Disclaimer: This article has a lot of hate in it. I don’t hate any of these artists; I hate on country radio for allowing these artists to do what they are able to do.
Country music has seen its lines blurred more than ever in the history of the genre. Sure, the ’70s-’80s had its moments, when John Denver and Alabama fusing country with pop and rock, but this is different. Today, there are various degrees to an infusion between pop and country; artists such as Dan and Shay have been releasing songs to country radio that feel like they are trying to make it onto pop radio. Kane Brown is starting to release singles to both pop and country radio. Taylor Swift hasn’t released a country album in almost ten years, yet she still lingers on the country charts. Some artists collaborate with pop artists to bring another element to their music. However, it is starting to become almost too common. Country radio is beginning to reward people for getting the biggest pop name they can and not making good music. It is becoming an issue, and besides a few artists like Jon Pardi, and Justin Moore, the country is becoming urbanized.
It’s hard to say that Dan and Shay didn’t intend to be country. However, ever since they debuted with “19 You + Me” in 2013, it was evident that they weren’t going to be the next Brooks and Dunn. The + symbol they used always came across as gimmicky and cute, not serious like most true country artists want to be. Unfortunately, they have been able to find crossover success with multiple singles, including “10,000 hours” with Justin Bieber and “Tequila.” These songs have led them to receive many ACM and CMA rewards and allow them to represent country music at many non-country award shows. Anyone who has ever heard Dan + Shay live cannot deny how talented they are, and honestly, I don’t mind the music they put out. However, I only like hearing it on a pop station and not on country radio.
Kane Brown is a very curious case for me. He made a name for himself covering artists like George Strait, and his deep voice is undeniably good. Brown even released “BFE” on his last EP, “Mixtape,” a straight out of the books the ’90s sounding country song. He has to do that other thing, where he releases two singles to two genres at once. In 2020 Brown released “Cool Again” to country radio, a pop song in its own right, but then “Be Like That” to pop radio. He isn’t innocent of collaborating with non-country artists either. He has had successful songs with Khalid, Nelly, and Swae Lee. Artists should follow what they want to do, and if Brown wants to go pop, that’s fine, but country radio shouldn’t be supporting it. Brown’s latest country song is called “Worship You,” which feels like it will be a #1 country song, but actually, it is just a song about how he wants to worship his wife.
Taylor Swift is a country music darling for absolutely no reason. When she started 15 years ago, she was a young, innocent teenage girl and came to Nashville with a fake southern twang on her songs. Swift was massively successful for a long time in the genre, although every time a new album was released, her country went away, and the pop side came out. Finally, she decided to say goodbye to Nashville and go full on pop with “1989” and hasn’t looked back. Although country radio hasn’t been able to let go. Throughout the years since Swift went pop, her name was lingered on the country chart, most recently with “Betty,” which peaked in the mid-’30s. Radio has been fine without her on it, so what is the desire to bring someone who moved on back? The worst part is that someday after pop has moved on from her, she will release another country album, and once again, that song will have a million spins. Cut the cord country radio, she’s gone, and we have Kelsea Ballerini to replace her.
These artists are the worst ones, and country radio should say thanks but come back when your country again, but they aren’t the only offenders. Recently artists that have made their way onto country radio are Bebe Rexha, Tori Kelly, Noah Cyrus, Halsey. Some such as P!NK and Gwen Stefani have appeared twice! Nashville has many artists that deserve to be on the radio more than that, including Carly Pearce, Lauren Alaina, and Lainey Wilson. Once in a while, having a pop star dabble in country music isn’t a big deal. Kelly Clarkson did “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Jason Aldean, and it was a smash hit and a good song. But now, it seems like, at any given time, a pop star is invading our chart.
Two artists deserve a pass in this conversation, in my opinion. The first is Maren Morris, and Kelsea Ballerini is the other. Morris came onto the scene with “My Church,” a good song that was more country than any female artist had put out since early Carrie Underwood. She released “Church” peaking at number nine, and “80s Mercedes” peaking at 12 before her smash pop hit “The Middle” with Zedd was released. It seems like once country radio released that it might lose her to pop, they decided to spin her more, as “I Could Use A Love Song” and “The Bones” went number one, and “Rich “went number four. Morris has been going a lot more pop as her career grows, which is unfortunate. I don’t think it is fair to blame Morris for turning to pop when country was sleeping on her. Kelsea Ballerini is a tougher case even though she is in a similar situation. She came out of the gate strong with four of her first five songs going number one and the other peaking at number three. However, her luck stopped there as she hasn’t had a number one since. “This Feeling” was released with The Chainsmokers after “The Middle” was a smash hit, and although it didn’t have the same results, it was a successful song. Since then country ratio has almost turned its back on Ballerini, although that might change in 2021 with “Hole in the Bottle” climbing up the charts. Ballerini has never released a song that was defiantly country. However, in a climate where the radio is tough to female artists, it is hard to blame her for taking a career opportunity elsewhere.
The collaborations are just the beginning of a problem, and probably not the end. Artists such as Gabby Barrett have had colossal crossover hits. It is unclear what direction she will go musically in the future. Florida Georgia Line will always continue to collaborate with artists like Nelly and Jason Derulo. So far, they have kept artists like Nelly off of country radio, who knows what financial incentives they might face changing that. Blake Shelton will probably release an entire album with Gwen Stefani before the end of the year with the results they have been having. Morgan Wallen recently stated that his dream collaboration would be Miley Cyrus. It isn’t all bad news, however, despite how it might sound. Luke Combs is looking like he could become the next George Strait. Jon Pardi keeps climbing the charts despite his western vibes, and Parker McCollum went number one with Pretty Heart. Chris Stapleton is in the top 10 with “Starting Over” and released a solid record late last year. Eric Church likely has an album coming out early this year, and of course, my favorite Justin Moore has a quickly rising single in “We Didn’t Have Much.” Country radio is falling into the wrong place, but fans supporting good music will help eliminate the crap and back to the good stuff.