Has country married pop?

I’ve cited the website Saving Country Music a number of times in my columns. I read there frequently. The site taps into much of the discontent with music now being packaged and sold as country when it actually isn’t country.

Don’t believe me? 

Turn your radio on. Tune into a top ‘country’ station. You will come to at least two conclusions.

Country stations don’t like to play music by women.

Country stations don’t play much country at all.

In an earlier column I talked about a road trip my husband and I took. We decided to forego CDs and listen to some country radio. Our experiment didn’t last long. After two or three songs, I said something along the lines of why do they call themselves a country music station when all they’re doing is playing pop?

I also wondered why they didn’t play more songs by women. I guess the sentiment expressed by a top radio consultant still prevails—he values male music far more than music by females. That’s his right, by the way. Thing is, this guy helps shape the content offerings you listen to. Or, as in my case, don’t listen to.

Saving Country Music ran an article critical of a new top ‘country’ hit, “Meant to Be.” The song is by native New Yorker Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line. I actually like the song. But I actually admit something else—it isn’t a country song. At all.

Why is that important?

SCM exposed changes in how Billboard ranks music now. The changes happened in 2012, and include this:

“But where Billboard’s new format gets dicey, where Taylor Swift benefited so greatly by the new system, and where it threatens to erode the autonomy of the country format is how the country charts now consider radio play from ALL formats, not just country. In other words, so called “crossover” country stars, meaning stars like Taylor Swift who also have their music played on pop and/or rock stations, will now get credit in the Billboard ratings for those plays on the country chart.”

In yet another article on this topic, SCM shed light on one reason corporate music is melding country and pop. You can read about the VP of country formats at Cumulus Media. Here’s a quote about Sturgill Simpson from Charlie Cook who wields a lot of control over what you hear on the squawk box:

“I know I’m supposed to listen to him. He’s a huge act, sells out six shows at the Ryman in a blink. But I am a hit-oriented listener and I need a sing-along hook. I do not believe he is about that.”

“A sing-along hook”? Sounds like prefab packaging to me, one reason perhaps a song titled “Meant to Be” got so much airplay.

How influential is the VP of a country format who never listened to country? Here’s the scoop about Cumulus Media as plastered on the home page of the corporate website:

“Additionally, it is the nation’s leading provider of country music and lifestyle content through its NASH brand, which serves country fans nationwide through radio programming, exclusive digital content, and live events.”

Radio execs are gatekeepers. Right now, they’re pretty much letting anything and everything through the country gate in efforts to boost profits. That’s great for the marketplace and shareholders.

Not so great for artists. Or, for that matter, art. We can be grateful, however, for one thing.

No academic is screaming “cultural appropriation” at Rexha or anyone else.

(Kay B. Day/March 12, 2018)

 

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