In this era of rampant piracy and economic recession, things aren’t looking good for the music industry. We don’t post too often about the business side of the music business here, as we tend to keep the focus on the music. But the reality is that these numbers matter. If Little Big Town’s second Equity album had performed as well as the first, the label might still be in business.
It’s not all doom and gloom, as many artists go on to make their best music once they leave major labels. But this Christmas, you can guarantee that some artists and record executives will be bracing for the New Year, while others are embracing it.
Here’s a look at some totals for albums released in 2008, ranked by total sales (rounded to the nearest thousand):
Taylor Swift, Fearless – 1,519,000
Sugarland, Love on the Inside – 1,179,000
George Strait, Troubadour – 693,000
Alan Jackson, Good Time – 628,000
Toby Keith, 35 Biggest Hits – 530,000
Kenny Chesney, Lucky Old Sun – 479,000
Faith Hill, Joy to the World – 341,000
Lady Antebellum, Lady Antebellum – 337,000
James Otto, Sunset Man – 332,000
Rascal Flatts, Greatest Hits Volume 1 – 330,000
Darius Rucker, Learn to Live – 284,000
Julianne Hough, Julianne Hough – 260,000
Toby Keith, That Don’t Make Me a Bad Guy – 224,000
Jewel, Perfectly Clear – 203,000
Dierks Bentley, Greatest Hits: Every Mile a Memory - 195,000
Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song – 183,000
Heidi Newfield, What Am I Waiting For – 162,000
Jessica Simpson, Do You Know – 153,000
Brad Paisley, Play – 137,000
Kellie Pickler, Kellie Pickler – 129,000
Montgomery Gentry, Back When I Knew it All – 127,000
Tim McGraw, Greatest Hits Vol. 3 – 127,000
Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be – 119,000
Zac Brown Band, Foundation – 118,000
Randy Travis, Around the Bend – 89,000
Ashton Shepherd, Sounds So Good - 84,000
Jimmy Wayne, Do You Believe Me Now – 81,000
Trace Adkins, X – 72,000
Billy Currington, Little Bit of Everything – 65,000
I fell in love with Broadway musicals at age 6 when my parents took me to see “Camelot”. It was a truly magical experience, and over the years I’ve often wondered if my early love of musicals contributed to my discovery of country music, as both rely on the emotional connection developed through story songs.
In recent years, a number of mainstream musical artists have ventured onto “The Great White Way.” Among them former American Idol contestants and pop stars. For the most part country music stars have stayed away, but Reba McEntire stands out as a noteworthy exception. In 2001, she starred in “Annie Get Your Gun” to great acclaim. Even as a mid-run replacement she was given a special Drama Desk award, among others. She also gave a memorable turn as Nellie Forbush in the Carnegie Hall production of “South Pacific” in 2006.
While I do believe the experience may be beneficial for some artists in learning how to interpret lyrics and connect with the audience, most country artists will likely never perform on Broadway. So mostly for fun, and out of appreciation and love for both genres, I cast some of today’s country artists in various Broadway roles:
Carrie Underwood as Cosette in “Les Miserables”
Kellie Pickler as Ado Annie Carnes in “Oklahoma”
Emily West as Sally Bowles in “Cabaret”
Julianne Hough as Glinda in “Wicked”
Toby Keith as Jud Fry in “Oklahoma”
Taylor Swift as Wendla Bergmann in “Spring Awakening”
John Rich as Harold Hill in “Music Man”
Ashton Shepherd as Jo March in “Little Women”
Keith Urban as Roger Davis in “Rent”
Brad Paisley as Seymour Krelborn in “Little Shop of Horrors”
Charles Kelley as Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard”
Swedish pop duo Roxette used to throw out picks to the audience during their concerts. Upon the picks, these words were emblazoned: “Don’t Bore Us! Get to the Chorus!”
I couldn’t help but think of those words when listening to the new Kellie Pickler single. The chorus is so strong that it kicks off the song, and each and every time it’s sung, it’s easy to think that you’re listening to a classic in the making. We’re talking “This Kiss”-level catchiness.
But oh, how it all falls apart in the verses. Pickler sounds strained, there’s no discernable melody and the lyrics are no more memorable than the music backing them up. I wouldn’t be shocked if this ends up Pickler’s biggest hit to date, just because call-out research will play the insatiable hook, but that’s really all this single is: a great hook in search of a song to call home.
Last night, the CMA stamped its approval on the leading contemporary country stars of today. Congratulations to Kevin for commandeering the most popular live blog in Country Universe history. Here is a series of highlights (according to me) from an otherwise staid ceremony:
Best performance: “More Like Her,” Miranda Lambert; “Just a Dream,” Carrie Underwood. With understated brilliance, Lambert shifted gears by offering her Texas twang on the stripped-down ballad, while Underwood hit all the glory notes on her dramatic tearjerker with style and grace. Often pitted as rivals and polar opposites, the two proved that country music holds plenty of room for these two prodigious talents. Although Underwood ended Lambert’s faint hopes of claiming the Female Vocalist prize, bet on Lambert winning her fair share of CMAs in the near future.
Sound off: Repeatedly an issue, the Sommet Center’s sound system had problems again this year. Also, Nashville is a town of songwriters, but L.A. is a town of scriptwriters, and some intelligent, humorous ones would be welcome at next year’s ceremony.
Nashville’s full of musicians, too: Let’s tip our hats to first-time CMA award winner, Musician of the Year, Mac McAnally.
10:57 If I was a petty man, I’d be gloating about out-predicting all of my co-writers at Country Universe. Wait a minute. I am a petty man. I won! Yes! I won! This country universe is mine. Y’all just live in it. Suckers. (Except for you Leeann. You didn’t get all up in my grill, talking smack before the throwdown. You’re cool.)
10:56 ENTERTAINER – Kenny Chesney
10:54 Standing O for Shania. Good God, she’s beautiful. Welcome home.
10:50 So the only artist I see live who charges Eagles prices is Madonna, and I have to say that if she just stood there and growled, I’d feel ripped off. Come on, guys. Slap on some heels. Throw in some synchronized dancing. Jump some rope. Rub up against something. You’re supposed to be legends.
10:49 Dan:Once again, a washed up rock act gives us one of the better performances of the night. I like the Eagles, but that’s sad.
10:48 You know it’s bad when you’re hoping that Shania’s the surprise guest because you want to see some real country stars.
10:46 Paisley’s right about that. The Eagles have a lot more to do with country music today than most seventies country stars.
This afternoon, the Country Universe staff is following up last night’s personal picks with our actual predictions about who will win tonight. Check back tonight at show time to join the live blog and mock us for our defective divinations. Less
Kevin: BMG has to throw their weight behind either Chesney or Paisley. My hunch is they’ll back Chesney for Entertainer and Paisley for Male Vocalist. _
Leeann: It’s been Chesney all this time and not much has changed to make me think it won’t be Kenny again this year. _
Blake: Chesney remained steady on the concert trail and earned three #1 singles in the past year. This would be his fourth win, tying Garth Brooks for the most ever in the Entertainer lineup. _
Dan: It seems somewhat foolish to bet against a Chesney repeat, but I just have a nagging feeling that the favor will be thrown in Paisley’s direction this year by voters looking to honor someone new. (more…)
As we gear up for tomorrow night’s CMA Awards Show, the staff of Country Universe share our personal picks in all categories. Check back tomorrow for our predictions in each category. Our third annual Live Blog will commence at the beginning of the show.
Kenny Chesney- Blake
Brad Paisley – Leeann, Lynn
Sugarland – Kevin,Dan
Kevin: The only act in the running this year who has shown artistic, commercial and live performance growth is Sugarland, and they’ve grown by leaps and bounds. In a race with four other acts who have long since settled into their styles, they’re the only ones who are still charting new territory.
Leeann: While Paisley may not use explosions or other fancy tricks to entertain his crowds, much like Vince Gill, he keeps them mesmerized with his comedy, graphic creations, incredible guitar prowess and a catalog of engaging songs – in other words, natural talent.
Blake: Kenny Chesney is the most significant touring act in country music and a genre-crossing ambassador for both fans and fly-by-night followers.
Dan: They can’t claim Chesney’s utter domination of the road, but Sugarland have been consistent sellers in a time where the very idea of selling well feels antiquated. They’re probably the best mainstream ambassadors for the genre right now, too, with musical output that challenges commercial conventions (see “Stay”), at least sort of acknowledges country music’s traditions (again, see “Stay”), and draws creatively from other genres (see the Beyoncé duet, the high-profile covers of Dream Academy and Matt Nathanson, the mish-mashy new album).
Lynn: With natural talent, charm, good humor, humility, skills and grace, Paisley is my pick for Entertainer of the Year. He’s an asset to the genre, and manages to keep one foot in traditional country even as he branches out. Although he’s not as big of a touring act as Chesney, he’s still a huge draw, and despite all the gimmicks and gadgets in his concert, true to the genre, he keeps the music at the heart of his show.
Alan Jackson – Leeann
Brad Paisley - Blake
George Strait – Kevin, Dan, Lynn
Leeann: With Paisley as my close second choice, Jackson has the clear, smooth voice that ultimately gets my vote. Like the man, his voice is simple but it is able to expertly capture each emotion that is needed for each song that he sings. Moreover, every note that he sings comes with incredible ease.
Blake: His attempts at humor miss the mark occasionally, and his vocal range compares little to the great voices of the genre, but Paisley, with his tremendous guitar playing and stellar songwriting executes well enough to win a second consecutive Male Vocalist honor.
Dan: They all kind of put me to sleep this year, but George did it with the strongest set of songs. Paisley will probably repeat, but I say “Strait ’08.”
Lynn: This is a tough category for me this year. I’m a fan of Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and George Strait, but none of them really impressed me with their musical output. I’m going with Strait for keeping it country.
Kevin: All of these men have been repeatedly honored by the CMA. Collectively, they have 54 awards and 240 nominations to date. It’s been a decade since Strait took this one home, and he’s put out better music this year than both Jackson and Urban, the only other vocalists here that are in his league.
Miranda Lambert – Kevin, Leeann, Blake (tie), Dan, Lynn
Carrie Underwood – Blake (tie)
Blake: Underwood’s powerful pipes and positive contribution to the image of the genre deserve props. Likewise to Lambert’s intelligent songwriting, fearless stage attitude and feisty vocal firepower.
Dan: We’re all pretty big fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend here, so…yeah.
Lynn: Except for Swift, vocally this category is a toss-up, and could be decided solely on personal preference. However, if one considers the strength of material as well, this award goes to Miranda Lambert, hands down.
Kevin: Alison Krauss and Carrie Underwood are both worthy of the honor, but Miranda Lambert deserves it the most. She made the best music.
Leeann: Miranda has proven that she can sing a rocker with the necessary grit and energy to appropriate drive her up-tempo songs, but she has also demonstrated a lesser known ability to be able to sing with vulnerability and sensitivity when called upon to do so. Out of the female singers on this list, Lambert has the most interesting voice.
For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.
Zac Brown Band
Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible. This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination. With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race. 2009
Zac Brown Band
Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.
The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.
Little Big Town
In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star. While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.
Little Big Town
I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.
Big & Rich
Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well.I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself.The CMA showed good judgment this year.
On her self-titled second album, she attempts to build on what must be an unexpectedly successful stay in Nashville. As a finalist on American Idol in 2006, she gained notable exposure, but the reality-show sweepstakes rarely produces significant long-term returns. After a pair of CMA nominations and sales of over 800,000 copies of her debut disc Small Town Girl, Pickler now faces a test. In a fickle marketplace where Carrie Underwood is the current queen of the country kingdom and Taylor Swift is its reigning princess, Pickler must discover her place. It’s not a matter of competition with the girl squad, but rather a need for her to establish an identity distinct from the other heroines of mainstream country music.
But although her second disc has some nice moments, its main problem is that Kellie Pickler the person sometimes struggles to translate into Kellie Pickler the singer. Some of the ten tracks here still don’t reveal her real identity, although it’s ever-present in every interview and media campaign that have played as much a part in her career as the actual music. Ironic, given that the supposed theme of the album is expressed in its title: Kellie Pickler. And the production, courtesy of Chris Lindsey, eschews clarity at certain junctures in favor of making big, bold statements. The prominence of drums and electric guitars is often used to hide the utter lack of music personality in the artist, but as we’ve learned in the last years, Pickler always has something to say. She’s not quite able to express that inescapable truth at key moments here due to the musical mix and a handful of innocuous tunes.