I throw up every time I hear of an artist “keeping it real” or “keeping it country”, and that’s because all this authenticity marketing is meant to do is feed you a line of gibberish on why you should like an artist.
The truth is, trying to judge an artist’s authenticity is just dumb, mostly because at the end of the day, you can’t. Did they play the lowest honky-tonks and dive bars for a few weeks or a few years? Does the difference matter? No. Did they grow up loving Johnny Cash? If so, was it from birth or was it just as they got into their teens? Or was it just a few years ago? Who knows? More importantly, who gives a damn?
And before we go any further, yes this is a reply to Saving Country Music’s piece on Midland’s supposed lack of authenticity. I love the blog (I’m one of the few country bloggers who actually does I think). Also, I’m not looking to bash Kyle (or “Trigger”), mostly because I actually agree with the spirit of what he says, even if that spirit is only evident in maybe one or two paragraphs. Let’s get this out of the way though – Midland, your publicists got to stop with the whole preaching about authenticity thing. I get it, it’s good marketing, and they won’t actually stop because of this, but as a fan, I don’t care about how authentic you are. Just give me the damn music and I’ll decide whether I like you or not, plain and simple. In Midland’s case, I do like them, but I can’t really tell if they’ve been through the hardships that have been assigned to them. However, that’s got nothing to do with whether or not they deserve to play country music or how authentic they are.
Ok yeah, they call Scott Borchetta their “boss”, and maybe the one member did get married in a very wealthy part of Wyoming, and maybe the part of Texas the other guys hail from isn’t exactly cowboy country. Yes, maybe it’s completely asinine that the PR folks want us to believe that this equates to the band facing hardships, but again, what does it have anything to do with the band or the music they’re making now?
Quite frankly, I’m a little confused at the piece. The PR folks want to talk about their hardships while Trigger wants to talk about their past lavish lifestyle. In the end, when both sides are talking about things that don’t pertain at all to the music, who’s right?
The question shouldn’t be “How authentic are Midland”…..you know what? No, insert any artist or band name you want in place of Midland. The question should be, “How authentic do they come across in their music?” In my opinion, it’s not the past that should be judged, but rather the present. I don’t care what the artists did before. Jaime Wyatt went to prison. Does that make her real or just an ex-con? I hear a song like “Wishing Well”, and how it talks about the thought of hope and wanting to start over, and that screams as real to me, but only because I believe it in Jaime’s vocal delivery, not because I read about her life story on [insert outlet name here].
To make a side-note for a minute, that’s even something that gets me when I read about album reviews from pretty much everyone (including us). They’re usually loaded with so much background information that I often skip to the part where people talk about the actual music. I think I know why now. It’s the music that should be judged first and foremost. Sure, since Charles Kelley is a member of Lady Antebellum maybe there’s no way he could have actually been a famous songwriter at one point who then crashed and burned miserably. However, I’ll be damned if I don’t believe it when I hear him sing “Leaving Nashville”. Did that actually happen? Not to the best of my knowledge, but again, emotional connection and “authenticity” happens in the song for me, not by reading their Wikipedia page or reading their exclusive interview (wherever it may be).
I’ll be honest, most of the bands pushing on about how authentic they are usually impress me the least. Oh, you’re true country? No wait, true Texas-country? Oh no wait, you meant Americana because Nashville sucks. Gotcha, guess who doesn’t give a damn?
And look, I’m not saying Midland deserves a ton of praise or that there isn’t an element of truth to what Kyle is saying. I’m just saying – let’s not talk about Midland’s actual past and try to solve whether they’re authentic or not, let’s just try to call the bullshit as it is (which he did) and then judge them on their music. On their five song EP released last October, there are two songs that mention hardships. “Check Cashin’ Country”? Yeah, it’s never been a track I cared much for. Again, just play me your damn music instead of wasting three minutes of my time to tell me something you aren’t. The other one though, “Electric Rodeo” is a standard life on the road song that talks of the band currently touring and doing whatever it is they do. They don’t mention they deserve this dream because of how hard they’ve worked, they’re just happy to do it. I believe that, and I believe the other songs on there too, regardless of their quality.
Branching off of this, I’m not really crazy about the guy’s music but I even have a ton of respect for Sam Outlaw. The dude essentially has had the same hardships these guys have had with his (supposed) lavish lifestyle, but he’s kept his mouth shut about his authenticity and let his music do the talking. Truth be told I didn’t know he was an advertising promoter until just this year, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Is his music my cup of tea? No, but I feel no need to hold Sam’s feet to the fire. And again, we can hold their publicists feet to the fire all we want, but again, it’s got nothing to do with Midland themselves.
I mean come on, what about Chris Stapleton? Do y’all want to get into a history lesson about how he’s helped out our pals like Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, or helped to pen Gary Allan and Josh Turner’s arguably two weakest songs in their catalog? Or is Traveller and From A Room Vol. 1 what truly matters? It’s authentic when I hear him sing “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore” because holy hell, those vocals! I’ve beat this into the ground but you get what I’m saying. Maybe it’s not even the music that can be judged either. I think so, but I also think it should be judged loosely. After all, Iv’e droned on long enough about how taste is subjective and how we all perceive music in different ways. It at least seems like a better alternative. Also, as I sit and type this, I know the title of the post asks if we can just ditch authenticity entirely, and overall I’d like that, but if we can’t (which I don’t think we actually can), can we at least stop applying it to things it doesn’t actually apply to?
So again to recap, I like the intentions Trigger had in mind with this, it just went too far off the rails in my opinion. I’m not saying I’ve been perfect with this when I talk about artists here either. I’m a hypocrite, and that search button below (or to the side) can probably prove that, but this is a good learning experience for everyone involved in my opinion. The issue isn’t what the artists did in their past or how they got to where they were. It should be, “what is this artist singing about in this particular song, and does it resonate with me? Can I at least see why it would resonate with others”? For example, I’ve already stated why I can’t get into Zac Brown Band’s “My Old Man”, but I can see the connection for others. That’s what we should be judging. Now, let’s get back to the music, people.