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Country Music – The New Mainstream?

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Brent Moore / flickr

The CMAs (Country Music Awards) on ABC Wednesday night saw Lionel Richie and Kenny Loggins make appearances and performed at the show that now features Kid Rock, Darius Rucker, and Jewel as legit stars of country music today.  Looking at these names, it sounds like a lineup for the Grammy Awards  in the mid-90s, but the music of Nashville is now more popular than ever!

The Nielsen Ratings from Wednesday’s 3-hour spectacular made ABC the most watched network that night with nearly 17 million viewers.  How strong a showing is that?  Survivor on CBS dropped 14% in viewership from the week before, The X Factor on FOX was down 10% from the previous week, and Law & Order: SVU on NBC had its worst night in the shows long and storied history.  Is it time to accept that country music in 2011 is the true mainstream in America?

Here are some more facts for your brain to wrap around: some of the biggest hits over the last year would include “Just A Kiss” by Lady Antebellum, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry, “Back to December” by Taylor Swift, and “Don’t You Wanna Stay” by Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson.  All of these songs were launched through country radio (and I believe all went to #1 at the format).

Aldean has pushed country music further with his great song “The Dirt Road”, which features Jason rapping in 2 key parts of the song, but  Swift has become a huge factor in bringing country music to new heights.  She was the winner of the Entertainer of the Year award at the CMAs, and she would wind up thanking people like Jason Mraz, Nelly, Usher, and Justin Timberlake – none of those artists have any ties to country music.  See how country music has grown?  Need more convincing that country music could be the new mainstream?

Look at pop culture: Tim McGraw has become a legitimate movie star in Hollywood being in box office successes (“Friday Night Lights”, “Four Christmases”) and in an Academy Award winning picture (“The Blind Side”).  Blake Shelton has become a personality to many for his judging and charming style on The Voice, which is coming back in 2012 for Season 2 (and who my girlfriend has dubbed “A tall drink of Yes I Would!”).  CMT airs  Crossroads which that pairs up country stars with great pop/rock acts.  The show has the artists share both of their catalog of material and sing together creating moments of music genius (look for Jason Aldean with Bryan Adams, Taylor Swift with Def Leppard, and Keith Urban with John Mayer).

Look at artists you know who have become part of the country music scene: Darius Rucker has gone from being a 90s mega-star as the frontman for Hootie and The Blowfish to one of the biggest country stars today.  Rucker went literally door to door, convinced many people about his passion for country music (if you remember “Let Her Cry” back in the day, you should believe that he has country roots), and proved his passion and legitimacy by winning the Best New Artist CMA in 2009, plus 5 #1 songs on the Billboard Country charts.

Kid Rock has shown that he can sing anything: rap/rock (“Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy”),  ballad (“Picture” with Sheryl Crow), and a country-fried style that scored him a huge hit with “All Summer Long”.  His Latest CD (Born Free) has seen more success with the country audience, and has helped him host the CMT (Country Music Television) Music Awards the last 2 years.

Kelly Clarkson has had 2 #1 songs in country music with Reba McEntire (the re-working of Kelly’s “Because of You”) and Jason Aldean.  Jewel has gone from having 4 Top-10 hits in the 90s (two that reached #2 in America), to scoring a #1 dance hit with “Intuition” (yes you have heard that song on a razor blade commercial), and now having back-to-back #1 Country albums (plus married to a true cowboy – rodeo champion Ty Murray).  Aaron Lewis is the acoustic guitar playing hard rocker/frontman of Staind, but he also has had a #1 selling country album this year (Town Line), which sold about 100,000 copies in its opening week.  Natasha Bedingfield has a song out right now with Rascal Flats (“What Hurst The Most” and “Life Is A Highway” – pop hits) called “Easy” – wait for this one to become a huge hit!  The last few years has also seen Bon Jovi and Michelle Branch (The Wreckers) succeed in country.

Not everyone who tries to cross into country music succeeds – Jessica Simpson and Tiffany quickly come to mind – but it also shows the power and popularity of this genre of music.  The argument of country as today’s mainstream does not always go over well with some country purists who feel country is too pop.  Seems that today’s music has majored blurred lines.  What makes country music country?  What makes something alternative?  What makes rock music rock?

The bottom line with music is that great music that succeeds will become the mainstream at some point, and great music needs to be shared no matter what label you put on it.  Today, the music around Nashville has never been hotter, and that cannot be a bad thing!

 

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