So, the news broke a couple of days ago Blake Shelton made some disparaging comments about 'classic country' fans. From his updated GAC Backstory that originally aired in December, Blake stated: “If I am “Male Vocalist of the Year” that must mean that I’m one of those people now that gets to decide if it moves forward and if it moves on. Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music. And I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, “My God, that ain’t country!” Well that’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.” Since this, radio stations have been rumored to have removed his songs from their rota, particularly his new single 'Sure Be Cool If You Did' which was only released on January 1st. In addition, there has been outcry with young and old country fans alike, who have not taken kindly to his words. I have a few problems with it too. Blake has a history on Twitter of running his mouth and saying things that have offended or upset people. However, up until now the majority of people have been fine with it (including me) because often it was amusing, light-hearted, and all in good fun. This was not.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that country music is hugely respecting of tradition and constructs itself around affiliations and references to the past. Some of the biggest stars in its history have reinvented the genre with a newer, more modern sound, but they have always kept something of the new, reminding people where they came from and always laying down the red carpet, literally and metaphorically, for the greats that came before them. The traditional nature of country music demands a respect for the legends in the way that the elder and head of a family would demand respect. In line with this, Blake has often performed covers of older songs on stage. For Blake to suddenly turn round and disrespect those who came before him is rude, ungrateful and unnecessary. Country music is what it is because of them, and where was he to gain by bad-mouthing them?
In addition, it is a well-known fact that country fansof all ages listen to and love classic country, as well as the more modern sound. I have known 70-year-olds who listen to Carrie Underwood, and equally people in their teens who are big fans of Willie, Merle and even Hank Sr. People are often known to like both, despite the different sounds, because as human beings it is innate to love music, and that means more than one type. So for Blake to dismiss classic country fans as 'old farts' and 'jackasses' is vastly inaccurate and a frankly idiotic thing to say. Which brings me to my next point. What on Earth makes him think he has the right to say something like that?! His 'excuse' is that he's been crowned Male Vocalist of the Year - a title which is awarded to a different country artist each year, and at MULTIPLE award shows. He thinks that because he now has this title, he gets to decide how the future of country goes? What it sounds like? If everyone crowned MV decided that, there would be a lot of people thinking they have sole control over a multi-billion dollar meta-genre, and let's face it, that's not at all true. No one person gets to decide. No one person is responsible.
Everyone just makes
their music and what people like they consume, and it's a gradual process. Call
it a form of natural selection. Country music is not like pop, it is not prone
to brief fads, but it DOES have fad-like phases, they just last a lot longer.
For Blake to decide that he can choose the direction of country music, that his
music alone can have the power to change the trends, is egocentric and makes
him look, frankly, 'up himself'. Particularly as his most recent single is
distinctly average. Perhaps he was prematurely defending himself for going for
a more 'pop' sound. Perhaps it's more defense against being a coach on 'The
Voice'. Frankly just because you are appearing on television for helping an
already talented individual get a bit better and get more votes than the other
talented individuals, it doesn't mean you're a massive superstar and have the
right to say those things. Blake's not sitting on top of the tree. Being on The
Voice doesn't make him the spokesperson for country music. All this attention
lately has made him get too big for his boots and while that's okay in pop and
rock music, it's not a desirable characteristic in country music because
artists are actually expected to be decent people.
A lot of people have said "but he's selling loads of records", but so has Luke Bryan. Jason Aldean's selling out stadiums within minutes. All the older stars are still touring extensively, selling loads of records and being eaten up by fans. Look at George Strait's tour. Country music is not about the kids, it's not age-exclusive like pop. It's for everyone, and even now with an ever-increasing teenage demographic, the adults still rule the fanbase. Blake thinks that because country music is appealing to kids it's all about them. Often they're the most fairweather casual fans out there and are more likely not to listen to country as a whole, and also favor huge crossover artists like Taylor Swift. True, there are plenty of teenagers entirely devoted to country music, but generally the younger people are less likely to be the dedicated country fans. At that age, you're still finding your favorite music, going through changes and subject to peer pressure.
Blake made an 'apology' on Twitter yesterday: “The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.. I meant every word I said. Country music is my life and it’s future AND past is important to me. I’ll put my Lo(v)e and respect and knowledge About it up against anybody out there… ANYBODY…” It was what one person described as a 'nonpology', because he didn't recognise what he said was wrong. He was still defending his actions, just saying he didn't mean to offend anyone, it came out wrong. While I'm inclined to believe that Blake says things on impulse, he and his management could have made GAC take that part of the interview out. And didn't mean to offend anyone? By calling them 'old farts' and 'jackasses'? What part of that isn't meant to be offensive somehow?! Ray Price sent an angry open letter to Blake, and Ray Stevens has followed, including numerous other figures in the country music industry.
I think Ray Price was right to contest it because as previously mentioned, the lack of disrespect is colossal. Apart from anything else, Blake understands the cultural paradigms of country music, so why would he think it was acceptable to say any of this? Last night, during the inaugural Country Music Blog Rodeo Twitter Chat, I asked people whether the decision by some radio stations to take Blake's song off their playlists, and the outrage that had already occurred on social media would result in a Dixie Chicks-like boycott. We've seen how country fans and the country industry can react to one comment and we've seen how it can end a career. The responses I received were about 50/50. Some people thought it would result in a full-on boycott, others didn't think the comment made was drastic enough for that. Personally I can see a lot of fans lost, but equally I think this will die down. I was speaking to someone about this mess last night and we agreed it will be interesting to see how the ACMs go. If Blake's in luck, it'll be the subject of jokes, but I feel like by April the majority of people will have calmed down. I'm not sure where I stand on it. I've liked Blake for a while and I like his music (although he's not my favorite). This comment has clearly greatly annoyed me but I'm waiting to see what comes next.
What do you think will come next?