A newspaper publisher for whom I once worked as editor didn’t like taking editorial positions on big national issues.
Our little newspaper won’t change anyone’s mind about the death penalty, he would say, so let’s take a stand on local issues that are important only to our readers.
It was at least one viewpoint the two of us shared. And it has shaped my approach to this blog. In general, there’s no need to editorialize here on issues for which few people are likely to change their minds. Today, however, is an exception — mainly because my opinion has been evolving as I think about Sunday night’s television broadcast of the Academy of Country Music Awards.
I’ve made no secret of my dislike for groups such as Florida Georgia Line, often linking to this great review in which FGL’s 2014 album, Anything Goes, is called the worst album ever made. But it didn’t stop FGL from being named Vocal Duo of the Year by the ACM or winning Vocal Event of the Year for This is How We Roll with Luke Bryan.
Congratulations to them. But from the perspective of someone who grew up listing to — and singing — country music, This is How We Roll epitomizes all that is wrong with much of today’s country music. It’s synthetic, cliched and sounds like just about every other song being played in heavy rotation on commercial country-music radio stations. That’s not a mistake. Country music is, after all, ultimately a business that thrives by mass-producing homogeneous music.
But compare any of that music with a song performed early in Sunday’s broadcast of the ACMs. No one would ever confuse another performer or song, respectively, for George Strait and All My Exes Live in Texas. The same is true of many, many others. In fact, it’s true of virtually everyone who has made a lasting impact on country music from Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to Roger Miller and Conway Twitty to Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson.
Hank Williams wrote and recorded I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry 66 years ago and people are still listening and signing along. Does anyone actually think the same will be true about This is How We Roll in 2080? What about 2020?
But what I suspect will be its lack of staying power isn’t what’s wrong with songs like This is How We Roll. In fact, the only beef I have against these so-called country songs is that they are actually pop songs. And that’s not a surprise given who FGL’s Tyler Hubbard (the long-haired one) and Brian Kelley list as their childhood musical inspirations: Christian rock group Casting Crowns and hip-hop artists such as Lil Wayne and Eminem, along with Garth Brooks and Alabama. Their producer, Joey Moi, who also has produced the Canadian rock band Nickelback, has said he aims for each FGL song to resemble the music of Def Leppard. And that sure ain’t country.
Maybe Owen Bradley, who is credited with inventing the Nashville Sound in the 1950s by being one of the first producers to mix country and pop music, would like what is being played today on country radio stations. And some of it is pretty good. But much of it is pop music that has moved to Nashville, seeking refuge from pop music, which has largely given way to hip hop at other stops on the radio dial.
So more power to Florida Georgia Line and the people responsible for them. I hope they make as much money as they can for however long they last, which won’t be forever because something else has really changed in country music. I can listen to it 24 hours a day and never listen to a commercial radio station or hear the same song twice if I don’t want to. The same is true of many other country music fans, which enables more traditional-sounding singer/songwriters such as Jamey Johnson to make a living and even earn a couple of ACM awards himself for song of the year in 2007 and 2009.
I’m grateful Johnson and others like him are out there writing and recording music like You Can. And I’ll keep buying and listening to music like this instead of This Is How We Roll even if Johnson never wins another award for it. Because I can.