Thursday, August 18, 2011

Commentary: Country is the new Top 40 Pop

A few times a week, I like to investigate the top-selling songs on iTunes. It's a huge indicator of future hits- the results of purchases are immediate- thus accelerating a fad or trend in music. For example, when "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 hit #3 this week, it's been #1 on iTunes since the early last week- so the industry suspected it. (Don't even get me started on how The Voice saved Maroon 5's career)

Right now, country music seems to parallel a similar template in late 1990's adult pop music. It was a time when VH1 hits dominated the radio- any female artist with a hint of individuality and a guitar or piano- Paula Cole, Jewel, Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow to name a few- could hit top 40. The only difference in the world that I see between their pop hits and today's country top 40 is the addition of fiddle guitar and a twanged voice. (hell, that's all Jewel had to do to make her unsuccessful attempt at a country crossover career) It makes total sense that Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish found massive success these past few years, despite being black. Former top 40 artists like Uncle Kracker (of Kid Rock and "Follow Me" fame) recently experienced a country top 10 with "Smile", and is currently on a huge tour with Kenny Chesney. Bon Jovi experienced a huge career resurgence by making a country album, and their subsequent tour created one of the most successful tour runs of the year.

In the same light, the lines between country and adult top 40 have come blurred recently as well. While country crossover singles (Faith Hill's "Breathe", Lonestar's "Amazed", etc) have occasionally fared well on the chart, you only have to look at this week's adult top 40 chart to see that The Band Perry's "If I Die Young" is the greatest gainer of the week, and artists like Lady Antebellum regularly make chart appearances due to the success of "Need You Now".

When it boils down to it, there is simply a certain segment of the United States that prefers inoffensive, catchy, conventional music. Since the early 2000's hip-hop Murder Inc/50 Cent era, Vh1 type pop music has existed as the exception and not the norm. Looking at present day's charts- groups like One Republic have success due to Ryan Tedder being one of today's most popular songwriters, a fluke hit transition to mainstream success a few times a year, and perennial artists like Pink. Colbie Callait occasionally breaks the Adult Top 40 barrier for a hit, while legacy artists like Rob Thomas,

For this specific audience, music is treated like less of an extracurricular hobby, and more like a byproduct of what happens to be playing on the radio. The audience of vehemently anti hip-hop and anti-electronic is shrinking as the 2 aforementioned formats are becoming ever more dominant. It makes total sense that the line is being blurred between the two formats.

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