Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Tragic Country Crisis

Bad things happen. On Monday, Jason Aldean's tour bus struck and killed a pedestrian in Indiana. According to police, Aldean and the driver were the only people on-board when a 49-year-old man walked out onto the road. 

This is obviously a tragic situation. At this point, it appears Aldean did nothing wrong. Nonetheless, the resulting stories had the potential to make him look very bad if he flubbed the response or didn't give one. So what did Aldean do? He linked this WhoSay statement to his Twitter account and posted the same statement on Facebook:

"With a heavy heart, I'm sad to say that a man passed away last night after stepping out in front of my bus in Indiana. In all the years I've been touring and all the miles we've driven, nothing prepares you for something like this to happen. I'm praying for Albert Kennedy's family and friends today and ask that you do the same."

Now, what makes this significant is that based on the timing of coverage, it seems Aldean broke the story himself. He waited until Monday afternoon to post the statement, and it was mentioned in an all major news stories. By answering before reporters could ask questions, he prevented the crisis from spiralling out of control. Because of Aldean's prominence, there was a risk this could turn into a David-and-Goliath story that reflected negatively on him. There was no chance of positive coverage, but he managed to come across as sincere without implicating his driver by apologizing. 

Unlike at the Indiana State Fair collapse that killed seven people in 2011, here the scrutiny is on the artist, not on an external venue or organizer. I think Aldean did the right thing. And by refraining from regular social media posting, he is sending the message that he cares and hasn't gotten over the incident. Hopefully he will maintain the same level of openness and empathy for the victim's family as the details unfold.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

CMA Awards 2013: Predictions

The 47th Annual CMA Awards are almost here! I always get excited for "Country Music's Biggest Night," and will try hard to find a TV to watch the show on November 6. In its current issue, People Country made predictions for winners  of the major awards. Although I think they got some right, I have chosen to disagree in some categories. I guess we will see who is right in two weeks...

1. Entertainer of the Year

People Country picked Blake Shelton for this one, and I definitely agree. One of the criteria is "overall contribution to the Country Music image," and Blake Shelton has raised its profile substantially by representing the genre well on The Voice. Still , there's no denying that Taylor Swift is by far the biggest name of the five nominees.

2. Female Vocalist of the Year

Fifth time's the charm. Carrie Underwood has been nominated for this award in each of the past four years, but no luck. I'm going to side with People Country and pick her as the winner for 2013. Good Girl, Blown Away, Two Black Cadillacs, and See You Again were all hits off her latest album, and should be enough to catapult her over Miranda Lambert. Taylor Swift going home empty-handed at last year's CMA Awards makes me think she won't get many industry nods because of her pop leanings. I still don't see how Kelly Clarkson is country, and Kacey Musgraves is too new.

3. Male Vocalist of the Year

Okay, so I agree with People Country again – Luke Bryan, no contest.

4. Vocal Group of the Year

My impression is that some of these nominees have been stagnant on country radio over the past year. People Country says Little Big Town, but I say uh-uh. The Band Perry's sophomore album Pioneer produced DONE. and the chart-topping dark rocker Better Dig Two, competing against Little Big Town's singles Pontoon and Tornado. It's a tough call, but I'll bet on the younger, higher-energy act.

5. Vocal Duo of the Year

I don't know what People Country was thinking in predicting Thompson Square. They certainly make great music, but Florida Georgia Line has taken the country music genre (and more) by storm since its breakthrough.

6. New Artist of the Year

I would fall over if Florida Georgia Line didn't win (don't worry, I'll get someone to videotape). According to Country Weekly, Cruise broke the Billboard Hot Country Songs previous record (from 1955) by remaining at the top spot for 22 weeks. That should be more than enough.

7. Album of the Year

Sorry, Blake. People Country picked Based On a True Story, but I'm going with the underdog Same Trailer Different Park by Kacey Musgraves. This album is unlike anything I've ever heard in country music, and should win over voters who like to see artists push the boundaries of the genre without leaving them.

8. Musical Event of the Year

People Country suggests the star power of Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban will make this a hands-down decision. I beg to differ. Florida Georgia Line gave real country music a huge stage by partnering with Nelly for a remix of Cruise. I think that's more noteworthy and a bigger deal than Highway Don't Care, as good a song as that is.

Other Picks (Not Addressed by People Country)

Single of the Year: Cruise – Florida Georgia Line
Song of the Year: Merry Go 'Round – Kacey Musgraves
Musician of the Year: Mac McAnally (Guitar)
Music Video of the Year: Highway Don't Care – Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, and Keith Urban

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

I Want Crazy, I Need Crazy

What is crazy? Not madness, but perhaps something irrational or unexpected. Author Susanna Kaysen writes, "Crazy isn’t being broken or swallowing a dark secret. It’s you or me amplified." I would add that crazy is our true selves. It's what happens when we stop caring about what other people think.

The same idea applies to relationships. The element of surprise is often what attracts people to each other. As Hunter Hayes sings in I Want Crazy, "I wanna be scared, don't wanna know why/I wanna feel good, don't have to be right." Truth is, we like not being in control.

Have you ever found yourself so deeply entrenched in routine that you don't know what to do with yourself once that routine is gone? Happens to me. Like a bird so used to its cage that it won't fly away when the door is finally opened, I find it hard to break the norm even when it seems logical to do so.

We don't just want crazy, we need crazy. Life's worries can burn us out to the point that we stop caring.  In those moments, we need something random to snap us back. Whether that's a party, a midnight drive, or even a good cry, we feel better when we cycle out of the ordinary.

But that's not the only reason we need crazy. Sometimes, we realize YOLO is for real. We slip out of our busy schedules for a second and see how badly we'll someday regret living a boring life. Like a midlife crisis that can happen at any time. "I don't want good and I don't want good enough," sings Hayes. "I want can't sleep, can't breathe without your love." We want to stand out. We want to be remembered. We want to have fun.

And ultimately, we really are crazy. Even the shyest introvert has an outgoing, risk-taking side. The traits that set us apart make us people. "The world makes all kinds of rules for love/I say you gotta let it do what it does," sings Hayes. So maybe it's time to take I Want Crazy literally and let our real selves shine through a little brighter.

Video courtesy of hunterhayes

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Social Media Criticisms

Angry social media exchanges happen all the time. We don't often hear about them in the country music world, but since artists usually manage their professional accounts, occasional conflict is inevitable. How do you deal with an angry fan, or an unfair remark? Let's look at how some artists have responded over the past month.

1. Let Others Defend You

We discussed this case a few weeks ago. Zac Brown called Luke Bryan's hit single That's My Kind of Night the "worst song I've ever heard," and went on to rant about the state of contemporary country lyrics. Although Bryan is a very outgoing character on-stage, he never reacted. Not a tweet of response.

Usually, I would advise against silence. However, in this circumstance, it was a good decision. If Bryan had lashed out against Brown, it could have started a battle that hurt both parties and distracted from Bryan's recent success. On the other hand, if he had acknowledged the issue without taking a stand, he may have looked like a weak victim. 

Instead, others like Justin Moore and Jason Aldean (not to mention the writer of the song in question) stepped in to back the superstar up. In a stinging  Instagram response, Aldean wrote, "To those people runnin their mouths, trust me when i tell u that nobody gives a s**t what u think." At the end of the day, Bryan looked like the mature one and the incident blew over.

2. Go On The Attack

Then there's Blake Shelton. Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket an upcoming concert because of his past divorce and remarriage, calling Shelton a "vulgar adulterer hated by God." Shelton's crude response ignited a Twitter feud that lasted three days. Using humour, he obviously won the battle in the public's eyes. However, Shelton appears to have gone overboard in attacking individuals instead of the organization. An aggressive response is likely what Westboro Baptist Church wanted, as offensive and ridiculous as their statements were. Shelton tweeted, "This isn't about God. It's about me using this opportunity to make y'all look like the absolute complete dips***s you are." Unfortunately, he may have actually given them a platform.

3. Show You're Right

Craig Morgan isn't as big of a name, but handled a recent issue very well. When storms forced him to end a show early, an attendee took to Twitter to rudely express frustration. What did Morgan do? Check out the Facebook response below:

"I'm sitting on a plane headed to California, after leaving Nebraska where our show was cut short due to bad storms. I have the uncontrollable urge to write a rebuttal to a twitter post made in reference to the short show last night. Here's the post "@cmorganmusic is a ????? (He used a word I won't put on facebook) afraid of some rain. Hope he doesn't get paid."
However I'm not gonna post a rebuttal here on Facebook, instead I say this:

I am Craig Morgan - a husband and father, a soldier, a singer, a songwriter, a tv show host, an actor, a police officer, an outdoorsman, a Christian (not always a good Christian but a Christian none the less ). I've been a fireman, a construction worker, and an EMT, among other things. My point is, I've done a lot and I enjoy helping others. Of all the things I do and of the things I am, I most enjoy being a dad and husband. Some days I'm not as good at being Dad and husband as I should be, because I'm too busy being all these other things. These are the repercussions of decisions we make to provide for our family, to be successful, or fulfill our dreams whatever the reasons. Not being as good at one thing is the price we sometimes pay for attempting to be great at others. Greatness is seldom achieved. What does this have to do with one, probably drunk person's, pissy remark about us not finishing a show due to a tornado? Not a lot, except in my thoughts about last night I remembered a show a few years ago where a storm blew in and people lost their lives. It made me think how blessed I am to have my family, friends, band and crew that I have, and that someone last night had the guts to say stop just in case! To the University of Nebraska, thank you all so much for letting us be a part of your world. We will be back! These remarks are not intended to entice others to get into a pissing match about what happened.They are just my thoughts that I wanted to share. God bless" 

This is a great example of someone taking what could have turned into a crisis, explaining the situation, and disarming the criticism. It's a thorough, personal response, and while the style isn't professional, Morgan makes his point and looks like the good guy.

In each of the situations above, there was no clear choice in how to best respond to an unexpected comment. It boils down to recognizing how what you say could help or hurt your position, and then choosing an appropriate tone. I respect each artist mentioned, and wonder how these case studies might influence others facing similar situations in the future.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Lyrics Still Matter

What makes country, country? I feel like a broken record talking about the way today's artists are pushing the genre's boundaries. There's no denying it. Much of what we hear on country radio today would have been foreign matter 20 years ago. Think along the lines of Blake Shelton's Boys 'Round Here or I Want Crazy by Hunter Hayes. Taylor Swift might have created her own genre with We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

While I only listen to pop, rock, and hip-hop on an infrequent basis, I do have the credibility of someone who's entered country from the outside. That is, I didn't grow up on it. So when I hear about a "civil war" in Nashville and tensions between "traditional and modern-country fans", as an Entertainment Weekly article puts it, I'm somewhat baffled. The apparent resistance to change seems illogical. Country is bigger now than ever – why the complaining from some artists and diehard fans?

Yes, there will be divisions. And yes, it is not impossible that there will eventually be a complete break between "traditional" and "modern" country. But while our sound continues to change, our lyrics don't. Not really. You see, I believe lyrics are what makes country, country. And not in the way you might think. It's true that our themes and content are repetitive. However, the real clincher is the way songs are built.

Other genres tell stories. Other genres convey emotion. But we're somehow different. Country lyrics put you into the subject's shoes in a genuine, sensory way.

For example:

"Got a moon and a billion stars/The sound of steel and old box cars/The thought of you is driving me insane/C'mon, baby let's go listen to the night train." (Night Train, Jason Aldean)

"If you still love me/Don't just assume I know." (Remind Me, Brad Paisley)

"He's the reason for the teardrops on my guitar/The only one who's got enough of me to break my heart." (Teardrops On My Guitar, Taylor Swift)

Country music presents sophisticated emotions in ways anyone can understand. We use imagery – ALL the time. We sing the things we can't say in a meaningful way. We put the complexities of life in a nutshell the average Joe can crack.

No, I can't prove it. But while our lyrics and musical style will continue to evolve, the underlying structure of real emotion through descriptive story will always be there.