Hating on the CMAs

After again watching the Country Music Association Award ceremony last week I was again left with the feeling that I had sat through an hours-long infomercial. I mean is Taylor Swift and Kenny Chesney really the rightful heirs of Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash? Of course they’re not.

But they are the heirs of a a finely tuned trade organization whose job it is to perpetuate brand and maximize profits. Nothing to do with crafting great and memorable work. Swift and Chesney are not Lynn and Cash, they follow in the gilded footsteps of Shania and Garth.

I’ll say it right out, mainstream pop-country is crap. It’s not crap because it sells zillions of units, but because to hit numbers that high the product typically is as brain dead boring. Innovation is risky and costly. Mediocrity and homogeneous product maximizes profit by drafting on an already proven brand.

Some argue that those sales numbers equals the quality of the music. Bullshit. That’s like saying that since McDonald’s sells “billions and billions” that they offer the best meal you can eat. It’s nothing to do with quality and everything to do with predictable and ubiquitous product.

The rougher and more traditional strains of country music have been regulated into the Americana camp due to the level of control Music City has over the “country music” brand. If Hank Williams or Dolly Paron were teenagres starting today with their unique sound they would have to work the Americana side of the tracks because Music City would see them as too risky a venture to bother with. Country music of the last 20 years is less a genre and more a brand akin to Coca Cola or Microsoft.

Sure there are occasional rebels. Jamey Johnson, Miranda Lambert. Kris Kristofferson and George Strait made appearances on the awards show. But they are typically trotted out just to allow the CMAs to prove to themselves that they do offer a diverse showcase and pay homage to tradition. Again, bullshit. Just because McDonald’s offers a salad on the menu does not make it a healthy eating establishment.

I don’t know why I expect something more than product placement from award shows. Ultimately they are trade shows displaying the newest year’s product, akin to a car show or electronics expo. Only instead of industrially created gizmos they are offering cultural artifacts. The process that makes a great MP3 player or car rarely makes a great, and by great I mean not predictable and boring, song.

As a self-professed “Americana and-all-derivatives-thereof” blogger why do I even care abut the glittery side of the tracks? Because I come from country music. It’s in my family and in my North Texas blood. And I know that what passes for country music when people superficially speak of it is not the whole picture, but the is what people typically refer to. It’s like hearing people talk about Thomas Kinkade when discussing art when you’ve seen a van Gogh up close. I care, and complain,  because I love the music.

Ultimately, the CMAs come off as one long PowerPoint presentation. No matter how much music and how many snazzy animated sweeps and colorful backgrounds are thrown in, it’s typically all diverting from one tedious, fabricated message to sell t-shirts.

15 thoughts on “Hating on the CMAs

  1. November 16, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Most of the stuff on the CMA’s was a long way form music – let alone country music.

    Lucky there are some great young country bands coming up the ranks that can actually play / sing real songs.

    Did you see Taylor Swift on SNL? It’s up on Hulu.com. She absolutely can not sing.

  2. November 16, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    Great post. That is my problem with the p-country stuff too. Call it what it is and not country.

    Reminds of that crap like Rock Camp where it’s all jonas brothers and miley cyrus. At least folks know enough that that stuff is pop not rock, but in country the pop folks have totally taken over the word for the common listener and when I say I like country music I have to qualify it with another statement such as…”steve earle country, not radio country”

  3. Baron Lane
    November 16, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    Ozzybeef – Yeah, I’ve seen Swift on several shows and she is not very good. I just wonder how bad she would be without the Autotune?

    Truersound – My point exactly. Music City has cornered the “Country Music” brand, and unlike rock, rap jazz, etc. there seems to be less tolerance for sub=genres by fans of the music. Sometimes I think the whole “plainspoken” pretense get’s in the way of understanding and evolving the music.

  4. November 16, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    you’re exactly right Baron. ive kind have just thrown in the towel on the CMAs the last couple of years. on a positive side of things, it sure is great to see Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll, or a Todd Snider in a 100 person venue. their music may suffer a bit because of the new country “direction,” but I can assure every artist would rather be playing for a group of a 100 true fans rather than 50,000 taylor swift fans.

  5. SJ
    November 16, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Wow, thank you. That was the most insightful and true write-up I’ve read in awhile. You said everything I’ve been trying to say for years. I’ll be emailing this to quite a few friends who share the same view. The future of country music is scary to think about. But at least the young, new, REAL arists are still churning (Lambert, Shepherd). It may be at an incredibly slow pace, but at least they’re there.

  6. November 17, 2009 at 10:04 am

    Amen! I could not agree more. It’s truly depressing how bad mainstream country has become in the past several years. Last week’s dog and pony show may finally prove to be their Waterloo. Where are they going to get new fans when Taylor’s audience has outgrown her and has moved on to other things, and all the longtime country fans have moved on to Americana because that’s the only place to get decent new music these days?

  7. hiram
    November 17, 2009 at 10:41 am

    great article so true you listen to so called country radio it makes you sick to think that the music that once belonged to greats like merle haggard & hank williams there are no females like lorreta lynn or kitty wells whats really country music is called americana thank god we got justin townes earle & hayes carll old crow medicine show ryan bingham calling taylor swift country is like calling nuclear weapons safe i’m from alabama real country music is my roots like hank williams & the louvin brothers & i’m angry because there killing the music i love by trying to make socially okay

  8. November 17, 2009 at 11:13 am

    Preach on brother.

  9. November 17, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    Hear hear, brother!

    It’s not right to co-opt a name that’s steeped in history and tradition.

    It could have easily been called the LRA’s – the Lite Rock Awards.

    It’s no accident that Bon Jovi and Def Leppard have “gone country”. Nor is it a chance happening that Darius Rucker has been successfully re-branded, either.

    Soccer moms listened to them in their teens. Now that they are still the major marketing demographic, the industry has positioned these groups to still be profitable albeit in a new genre.

    Focus Group Country is an abomination.

    Love live Americana!

  10. Cara
    November 17, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    BRAVO! I’ve been comparing corporate commerical radio to chain restaurants for awhile now and you just said it so much better!

  11. OkieWolf
    December 11, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Awesome, awesome post!!!! Finally, somebody with some sense! I’ve posted my thoughts on these two lab rats on several other posts. People, for the most part, agree but still the circus continues.
    Personally, I think Kenny freakin’ Chesney is nothing but a shaved monkey with a hat. There is nothing about him that is country and he damn sure has no talent.
    Taylor Swift couldn’t sing if somebody put a gun to her head. Her shrieking makes me throw up a little in my mouth and my eyes sort of cross. It’s a good thing I had tequila close by during the CMA’s and AMA’s or I might be in a coma right now.

    These two have caused more ears to bleed, diarrhea, vomiting, and convulsions than any disease known to man.

    If anybody wants to see a completely rigged awards show, watch the CMA’s or the AMA’s. Nobody with any musical knowledge or that isn’t deaf should be able to tell that these two constantly sing off key when they “perform” live without the benefit of “studio magic”. It’s just completely sickening.

    These two have no talent and no looks. I don’t get it at all. Why would anybody be a fan of either of these two unless you’re just a complete idiot? And why would execs market them? Money. That’s the bottom line. Meanwhile, other true artists are pushed aside to make way for the most ridiculous no-talents ever to destroy a song.

    Somebody needs to put an end to this, and fast before more people go blind and deaf.

    WAYLON FOREVER!!!!

  12. Larry " THE REV " SHELL
    December 20, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Oh, you are so right my friend, every word you wrote told the truth and the sadness of the death of real country music…. Please visit my fb page Larry Shell
    I started a group called KILL NASHVILLE POP you will like what we represent I promise
    Thank you for your efforts to disrobe and show the naked truth of what ” They ” do and are doing to country music.

    THE REV

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