Unless you are living under a rock, by now you have heard of Blake Shelton discussing his role as Male Vocalist of the Year that has offended many classic and traditional country music fans. If you haven't, I will summarize below. What do these comments mean? A slip of the tongue? A bad choice of words? A giant mistake? A completely false and stupid statement? Yes.
During a taping of GAC's program "Backstory", Blake made the following quote about his role in progressing country music:
"If I am 'Male Vocalist of the Year' that must mean that I'm one of those people now that gets to decide if it moves forward and if it moves on. Country music has to evolve in order to survive. Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa's music. And I don't care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, 'My God, that ain't country!' Well that's because you don't buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don't want to buy the music you were buying."
Old Farts and jackasses huh?? Well, this infuriated many, from Trigger from Saving Country Music to country music legend Ray Price, who had the following to say via his Facebook feed:
"It's a shame that I have spend 63 years in this business trying to introduce music to a larger audience and to make it easier for the younger artists who are coming behind me. Every now and then some young artist will record a rock and roll type song, have a hit first time out with kids only. This is why you see stars come with a few hits only and then just fade away believing they are God's answer to the world. This guy sounds like in his own mind that his head is so large no hat ever made will fit him. Stupidity Reigns Supreme!!!!!!! Ray Price (CHIEF "OLD FART" & JACKASS") " P.S. YOU SHOULD BE SO LUCKY AS US OLD-TIMERS. CHECK BACK IN 63 YEARS (THE YEAR 2075) AND LET US KNOW HOW YOUR NAME AND YOUR MUSIC WILL BE REMEMBERED."
Wow. Not a lot to debate there, Ray was pretty upset. Blake then took to HIS Twitter to respond, and the whirlwind continued:
"Whoa!!! I heard I offended one of my all time favorite artists Ray Price by my statement “Nobody wants to listen to their grandpas music”..And probably some other things from that same interview on GAC Backstory.. I hate that I upset him.. The truth is my statement was and STILL Is about how we as the new generation of country artists have to keep re-inventing country music to keep it popular. Just EXACTLY… The way Mr. Price did along hid journey as a main stream country artist.. Pushing the boundaries with his records. “For The Goodtimes” Perfect example with the introduction of a bigger orchestrated sound in country music.. It was new and awesome!!! I absolutely have no doubt I could have worded it better(as always ha!) and I apologize to Mr. Price and any other heroes of mine that it may offended.. I meant every word I said. Country music is my life and it’s future AND past is important to me. I’ll put my Lo(v)e and respect and knowledge About it up against anybody out there… ANYBODY…"
So... not really an apology. This has caused a huge backlash on Blake Shelton, fans calling him out and artists coming to his defense, including Martina McBride, Justin Moore, Chris Young, and his wife, Miranda Lambert. Ray Price is yet to respond
But what does this all this mean? Some fans want to boycott all things Blake Shelton and never listen to him again, even asking for him to be kicked out of the Grand Ole Opry. That is a little extreme. Others think Blake did absolutely nothing wrong and are proud of his remarks. That's not 100% correct either.
The truth is, Blake is right, yet wrong at the same time. Country music does need to evolve to stay viable. Johnny Cash was "rock & roll" at his time. Everyone was scared of Waylon Jennings. Garth Brooks was scorned by many country fans. All are now Country Music Hall of Fame members. But where I'll argue is whether Blake is evolving or cashing in. I don't doubt Blake loves country music and its history, and while his songs are far from the most offensive pop songs, they aren't the cutting edge of country either. Blake was once a strong traditional voice in the pop-country world, cutting modern classics such as "Ol Red" "Who Are You When I'm Not Lookin'?" and "Austin", and even doing a cover of a Conway Twitty song ("Goodbye Time") and having massive radio success with it. Even his silly songs like "Hillbilly Bone" were corny, but country. Now, Blake seems to be looking for inoffensive mellow country songs that will reach his new fan base from The Voice, the hit singing competition show he judges. Miranda Lambert is evolving the country sound with respect to tradition. So has Alan Jackson and George Strait. Eric Church is certainly not traditional, but he is opening new country doors with his sound and keeping artistic merit. What Blake is doing (recently) is cashing in on some new found popularity. There's nothing wrong with that. To each their own. I personally enjoyed "Ol Red" and the likes, and really didn't hate or love "Over" "Sure Be Cool If You Did" and "Drink On It" and such. Blake is right, country needs to evolve, but I don't think he is helping much anymore. Maybe he will once The Voice flame burns out.
As far as Blake goes with saying those records don't sell, he is blatantly wrong. The O Brother Where Art Thou? soundtrack was the biggest selling album of the year when it was released a few years ago. It was made up of bluegrass songs and gospel tunes. Dwight Yoakam had a pretty decent release this year with little to no radio play. Hank Willaims III puts albums in the top 10 with almost every release. Do they sell as well as Taylor Swift? No, but nobody does. If the "grandpa music" Blake talks about was pounded into our heads over the radio dial like Taylor, Lady A, and Flatts are, the sales would be the same. A person is smart. People are dumb. People listen to what they are told. Look at the pop world. The biggest selling artist of 2012 was Mumford and Sons, a folk band that has more banjo and twang than 90% of mainstream country artists. The Lumineers are a folk band rising towards the top. Phillip Phillips had a monster hit with "Home" which was rootsy and simple. Adele wins award after award and boasts huge sales with heartfelt songs with killer vocals, not over production and noise. If the pop world of all places is realizing that roots, talent, and soul sells, why can't country??? The problem isn't with Blake, or the fans, its the radio industry. While the local pop station plays Adele's piano songs and Mumford & Sons banjo hoedowns, country plays lame gutless music like "Cruise" and "Truck Yeah". We reward mediocrity like no other genre, and it is discouraging. So Blake, you're right, kids do buy the records, but that doesn't mean you have to cater to them. They will buy what they are told whether it's good or not, so why not make it good?
Lastly, and most importantly, Blake worded this terribly. I can see his points and while I respectfully disagree, I don't think Blake is interested in trashing his heroes. He made a giant mistake, and it came back to bite him. Ray Price is not an old fart, neither is George Jones or Merle Haggard. I am not a jackass, I buy old traditional records. Blake pissed off a lot of people who have been simmering for a long time, people who just needed a reason to blow. This was it, and Blake gets the tornado, warranted or not.
In conclusion, I say this: Blake messed up. He was slightly wrong. His music is slipping. But, he doesn't hate country music and he isn't the enemy here. Blake knows and loves country music, I don't doubt that. I hope he will use this as a learning experience. Don't yell at the people who got pissed Blake, understand their side. The traditional country crowd is larger than anyone thinks, you should know first hand now. Embrace that. Record the poppier country songs you want sometimes, but throw them a Jones cover as a single or maybe give a traditional newcomer or aging legend an opening slot on your tour. Suggest your contestants cover a Waylon song on The Voice. Get the Grand Ole Opry's name out there more and more. I don't hate you Blake. I'm not going to quit buying your music or quit being your fan. But I don't like what you said, and I hope you can use this as a positive experience going forward. Keep it country Blake!!!!!!