My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

To twang or not to twang?

sugarland3It’s a generations-old question.  Is country music country enough these days?  And when does the want to go mainstream override the need to remain traditional? Remixing country songs for pop radio is certainly nothing new.  But it’s a subject that seems to be coming up more and more these days.  Taylor Swift’s done it, and Carrie Underwood’s reps refuse to.  Lee Ann Womack took her remix of ‘I Hope You Dance’ all the way to the Nobel Prize ceremony, and Shania Twain sold millions of albums worldwide with remixed singles.  

Sugarland is now on an extended tour of the UK and Europe.  And in an effort to sell their music over there and get it played on mainstream radio stations, they’ve been asked to take the ‘twang’ out of their hit ‘All I Want to Do’.  To me, the only twang in that song is the vocal of Jennifer Nettles.  So, is Kristian Bush going to sing lead now in an effort to take the Georgia accent from the song?  I certainly hope not.  

Sugarland’s latest album – Love On The Inside, which I would categorize as more acoustic pop than country anyway, is probably the most ‘country’ of their three releases, but only in the loosest sense of the word.  The most country instument on the album is the voice of Jennifer Nettles.  So why the need to remix the songs? Nettles attempts to explain the ‘disassociation’ in an interview with London’s Financial Times:

“As opposed to ‘disassociate’, I would say it’s more to open us up, to say: ‘hey this is what we do, we love all kinds of music and we play all kinds of music’. We embrace it, and I think our fans do too. We want to broaden ourselves and quite frankly we want other people to hear our music and see how it’s accepted.”

I am still in the dark about the logistics behind this thinking though.  Broadening the fan-base and the visibility of country music sounds like a great idea to me.  But when you have to take out the very elements that make it country music to sell it as mainstream music in another nation, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?  Aren’t you then, by default, just selling American pop to an overseas audience?  Dolly Parton (who has always been as much a pop star and cultural icon as a country star) recently wrapped up a very successful tour of Europe without changing her sound.

What do you think?  Is it necessary to tweak the music to sell it to larger numbers? Should acts like Sugarland and Taylor Swift change the sound of their music to appease the European audience?

7 responses to “To twang or not to twang?

  1. Occasional Hope March 19, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    What seems especially strange is the fact that the songs picked for remixing are usually not discernibly country to start with.

    I can tell you that Taylor Swift is currently getting a big promotional push in the UK with TV commercials for her album (I think it’s a special compilation from her first two US releases), which do not mention the word country at all.

    I just wish that anyone who really wants to be a pop star should just go away and try it honestly and not pretend to be a country singer.

  2. Razor X March 19, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I’m not as bothered as a lot of people are by this sort of thing. I agree with Occasional Hope that some of these acts should just be honest and admit that they’re more interested in pop success than they are in country music. Acts that remix their recordings for non-country markets ought to also acknowledge that they are promoting themselves, not country music as a whole. Tbere’s nothing wrong with promoting yourself, just don’t pretend that you’re doing something altruistic for the genre.

    The plus side of this pop remixing is that if only one mix were allowed to exist, it would likely be the pop mix and that is what be delivered to country radio. And of course everyone involved would deny that they were attempting to cross over to the pop charts.

  3. Steve from Boston March 19, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    This is a big problem, and I agree with your implied premise here Razor,(and as you stated elsewhere), that the real remixing is in the form of the overwhelming preponderance of pop songs disguised with token fiddle and steel, (and yes, with token twang,) in an attempt to pass as country songs.

    In my opinion, most of what the public considers “country” music nowadays is nothing more than pop with a Southern drawl. Consequently, there is no real need for any significant remixing when trying to sell these wares to a Pop market.

    Taylor, Sugarland (and Carrie for that matter), can do whatever they want, I just wish they wouldn’t call what they do “country” music.

    And I agree with you folks, that, any overt crossover attempts should not be ratiionalized by the singers in question as altruistic actions to expand the horizon and well being of Country music as a genre. If they really want to advance the legacy of the genre, they should try to connect with the roots of Country, and re-interpret Traditonal elements for today. In most cases, I believe these crossover ambitions are nothing more than an attempt to expand their own fanbase, I think they would all love to be the next Shania-type international superstar.

    But what we really need today is more actual Country singers in country music, not more jet setting divas…enough of all this crossover crap.

    • Razor X March 19, 2009 at 10:37 pm

      Consequently, there is no real need for any significant remixing when trying to sell these wares to a Pop market.

      The thing is, though, pop fans think (incorrectly) that songs like “All I Want To Do” are hardcore country if they aren’t remixed to tone down or remove the country instrumentation. I suppose they really do have to remix if that’s the market they want to go after. I just wish it were enough for country artists to be successful on the country charts, instead of biding their time to conquer the pop world.

      • Steve from Boston March 19, 2009 at 11:18 pm

        It’s almost as though some aspiring Pop singers see the country market as a an entry level stepping stone for their true aspirations..and I doubt their heart was ever in Country in the first place…

        methinks there are opportunists afoot..

        • Steve from Boston March 19, 2009 at 11:40 pm

          Razor, I think you touched on the heart of the matter..I wish Country success were enough for them as well..I wish they would recognize or remember that real Country music is a genre with a strong identiy and a rich heritage, and that Pop is an amorpous genre, sorta like a “miscellaneous” type of music. Pop as a genre is as vapid and transitory as the morning dew by comparison…And these crossovers are chasing after a fickle mistress.

          Instead, too many country singers nowadays define ultimate success as broad, trans-genre appeal…I wish they would aspire to timeless artistic merit instead, the enduring value that Country and Bluegrass afford to those who stay true to her Traditions. Country is calling her children back, and always stands ready to nurture with her soul-nourishing heritage. I just wish that more would heed the call.

  4. Pingback: What makes it country? « My Kind Of Country

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