(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.
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.