Jump Right In
September 19, 2013
In case you've been living under a rock or temporarily blacked out for part of this week, you may have heard Zac Brown apparently isn't a big fan of Luke Bryan's current single, "That's My Kind Of Night," calling it, "One of the worst songs I've ever heard."
Ever? Like, worse than Rebecca Black's "Friday?"
Brown said a lot of other things too, during his seven-minute, 32-second interview with Jim Pattison Group Country CJJR (JR 97.3)/Vancouver personality Barbara Beam last week.
However, the blogosphere, Twitterverse and other social media outlets have seized on that Bryan comment. But listen to the entire chat and hear Brown preface his criticism of "That's My Kind Of Night" by saying, "I know Luke and he's a friend." Brown also aspired to hear, "A song that has something better to say," lamenting the current theme of what he called, "Tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song(s)."
Let's forget about Luke Bryan for a minute, because Brown brought up another point that I believe has real validity here when he said, "You can look and see some of the same songwriters on every one of the songs. There's been like 10 #1 songs in the last two or three years that were written by the same people and it's the exact same words, just arranged different ways."
That struck me, because I was already preparing a column to be titled, "How Do We Not Screw This Up?" I asked programmers and radio execs how we can maintain the format's current momentum. What might we have learned from other eras and strong musical cycles for Country that could be useful to us now?
Ironically – or not -- many cited the need to avoid a word Brown used three times in the above quote: Same.
Here's a sampling of what a few of them had to say:
Journal Broadcast Group VP/Programming Beverlee Brannigan: "We've got to keep moving ahead and avoid the temptation to get stuck in a sound or a style. Country's strength, as both a musical style and a radio format, is the way it incorporates new sounds as it rolls along. The 'what's Country?' discussion is irrelevant; that's decided by country fans and listeners."
Westwood One VP/Programming John Paul: "The biggest thing is to make sure that radio continues to play a wide diversity of music. We need to make sure that we don't play music that all sounds the same from acts that look the same."
CBS Radio/Detroit OM Tim Roberts: "As long as the music is great, has a variety of produced artists, sounds and lyrics (and we've got it now, thank you) then it will keep radio and the format thriving."
I'll share more feedback on the topic of maintaining Country's current surge next week because the answers went beyond the issue of sameness in the music and sounds. But I'll pose the same question to anyone reading this: In what way do we not mess up a good thing here?
Observation: Part of the "say what?" factor to Brown's reply is that Country artists – on the surface anyway -- seem to enjoy a collegial relationship with one another. They constantly tour together in packaged shows with opening acts returning to the stage, performing with headliners. There are numerous collaborations, evidenced by this week's most-added song on the Mediabase Country chart, "We Were Us" by Keith Urban and Miranda Lambert and the recent #1, "Highway Don't Care" from Tim McGraw and Taylor Swift.
Country stars rarely if ever engage in petty feuds like pop acts do. Well, okay, there was that Toby Keith-Dixie Chicks dust-up about 10 years ago (I'd consider that a mulligan), but nothing quite dramatic as say, Christina Aguilera vs. Britney Spears, Tupak-Notorius B.I.G. or Metallica vs. Megadeth. Heck, even back into the '50s, Rock & Roll pioneers Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry famously went at it, fighting over who would close a show. Legend has it that after Berry prevailed, Lewis played a raucous opening set that ended with his piano set ablaze. As Lewis left the stage he supposedly sniped to Berry, "You're on, Chuck."
My first reaction to Brown's comments?
Just because Brown's music regularly appears on Country radio, it doesn't mean he's required to automatically like everything else played there, too.
And would anyone expect anything less from Brown when asked a direct question? I think it's safe to say that Brown paints outside the lines and could be considered a maverick when compared to business models of other Country artists. Take a look at the website for his label, Southern Ground Records and tell me if he's a conventional thinker.
All that said, tell me what you think of his comments. Will core Country fans – and Luke Bryan fans for that matter – feel differently about Brown after this? Or does it really matter?