"That ain't Country..." I have been in Country Radio for over 40 years and I have heard that sentiment virtually my whole career. Many years ago I felt the need to defend the music that was not in line with the current flow, but now I simply welcome that conversation. I feel it may be the best discussion we have, and it is one of the main strengths of our beloved format. And it will never stop.
Many fans are new to country all the time, and country to them is where they jumped on. Others were raised on country, and some are just discovering us. All will have a different take on what country is. This is very, very healthy. But as many fans are new, this discussion is not. Heck, people said this of Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash and others. Now we view them as country as it gets. The list of stars that were called "not country" by some over the decades reads like a who's who.
Many Felt Kenny Rogers #1 - Was Not "Really Country" That worked out OK
Country music has so many styles, it's enviable. There are modern country stars, like Dan and Shay, Rascal Flatts, Sam Hunt, and those of that ilk. There are the traditionalist too like, Luke Combs, Jon Pardi, Luke Bryan and others. Then there are the ones in between like, Florida Georgia Line, Keith Urban, Jake Owen and others there too. They all bring something new to the table, and in most cases, they mix a bit of it all together, while still having the undertone of their own roots. This is very good as well. Many times new artists have a tough time getting fans acceptance because of their newness, but after a while, they do.
Florida Georgia Line - # 1 - Is Still Dogged By Some As "Not Country" - Millions Sold
Country is kind of a throwback now to the pop-rock charts of the past, where you would hear a ton of diverse sounds on the same radio station. Example, Helen Reddy, then Earth, Wind, and Fire would be played after Elton John, and before Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Roberta Flack. We didn't mind that then, and we really don't mind it now in Country. I feel that's when we are at our best. When we have a nice mix of many styles, something for all. And we are lucky, because if the song that's playing is not a favorite style of yours now, chances are the next song or two will be. And country fans are loyal, they love their country, even if there is some they disagree with, and that is great for Country too. The music represents their lives and lifestyle and it's a big part of their day.
Ronnie Milsap - #1 - Was Not "Traditional Country," Think he had about 40 #1 songs (This Was The 27th Number One For Him)
Right how, we are entering a very diverse period and it's exciting. Luke Combs, Maren Morris, Luke Bryan, Kelsea Ballerini, Old Dominion, Jon Pardi, Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Carly Pearce, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert are all different, and all bring something to the table. The re-emergence of Tim McGraw, the durability of George Strait, and the endurance of Garth give us a real nice base. And don't forget, time will tell with Gabby Barrett, Ingrid Andress, and artists like Jordan Davis, and Riley Green and many, many others.
Gabby Barrett - #1 - This Is Less Than "Traditional Country," but it has 65 million YouTube views!
But as great as all this is, the one thing you can't do with Country fans is try to lie to them. I've seen this a hundred times. If you want to be pop star, go be a pop star, and don't use us as a place to fall. I always respected Taylor Swift for exactly that. She was country and then said she was leaving, and did. Bold and great move for her. She didn't try to hang on to us as a safety net. I've seen tons of careers go up in smoke for trying to fool us. It doesn't work, as tolerant as we are with the diversity of styles and sounds, we don't like to be used, and it's not tolerated. And I thank Taylor for bringing many new fans to us. The one thing we always have to be careful of though, is alienating the core. There have been times in years past we veered so far away, that the core fans felt abandoned. We can't let that happen again.
Luke Combs - #1 - For Many Defines Traditional Country Today
I also think the patience goes out the window when country artists align and record with "cool" artists from other formats. It can, and has worked a few times (below and Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson), but by and large it does not, as it is very temporary and flavor or the month, and fans see right through it. And fans again, can feel taken advantage of by them. BTW - WE are now the "cool" style of music, and we need to remember that, when we often are looking for validation from outside formats. Old thinking.
This Apples and Oranges Duet Really Worked - #1 - Most In The Long Run, Really Don't
But I celebrate the different styles of country, and I think you do too. I'm like you, I don't like some stuff that tries to push too far out too quickly, and many times those experiments take care of themselves and fail on the launching pad. But the open mindset of our format is a strength. It keeps us fresh and relevant, and on top of the mind and on top of our game.
Jon Pardi - #1 - Very Country
So the next time you hear, "That ain't country," know that it probably is, and it's one of the discussions that makes us great and different, and healthy.