Modern country has a reputation for taking outmoded rock sounds and turning them into fresh new pop. But now, an article in the Kansas City Star argues, Nashville may be cribbing instead from teenpop. The charts are dominated by “young blond women,” many of whom got their start on TV, with American Idol and Nashville Star serving as this generation’s Mickey Mouse Club: Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Kristy Lee Cook, etc. But is it really the same thing?
“It reminds me of that period in the late 1990s when Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore and Willa Ford all broke out at once in pop music,” said Kurt Patat, country music editor at music.aol.com. “I guess now it’s country music’s turn.”
(Maura: “Willa Ford?”)
Now, this paints country’s pop shift as a bad thing, as does the regrettable use of the word “feminized” in the article’s headline. Most of the article makes an effort to enumerate the artists’ rockist legitimizers: they write their own songs, they’re gritty, they really have to work on the radio where you can’t see their face, and they’ve made their reputation from being musicians rather than being TV stars.
That last point is an important one, and it comes up in Jon Caramanica’s profile of Swift that ran in yesterday’s New York Times. The interesting thing about this trend is not so much a quality issue as it is a celebrity issue, since everyone seems to agree that the pretty blond women are producing some excellent music. So the questions that come up are more like “How will these new stars deal with their fame? Will they crash and burn like some teenpopper have, or will they take it in stride?”
Well, they seem to be doing pretty well so far, and this may have something to do with the nature of the system. Country stars may be singing some poppy songs, but those songs still get released on the country charts first, so they’re not dumped right into the glare of superstardom. It’s probably even more helpful, though, that they’ve seen a generation of young blond girls go through the process already, and know what the pitfalls are. Caramanica’s profile makes very clear how aware Swift is of the dangers lurking in being a teen star. The lede depicts Swift taking pictures of herself with people’s cameraphones and digital cameras, rather than letting them snap a candid shot that might not look so great. As Caramanica puts it, “it was a fair trade: intimacy for control.” Swift updates her own MySpace page, providing a direct connection to fans and making her seem more like a peer than someone who needs to be brought down to your level through ugly candids and the exposure of flubs. Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t. But if someone in Nashville can figure out how the modern star machinery works, maybe they could fill the rest of us in.
Golden hair and golden throats are feminizing the country music scene [Kansas City Star]
My Music, MySpace, My Life [NYT]