They say that death and taxes are the only two sure things in life.
I’d like to add something to that mix.
Yes. Change is a sure thing. It happens in everyday life and it even happens in country music. There is always something new that comes along and changes how things are working. The old guard will usually fight it. Some will adapt and join the change. Someone will then come along in a few years and change things once again.
It’s how things work and how they will always work.
But this article is about one small aspect of change. A unique occurrence that happens in country music is the last second before something changes. I’m talking about the moment when you realize a topic or a type has gone just a little bit too far. It becomes too familiar and enters the world of being cliche.
That’s not a place where a country artist wants to be. It usually happens when an artist takes the safe route. They look for the sure thing and in the process they lose focus on what really got them to the top in the first place.
I think it’s happened with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.
The Rockstar Topic is Played Out
Just a few weeks ago Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw unveiled Feel Like a Rockstar.
There may not have been a more anticipated single than this since Garth Brooks released a new one back around 2005. Kenny and Tim are at the top of the country world and have been for the better part of a decade. They took over country music in the 2000s and became two of the biggest rockstars in country music history.
Tim was able to leave his longtime record label recently. He found freedom to work with whoever he wanted and to record whatever he wanted. It’s rare for country artists to get the chance to release duets as singles. There are a lot of politics that go on and really I think it comes down to the labels not being able to figure out how to split up the money.
Whatever the case, Tim and Kenny had found a way to sidestep the issues. Tim was on his own and the two found themselves with one of the biggest tours of the year on tap. They wanted a single to kick off the summer in style.
Fans were rabid and for good reason.
Then the two hit the stage at the ACMs and really kind of disappointed. The song lacked enthusiasm, but even more than that there was the instant feeling that they were beating a dead horse with the rockstar theme.
The rockstar trend really goes back to the song of the same name from rock group Nickelback. They sang about the rockstar life and the song became a huge pop and rock hit back about five years ago. The song was huge, but it was a new-ish concept at the time. There had been rockstar songs in the past, but not for some time. It seemed fresh when Nickelback sang about it.
Since then the rockstar theme has worked its way into rock, pop and country. It’s been around for about five years and really that’s about as long as a topic like this will last in any genre. People will get tired of the same topic after a while and they’ll start looking for the next big thing.
Think back about 7 or 8 years ago when Gretchen Wilson came out with Redneck Woman. Great song. Anthem for many country folks in the audience. But then the redneck thing got taken way too far in the years that followed. By the time 2010 had rolled around no artist was willing to touch the subject because people were tired of it.
Now, Gretchen didn’t invent the redneck theme. Jeff Foxworthy had been doing it for years in the nineties, but even he gave it a little rest. He still did his famous bit, but he focused on other topics and became well known for his stories about family life and such.
Today, it’s time to lay the rockstar theme to bed for a few years. Tim and Kenny pushed it over the edge. Nickelback started things off. Marcel had a minor hit with Country Rock Star. Jason Aldean has touched on the topic in recent years, but he’s moving on to other topics. Kenny even had a song back a few years ago called Big Star.
I was disappointed with Feel Like a Rockstar. It was a chance for Tim and Kenny to really do something cool and fresh. Instead, they went for the sure thing hit and I’m guessing the song will sell like crazy. That’s great. People will enjoy it.
Maybe there’s another single from Tim and Kenny on the way. I’m not sure what the topic will be. It has to be extremely tough to reinvent a genre and change things. But that’s what the best artists do. That’s what the memorable artists do.
Randy Travis did it in the mid ’80s when he brought country back to its traditional roots. Rascal Flatts did it about 15 years later when they took things to the extreme pop side.
We’ll even dip into the rockstar side of things with Guns ‘N Roses. In the late ’80s they took rock music from the cliches of hairspray and excess and back to the streets and the filth of life and its issues.
I’m not sure what the next big theme will be in country music. Right now I feel like Jason Aldean hit a homerun with his rural theme. Luke Bryan is hitting the same chords with his music right now.
I think Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford and mixing country, heavy rock and a little rap in their music. That could be the next thing. Maybe there’s a little rap country coming down the line.
It’s time to lay being a rockstar down.
Let’s move on.