(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
The Grammy Awards ’ big fallout continues to be that Lady Antebellum — and by extension, country music — now become the elephant in music’s living room, just as Taylor Swift and, before her, Garth Brooks were in recent years.
It’s not that Nashville is being unduly rewarded because of its power, as my friend Jim Farber suggested in his New York Daily News column.
He wrote, “The power base of that southern city [Nashville] has greatly increased in the music industry of late if only because, in this, the age of internet piracy, country fans are the largest block of folks who still actually pay for music. That’s because their fans tend to be either older or just slower with technology. Either way, the results Sunday night ended up depressing.”
But country fans — older or not — have nothing to do with Grammy voting, which is both national and international and is done by members of the Recording Academy. Those are all people who work in the music industry, in one form or another. Grammy voters come from all music genres. There is no bloc voting by record labels or by fan clubs, which can easily happen in some awards shows.
But to return to Farber’s conclusion, to me the Grammy results are depressing only in that the fact remains that pop and rock have become so sadly static and predictable that a musical vacuum has again been created for that audience. And we all know that nature abhors a vacuum. As do music fans.
Something always moves in to fill the vacuum. Just as Garth Brooks did beginning in 1989 and Shania Twain did starting in 1995, Taylor Swift and Lady A in the last few years have continued to swoop in and capture the pop fans who are not hearing what they want somewhere else. Is “Need You Now” the absolute best song that exists in popular music these days? The Grammy voters think so. I would like a music marketplace that offers many viable rivals to that song, but these days, there aren’t many. If any.
Find me a song that’s more listener-friendly. This is hardly an original thought, but there are many, many music fans who like harmony singing and melodies and songs that tell a story. And they love songs they can hum or sing along with. Lady A fans are not at all interested in listening to Christina Aguilera attempt to hit every possible note a song will endure before it collapses underneath all that melismatic weight.
For my money, the actual biggest winners of the Grammy Awards are Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers. They finally got an international showcase to present their music. The world seemed to vote a resounding yes. Critical praise and online raves followed, along with the Mumfords topping the iTunes download chart. On the album chart, Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More and Justin Bieber’s My World have both been on the Billboard SoundScan album chart for 47 weeks, but this past week Mumford’s sales eclipsed Bieber’s. Not by much, by only a few hundred albums, but still … .
So why are Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers getting so much popular praise? It’s because they write, play and sing honest, authentic, organic, acoustic music which deals with bedrock human emotions and subjects — which is what bedrock country music used to be about. Until the music became sidetracked by mainstream radio demanding flashy, shallow songs with themes of trucks and back roads and about being country. As opposed to being what?
I can see a future in which country music needs to more peacefully co-exist with acoustic and alternative music in order to both hold its current audience and to pull in new listeners. This is not so radical an idea. I can recall a not-so-long-ago past in which such singer-songwriters as Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris and Steve Earle successfully lived in peace on country radio with the more commercial and manufactured Music Row song factory products.Read more from the New York Daily News story.