What’s With The Country Music Surge On Mainstream TV?

Inspired by this month’s Blog Rodeo on why the mainstream world has fallen for country music and with Season 4 of The Voice set to premiere tonight, I thought it would be interesting to explore the increased crossover between the country world and mainstream TV.

After all, it’s impossible to discuss the rise of country’s presence in the mainstream without considering the TV factor. The CMA Awards on ABC in November and the ACM Awards on CBS in April delivered more than 13.5 and 12 million viewers respectively in 2012 (and that was in a Superstorm Sandy-affected, day-change affected off-year for the CMAs), and FOX has tried with much less success to get in on the country music action with the American Country Awards (which attracted 5 million viewers in December 2012). ABC’s freshman show Nashville, a soap opera centered around the country music world seems like more of a media hit than a popular one (recent episodes have attracted between 5.5-6 million live viewers) but has been adding nearly 3 million viewers in the Live+7 Day viewing ratings. Freshman sitcom Malibu Country (starring Reba McEntire) just scored 7 million viewers for its first season finale.

Look beyond country-focused TV programming, and there’s an unmistakeable trend integrating country performers into mainstream programming too, especially on competitive reality shows. Though the trend predated him, Voice coach Blake Shelton is the most currently visible example. Now we also have Keith Urban sitting on the American Idol judges’ panel (see the latest video & recaps from the show here and here). On the contestant side, three of Idol‘s top 10 finalists this season identify with country music while the most recent winners of XFactor US and The Voice (Tate Stevens and Cassadee Pope) made their marks by covering country songs and are now signed to country labels. That’s two years after country singers Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina took the top two spots on AI’s tenth season.

And it goes beyond singing shows! The current season of Dancing with the Stars (latest recap with video here) features Idol and Ellen DeGeneres favorite Kellie Pickler plus Wynonna Judd. The current season of The Amazing Race (latest recap here) features 2/3 of the country group Stealing Angels (the group has disbanded but the two women continue to sing). Trace Adkins is now in his second season of Celebrity Apprentice (latest recap here), a show that John Rich has won. So what’s going on here?

On The Voice, Blake Shelton plays the proud hillbilly who has found great chemistry with pop/rock playboy Adam Levine, and Blake has converted a Twitter following he accumulated from his constant “drunk” tweets and inappropriate jokes into a passionate Voice voting base that has carried him to two consecutive wins. Kellie Pickler is a talk show favorite because of her quick wit and hilarious tendency to say whatever random thought comes into her head. Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood have earned consistent critical praise for their humor as cohosts of the CMAs. Keith Urban has established himself as the kind, articulate and quietly witty anchor to the AI judging panel. These stars all have different approaches (Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban lean towards drier, more understated humor whereas Blake Shelton, Kellie Pickler, and Reba are more likely to put themselves out there) but they share a willingness to laugh at themselves.

In an era of outre, larger than life pop stars like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Keith Urban’s fellow judge Nicki Minaj, and Blake’s currently on hiatus fellow judges Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green, the masses are more likely to find the glamorous girl or guy next door appeal in the down-home stylings of a country star, and it makes sense that mainstream shows would look to the country world to bring more of a neighborly appeal. Not only that, in practice, the country stars named have been able to bring the key element of television chemistry to their shows where it has otherwise been lacking (unless you think Randy Jackson would have been able to mediate between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj on his own).

Media Representation
The country world has its own set of dedicated media, including a network of blogs and websites associated with radio stations and the TV channels CMT and GAC, and its own set of events throughout the year that serve as media opportunities to expose mainstream projects to country audiences. You have Country Radio Seminar in late February/early March, in which artists, radio, and media converge on Nashville for a schmoozefest providing plenty of opportunity to discuss upcoming projects, the ACM Awards in early April that convert Las Vegas in a multi-day live country music party and once again provide media availability for many acts, CMA Fest in June which is a whole week of events, live music, and showcases for fans and media, and the CMA Awards in November, another multi-day industry/media centered set of events. The cross-promotional opportunities between the internet, TV, and radio are there in abundance.

Although the sheer volume of media can create a little bit of an echo chamber when it comes to press release coverage, these events provide live performances and fresh interview content that lend color and timeliness to media coverage. CMA Fest and ACM week in Vegas reinforce the connection between fans and country acts with opportunities for meet & greets and, of course, multi-act concerts. That can translate into the kind of committed fanbases that helped John Rich and Trace Adkins fundraise on Celebrity Apprentice, supported Team Blake on The Voice and are getting behind Kellie Pickler and Wynonna Judd on Dancing With The Stars. The television world, especially the reality television world, thrives on the constant whir of new developments that generate media coverage, and the busy schedule of events in the country world feeds nicely into that.

The Changing Profile Of The Country Fan
Contrary to what people may assume from the glut of beer/party/truck songs on country radio, a 2011 research from MRI and the Country Music Association, summarized by Billboard here, the typical country music fan isn’t necessarily the backwoods living, pick-up truck-driving, internet caveman that stereotypes would have one believe. Most significantly, the study pointed out:

One in two people with an income of $100,000-plus are country fans and one in three people who have professional or managerial jobs are country fans. One in four of the people who live in the top five DMA’s [Designated Metropolitan Areas] are country fans. Again, Fuson pointed out that this opens a lot of doors because there is a whole new market where country fans live.

With a growing urban audience for country music (now supported by country’s first terrestrial radio station in New York City in more than 10 years, according to Billboard), as well as the growing amount of Internet engagement displayed by country fans (also documented in that research), the increased integration of the country world into mainstream television is the logical next step.

What may feel like a country takeover on reality TV is actually just momentum reflecting increased recognition of consumer engagement in the country world. The major networks are scrambling to maintain mass audiences in the wake of increasingly potent cable competition (AMC’s The Walking Dead and Duck Dynasty have challenged and even topped their network competition in the adults 18-49 demo this year). When it comes to reality TV programming, that means covering all niches in the hopes of a larger aggregate. The country world is arguably the most developed niche when it comes to media and the kind of fan engagement reality TV producers are eager to encourage, while the profile of the typical country fan has converged with that of a typical consumer advertisers are eager to attract. Combine that with attractive personal attributes characterizing individual country stars and country stars in the making, and you have yourself a country wave that isn’t likely to recede anytime soon.

Check out video of country stars including Scotty McCreery talking about the mainstream embrace of country music via @JessicaNorthey:

See also, this month’s Blog Rodeo posts:

  • Urban Country News: “Why Country Music Is Like the Zombie Apocalypse“, “A Love Affair For The Ages”
    For The Country Record: “TV & Nashville: Its Merits & Implications For Country Music”
    FOCUS On The 615: “Mainstream Hasn’t Fallen In Love With Country Music…Just The Opposite”
    UKCountryMusic: “Is Country Music About To Be Mainstream In The UK?”
    Country Music Tattletale: “For The Love Of Country Music”
    Keepin’ It Country: “Everyone Loves Country Music”
    Country Music News Blog: “The Mainstream Has Fallen For Country And I Am The Mainstream”, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”>
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    Deb B

    Also known as Windmills, I cover country music news and live televised country events, in addition to recapping ABC's 'Nashville.' Additionally, I occasionally do long-form chart analysis that has been cited by Entertainment Weekly, Pitchfork, The Guardian, The New Republic, NPR, and more.
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    • ellen8

      Country music is no longer “Country Western” – it is now “Country Pop” and that is why there is more appeal among the masses. IMHO anyway !!

    • http://twitter.com/LexieONeill Lexie O’Neill

      It does seem that the larger the appeal, the less of a real identity country is able to maintain. Sad.

      On a brighter note, glad that Scotty is in that vid.:)) Keeping that name out there!

    • Larc

      I agree. The more genres such as country become blurred and cross the lines into other genres, the more the songs tend to become watered-down generics. The things that once made country so distinctive are fast disappearing. And “country” singers like Taylor Swift are really no longer country at all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Li-Wright/100001622678180 Li Wright

      Country music is good music. Their words appeal to almost everyone’s life. I was a bit upset to see that Justin Timberlake, in order to be “credit”, is singing cuss words in his lyrics, and even Beyonce has crossed that line. But good music will last forever. Good songs, melodies and lyrics, will last forever. Rap, as an example, will not be played 5 years from now on radio. Nobody is going to remember the lyrics to Lil Wayne or Nicki Minaj. It’s quick music – here today gone tomorrow.
      Whereas Country & pop lasts decades.
      You don’t see country stars in the news like you do rap and pop — it’s almost like the rap & pop stars have publicists to purposely drum up stories about their lives. You could say that c&w stars are “boring”, but they’re rich and have long musical lives.
      And it’s too bad that AI decided to go “pop” & urban and ignore the WGWG country auditioners.

    • CB40

      It’s simple. Country is where the money is. People are spending money on the product, so it has enjoyed crossover success.

    • http://twitter.com/eilonwya10 Eilonwy

      Thanks, windmills, for the fact-packed overview. It’s a delight to get real and balanced analysis.

      Two items made me curious (in the “wish I knew” sense, not the “explain or else!” sense)…

      1. How important is having well-defined promotional organizations, media representation, and all that infrastructure, in developing a genre that grows and that grooms newbies for future success?

      2. With so many white-collar, urban/suburban country listeners, what is up with the proliferation of songs about trucks/beer/partying or about “I’m more country than thou”? That’s a weird little social phenomenon.

      Right now, I just want more Kacey Musgraves on my radio, though it’d be a thrill if they’d also sub out the normal radio cut of Dirt Road Anthem for the strange and marvelous version with the rap interlude by Ludacris.

    • Reflections On Life

      Excellent writeup, windmills!

    • windmills

      Great points!

      Responding to point #1: the existence of that infrastructure gives the impression of all these opportunities to get your music heard, but if all the newbies are availing themselves of the same opportunities then that’s a lot of noise and it’s hard to stand out. It’s still better than not having the opportunities to reach a dedicated audience because you can pick up some fans and some name recognition that with enough repeat exposure can get you to the critical mass point of familiarity. Maybe it makes the networking process easier and at least gives you the opportunity to gain some high profile industry allies. But it doesn’t make breaking out super likely or easy.

      Point #2: Country Aircheck did a series in January/February where they talked to publishers, songwriters, and producers about country radio. The songwriters especially acknowledged the truck/beer/party overload. The main theory as to why the overload was still there is the idea that even in the suburbs and cities, the audience likes nostalgic, idealized, escapist visions of a country life that really doesn’t exist. It seems like the expansion of the country fanbase into the suburbs and cities has led to more cross pollination of genres, but it hasn’t led to more variety in terms of what country acts sing about, at least not yet.

      That’s why somebody like Kacey Musgraves pushing the envelope with songs like Merry Go Round and Follow Your Arrow becomes important if she can break out. That’s why an established superstar like Brad Paisley writing about leaving your “Southern comfort zone” could be important and is so welcome (at least by me). According to this Parade cover story on Brad), Brad’s upcoming album also includes a song called The Accidental Racist about the mark slavery’s left on our society and a song called Those Crazy Christians that he describes as a gospel song from the perspective of an agnostic.

      The reality is though that Kacey and Brad probably won’t sell as many albums or get as much radio play as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, or Blake Shelton. Blake’s new single Boys Round Here is basically all the most annoying conformist country cliches you could ever imagine wrapped up in a catchy tune. He has another song on his album explaining why the country songs on the radio are all about backwoods moonlit nights drinking in trucks or whatever, followed by a song that is about backwoods moonlit nights drinking in a truck. Jason’s album sticks to those themes, and Luke Bryan just sold 150k copies of a Spring Break themed compilation with only 2 new tracks, so where do we think his new single (out 4/1) and new album (out this summer) are going?

      Kacey and Brad are making the kind of music that are more likely to get positive attention in the mainstream press though. The NYTimes wrote a great article on the new albums by Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves, which are likely to be the 2 best reviewed (and probably the best) mainstream country albums that come out all year, and here’s a quote that stood out:

      As male singers have left [country]’s increasingly dull assumptions unchecked, they’ve given women room & reason to innovate.

      The article even pointed to Carrie, who’s been seen as “safe” by country establishment standards, as pushing the boundaries with Two Black Cadillacs and still having success with it at country radio.

      I feel like there’s been media backlash against the whole backwoods/truck/beer/party thing for a couple years now and if anything the overload has gotten worse. But maybe if the industry sees songs with different points of view and about other topics actually reaching their new audience, we can start to see a shift.

    • chillj

      I musta missed this surge.

    • http://twitter.com/LexieONeill Lexie O’Neill

      And you just now convinced me (I was feeling guilty) that I don’t want Brad’s new album. I’ve been a fan since day 1, but I am not at all interested in preachy music with rap artists as guests. I’m not a huge fan of songs about trucks, either, but at least they don’t make my blood pressure rise.

    • windmills

      Have you heard the songs in question that you’ve already decided they’re preachy?

    • http://twitter.com/Sassycatz Sassycatz

      Hmm. If it weren’t for Idol’s country singers and their coverage on this blog as well as the commercials for country awards shows I don’t watch, I wouldn’t be aware of country music at all. Just goes to show that people live in their own little worlds totally divorced from what they don’t care for.

    • http://twitter.com/eilonwya10 Eilonwy

      Thank you for giving me much to chew on!

      I’m starting to get excited for Paisley’s album. It’s not just my pash for Southern Comfort Zone (which captures my entire slate of ambivalent affection for my rural hometown), but that letting Paisley’s sense of humor loose on some of the issues he’s tackling could be just marvelous.

      What got me into listening to country radio was that the local station went through a phase a couple years ago of playing a lot of really smart, pithy songs by female artists. It has since stopped, but I still have the car radio pre-set and high hopes.

    • standtotheright

      Rap has been around as a genre for 30 years. Rap artists headline major festivals and tour in arenas. Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and others have outright topped critical polls in the last several years for their albums.

      I think there is a lot of interesting country music out there, but this idea that people are turning to country because they don’t believe that rap is “real music” wasn’t a viable story 15 years ago. Certainly not 10. Certainly not now.

    • standtotheright

      I’m trying to remember the argument I read that posited that country was actually drawing the young women fans who used to turn to rock, but that active rock (and to a lesser extent, alternative) had become so targeted towards young aggro males and consequently unmelodic that they instead turned to more rock leaning country. The irony of how male-dominated that format is as well is not lost on me, although I’m not sure the writer underscored it.

      I do wonder if the apparent shift back to more melodic material on alt means that much. A lot of AAA artists are alt-country anyway.

      I’m very hopeful for some of these new female artists, though. A friend saw Ms. Musgraves opening for Little Big Town and was very enthusiastic.

    • http://twitter.com/LexieONeill Lexie O’Neill

      Southern Comfort Zone is preachy enough for me. Kacey Musgraves’ song is depressing. Each to his/her own, I guess.

    • http://twitter.com/eilonwya10 Eilonwy

      I remember what’s probably the same article from a while back — possibly more than a year ago — but neglected to keep a link and have failed multiple times to find it again. I want to say it was from a print publication that also does an online edition.

      My latest round of pathetic and futile Googling for it did, however, turn up this more recent article with roughly the same gist:


    • http://twitter.com/newbornstarr Wally.

      Kree Harrison is about to win too.

    • blackberryharvest

      Jason Aldean’s current single “1994” is terrible. I feel that the song is a result of country becoming more appealing to the masses and mainstream. I fear that more Taylor Swift pop and songs like “1994” is the future of country music. I hope not. Country rap should not be a genre.

    • http://twitter.com/eilonwya10 Eilonwy

      Country rap has been a genre since the 1980s.


      I hadn’t realized that Jason Aldean’s Dirt Road Anthem was a cover that had originally been recorded by a country rapper.

    • L. R. M. L.

      Not sure I want to buy Brad’s album either. Seen him in concert many times and enjoyed him every time. Strange because he was the one who got me hooked on Country Music with “He Didn’t Have To Be”

      Not fair that I would want him to stay the same when everybody else is somewhat changing to fit the mole and to sustain their career. I’m just hoping that somehow I will change my mind when the album comes out, but I doubt it.

    • vdawg

      You did a nice job, I must admit I can find very little music that I like on today’s country radio be it mainstream of just pure pop or rock, there really is not much country on todays country radio. I like mainstream country I just don’t like what I hear these days.

    • mchcat

      I don’t like Kasey’s song either – or at least her voice – she has that Texas flat sound that I just don’t like –

    • Myrrna

      It may be as simple as we boomers getting older. I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and never liked country music until I turned 50. Now it is most of what I listen to.

    • http://twitter.com/LexieONeill Lexie O’Neill

      That’s how I feel–I don’t want him to change either. And it causes this emotional upheaval.:)) I was raised on country music but he’s been a big part of music for me–first fan club I ever joined, etc.

    • http://twitter.com/eilonwya10 Eilonwy

      Well, but the rising popularity of country is across all age ranges. The largest percentage growth seems to be among people in their mid-20s to early 30s. (This is from Arbitron, comparing 2000 to 2010.)

    • Karen C

      I think some of what was considered rock or pop has crossed over into country now, artists such as Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp and even the Eagles might have been considered country artists if they had started now. Also, it is because rock has diminished, and country is the closest. I know a lot of adults who were rock fans when they were younger became Country fans because they weren’t hearing any other music they liked. I also know some teenagers that like Country, because they don’t like the pop and hip hop on the radio. And I live in the Northeast.

    • Karen C

      THere was more rock in the mainstream 10-15 years ago, so they were turning to that if they didn’t like Rap or Hip Hop.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1405450316 Reflections On-Life

      The party-country music (Luke Bryant et al) seem to fulfill the similar need that the party-rock music (Van Halen, Def Leppard) did in the ’80s. Since Rock has largely abandoned that space Country has filled in that vacuum. I think this contributes to the rise in interest among younger adults in the suburbs & urban areas. It may also contribute to keeping the younger adults from rural/southern/midwestern regions attuned to country.

    • standtotheright

      And plenty of that mainstream rock was actually produced by rap-rock hybrids like Linkin Park and Jay Z, Rage Against the Machine, etc.

      At any rate, I think that Luke Bryan’s CGSIFM is using some tropes from rap now. Not the interesting ones, and not particularly engagingly (for me. clearly his schtick is working for many others), but genres blend.

    • Incipit

      “Just goes to show that people live in their own little worlds totally divorced from what they don’t care for.”

      Very true, Sassycatz. If it weren’t for having my eye caught by an occasional post in the sidebar here, I wouldn’t even know that country music is supposed to be having a resurgence. I remember reading that article Eilonwy talked about a while back- how some people who liked rock music had been frustrated by radio trends, and moved to country. Interesting information that, it also helps to explain why there are different people I might once have listened to heading in that direction for commercial reasons. But I didn’t save it either, because I wasn’t part of the migration.If not for the coverage here – I would miss a lot. In fact, If it weren’t for noticing the headlines on this blog, I also wouldn’t be aware of country music happenings at all.

    • Indigobunting

      I am a strong believer in this argument; although I would say older women are the prime target audience for country- women 35 to 55 with money. They grew up in the Rock (classic and alt) era and country is the place they have flocked to hear Rock.

      This is why I listen to country now. And I believe this is why so much of country has shifted to include non-traditional country- stuff that is really Rock or HAC.

      Also why Country is male-dominated, the strong presence of adult (30+ yr. old) men appeal to this female listening demographic. Although, recently you see the rise of stars like Hunter Hayes to try and rope in young listeners. The verdict is still out on Scotty.

      Having said that, I do enjoy the women and hope they get more of a toe-hold- country radio is definitely too male dominated and I am thrilled to see an artist like Kacey Musgraves who is a strong lyrical artist (and who promises to offer more than the usual guy meeting girl in bar and the alternate country female singing about how she is getting revenge on her lover- so old) having hints of success.
      The TV appearances are only following the rising popularity of Country music with that demographic, I think its that simple.

    • Indigobunting

      I would actually consider buying Brad’s new album now that I hear this. I am not a Paisley fan at all -his voice is nothing special and I think his songs are quite sappy.

      But I really liked Southern Comfort Zone-and that agnostic Gospel song sounds very interesting :)- I would love to hear a song about some of my fellow crazier Christians :/

      How is Carrie’s Black Cadillac ‘pushing the boundaries’? I like the song for its lyrics, I think it is good, but to me it is the same old ‘he done me wrong, I’m getting revenge’ female country song. Unless it is just because she’s taking it to the ultimate and not just slashing tires but killing the guy, lol.

    • Aleshea Dominique

      Thanks for the write up. Many great things to think about. I live in Texas and obviously Country is popular. You can go to some places and the only clear station that will play is a country station.

      In reference to Country appealing to those in the Urban and suburban areas, I have seen it first hand. Maybe it is just a Texas things but I know for many the music gives them a sense of pride and like they belong to something many in the world don’t. ( If that makes sense)

    • windmills

      I think what was considered edgier about 2BC is the fact that the wife & mistress colluded to off the cheater. So it’s both the murder aspect and the fact that it’s 2 women who conspired to make it happen and are unrepentant about it. It’s not unprecedented but it’s not the kind of story you’ll typically find in mainstream country.

    • Happyhexer

      Hi Windmills! Thanks for this thread. It does address, in a roundabout way, what I’ve been curious about vis-à-vis the direction of country music. I’ve been listening to country music since autumn 2009 (thanks Danny!), and that just isn’t long enough to spot real trends with any certainty.

      Even in that short a time, though, it does seem like country music has been pushing the envelope in terms of what is accepted as country. When I started out, there were “modern/contemporary” country and more “traditional” country songs on the radio. But the balance was much better than it is now, with more traditional songs “keepin’ it country,” as it were. The more modern stuff was more accessible to me at first, and helped bring me into the fold. I listened to artists like David Nail and Jake Owen. But I thought Chris Young was too “twangy.” (Sorry if that’s not the correct term!) Now, of course, I’m like, “What the hell was I thinking?” I came to love and appreciate the more traditional stuff as well. I love, for example, “Mr. Bartender” by Bradley Gaskins. (I hope I got that right; I used to confuse him with Brantley Gilbert, lol!)

      Anyway, I’ll get to the point, soon, lol, but maybe I should break up this comment into multiple posts! OK, here’s my history. I discovered country music through Susan Boyle. No lie! I hadn’t even realized that I was gradually buying less and less music, and listening less, too. Mostly I was listening to smooth jazz (Boney James, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White, Chris Botti, etc.) — all of whom I still love. I think the reason for that (less music) is because I really didn’t like anything that was playing on the radio anymore. And I wasn’t listening to country, because I thought I didn’t like it. Then I discovered Susan Boyle. Susan Boyle = Britain’s Got Talent = Simon Cowell = American Idol = Danny Gokey = country music.

      The more I got into country music, I discovered an interesting phenomenon — a lot of young people were listening to country music. Teens, 20s, & 30s, both urban and rural. (That certainly wasn’t true of my generation!) It ranged from Lady Antebellum to Sugarland, and so forth. So I wondered if the lack of good alternatives — good pop or rock — pushed more and more young people to discover country music? (It did for me, though I’m not young. With very few exceptions, I don’t like the rhythmic dance crap that passes for music nowadays. YMMV, and all that.)

    • Happyhexer

      I love the lyrics of Kasey Musgraves’ song “Merry-Go-Round.” Depressing as the song may be, it also exposes a segment of reality that I have seen. But I cannot abide her voice. So although I cheer her on as a songwriter, I don’t ever see myself buying anything she sings. *shudder*

    • Happyhexer

      It isn’t just a Texas thing. I saw a huge Tim McGraw bumper sticker on a Honda Odyssey in a parking lot at a winery — in Seattle Washington, lol. Brantley Gilbert is right — “Country Must Be Country Wide.” It’s everywhere, lol. “Every state, there’s a station, playing Cash, Hank, Willie, and Waylon.”

    • Happyhexer

      That leads to my next question. Pop (and I’m using that term loosely) seems to be having an identity crisis, in a good way, because I’m hearing more variety now. In addition to the rhythmic crap, (and Adele, who was always there), I’m hearing Mumford and Sons, Phillip Phillips, and stuff of that nature on the pop stations. But in addition, I’m ALSO hearing Mumford and Sons on country radio.

      What I would like to know is how the change in trend on pop radio (if it’s a real trend) might affect country radio? And also whether the playing of Mumford and Sons on country radio is just a novelty?

      For example, will the people (young and otherwise) who flocked to country music flock back to pop music if pop radio plays a wider variety of songs, including songs with a rockier edge?

      Will Mumford and Sons (who sound kinda like folk country to me) being played on country radio perhaps encourage country radio to halt or at least slow down the march toward “all modern country all the time” and perhaps lead to a resurgence of traditional country? (Please don’t misunderstand; I don’t think Mumford and Sons is country per se. But the instrumentation is more country-sounding than most of what I hear on country radio anymore. And perhaps it isn’t so strange that this sound is coming from across the pond, since American country music has some of its roots in Scottish folk songs.)

      If both pop radio and country radio are playing Mumford and Sons, what differentiates the two genres? Are one or both genres having an identity crisis?

      I am just really interested in what you think is going on with country music, Windmills, and how you think changes in pop radio might affect country (if at all)?

    • windmills

      Hi happyhexer! Sorry I didn’t respond before, I didn’t see your posts until a couple days later. That was my bad though.

      I don’t think there’s any question that the changes at country radio are driven by pop radio’s shift to electronic/dance and rock radio’s shift towards a harder edged, maybe less melodic sound. Country radio is a business and they see an opportunity to gain disaffected HAC and Rock radio listeners, especially women as this article reposted by Eilonwy points out. That article definitely points to movement in the younger demo.

      The last year or year and a half saw pop open back up to some alternative rock acts like fun., Imagine Dragons, and maybe Gotye (who’s more of a singer/songwriter style), I see Muse making a push to t20 pop, and Mumford & Sons and Of Monsters & Men made t20 there with the Lumineers going t10 with one single. The jury’s still out as to whether CHR will play more than 1 single from any of these people other than fun. I can see these acts going big having an impact back on rock radio and that may start drawing younger listeners back to rock radio. But I still think the Southern hard rock style is going to be making itself at home at country radio so the Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert types are here to stay.

      There is a minority of country radio stations that have been playing Mumford & Sons (enough to get M&S to #37 Billboard) and a smaller number that played Ho Hey by the Lumineers. I’d love to see that become a trend at country radio so that there was more rootsy music on the format. I’m not seeing it though. The Band Perry was one group I thought might develop their folk/country/pop sound more with their sophomore album but their sophomore album is way glossier and more pop/rock. Zac Brown Band’s trying to develop more of a space for a jam band sound but their label is just getting off the ground as a country radio promo outfit so they haven’t had a hit single from anybody they’ve signed yet (Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke seem like the best bet).

      I don’t think the popularity of folk/rock is going to bring traditional country back to country radio. But if pop radio gets back to playing melodic pop songs and people like Taylor Swift can settle into a proper home there then I can see country radio trying to win back traditional country fans by opening up some more space for that sound. But for now Taylor’s melodic pop songs are being sent to country radio and her dancier songs are being sent to CHR.

      I don’t think pop is going through an identity crisis because tbh, the nature of pop is that it’s trendy and doesn’t have its own identity. Country is definitely going through an identity crisis though. The money men are all about expanding the audience and so they’re grabbing at fans of other genres and trying to make country the new pop in that it absorbs all influences. That’s what you’re seeing at radio and on TV.

      Look at Kelly Clarkson: none of her solo singles to country have been country per se (and the new one she’s got lined up isn’t really either), they’re soulful songs. But pop isn’t playing soulful songs right now so they’re trying her soulful songs at country. You have AC pop coming from Lady A and Hunter Hayes and somewhat from Blake Shelton/Luke Bryan when they slow it down, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton are mainstreaming country/rap, there’s a ton of country/pop/rock blends or country/rock blends, and so on and so forth.

      But as the money men push country radio to become this huge tent, they’ve left less room for traditional country at radio and on TV. So the people who want to preserve country roots at country radio have started to experiment with ways to do that. People like Kacey Musgraves are using some traditional country or alt country musical forms to sing about new topics. Brad Paisley’s experimenting with his sound and expanding what he’s singing about. 2 of the first 3 singles from Carrie’s current album took traditional country topics and lyrics but married them with an orchestral rock/pop sound. Meanwhile the people who don’t care about country radio are making pure country music while using TV/new media to get the message about their music out.

      For me that means I don’t define country music by what gets played at country radio, especially because more and more that means exclude traditional country music. I still think the boundaries have expanded because people who are genuinely country by their singing and/or writing style are experimenting by blending country with other genres. There’s a battle to keep country roots alive in mainstream country and I definitely think that if pop becomes more open to more organic sounding singer/songwriter type songs then it’ll be easier for traditionalists in country. On the rock side like I said, I feel like the Southern hard rock style is in country to stay because I don’t see mainstream rock picking it back up.

    • No_Opinions_Just_Facts

      Good to see someone on these articles that knows the evolution of the Rap genre and isn’t quick to dismiss it as not being “real” music. The accurate information is appreciated.

    • Happyhexer

      Not generally a fan of rap, but I know it’s been around for a long time, so it has longevity. Definitely here to stay. And truthfully, I have found songs to love in every music genre including rap, and, yes, lol, even the country-rap hybrid (Jason Aldean, Colt Ford, Toby Keith, etc.).

    • Happyhexer

      Windmills, thank you SO much for both your original article and your thought-provoking response to my questions! Those were the questions I was alluding to a few weeks ago. As I’ve said, I’ve only been listening to country radio since 2009, but I’ve noticed changes even since then. There have actually been times when I’ve heard songs that are so un-country that I check my radio dial to make sure that I’m listening to a country station!

      By the way, it was not your bad for not responding earlier. I’d gotten to the thread late, and if I’d been smart, I would have posted as a reply to something you wrote, so that you’d be more likely to see it (if you get e-mail notifications from Disquis).

      As I’ve indicated before, I hadn’t realized how disaffected I’d become about music in general, until I got involved with American Idol and country music. But it was interesting to discover how popular country music has become with people in their teens and twenties.

      I don’t define country music by what gets played at country radio, especially because more and more that means exclude traditional country music.

      Glad I’m not imaging this! BTW, that leads to another question. What is “alternative country”? A twentysomething coworker mentioned that she listens to that genre and Ryan Adams (not to be confused with Bryan Adams, lol).

      I still think the boundaries have expanded because people who are genuinely country by their singing and/or writing style are experimenting by blending country with other genres. There’s a battle to keep country roots alive in mainstream country and I definitely think that if pop becomes more open to more organic sounding singer/songwriter type songs then it’ll be easier for traditionalists in country.

      Yeah, I noticed the experimenting. And yes, I for one (someone who once found Chris Young too twangy, for goodness sake!) hope that mainstream country radio can find a balance that maintains a meaningful presence of traditional country music alive and well on the radio airwaves. I like modern country, but not to the exclusion of traditional country. When I hear too much modern country, it starts to sound boring. Please please please, can we have both? There’s something really wrong if I have to check my radio dial to make sure I have a country station on!