On Tuesday night, whether he wants to face it or not, President Obama received a stunning blow from the 2014 election results. The prestigious 2014 Country Music Association (CMA) annual awards extravaganza gave a similar comeuppance to country music superstar, Jason Aldean. The message? Personal popularity doesn’t give anyone the license to flaunt either America’s Constitutional principles or the Judeo-Christian values that are the protection of our people and the foundation of our society. Everyone knows President Obama’s story; let’s look at Aldean’s.
Jason Aldean enjoys pushing the envelope in his music and his behavior, generating the same kind of fan adulation that President Obama had in the early years. Plus, just as Mr. Obama promised to “transform” America, Aldean has vowed to move country music into “uncharted territory.” But some die-hard country music fans didn’t like the new direction when he began merging rap and country in his “Dirt Road Anthem” and “1994.” Many complained that he wasn’t “country” anymore.
But unlike Obama who saw a massive erosion of his base in this week’s election, Aldean’s huge fan base called the CMA omission “one of the most high-profile snubs in years” and a popular country DJ, Bobby Bones, complained about it at length on his widely syndicated Clear Channel morning commute show. Others say the omission is justified because Aldean’s behavior and music, to use the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s phrase, exemplifies “defining deviancy down” in the country music world.
Aldean responds, “No, [my music] is not Hank Williams Sr. or George Jones, but this also isn’t the ’60s and the ’70s. As great as that music was, you have a new wave of artists that were influenced by a whole different world of music, and country music is gonna evolve just like any kind of music.”
While he obviously is not a Nashville establishment favorite, Aldean is currently riding a popular high. He is breaking attendance records and selling out stadiums on tours; he has had “at least a dozen number one singles” and is the “most downloaded” country artist ever. Currently, he has two blockbuster hits: The controversial “Burnin’ it Down” is in its 14th week at the top of the Grand Ole Opry Hot Country Songs chart (chosen by fans) and his “Old Boots, New Dirt” is — surprisingly for a country song — at the top of Billboard. The suits of the country music industry — not to mention parents — are rightly concerned about Aldean’s flouting of mainstream American values and his flippant attitude toward country music traditions and standards.
Aldean created quite a stir in September 2012 when the married father of two girls was caught making out at a Sunset Strip bar in full view of the public with American Idol contestant Brittany Kerr. That hornet’s nest caused the end of his 11-year marriage to Jessica Ussery, his high school sweetheart and the mother of his two children. In response to the public outcry, Aldean told his critics to just “get over it!” Then ignoring his own culpability regarding the effect of his behavior on his two daughters, he asked the public to give the girls privacy and to at least show them “respect,” a virtue he didn’t have the character to practice himself.
Apparently, as far as the Nashville establishment is concerned, the groundswell of complaints about his behavior and the lack of authenticity of his “low brow” country music justify withholding nominations for CMA awards. For his fans, including his outspoken father, Barry Williams, it reflects the “impropriety” of a “flawed” industry.
An objective observer, however, would have to note that before all the sordid ruckus of Aldean’s personal life, he was nominated three times for CMA Entertainer of the Year and never won. He has been nominated by CMA for five awards over the past few years, including for Single of the Year, and he won two awards: Vocal Event of the Year for “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelley Clarkson and Album of the Year for “My Kinda Party.”
Further, Jason has a mountain of competition from huge contemporary country stars like Luke Bryant, Keith Urban, Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley, and Taylor Swift; it also includes the “King of Country Music” George Strait and the legendary Tim McGraw. The bottom line is that Jason is not the only one who is selling out stadiums and setting attendance records, but he is clearly appealing to the lowest common denominator in distorting the boundaries of country music and grabbing the interviews and sensational headlines on BuzzFeed and Rolling Stone Country.
There are those who believe that country music is “in the identity crisis of its life.” Aldean can rake in his millions and enjoy the screaming fans and he can change the direction of country music and pollute the culture along with much of the rap and popular music, but his ego is blinding him to reality if he thinks that it won’t cost him. Perhaps the President’s downfall will be a wake-up call. He would do well to listen to Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town, talking about her group’s success: “It’s a lot more fun to be popular, but it’s super fun to be popular and respected.” Aldean cannot expect to offend people’s sensibilities and then be awarded the country music industry’s most prestigious awards. Count me as one who is glad to see that we’re not to that point… at least, not yet.