Thomas Rhett featuring Maren Morris
Written by Dave Barnes and Julian Bunetta
I’m a child of the eighties.
Sure, I was technically born in the seventies, but I turned one in 1980. I grew up on eighties music. My sister was a Madonna wannabe and had a stack of eighties pop 45s that stretched to the heavens, and they were pretty great records.
So I get all the eighties nostalgia. Heck, The Goldbergs is my favorite sitcom on the air right now. There’s nothing wrong with a throwback.
But if country artists are going to keep doing throwbacks to eighties music, perhaps they should read a vintage issue of Billboard:
A quick history lesson for today’s country artists. Your aspiration above is not Madonna. Stop trying to write pop songs like her. Listen to “Into the Groove” or “Like a Prayer” and realize that she’s out of your reach.
The closest your attempts at eighties pop are going to come to 1987 is Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam. They are largely forgotten for a reason, and eighties pop wannabe records like “Craving You” are far less memorable than “Lost in Emotion” or “Head to Toe.”
But they still came closer to pulling it off than you ever will because they were fluent in the same language. Pop and country are not the same languages. What makes a pop record work is very different than what makes a country record work, and few talents over the years have been able to successfully pull off records that succeed as both.
I have no problem with crossover country, but it only works if you have an understanding of both genres. “Craving You” doesn’t know how to be pop and has no connection to country. It fails as a pop record and as a country record. Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris don’t know what they’re doing.
My recommendation to both of them, and the vast majority of their country radio colleagues, is to look at the picture above and study the second guy on the right. Randy Travis knew what he was, and made some of the best country records in history because of it. Those records were so good at being country that they crossed over to the pop market. Not on the radio or anything like that, but they appealed to a much wider audience than country fans, and he was the first country artist to sell four million copies of an album without any spins on pop radio.
Oh, and check out Dwight Yoakam and the Judds while you’re at it. Understand where the genre that you claim to be a part of actually came from. What they were doing in the eighties is far more instructive for what you should be doing than any pop record of the era.
Sure, you’ll probably fall short of that standard. Even some of the great country artists can’t match Randy Travis. But if you’re going to be an imitation of someone that isn’t quite as good as the original, there is at least some dignity in falling short of being Randy Travis.
It’s better than some guy comparing you to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and still finding you lacking in comparison.