Tag Archives: Jon Pardi

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.

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.

Random Thoughts of the Week: The Top Five Signs of Hope for Mainstream Country

2015 has been the year of the sellout in country music. The two most disappointing sellouts of the year for me were easily the Zac Brown Band and the Eli Young Band, the former with the release of the EDM single “Beautiful Drug” to country radio, and the latter with the terrible single “Turn it On” and the subsequent EP, as well as the horrible “country remix” of “Honey, I’m Good” with Andy Grammer. Keith Urban was a close third, using his talent to give us the brilliant “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” a song that personally pisses me off about as much as “Kick the Dust Up” because Keith Urban knows better. Easton Corbin used his George Strait-esque voice, previously used for “A Little More Country Than That,” to record an album full of bro country pickup lines. Brett Eldredge, though never really carrying a torch for traditional country, was never really working aginst us until his recent r&b album Illinois. Danielle Bradbery has remade herself into a wannabe pop star for the sake of reviving an already struggling career. Even the legendary Alabama sunk to the low of releasing “Southern Drawl,” a desperate attempt to be cool that failed in every respect, coolness especially. And now, Eric Paslay’s new single, “High Class” seems to have finally pushed everyone off the deep end with its blatant metro-bro bullshit lyrics and style–and this coming from the person who obviously knows better, as “She Don’t Love You” so effectively proved. In times like these, people start saying we should forsake country altogether and start calling ourselves Americana fans, that we should just surrender our beloved “country music” to these sellouts, country carpetbaggers, and metro-bro douchebags, and go listen to Americana. They say that all hope for “country” as we knew it is lost.

Well, here are some signs of hope, in no particular order of importance.

Dierks Bentley

Dierks Bentley is not selling out, as his latest single, “Riser,” has proven. I will be incredibly shocked if he succumbs to the trends, as he has no reason to. He has found the perfect balance between quality and airplay and doesn’t seem to care that he often does not get the recognition he deserves. He has made quality music throughout his career and has no reason to change that now; he’s found a formula that works for him even in this country radio climate.

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood is not a traditional country artist, but she’s here because she defines what actual pop country should sound like. She takes the best of pop and country and blends them well, offering songs that both display depth in storytelling and are radio-ready. Although I was not as impressed with her new single, “Smoke Break,” as many, it certainly does not follow the current trends, and her new album, Storyteller, could be a factor in turning back the tide of mainstream country music to a real pop-country sound–what we have now is straight pop poorly disguised and incorrectly labled as country.

Cam

True, Cam has only given us two singles and an EP so far, but the reason she’s in my top five signs of hope for mainstream country is that On the Verge supported her. Her first single, “My Mistake,” was a nice pop country blend, but “Burning House,” the sponsored single, is a completely acoustic, traditional country song. The fact that this program supported an artist like that signals change. Cam’s debut album cannot come soon enough!

Chris Stapleton

Some would argue whether Chris Stapleton is mainstream, but I don’t see why. He’s on a major label and has even received some airplay. Traveller is nominated for Album of the Year by the CMA, and Stapleton is nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Stapleton with three nominations is a sure sign of hope.

Maddie & Tae

I have written a lot about these ladies, but I’ll say it again–they can bring those that think “country” = Sam Hunt and Kelsea Ballerini back to country. Radio has actually given them a shot. They’ve proven they’re not afraid of fighting for country; they’ve spoken out against drum machines and their debut single was “Girl in a Country Song.” The fact that Scott Borchetta and Big Machine are behind them and that they’re actually getting played is a huge sign of hope.

Despite all the selling out, there are still a lot of reasons to hope for mainstream country, perhaps now more than ever. More and more independent artists are seeing success in album sales that mainstream Nashville can’t ignore. Country legend Merle Haggard, a name-drop in many of today’s songs, is openly speaking out. Represented above are established artists and newcomers alike, fighting for real country music. I didn’t even mention Mo Pitney, Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Jon Pardi–the list goes on. Not to mention Tim McGraw’s new album will unashamedly be titled Damn Country Music. I wasn’t thrilled by the lead single, but the album title certainly intrigues me. The point of all this is that mainstream country is far from hopeless–in fact, after years of fighting, we are finally seeing numbers on our side, artists speaking out, and more traditional artists being signed and getting airplay. In short, although it is happening slowly, we are seeing results. Why should we give up now? The day we leave our own fight and run to Americana is the day that country music will be lost.

Tomato of the Week: Jamie Lin Wilson

I featured her friend and fellow Texas country artist, Courtney Patton, last week, so this week, I am covering Jamie Lin Wilson. Check out her full article on Female Friday!

Random Country Suggestion: Randy Rogers Band–Burning the Day

A great album from one of my favorite Texas/Red Dirt bands.

Listen to album

No non-country suggestion, just go listen to these glaring signs of hope.