Ask around, and you’ll get a different answer: who’s gonna fill their shoes?
It’s a tough question, without a definitive answer. For traditionalists, no one’s gonna fill their shoes. In my opinion, there is not one current mainstreamer could possibly take over the reigns from George Jones, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. Even when modern artists, like Miranda Lambert and Brad Paisley, honor their roots in their music, they simply can not capture the essence of the genre.
For contemporary fans, they might find comfort with any of today’s chart-topping hit-makers, from Carrie Underwood to Luke Bryan. A vast landscape has opened at their fingertips — particularly as country music is expanding, even if radio is diminishing.
At Friday’s closing night (Feb. 21) Country Radio Seminar event, known as the New Faces of Country Music showcase, several bright-eyed rising stars performed for the gathering crowd. The Voice season 3 winner Cassadee Pope (previously of the punk-rock band Hey Monday) was joined by Charlie Worsham, Brett Eldredge, Thomas Rhett and Tyler Farr — thereby ushering in the next generation.
These five hopefuls all have one thing in common: pop. While Worsham and Eldredge surely have more traditional leanings, they’ve incorporated mainstream appeal on their debut albums, Rubberband and Bring You Back, respectively. As for Pope, well, her background is steeped in rock; she’s even cited angsty performer Avril Lavigne as her idol on numerous occasions. Rhett, who has written such hits as “Round Here” by Florida Georgia Line and “1994” by Jason Aldean, and Farr are part of the bro-country upheaval.
As reporter Chris Willman points out, should the question now become, “Who’s gonna fill Florida Georgia Line’s shoes?”
Rhett, Eldredge and Farr certainly could: each have fueled the hip-hop resurgence in different ways, carving out their own niche. Rhett is the singer-songwriter; Eldredge is the hunky leading man; and Farr is the girlfriend-crazed better half (a la Lambert). These men can stand tall when up against Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard…but do we even want them to? This isn’t to discredit their talent; each performer is a fine vocalist, in their own right. The issue becomes: country music has become too accessible and too disposable to stand the test of time.
Sure, country music has been following pop around like a lost puppy since the 1950s. The Nashville Sound was the answer, helmed by such pioneers as Patsy Cline and Eddie Arnold. By incorporating big band jazz and the swing of the ’30s and ’40s, mixed together with folk and bluegrass storytelling, it was the hope to appeal to the widest demographic possible, furthering its influence on popular music. Over the course of the next 60 years, the genre would ebb and flow, sometimes returning to neo-traditionalism (Alan Jackson, Patty Loveless) or digging even further into pop territory (Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Taylor Swift).
Through it all, the genre kept its roots close and the Grand Ole Opry closer. While feeding the pop beast, it served up powerful stories, unmatched by its counterparts in every single way. There have always been fluffy songs and needless beats to fill our speakers, but it’s also been completely self-aware, always staying in line with tradition and offering balance. Last year, in particular, saw the genre crash away from this notion — instead, it has beaten down pop’s door to be accepted. Music Row claimed (and still does) that quality is too old for the younger generation.
So, what do we do? We perpetuate the idea that hip-hop and pop are the ways of the future. Thus, artists like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Ashley Monroe and Jason Isbell (and so many others!) stand by the sidelines, destined to be alternative country (and by association, on the fringes) for the life of their careers. It’s funny to think that what was once considered mainstream country is now “fringe” country. Oh, how far we’ve come.
The only hope for the future is that, maybe, just maybe, country music finds its way back home again. I leave you with this question: Who’s Gonna Fill Florida Georgia Line’s Shoes? Discuss.
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