The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica has a feature on the growing predominance of younger female artists in Music City (Country’s New Face: It’s Young and Blond) in the wake of the success of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler, and how spunky DIYers, like Peoria, Illinois’ Veronica Ballestrini, are busy using the web to build a fan base for their performances and raise their profile.
Though the piece is trying to make a big deal about these women making a dent on the male dominated Music City culture, the phenomenon is not at all surprising. Nashville’s big country labels are in the business of making money. Period. They are not in the business of pushing a cultural bias outside of the aforementioned quest for profit. A large part of that goal is to develop product with a predictable success i.e. charting hits that move product and can be replicated ad nauseum. Right now that success means young blond women.
Underwood and Pickler are American Idol alum and Swift developed her skills by playing country songs with karaoke backing tracks at her local mall. These young women had visual evidence of their ability to perform on cue and be adaptable to an external idea of a star in order to be successful. And even though Swift showed an early streak of independence at 15 when she turned down a development deal with RCA Records when not allowed to write her own songs, the songs she did write and were featured in her best selling debut were distinct from most Music City product by having the emotional depth of school notebook scribbling and being in tone more Britney than Loretta.
So yeah, the upcoming crop of Music City groomed country music performers are going to be young, female and mostly blond and largely indistinguishable from many of the clones coming out of the Disney and other tween culture behemoths in which Hanna Montana‘s Miley Cyrus and Jennette McCurdy of Nickelodeon’s show iCarly are the most viable examples.
This is the current business model of success with current benchmarks for profit, and in the music business this is the closest thing you can get to a sure thing.
Unlike the major rock labels band-signing shotgun approach in the 90’s during the Seattle Grunge mania you can be assured that the Nashville’s major labels will keep a tight rein on product, how it looks and how it sounds. The difference is that with Grunge, as well as the country music phenomenons of Outaw Country and the Bakerfield sound, the labels were then left to play catch up to culture and were trying to capitalize on something that occurred organically and crackled with intensity. Playing catch up is messy and costly, controlling production from the get go contains cost and better assures success.
Replicating the current stable of blond fembots may make business sense, but it’s not likely to result in anything worth listening to.