(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
So, if I were a high-powered manager or publicist in Nashville and I had a promising young female singer and I wanted to raise her public profile, here’s what I would do. I would let one of the cheap tits-’n’-beer lad magazines photograph her in her barest skivvies. I would believe the magazine’s seductive pitch when it says, “Although the magazine is known for its sexy pictorials, FHM is moving toward a more sophisticated presentation of our subjects — one that is beautiful and alluring.” I would ignore the fact that it’s a magazine that is openly contemptuous of country music.
I would make sure that the magazine picks only the most stereotypical interview quotes from my artist, like the ones about her dad being in and out of jail or drinking moonshine — or any other hick subjects. Then the magazine would put her on its cover — but along with seven other promising young female country singers. That lineup of “sexy sirens” would certainly make a huge impression on the magazine’s young, male, one-handed bathroom readers, none of whom listen to country music. And it would certainly endear her to all the country fans who don’t read tits-’n’-beer magazines.
Then I would express shock and outrage when the magazine sends out to the media a video on the making of the magazine cover. A video that — in its tacky cheapness — resembles home movies along the lines of Hookers on Hollywood Boulevard.
Well, isn’t that what you would do? It’s what their handlers just did for Catherine Britt, Jennifer Hanson, Kerry Harvick, Lauren Lucas, Shelly Fairchild, Jessi Alexander, Jamie O’Neal and Tift Merritt. They’re all over FHM magazine, which drips with typical insults about Hee Haw and Garth Brooks.
Catherine Britt is the most talented newcomer to hit Nashville in years — period. Tift Merritt has a major Grammy nomination — and it’s not for her underwear. Britt and Merritt deserve better than this. So do Jennifer Hanson and all the other young women. So, high-powered managers and publicists, what do you do now for a follow-up for your young artists? They took it almost all the way off. What’s next? What’s more “beautiful and alluring”?
You could do what MCA Records just did for the comeback album for Lee Ann Womack. Just a few years ago, Womack’s handlers managed to torpedo her career by having her record a lame pop album and giving her a physical makeover. The resulting overdone makeup, exaggerated hair, pneumatic cleavage and blowsy wardrobe made her look like — in one critic’s memorable term — “Britney Spears’ mother.” Now, all that’s forgotten. The cover of her new There’s More Where That Came From album is one of the most gorgeous ever in country music. The music is wonderful. And very country. All is forgiven.
When it comes to an artist’s public image, sexy is one thing. A cattle call is another. Maybe I’m a prude, but I think these talented young women are not just meat on the hoof and shouldn’t be treated that way and shouldn’t be taught to think of themselves that way. Media in this country has become in many ways coarse and cheap. Country music doesn’t have to be that way.