For this month’s Blog Rodeo, the task was to consider country music’s increasing appeal to the ‘mainstream’, and the media’s involvement in that. It’s true, of late country music appears to be filtering through to the rest of the world more than ever before, and there are a few main perpetrators of that, in addition to a few key reasons.
As we know, Blake Shelton is appearing on his fourth season of The Voice as a coach on the panel. There is no denying the marketing that the show has done for country on a widespread mainstream level, even crossing national boundaries. In addition , we can see the effect that it has had on Blake himself being exposed to so many genres and being in LA so much, in the further commercialization of his music (in my opinion). On The Voice, Blake is pitched as the laid back, funny, good ole country boy, and I suppose that’s what LA producers deem is ‘country’ these days. Then we have Keith Urban, marking his debut on the American Idol judging panel this year, a kind of break between the high drama of pop divas Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Again he is the breath of fresh air, the calm and relaxed. Country artists seem to serve a new purpose here in the world of reality TV; they are the more ordinary, likeable people amongst the pop stars, those popstars by default being a mysterious fairytale, far away from relatability. It is not hard, therefore, to assume that country music’s popularity in the mainstream is due to the marketability of it. Country music can be seen to be exploited by hotshot TV bosses and I don’t think this is a surprise to anyone. Executives in New York are unlikely to care about the goals and aesthetics of country music and while it is a stereotype, it is one that is often proved correct.
Then we have the brand new country YouTube channel – born to enable YouTube to capitalize on an untapped market, and make a profit from more content made specifically for them not TV (they have actually said this in so many words). It was never likely to be meant to aid country music’s development. The little I have seen of it included presenters with the least amount of charisma I have ever seen, and the horrifying OMC (Oh My Country), that has a gossipy preppy girl feel and is a country take on those vomit-inducing ‘rate the celebrity fashion’ shows. They are designed to take you straight back to high school, and decide what is ‘hot’ and what is ‘not’, more often than not tearing apart the poor celebrities for what THEY deem is a bad dress. There is no place for that kind of bitchiness and negativity in country music. While this is a rant for another day, it shows the negative side of manufacturing country music-related material for the masses, and reveals YouTube’s blatant goal to make sycophant content that taps into a new market, thereby making them some nice profit.
But then we have ‘Nashville’. The show has its critics, but I am not one of them. Directed by Callie Khouri with the music produced by her husband T Bone Burnett (he also produced the soundtrack for ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’), we are in good company, and seemingly with people who ‘get’ country music for its home audience. The result is a (sympathetic) social commentary on the country music industry and the issues that inhabit it, yet juxtaposed with the juicy kind of relationship drama that is so interesting to both country music fans (how many country songs are about heartbreak hmm?) and the wider population of TV fans. The music is not quite mainstream country, a little more Americana, but the fact that it is different, and at times more heartfelt and intimate, only makes fans love it more, and I think that has contributed to the roots revival in the country music mainstream. In addition, this has aided its transferability to a wider audience, even globally. ‘Nashville’ began airing in my home country, the UK, a couple of months ago, and it already seems like there is a following where country music has often failed before.
So what was the motive here? True, there was no TV drama about country music around, and most other efforts to put country music on the screen, big or small, has resulted in stereotyping and ‘Hollywood-izing’. This would make it another untapped market to be exploited. Yet it doesn’t feel like they have exploited country music. In fact, they appear to have done the image of country music a huge service (bar the fact that it’s clearly a heightened sense of reality with all the scandal and affairs). It has been such a ratings hit that it is bound to be renewed for a season 2.
Thus a TV show jumps into a music market, bizarrely, and perhaps even influences it somewhat. ‘Nashville’ has made country music even more attractive for those TV producers wanting to serve this audience that has magically appeared in front of them, and whether that is a good thing or not we have yet to see.
But for the most part, country can be sold for a throwaway profit, another project to sit on top of the pile for all those CEOs in New York offices. It’s often been that way because country is pitched as ‘the other’. It will never be the mainstream, it will always be a little off-beat. My point remains, however, that ‘Nashville’ shows us this is not always a bad thing. There is hope for us yet.
Blog Rodeo Roundup: See What Everyone Else Is Saying!
- CMchatLive: “Insight from Country Stars like Scotty McCreery, Sunny Sweeney, Tracy Lawrence and more!“
- Urban Country News : “Why Country Music Is Like the Zombie Apocalypse“, “A Love Affair For The Ages“
- UKCountryMusic: “Is Country Music About To Be Mainstream In The UK?“
- Country Music Tattle Tale: “For The Love of Country Music“
- Country Music Pride: “Country Music Has A Little Something For Everyone, Traditional, Pop, Americana and More“
- Keepin’ It Country Blog: “Everyone Loves Country Music“
- Focus On The 615: “The Mainstream Hasn’t Fallen In Love with Country, Just The Opposite,” “Remember When Country Wasn’t So Cool?“
- Country Music News Blog: “The Mainstream Has Fallen For Country and I Am The Mainstream,” “The Mainstream Adopts Country Music,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool“