My Kind of Country

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

Country Music’s Next Great Renaissance: The unthinkable success of Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’

Florida-Georgia-Line-Cruise-Remix-2013-1200x12002013 in country music:

  • Vince Gill and Paul Franklin release the sublime Bakersfield
  • Alan Jackson treats his fans to his long-awaited bluegrass record
  • Florida Georgia Line’s single “Cruise” surpasses Hank Snow’s “I’m Moving On” to become the longest #1 in the history of Billboard’s Hot Country Songs Chart, breaking a 63 year record

Wait, what? You read that right, folks. 2013 will forever be known as the year mainstream country music officially went to the dogs. I don’t even know how to begin expressing my anger, hiding my palpable sadness, or getting over a turn of events that marks the most significant failure in the history of country music.

So, why is this so bad? A popular song, that the public is responding to with open arms (5 million + downloads), has reaped the ultimate reward for its mammoth success: tenure at the top so rock solid, not even Taylor Swift can dislodge it. But isn’t that what it’s all about, being rewarded for your success? I mean, aren’t records meant to be broken at some point anyways?

Yes, all that is true. But it isn’t about breaking the record; it’s how the record was broken. In this case it came last October when Billboard significantly changed the way song ranks were calculated on the Hot Country Songs Chart. Instead of only factoring in radio airplay from country stations, data from streaming services downloads of songs, and airplay for country singles on pop stations were now in the running to determine where a song would place on the chart. A separate Country Airplay chart was created to stand in addition to the old chart with new rules.

Factoring in streaming data and song downloads is fine. It is 2013 after all. Music doesn’t come solely from the radio anymore. But they went a step further – when a country single crosses over to ‘the pop world’ and charts, that data is factored in, too. And thanks to a pop/rap remix featuring rapper Nelly, you now have the phenomenon that’s going on with “Cruise.” In other words, a song can log multiple weeks at #1 on the Hot Country Song chart without any significant airplay within the format.

So, Hank Snow was dislodged from the top by a song featuring a guest rapper that took full advantage of a chart that recently changed its rules. That’s my first issue with this “accomplishment.” On Engine 145 the other day, I commented that this record (which wasn’t broken at the time) meant nothing simply because of the chart tweak. If it had happened this time last year, obviously under the old rules, then I would have no problem at all. At least then it would’ve been fair game.

Garth Brooks accomplished something similar six years ago when his “More Than A Memory” single became the first country song ever to debut on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart at #1. Did I cry foul? No, I didn’t. At the time, it didn’t feel like country music was selling out, even if, (allegedly) Clear Channel had a hand in getting the song played each hour for a week. It was just Brooks breaking yet another record on a chart that was equal opportunity for everyone.

This new Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart is so easy to manipulate it’s scary. Scott Borchetta, the mastermind at Big Machine Label Group, is currently the only one greedy enough to see this, the only label exec who’s conscience is suppressed deep enough to change the course of country music and not give a crap about how he is impacting the greater good of the genre. If we’ve learned anything from Hollywood celebrities and politicians, its money is the route of all evil, and people will stop at nothing to pocket big.

My other issue is the quality of the song. Is it really too much to ask for the song breaking the record to feature even a hint of artistic merit? J.R. Journey said it best last December:

“The only thing worse than this pair of deebags hitting a major breakthrough in their career with a piece of drivel like this will be the countless deebags-in-training that will be inspired to emulate Florida Georgia Line’s success. From the butchered grammar lyrics to the singers’ affected twang and dog tags around their necks, these guys are a legit training manual on how to be scuzzy deebag losers.”

I shudder to think about the doors being opened by the success of “Cruise.” Like “On The Other Hand” and “Any Man of Mine” before it, we’re likely in the middle of the next great renaissance in country music. But instead of eliciting excitement, I only feel dirty. “Cruise” marks the first time a cult song was met with such success and that’s most dangerous of all. Trailer Choir’s “Rockin’ The Beer Gut” was arguably just as big a fan hit, but country radio knew enough to spit it out before it got even half this big. Now there’s no telling what kinds of songs will be heard from radio speakers in the years to come.

Any historian with half a brain will look back at this and wonder – how do you go from “I’m Moving On” to “Cruise?” In those sixty-three years country music stopped evolving and outright changed. The closet pre-cursor to a track like “Cruise” is “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” but even the Charlie Daniels Band classic was loaded with equal parts sincerity and shredded fiddle. Country Universe’s Dan Milliken can believe, “love it, hate it, or tolerate it, the one thing “Cruise” undeniably had going for it was a mighty hook,” all he wants. But good or bad hooks aside; it doesn’t alter the fact that “Cruise” is the new benchmark for success in mainstream country. Lord help and save us all.

18 responses to “Country Music’s Next Great Renaissance: The unthinkable success of Florida Georgia Line’s ‘Cruise’

  1. Razor X August 2, 2013 at 10:03 am

    I don’t have a problem with sales and streaming being part of the formula for determining chart positions but I do think it was a huge mistake to include airplay from non-country radio stations. I wonder what the impact on this song’s chart run would have been if non-country radio airplay had been excluded from the calculation.

    • Michael A. August 2, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      I agree, Razor. I’ve commented on this on Engine145, Billboard and Country Universe, but I think that’s my main issue too… the pop radio airplay. However, pop radio airplay also tends to be the reason the sales and streaming data for songs like this are significantly larger than for “country only” hits. Maybe genres just aren’t important to listeners anymore, but it makes me sad that it seems to be losing its identity in the never ending search for widespread acceptance. I guess we should credit Nelly with a #1 country hit and, had these charts been in place for the last few years, “Need You Now” probably would have been #1 for a year. Boring.

      • Razor X August 2, 2013 at 12:41 pm

        Yes, the pop airplay does drive the sales and streaming; I just wonder to what extent. Would it make any difference if pop airplay were excluded? Perhaps not. Regardless of genre, I find it very odd that this song has remained this popular for so long.

        • Jonathan Pappalardo August 3, 2013 at 9:13 am

          “Need You Now” is nowhere near the league of “Cruise.” Lady A weren’t utter embrassesments to themselves or the genre with that song. Either was Lee Ann Womack with “I Hope You Dance” or Shania Twain with “You’re Still The One.” If this milestone was being celebrated with any of those songs, I wouldn’t care at all. Boring or not, at least there is some artistic merit in the lyrics.

        • Occasional Hope August 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

          As well as excluding airplay from other genres, maybe they should divide chart points based on sales and divide them between the genres the song is getting airplay on.

  2. John August 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I can’t even formulate words to how I feel.

  3. Erik North August 2, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I think that this is something that has been in the works for a very long time. For about the last ten years,there has hardly been any real traditionalism in country music; it has just become, in my opinion, bad Southern arena rock, in which a lot of the traditional country instrumentation (banjo; mandolin; steel guitar, etc.) is buried under a wall of loud, faux-Skynyrd electric guitars. Sad to say, I don’t think this is the culmination of such a corrosive trend, because I have a feeling it’ll be going on a little while longer.

    • Razor X August 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      I could not agree more, Erik.

      • Erik North August 3, 2013 at 8:24 pm

        And I say what I said because I am a fan of 1960s and 1970s rock who appreciates both the traditional and progressive styles of country music, past and present. It’s not the pop influence on country music that is the problem, in my opinion (since such cross-pollination has been a fact since at least the 1950s), so much as what kinds of influences from “the other side” are influencing it now, and the way they’re doing it. To me, the faux-Skynyrd Southern arena rock influence of the present is terrible. There’s nothing country about it–no real sense of the rural, just a bunch of bad sloganeering and name-dropping shout-outs without any sense of what it all really means. For as big as the country music industry must seem in terms of profits, I think it has allowed the music to lose its essence, its basic soul. And I think that’s bad for American music of all kinds in general.

        • Razor X August 3, 2013 at 8:31 pm

          You’re right; the pop influences have always been there. I listened to my fair share of pop-country in the early 80s and I still like a lot of the songs from that era. The problem now that everything is just too loud and sounds the same. The Southern rock influences are bad enough, but the infestation of rap and hip-hop is just terrible. That is something I never anticipated because I always thought of rap/hip-hop being totally incompatible with country.

          I just finished listening to The Band Perry’s “Done”, which is #1 on the airplay chart this week and that is another really terrible song that doesn’t belong on country radio.

  4. Paul W Dennis August 3, 2013 at 9:07 am

    Remixes should be charted as separate songs – that’s perhaps the biggest (long-term) rule change. Previously if a song had a dance remix or a remix with additional artists on it, each would have its own chart entry. I know Billboard has no conscience, but “Cruise” should be broken down into two or three separate chart entries

    • Razor X August 3, 2013 at 7:57 pm

      Paul makes an excellent point. I wholeheartedly agree that remixes should be counted as separate records.

      • Luckyoldsun August 3, 2013 at 10:07 pm

        It’s not that remixes necessarily have to be charged separately. Back eons ago, when they did remixes of B&D’s “Boot Scootin’ Booggie” or Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochie,” those were country remixes aimed at the same market and played on the same stations.

        The problem now seems to be that they’re taking a (nominally) country record, making a non-country remix with non-county artists and Billboard, in its infinite wisdom continues to chart the non-country record’s performance on the country chart.

  5. J.R. Journey August 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I don’t have an issue with the new chart methodology, and I said so back when these changes were announced. Occasional Hope wrote an excellent editorial on the subject a few months back titled “So what is a music chart actually for?” and in it she concluded that the new methods are simply “all a way of keeping score”. And I agree. Factoring in sales and streaming are indicators of a song’s overall popularity, and the chart should reflect all those things that measure the public’s reaction and reception to a single release. I’m not a big fan of the pop radio airplay rule either, but again, it’s a measuring stick for overall popularity, so I don’t think it’s an unfair rule.

    All that said, I think it’s a damn shame that a song as terrible as “Cruise” gets to be the first to benefit from these new changes instead of any of the big crossover songs Jonathan mentioned. And this is purely speculation on my part, but I bet we’re going to see a lot more multi-week number ones in the next few years. It’s only a matter of time before this record is broken again.

    • Razor X August 3, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      As far as the pop airplay is concerned — let’s pretend for a moment that we’re back in the days before streaming or digital downloads. It would have made no sense in those days if Billboard included pop airplay for tabulating chart positions on the country chart and I don’t think many people would have argued otherwise. It doesn’t make sense in the current day and age, either. Obviously sales and data can’t be broken down by genre but radio airplay can.

      What would be really interesting would be if Billboard published a country singles chart based purely on sales, in addition to the Hot Country Songs chart and the airplay chart. It would be sort of like what we’re seeing each week in the 1953 chart listings. If we could see the sales data alone like we see the country airplay alone, it would help give some perspective to the main Hot Country Songs chart.

      • Erik North August 5, 2013 at 6:10 pm

        I will say this, that the immortality of “I’m Movin’ On”, just on the basis of it being one of the great country songs of all times, is solidified in a way that I don’t think “Cruise” will ever be. Besides Hank Snow’s 1950 recording, tons of artists, country and otherwise, ranging from Elvis to Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones, to name just a few, have put their own individual stamps on it, while remaining faithful in spirit to the original. Digital downloads, changed charts, or whatever else, I don’t see “Cruise” being remembered sixty years from now. I just don’t really see that happening.

  6. Erik August 8, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    What actually saddens me most about this change in methodology is that any hope the older artists (read: Reba) had of scoring major hits anymore is now ruined. The real tragedy is that “Turn On The Radio” will be Reba’s last #1 hit now. What a horrible way to cap off such an eventful chart carreer.

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