How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

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How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  Adric on Thu Jun 26, 2014 5:36 am

America's Music: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Well, I've emailed Billboard on numerous occasions asking this very question. It's no secret that I'm not a fan of country, though prefer it to the vast majority of rap. Can't remember the last time I've listened to either genre. Still, I hope my emails contributed somehow to "their" answer. As I'm not fan of country, I cannot make a fair judgement. Still, great to have an explanation, none the less.   Surprised 



As country music fans from around the world descend upon Nashville for the 2014 CMA Music Festival, the genre seems to be in a pretty good spot right now. The nightly concerts at LP Field have long been sold out, and the artists and songs coming from Music Row seem to be more plugged into the musical mainstream as ever before. Why is this? Billboard examines the reasons for this growing trend in a new series where we talk with some of the most powerful men and women in Nashville, concerning why they think the visibility of country music seems to be stronger than ever.

Though the format has always gotten attention from the mainstream -- thanks to artists like Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, more country artists are appealing to fans outside of the normal avenues of the genre than ever. Taylor Swift, Luke Bryan, and Jason Aldean have taken their unique styles of music from the arenas to the stadiums, with bigger success than ever before.

You can also hear more elements of the genre in other radio formats, such as pop, rock, and rap/hip-hop. Though artists from country have always had a strong sales presence – with Garth Brooks and George Strait being two of the biggest music sellers of the past quarter-century, neither act took their singles to pop radio. Shania Twain and LeAnn Rimes did so in the late 90s with songs like "You're Still The One" and "I Need You," respectively, but now it's a little more commonplace for artists from the genre to find success on the Hot 100, such as Swift or Florida Georgia Line. And, it works both ways – with Darius Rucker becoming one of the top recording artists in the business and a member of the Grand Ole Opry – as well as a successful launch of Sheryl Crow as a country artist by Warner Brothers last fall.

Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, feels that the media definitely looks at the genre differently than in the past. "In recent years, country music's breakthrough artists have gotten more access from mainstream media outlets – both due to the success of the trailblazing artists that came before them and also because marketers and outlets no longer perceive country music as a regional format but understand that the country consumer and fan is a highly desirable national and international target who is tech savvy and has disposable income," she told Billboard. "So when the channels open for country music artists to reach a wider audience, the level of talent from our format rises to the challenge."

Gary Overton, Chairman & CEO of Sony Music Nashville, feels that the past few years have really seen country live up to its image as "America's Music," as the fans seem to be running the gamut.

"Mainstream America is in love with country music, and corporate America has noticed," Overton told us. "Today's country music is young and exciting. It's a party. It has a rock edge that kids love - and so do the Baby Boomers, who are tired of 30 to 40-year-old classic rock. Because of this we have increased opportunities for major TV exposure in both programming and national product endorsements in advertising. We have country artists acting in major studio films. We have fragrances, shoe lines, clothing lines."

Some within the industry have expressed concern that the format might be getting a major bit of influence from outside forces – such as rock or rap -- but longtime Nashville exec Fletcher Foster feels those sounds have always been there. But look very closely and you will still find the familiar sounds of the past as part of the mix. "Country music isn't a niche genre anymore. It really is mainstream," said Foster, who recently started his own company, Iconic Entertainment, after successful stints with Capitol Nashville and Red Light Management. "Within the 'country' umbrella exists rock, pop, flavors of hip-hop, and yes, you can still find some traditional elements – but, sometimes it's harder to find these days." Foster feels that the more diverse the format is, the potential is there for the business to thrive as it has. "To have all that within a genre -- without it splintering, can be the strength of the format in many ways. Especially when it comes to brand marketing -- one call can get you everyone from George Strait and Chris Young, to Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean, to Carrie Underwood and Lucy Hale."

Who deserves the credit for this trend? Overton says you can spread it around, but the ability of certain country acts to go from the arenas to venues such as Fenway Park was key in the recent upswing. "I think it started with artists like Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean who were so hot they were selling out stadiums and we're creating a huge all-day party atmosphere with their country-meets-rock shows." Others came to the table with their own brand of pizazz, said Overton. "Then, you have acts like Jake Owen, Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line who brought in an even younger and new country convert crowd." The Sony exec also gave credit to a trio of female superstars who have put their own unique stamp on the format. Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift have all "sold out tours and actually sell more albums and tracks than their male counterparts," Overton says.

To some degree, the growth of country music is cyclical. When asked how long the trend could continue, Overton stressed that "This success will continue to be self-perpetuating until another genre of music becomes popular with the general public again and steals back some of the transient fans who have come into our format looking for great new music," but he was optimistic that the fans would latch onto something that would keep them involved in the format.

At the end of the day, cliched though it might be, country music has grown – because it is the music of the people. It simply feels like an old pair of shoes, or an old friend. At least that's how The Band Perry's Kimberly Perry sees it.

"We have always said that country music is the people's music. Much like hip-hop and rock, country music tells the stories about real life and where we all come from."
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Thu Jun 26, 2014 11:38 am

Willie Nelson is country. Hope this helps, LOL  Laughing 

Country strikes me as being in the same family as Blues.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:52 am

The Joy of Country
In the course of one hour, a sequential runthrough of changing styles of country music, and most of the performers who made a difference, from Jimmie Rodgers, through Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, to mentions of modern stars like Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift, although these latter were dismissed as not up to scratch, which seems a bit mean.

Dolly Parton: Platinum Blonde
From 2003, a career lookback on the country megastar from humble roots. The one defining characteristic is her brains - not merely for songwriting & singing, but a great business savvy. Even her theme park, Dollywood, appears to exist less to feed an ego than as a job creation scheme. Her musical uncle and Porter Waggoner appear to have given her the greatest boosts on the way up, and she remains on good terms with most people she's come across.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:59 am

Glen Campbell - The Rhinestone Cowboy
The saga of how a humble Scots-Irish boy in a large family learned the guitar aged 5, proved prodigious at it, and turned out to be no slouch in the singing department, either. Despite impressive session work with the Wrecking Crew, and touring as part of the Beach Boys, things only kicked into gear when he chanced on Jimmy Webb's exceptional songwriting. He shone for a while as an all-American good boy, but his career dipped and he fell into a cocaine habit and multiple marriage disasters. He turned the corner with help from his latest wife, a devout Christian, and enjoyed a spell as a living legend, before being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. A rounded and intriguing portrait of a fine musician.

An Evening with Glen Campbell
Over an hour from a 1977 concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London, with some stage help from Jimmy Webb, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Alongside his obvious hits, he threw in surprising covers of 'Streets of London', 'MacArthur Park', and even the end of the 1812 Overture. He closed out on the bagpipes (!) for 'Amazing Grace'.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:09 pm

John Denver: Country Boy
A fairly decent rundown of the 'Army brat' who dropped his real surname in favour of a town in a state he later took up as his spiritual home. Whilst his biggest hits were few and far between, his spiritual connection with nature ensure that numbers like 'Calypso' seem more honest than some of the green lobby bandwagon we see these days. His declining success and first marriage show that for some, the 15 minutes of fame really do fly by. He would have been 70 this year.

John Denver
Concert from Wembley Arena, 1979, oddly edited, shown in accord with the above. Some of his between-song banter (moaning about it being cold in England in Spring, for one) could have been cut in favour of more songs. He covered 'Johnny B Goode' amongst a range of familiar material, entertainingly unable to end on 'Annie's Song', he followed it with 'Calypso' and 'Sunshine On My Shoulders' instead.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Aug 12, 2014 12:22 pm

John Denver - Rocky Mountain High : Live in Japan
Tokyo, May 14, 1981, in fact. His banter with the audience here was friendlier than in the English gig I reviewed last year. Since then, I have also found out why he ended with Sunshine on My Shoulders, too, so at least I'm learning something. He seemed to have an inordinate number of songs about home and nature and the like, which is fair enough, that's clearly where he took inspiration from.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Sat Aug 16, 2014 12:03 pm

Queens of Country
A bit of a "golden age" vibe with this, looking at 6 of the best: Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Bobbie Gentry, Tammy Wynette, Tanya Tucker (who?) and Dolly Parton. Assorted names, mainly other musicians, sang praises (Glen Campbell, LeAnn Rimes, Elvis Costello, kd lang, Jack White, Billy Connolly and many more). They implied that those after Parton didn't stand comparison, although maybe it could be arguable who of the more recent names would want inclusion (Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, er...)
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Mon Nov 17, 2014 1:09 pm

Country at the BBC
Seen this a few times, should have mentioned it previously. Anyway, here at last... the usual names were all present and correct, Parton, Rogers, Gayle, Campbell, Kristofferson, Gentry, Pryde, Rich, Cash, Brooks, Nelson and Swift, and others. Repeated as part of a major season of new shows on the subject.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Nov 25, 2014 1:43 pm

Queens of Country at the BBC
An hour of clips from the ladies, covering the obvious (Dolly, Tammy, Emmylou, LeAnn), but also plenty of other quality acts like Billie Jo Spears and Crystal Gayle, Roseanne Cash and Alison Krauss.

Kings of Country at the BBC
As above, but with blokes. Whilst the familiar names were present & correct (Cash, Denver, Rogers, Hamilton IV), it was notable that Merle Haggard apparently hasn't done anything worth inclusion. Then again, they also left out Billy Ray Cyrus, so maybe it does even out Wink
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Mon Feb 02, 2015 9:25 am

The Heart of Country - How Nashville Became Music City, USA
An enormous number of contributors crammed in to big up the major signposts, whether the Grand Ole Opry itself, or the radio station that spread the word, or the coining of the term "outlaws" which supposedly reignited the whole movement, or the MTV generation from Garth Brooks to Taylor Swift. Undeniably an interesting tale, though there seemed a contrast between country being down & out, or more dominant than any other genre.

Bob Harris - My Nashville
BBC radio DJ infamous as presenter of "The Old Grey Whistle Test", but lately presenter of a country show. Here he used a map and moved from locale to locale, talking to assorted relevant people, from Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash, to Dave Stewart and Duane Eddy. In addition to the main points of the other doc, Harris explained the importance of distribution & printing, the Hall of Fame & Museum, the Bluebird Café, and East Nashville's Americana. As he summed up, it's "a city built on songs and the people who play them", which sounds right.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Sun Feb 08, 2015 8:41 am

Brad Paisley and Friends
From Broadcasting House, London, a gig with someone I don't know, but at least the between-song banter with the others in his band (Chris Dubois, Kelley Loveless and Lee Thomas Miller) did their best to set up each song. Amiable enough.

Kenny Rogers: Cards on the Table
How he went from a member of a band, to a backing singer, to a frontman, to a solo act, and then finally moved into country, and then the movies. He played his cards well, to stick with the Gambler metaphor, and his duets cemented his status too. He put the odd foot wrong with the fairer sex (up to his 5th wife), but his photography was as impressive as the claims. No mentions of the infamous "Rogers Roasters" or his weight loss, though.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Mon May 11, 2015 12:18 pm

HeyDay TV: Country Greats
A somewhat random hour of various country greats, most of whom recorded at FarmAid, whenever the hell that was. Still, with Willie Nelson, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Arlo Guthrie and Kris Kristofferson among others, why the hell not? Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakam managed to be featured in footage other than from FA (I guessed Yoakam had been on SNL).
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Thu Jun 18, 2015 11:44 am

Willie Nelson - A Man And His Music
Odd hour presented (sort of) by Leon Russell, taken from "The Paradise Show" it appears, where Willie sang a lot, Leon sang some with him, and SPECIAL GUESTS Maria Muldaur and Bonnie Raitt also got in on the act. They started with Willie & Leon giving a fresh and un-Elvis rendition of "Suspicious Minds", and took it from there. They managed One For My Baby and Will The Circle Be Unbroken? too. I enjoyed it more than I expected, and my admiration for Willie continues to grow. Here's an actual clip from the show:

Trouble In Mind
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Sat Jun 27, 2015 12:46 pm

Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Friends
A somewhat random hour with NGDB mainly, but also with songs from Rex Allen Jr, Razzy Barley, Stella Parton (!), Rex Allen Sr, Wayne B Kingsley, Denise Price and Gus Harding. Suffice it to say it was my first major exposure to pretty much all these people, but it was actually quite entertaining stuff, so I'm glad I did.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Dec 29, 2015 12:36 pm

For The Love of Music - The Story of Nashville
Could have sworn I'd seen this before, but no. Nashville is thriving on its reputation as a magnet for musicians, and not just country ones, either. Though the contributors here were predominantly country-fied or thereabouts, from Charlie Daniels and Keith Urban, to Kings of Leon and Duane Eddy, and from Martina McBride to the ever dependable Kris Kristofferson. They even had bands like the Civil Wars and some trio called Ten Out Of Tenn (nice name Razz )
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Wed Jan 06, 2016 10:09 am

Shania - Still The One
From the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, a 2014 hour & a half running through her pop & country hits, with many set & costume changes, a horse, and even a campfire sing-song with folks from the audience. Ended on "Man, I Feel Like A Woman", perhaps to finish on a jollier note than some of her others.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Fri Jan 22, 2016 8:37 am

Glen Campbell - I'll Be Me
Lengthy doc about his final tour, as his battle with Alzheimers finally got the better of him. Though he did manage 151 shows before his family decided he was too far gone to put on a professional show any more. A galaxy of stars paid homage along the way, some of whom had also had family members succumb to the disease. His doctor was amazed that he got as far as he did, that the musical part of his memory lasted longer than much of the rest. He also managed one final song, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You".
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Tue Jan 26, 2016 9:12 am

Lady Antebellum - Wheels Up Tour
From 2015, a lengthy show interspersed with a few backstage moments. Happily the songs were listed in the closing credits. They notably did covers of "Thinking Out Loud" and "Walk This Way", the former more interesting than the latter, of course.

Live With... Patty Griffin
Perhaps a stretch to include her as country, but a pleasant little showcase all the same, and a powerful voice.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Thu Jan 28, 2016 7:55 am

Daniel O'Donnell - Live From Nashville - Volume One
A gig at the Ryman Auditorium possibly from 2006 or after. Daniel kindly introduced some of the less obvious tracks, but his wide selection included "Ring of Fire" and "King of the Road" among others. He even did a Johnny Cash number about Ireland called "Forty Shades of Green"!
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Sun Feb 28, 2016 9:03 am

Daniel O'Donnell - Hope and Praise
I wonder how many shows he has had recorded at the Tri-Lakes Theatre in Branson, Missouri. Nice enough voice, as ever, and many happy songs, too.

Aaron Tippin - 25 Years
Never heard of him before, but apparently he's had a lengthy and successful career, despite initial appearances. He came to fame on some show called "You Can Be a Star" in 1983, so quite how that 25 years thing worked beats me. He had made a celebratory album, combining 10 of his past hits, with 10 all-new songs. His Greek orthodox wife Thea was among the cast relating Aaron's story. Apparently, he got struck by lightning on two separate occasions, and made it big as a troops' favourite with tracks like "You've Got to Stand for Something" and "The Stars and Stripes and Eagles Fly". I think I was most impressed by the fact I'd never heard of this guy before.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Fri Mar 04, 2016 7:12 am

^^^I totally forgot to mention that Daniel sang "Rivers of Babylon", which was a pretty bold move!

Daniel O'Donnell - At Home in Ireland
At the Letterkennt Sports & Leisure Centre, somewhere in County Donegal. Otherwise much the same format as his US shows seen above. There were some film clips of him around & about in the old country (visiting church etc) to break up the visual.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Fri Mar 11, 2016 9:13 am

The South Bank Show Originals: Dolly Parton
Bragg chatted to her in 1999, and was impressed by the reality beneath the fakery. How Dollywood is a vehicle to allow her to give back to the impoverished area she grew up in. Maintains family ties and has a matriarchal benevolence. Cerys Matthews was the obligatory random approver. They won't be making shows about her any time soon.

Taylor Swift: American Beauty
A reflective look from around 2010, amusing for its recreations of Taylor's progress. Her personal stories were seen as a strength, but something she needed to move on from. The KanYe incident apparently gave people sympathy for her.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Fri Mar 11, 2016 9:28 am

Carrie Underwood - The All-American Girl
This 2012 tribute rattled through her story, how she had been training as a singer for years before winning Series 4 of American Idol, and how she uses her fame to push a vegetarian message, and that she believes herself to be as much about communication skills as music, which is risible if you ask me.
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  Adric on Fri Mar 11, 2016 12:10 pm

Elle King

Ex's & Oh's - Would we consider this country? This has made huge waves on the country charts. By radio standards, it's being called alternative rock, sometimes adult contemporary. I quite like the song and would define it as country. It's just got that certain "twang" about it which makes it so catchy. I guess in today's world of music, one must be politically correct to call music for what it is. I mean, 9 out of 10 songs out now they call pop. I call them rap. Any thoughts?
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Re: How Country Popped Its Way Into the Mainstream

Post  misery guts on Fri Mar 11, 2016 3:44 pm

I'd be happy to consider it as country, and presume any further material will be in a similar style. Definitely one of the few great records of the last 3 months bounce
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