACM performance. Now, as I’ve seen a lot of people point out, Miranda has never had the greatest treatment at radio anyway. There’s also the fact that “Tin Man” is stripped down, not necessarily radio-friendly, and quite traditional, so it’s got those strikes against it–although “The House That Built Me” had all of these characteristics and still gave her a #1 hit. But the glaring fact is, a big part of this simply has to do with the fact that Miranda Lambert is female, and in 2017, despite all the think pieces and supposed inclusion of more women by the country awards shows, females are still systematically ignored on country radio and by the country industry as a whole–and if you think these awards shows really want to include more women, why are there fewer nominees for ACM Female Vocalist of the Year? Sure, more women have been signed to major labels recently, but they’re not generally given the same chances to succeed; there’s a quota for females on country radio, and Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are filling it. And now it looks like Lambert will be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini, who is as non-country as Sam Hunt and the bros.

Keith Hill said back in 2015 that radio should “take women out.” The more infamous part was calling them tomatoes, but the more alarming part was taking them out. Lindi Ortega said then, “I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us…make it so we don’t exist.” And that’s what country radio is systematically doing–taking the female perspective so completely out that it’s shocking to imagine a woman’s point of view beyond the “girl” on the tailgate. Maren Morris recently spoke about this when she wrote that women in country can’t be sexual in their songs–they are supposed to be pretty and desirable but not write about their own desires. That inspired another piece which I haven’t yet written and have many conflicting feelings about writing–mostly because so many people I know will read it, and Maren Morris is a stronger person than I am–but it’s a more specific issue deriving from the same problem: take women, and their perspective, out. “Girls” are okay–and that’s why Kelsea Ballerini’s music can succeed on country radio; that, and that it isn’t country and seldom has substance.

So what actually happens when you take women out? I could go on about how it takes away their perspective in the mainstream, or how it leads to radio being one-sided and favoring music that marginalizes them, but I’m going to answer it from a personal place instead. I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and one of the first country records I ever owned was a Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. I fell in love with their music because it was country, but also because I could sing it and relate to it. They were women, and what they sang about appealed to me. I loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and later Miranda and Carrie. I sang an inordinate amount back then, so I will say that part of the appeal in their albums was that I could sing them; their ranges matched mine. But more than that, I related to them. I enjoyed plenty of music by male artists–and still do–but I naturally gravitated toward more women artists. Even today, on this blog, I can go back and look at the very few tens I’ve awarded–it’s a subconscious thing, but more of those records are by women. They have nothing in common in production, style, lyrics–but tens are set apart from nines for me because they can connect emotionally, and I have connected emotionally with more women in the history of running this blog, it seems.

The point of all this is that I fell out of love with country radio for the same reasons you all did; it lost its sound and its substance almost overnight. More than that, here in Oklahoma, radio killed Red Dirt around the same time. It had once lived on our radio stations along with mainstream music, but things like the rise of iHeart helped to destroy it. Even more than all of that, though, I became disenchanted with country radio because of the lack of women. I didn’t know then that there was all this independent music floating around just waiting to be discovered, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to anything on the radio or sing along with any of the records. I mentioned that I sang, and I will now say that I grew up wanting to be those women. And I don’t think it’s even possible to do that now. You can’t turn on country radio and hear Miranda lambert as a young girl and say, “I want to sing like her” or get that passion for country music like I did. It’s the same thing I said in my piece about genre awhile back, that it makes me sad that your average young person can’t just turn on the radio and find and fall in love with traditional-sounding country. But even that’s starting to make its way back in, (slowly), with Stapleton, Morgan, Pardi, Midland…while the women are being pushed further and further out. Sure, there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look, but you have to love country first before you go seeking out Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and Margo Price.

And I’m not saying a girl can’t fall in love with country from listening to men, or anything close to that; I’m only saying that in my case, I don’t think I’d be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t heard all those women on country radio back then, and if country radio’s systematic ignoring of females keeps even one girl from falling in love with this wonderful genre, then that’s the real problem, and the real danger of taking women out.

Single Review: “The Fighter” by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood

Country Rating: 0/10
Pop Rating: 3/10

I remember when Keith Urban actually tried. Now, there are a lot of traditionalists who have probably hated or at least dismissed Keith Urban from the start. His music always had pop and rock influence, and I can see how many strict traditionalists wouldn’t enjoy it. But there’s no denying his talent as a musician, singer, and songwriter. There was a time when he wrote many of his songs and sang with passion. As a reviewer, I can say without bias that he produced a lot of good pop country throughout his career, and as a music fan, I can say with absolute bias that I owned every Urban album right up through Get Closer. He’s recorded some great music in his time, and if you have any doubt of this, go listen to “Stupid Boy” and “The Luxury of Knowing.”

And then, somewhere around Keith’s American Idol stint, and the single “Little Bit of Everything,” all that talent started going to waste, and Urban’s passion and musicianship was lost in the wake of cringe-worthy pop music and the chasing of money and continued mainstream relevancy at all costs. It’s one thing when Kane Brown or Thomas Rhett gives us bad music, but Keith Urban knows better, and his self-awareness leaves me much more disgusted by “John Cougar, John deere, John 3:16” than by some arguably worse singles from these artists. All of this brings me to his latest effort, “The Fighter,” which may be his biggest insult to the genre and former Keith fans yet.

“The Fighter” has no semblance of country anywhere. It is generic pop music with electronic beats and some of the least impassioned vocals I’ve ever heard from either Keith or Carrie Underwood. Yes, that’s right, I forgot to mention Underwood’s part in this, but that is understandable, since mostly she just repeats the same three lines in the chorus like a bored backup singer. The song itself is about Keith Urban being a fighter for Underwood, who presumably got out of a bad relationship and needs to feel protected. The premise of Keith Urban being this type of guy is unintentionally hilarious, and Carrie Underwood doesn’t work as the character who needs to lean on him either. “What if I fall? What if I cry?” she keeps asking. It’s just annoying and doesn’t seem like her at all. There are some other obnoxious lyrics in the verses; Keith sings, “He never knew what he had, thank God.” So he is glad that she went through the hell of the previous relationship so that she would end up with him. Also, the line “he didn’t deserve you ’cause your precious heart is a precious heart” is just downright lazy ssongwriting. This song should be laughed off country radio, but it’s not even much better as a pop song and would probably be laughed off pop radio, so country is where it will stay. Reiterating why country radio will play it would be beating a dead horse, so I’ll spare you all that. But it’s artists like Keith Urban, who know better than this, can do better than this, and have done better than this, but choose instead to resort to absolute laziness because it will sell, that say more about the state of the genre and the fans who will buy this than anything else. The real tragedy is not that Urban recorded “The Fighter,” but that in 2017, he can get away with recording songs like this because that’s all he needs to do to sell records. This is one of the worst songs of his career, and without a doubt the worst song to which carrie Underwood has lent her voice.

Country Music vs. Good Music: Does Genre Matter?

There has been a lot of talk lately about genre lines and how important they really are. Does it matter that an album sounds country if the lyrics are bland? Is hearing songs rife with fiddle and steel on the radio really an improvement in itself, or have we gone so far that country-sounding music is praised over good music in general? Do we overlook artists like David Nail and Eric Church, both of whom have put out solid country albums in the past year, while propping up more traditional artists like Mo Pitney and William Michael Morgan just because they sound a certain way? All of this boils down to one question: Does genre really matter at all?

Well, that is a difficult question to answer, and there are differing viewpoints on all sides. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write because of the sheer number of people who may disagree, and I could ignore it, but I feel inclined to address it, and to be honest with myself and all of you. Honesty is absent everywhere in music right now, and that is one of the driving factors behind Country Exclusive’s existence, so I am going to do my best to provide it.

The simple answer is no, genre doesn’t matter. Good music is good music regardless of who is singing or what genre it is labeled. This is why I gave Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller two different grades–one as a country album, and one as simply an album. It makes a pretty good pop album. Kelsea Ballerini made a decent pop album too and then sent the singles to country radio–and not the best singles either, I might add, but that’s a different story. I wrote that Courtney Marie Andrews defied genre lines in Honest Life, and while not being the most country album, it is the best album I have reviewed to date. Good music can and does come out of every genre, and that is what we should be looking for the most.

To add to that, I want to say that country can be good without having fiddle and steel. I have written in several Red dirt album reviews a sentiment like, “This isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” followed by praise of the album. Red Dirt has a raw honesty that often surpasses genre, and this is evident in the massive sonic difference between Jason Eady and Reckless Kelly, both of whom have produced an inordinate amount of great music during their respective careers. There’s good pop country too, like the aforementioned Carrie Underwood and David Nail. Eric Church produced one of the better albums of 2015, both musically and lyrically, and you won’t find fiddle or steel anywhere on it. I have written a great deal about Maddie & Tae, advising strict traditionalists to give them a chance because they were bringing country back to radio, even if it was pop country. I praised Aubrib Sellers and her debut album which she labeled “garage country.” I’m far from a country purist, ready to criticize something immediately because it isn’t what country “should” sound like.

However, this idea of good music first has been taken too far. William Michael Morgan got a #1 at radio with “I Met a Girl,” which, while indeed lyrically weak, actually sounded country. It’s a step in the right direction as much as the songwriting on Eric Church’s album or the CMA wins of Chris stapleton. Why? Because something actually resembling country can be heard on country radio for the first time in years. But if genre doesn’t matter, why are we even celebrating? Surely Morgan’s “I Met a Girl” is just more shitty music with fiddle and steel.

It’s because truthfully, genre can’t be ignored completely. If you went to a bookstore and found the books arranged in categories of “good” and “bad,” this wouldn’t help you find a book at all. It’s because these terms are subjective. If you wanted to read crime fiction, you would go to the section marked crime fiction, and from there, you could decide which books you wanted to read. If you found romance in the crime fiction section, you would say the book has been put in the wrong place. Of course, there are books that have elements of both and can therefore be classified as both. Now, let’s apply this to music. Crime fiction might be country, romance might be pop, and the two might blend to make pop country. A book containing many different elements might be labeled just “fiction” or “literature”–in music, this could be Americana, with its blending of many styles. There are probably good books in all the different genres, but since you came looking for crime fiction, you aren’t going to be satisfied with a good romance novel. In the same way, if you want to hear traditional country, you won’t find it in the pop country of Carrie Underwood, the country rock of Eric Church, or the Americana of Jason Isbell.

Therefore, when an artist like Morgan comes along, who actually sounds traditional, it’s right to be excited that he’s getting airplay. It’s right to fight to hear more country on country radio–in fact, many of us ran to underground country simply because of the lack of country on country radio. And it’s right to want to see mainstream Nashville and country radio embrace people like Sturgill Simpson and Margo Price. We can run to Americana and give up on the mainstream altogether, but no matter how you look at it, Americana isn’t country. Some of it is excellent, but it still isn’t country. It isn’t the music we fell in love with, the music we miss. We should praise music of substance regardless of how it sounds, but the lack of country on country radio is just an important a problem as the lack of substance in the music.

I daresay the majority, if not all of us, fell in love with country music, at least in part, by listening to country radio. Maybe you grew up with the legends like Haggard and Nelson. Maybe you remember Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, or maybe you miss the sounds of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Vince Gill. Maybe you’re like me, and the first country you ever heard was the Dixie Chicks. Regardless, you heard all of them because they were played on country radio and available to the masses, just like their pop country counterparts. Pop country has always been around, but never has it replaced and eradicated the traditional as it has in recent years. Wherever your nostalgia comes from, you fell out of love with country radio after it lost the sound and substance you were drawn to. Today, even though the substance is slowly returning, there is still a noticeable lack of the sound. People growing up with country radio today might associate country with Luke Bryan or Thomas Rhett, both of whom lack the sound and the substance. Or maybe they’ll associate country with Carrie Underwood and Eric Church–they will recognize the substance but lose the sound. But until Morgan and Pardi, there hasn’t been a traditional sound being carried to the masses in years. Pop country isn’t a bad thing, but the complete elimination of the traditional is a terrible thing, and a dangerous thing for country as we know it. Therefore, when an artist like Morgan breaks through and gets a #1 single, we should all be celebrating. There is still much work to be done in Nashville, both in sound and substance, but Morgan, and others like him, are bringing hope for everyone who thought traditional country was lost. He’s not pop country, he’s not country rock, he’s not Americana. He’s just country. And I miss country. I fell in love with country. Country is my passion as a fan and my focus as a reviewer. It’s what I’ll always love the most, even though I praise and listen to plenty of good music from other genres, and it seemed, not long ago, that the music I loved would be lost forever in the mainstream. I am nothing but glad that Morgan and Pardi have broken through, and that young people out there listening to country radio once again have the opportunity to fall in love with real country the way I did. As I said, there is still a lot of work to be done, but let’s all recognize this for what it is, a positive step, and be glad for how far we’ve come.

The 51st Annual ACM Award Nominees, With Commentary

This morning, (2/1), the nominees for the 2016 Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards were revealed on CBS the Morning and ETOnline.com. The ACM Awards will take place on April 3rd at the MGM Grand Ballroom in Las Vegas and air on CBS. For the first time in several years, Blake Shelton will not be one of the hosts–this year it will be Blake’s former co-host, Luke Bryan, along with Dierks Bentley. This seems an unlikely pair to say the least, but we’ll see on April 3rd. Here are the nominees, along with predictions, preferences, and some personal commentary.

Video of the Year

“Biscuits”–Kacey Musgraves, directed by Mark Klausfeld, produced by Nicole Acacio
“Burning House”–Cam, directed by Trey Fanjoy, produced by Trent Hardville
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, directed by Karla Welch and Matthew Welch, produced by Amanda Prunesti
“Mr. Misunderstood”–Eric Church, directed by Reid Long and John Peets, produced by Megan Smith
“Riser”–Dierks Bentley, directed by Wes Edwards, produced by Jennifer Rothlein
Prediction: “Burning House” or “Riser”
Preference: none

New Male Vocalist of the Year

Good to see the ACM’s breaking down this category again, as for the past several years it has been simply “New Artist.”

Brett Eldredge [no]
Chris Janson [no]
Thomas Rhett [really?]
Chase Rice [hell no]
Chris Stapleton [thank God]
Prediction: Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton…I would prefer Chris Stapleton anyway, but out of these, do I really have a choice?
Note: When is Thomas Rhett going to stop getting nominated for New Artist awards?

New Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Cam [yes!]
Mickey Guyton [good]
RaeLynn [oh God no]
Prediction: Cam or Kelsea Ballerini
Preference: Cam
Note: Only four artists here…what happened to including more women? This is the only category to be missing an artist….and if we can nominate Thomas Rhett, surely we can nominate Ashley Monroe or Jana Kramer. Many more if they knew how to think outside the box…Jamie Lin Wilson anyone? Having said that, I’m impressed with the inclusion of Mickey Guyton, it is well deserved.

New Vocal Duo or Group of the Year

A Thousand Horses [ok]
Brothers Osborne [good]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Old Dominion [please]
Parmalee [no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I am sorry that Maddie & Tae and Brothers Osborne must be in the same category with the likes of Old Dominion. Maddie & Tae really deserve this award and should win it…they deserve to be the Duo of the Year, but this would involve de-throning Florida Georgia Line.

Vocal Event of the Year

“Hang Over Tonight”–Gary Allan featuring Chris Stapleton, produced by
Gary Allan and Greg Droman, MCA Nashville
“Home Alone Tonight”–Luke Bryan featuring Karen Fairchild, produced by Jeff Stevens and Jody Stephens, Capitol Nashville
“Raise ’em Up”–Keith Urban featuring Eric Church, produced by Nathan Chapman and Keith Urban, Hit Red Records/Capitol Nashville
“Smokin’ and Drinkin'”–Miranda Lambert featuring Little Big Town, produced by Frank Liddell, Chuck Anilay, and Glenn Worf, RCA Nashville
“Wild Child”–Kenny Chesney with Grace Potter, produced by Buddy Cannon and Kenny Chesney, Blue Chair Records/Columbia Nashville
Prediction: “Raise ’em Up”
Preference: “Wild Child” out of these, but there are better nominees by far.
Note: Why is “Hang Over Tonight” being nominated for anything? This was not successful commercially or critically, has stalled Gary Allan’s entire career, and cost him millions of fans…but let’s nominate it for an ACM, makes perfect sense. “Home Alone Tonight” is trash, “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” is just there, and the others are decent. Terrible list altogether. The CMA nominated Willie and Merle’s collaboration album at least.

Single Record of the Year

Interestingly, or stupidly, the Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year nominees are not out yet and should be announced “in the coming weeks”…Song of the Year has traditionally been about critical acclaim, and Single Record was for commercial success, but lately they have become somewhat interchangeable.

“Burning House”–Cam, produced by Jeff Bhasker, Tyler Johnson, and Cameron Ochs, Arista Nashville/RCA Records/Kravenworks [excellent]
“Buy me a Boat”–Chris Janson, produced by Brent Anderson, Chris DuBois, and Chris Janson, Warner Music Nashville [no]
“Die a Happy Man”–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff and Jesse Frasur, The Vallory Music Co. [to be expected, but hell no]
“Girl Crush”–Little Big Town, produced by Jay Joyce, Capitol Records Nashville [yes]
“I’m Comin’ Over”–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Nashville [decent]
Prediction: No idea…this could go to Cam, Thomas Rhett, or Little Big Town, if we’re talking commercial success. All three would deserve it based on this.
Preference: “Burning House” or “Girl Crush”
Note: The only thing I’m certain of here is that Chris Young has absolutely no chance.

Album of the Year

I’m Comin’ Over–Chris Young, produced by Corey Crowder and Chris Young, RCA Records [lol]
Montevallo–Sam Hunt, produced by Zach Crowell and Shane McAnally, MCA Nashville [never]
Mr. Misunderstood–Eric Church, produced by Jay Joyce, EMI Records Nashville [yes]
Tangled up–Thomas Rhett, produced by Dan Huff, Jesse Frasur, and Chris Destafano, The Vallory Music Co. [absolutely horrifying]
Traveller–Chris Stapleton, produced by Dave Cobb and Chris Stapleton, Mercury Records [yes]
Prediction: Traveller
Preference: Traveller
Note: Glad to see Eric Church with a nomination here, and disappointed in the lack of women. Thomas Rhett’s Tangled Up is even worse than Montevallo which is saying something…some good nominees, but a bad category overall. At least Stapleton is now a front runner, after his upsets at the CMA’s. But Kacey Musgraves should definitely have a nomination here. The fact that Chris Young’s boring effort is here is completely laughable.

Vocal Duo of the Year

Brothers Osborne [good]
Dan + Shay [no]
Maddie & Tae [yes]
Joey + Rory [good]
Florida Georgia Line[no]
Prediction: Maddie & Tae…going out on a limb.
Preference: Maddie & Tae
Note: I don’t think Florida Georgia Line will do it again…they’ve slipped in popularity. Also, never underestimate the power of the sympathy vote for Joey + Rory, cancer is a powerful thing. I’m glad to see Joey + Rory with a nomination too, but they shouldn’t get the win…that right belongs to Maddie & Tae, and enough splitting of the votes may happen here that we will see them take it.

Vocal Group of the Year

Wow, what an awful category.

Eli Young Band [no]
Little Big Town [yes]
Old Dominion [for the love of God]
Rascal Flatts [no]
Zac Brown Band [not after this year….”Beautiful Drug” is not worth any recognition, even if the group is]
Prediction: Little Big Town…they’ve become the Miranda Lambert of the Vocal Group category.
Preference: Little Big Town
Note: Can we give it to Turnpike Troubadours?

Male Vocalist of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Dierks Bentley [good]
Eric Church [yes]
Brett Eldredge [lol]
Chris Stapleton [yes]
Prediction: Eric Church or Chris Stapleton
Preference: Chris Stapleton, but I’d be happy with Eric.
Note: No Blake Shelton…interestingly, Blake Shelton was shut out entirely from this extravaganza.

Female Vocalist of the Year

Kelsea Ballerini [no]
Jana Kramer [good]
Miranda Lambert [duh]
Kacey Musgraves [good]
Carrie Underwood [good]
Prediction: Miranda Lambert–like with the CMA’s, I’m not an idiot.
Preference: Carrie Underwood
Note: Glad to see Jana Kramer with a nomination…if we could have replaced Kelsea with Ashley Monroe, this would have been a pretty fair list.

Entertainer of the Year

Jason Aldean [no]
Garth Brooks [good]
Luke Bryan [duh but no]
Eric Church [good]
Miranda Lambert [good]
Prediction: Luke Bryan, with an outside chance of Garth Brooks
Preference: Garth Brooks