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.