At 35, Kenny Chesney Still the Young Romantic

Man, I don’t know where the time goes,
But it sure goes fast

— “Young”

Kenny Chesney is 35 Wednesday (March 26) — and still the young romantic. At least in his videos. Let others sing of dead-end jobs, bad marriages and hungry kids. In his best-of-all-worlds, Chesney remains the cocky high school senior headed south for spring break.

Videos did a lot to establish the singer’s well-muscled image long before he was filling arenas with it. He made his first three clips — “Whatever It Takes,” “The Tin Man” and “Somebody’s Callin'” — for Capricorn Records in 1993 and ’94. While they earned him a fair amount of exposure, they did little to distinguish him from the other upstarts.

In 1995, Chesney switched to BNA Records, his current label, and opened that association with the light-hearted and catchy video, “Fall in Love.” Still in search of a look that’s distinctively his own, he wears a brown cowboy hat and a loose white, long-sleeved shirt. But he has already perfected that hip-swiveling, let’s-get-it-on attitude which becomes increasingly evident as he pours out his feelings to the sweet young thing who sits there with a heart-shaped box of candy clasped to her bosom.

“That’s Why I’m Here,” Chesney’s fifth video for BNA, marks a departure from the artist’s usually sunny countenance. Dark, foreboding and institutional looking, the production depicts an alcoholic who’s trying to come to terms with his affliction. Even here, though, Chesney seems more a wayward youth than a ground-down drunk.

“How Forever Feels,” the colorful romp in the tropics, gave fans the Kenny Chesney they know and cherish today. Lots of skin. Lots of grins. Lots of muscle-flexing fun in the sun. (It was also Chesney’s first video to make CMT’s best-of-the-year list, coming in at No. 4.)

The hunk who emerged in “How Forever Feels” put all his sexual energy to work in his next video, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” It may be the girl who’s turned on by agricultural implements here, but it’s Chesney who catches the fever. His bumping, grinding and water-splashing at the end of the clip are among the most torrid scenes in country-video history. No wonder that the explosive sound of a tractor starting up has become such a staple — and such a reliable crowd-inciter — at his concerts.

Chesney returned to the beach for “I Lost It.” This is a puzzling piece, though, and may have more to do with the singer’s well-known penchant for vacationing in the Virgin Islands than it does with art. It seems strange that one would trek to a touristy seaside resort while in the throes of heartache, as he does here, and then ignore the one available lady who might help him heal his wound. Such fine points probably don’t matter, however, given the fact that one gets to see Chesney in his beachwear. Maybe that’s enough.

“Young” conveys the quintessential Chesney — old enough to look back with fondness yet young enough to meet teenagers on their own turf. Here’s Kenny in a varsity jacket and Kenny standing outdoors, rockin’ with the band and looking as buff as a high school jock. Who knew the Fountain of Youth bubbled up in East Tennessee!

A part of Chesney’s appeal is his pensiveness. After all, even a party animal has to pause now and then to take stock. It’s not so much growing up as thinking about growing up. That’s what he does in “The Good Stuff,” in which he listens to an older and wiser man (the bartender) explain why a lovers’ spat is no reason to hit the sauce.

It’s no secret that Chesney is telling his own story in “Big Star,” even though the narrative is projected onto a woman performer. Of course, it’s the story of every overlooked and underrated kid who beats the odds and then comes roaring back to dazzle his former detractors. On another level, the video — with its whirl of stage lights, sexy costumes and phalanx of security guards — is every fan’s fantasy of what it’s like to be a superstar.

In real life, Chesney is not physically imposing. But through his videos — which focus more on him personally than on the stories in his songs — he has created a swaggering, assertive, larger-than-life figure that works magnificently. And he’s got the ticket sales to prove it.

See the complete video for Chesney’s “Big Star.”
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Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to