Say What? – Hillary Scott

From an interview with The Boston Globe, via Country California:

Country music has always been filled with artists who write their own songs. But I think in the ’80s and ’90s it went through a phase where everyone was recording songs written by other songwriters; which gives those songwriters great success and a way to provide for their families, but I think the fans also love to hear what the artist has to say from the artist’s mouth. And that’s, I think, one of the reasons why Taylor Swift has done such an amazing job and has been so successful, because she’s baring her heart to her fans and it’s so relatable.  – Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum

Where to begin? I’ll start with the fact that Scott is wrong on the merits. There were plenty of artists who wrote their own songs during the eighties and nineties, though the best ones had the good judgment to balance their best compositions with great songs written by others, rather than weaken an album by not recording outside material that’s superior to what they’ve written themselves.

I have more of an issue with the idea that today’s country artists have improved on what came before them with this supposedly new approach. I’m sorry, but today’s current crop of country stars are collectively less talented, less compelling, less interesting, and quite frankly, less capable with a pen, guitar, and microphone than even the B-list stars of the eighties and nineties.  There aren’t that many who can sing or write, let alone do both.

Study Taylor Swift for her marketing acumen. There’s a lesson to be learned there. But for all that is good and holy. please look to Randy Travis, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, and just about all of the other big eighties and nineties stars for how to produce good country music.   For Scott to think that her generation is actually improving the genre, she must either have remarkably bad taste in music, or a nineties record collection that runs no deeper than Linda Davis.


  1. nineties record collection that runs no deeper than Linda Davis

    OUCH! I don’t always agree with you, Kevin, but you do have a way with words. It strikes me that so many country artists these days think WAY too much of their generation and its contributions to the genre. To this you can add Rascal Flatts frontman Gary Levox saying “we’ve helped other genres look at country music like country’s pretty cool now,” and of course then there’s Eric Church’s constant poseury as some sort of modern-day Outlaw. I’m sure there are more examples of this phenomenon.

  2. As usual, Kevin…ditto! Especially on the current crop’s talent. I love Love & Theft, but that group is a perfect result of multiple marketing sessions.

  3. Oh yeah, I forgot to comment on this when I read it Country California. Maybe CM will consider hiring you on to help with the quotable snark, since your last line was sooo good.:)

    Ditto, btw.

  4. Gonna have to agree here. Today’s country stars are NOT improving the genre – they’re just coasting on by. Every now and then, one of them might produce something noteworthy, but Hillary apparently does not realize that comparing her generation to the stars of the 80s and 90s does NOT work out in her favor.

    And while Taylor Swift has written some good songs, I do think she could benefit by expanding her catalog with some well-chosen outside material.

  5. A station in my area just changed its format to country, and they actually played the Dixie Chicks over the weekend. I almost ran off the road when “Wide Open Spaces” came on. Our other country stations here never play the Chicks, the one group from the past decade that consistently made great music. Everything else seems so watered down and “average” the last few years, with only a few exceptions. Sigh. I do not find Ms. Scott to be one of those exceptions.

  6. She’s right about WHY Taylor Swift is successful, but it would be a fallacy to assume that success = great music. Don’t get me wrong; Swift has her moments….but c’mon.

    Justin Moore has a co-write on 9 of the 10 tracks on his album, but few would argue that any of it is remarkable. (I enjoy it, but that’s not the point). Writing your own songs is great when the song is great. If Trace Adkins had written Honky Tonk Badonkadonk himself, it wouldn’t have made it any less of an abomination.

    I find that I gravitate towards the artists who pick appropriate, strong songs, and sprinkle in a few good songs that they wrote themselves to maintain that personal feeling with their audience.

    I’m guessing that since I don’t like most of the music Lady A puts out, Hilary Scott probably just has crappy tastes in music though….

  7. Amen, Kevin.

    Her and Taylor are good friends, which I think has an evident bias in her statement. But this is the reason why the best yesteryears of country music are lost, more than half of today’s country music stars don’t have the respect of the elder statespeople of country music as former superstars have… I just thank our lucky stars for Carrie Underwood & Miranda Lambert.

    I could go on and on, but I think I’ll leave it at this and not bash Lady A’s Lady tonight, yes I am feeling generous tonight…

  8. Beyond the verbal insults and such being thrown at Hillary Scott (which I am NOT going to indulge in), I feel that she is missing the very same thing that most of the artists of her generation are missing–the sense and appreciation of the history of country music as a form of American music. This current generation of artists simply seems to use it as some kind of a marketing tool without any understanding of the music’s rich heritage and history; and name-dropping Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, or Waylon Jennings like so many of these hot-shots in big hats do does not necessarily make for good music, country or otherwise. It makes for schlock (IMHO).

  9. I wasn’t a listner of country music in those era’s, so it’s impossible for me to judge the quality of most songs and albums released in that time period.

    But I think any listner of current country music (and most music in general), could conclude that the quality of songs and level of talent it takes to become hugely successful in entertainment has significantly decreased over time.

    In pop music, most women like Katy Perry, Keshia, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Riannaha, and tons of others are relying on sex and image over talent and quality.

    In country music, I would argue that the central focus is more on storytelling- but that leaves a whole decline in quality to discuss, because the narratives being told aren’t always memorable or stocked with quality either.

    I think most listeners of country music are drawn of genre because of the personal elements and strong storytelling element- but little is left when it becomes difficult to defend its defining quality, as it has in recent decades.

    I think every artist has quality moments- but that won’t make up for a career full of weaker material thereafter.

    In response to the Rascal Flatts comment:

    It may be a tad cocky for an artist to recognize their influence, but I think it’s difficult to deny in the case of those like Rascal Flatts, Taylor, and Carrie. Like them or despise them, they all have significant impact on our culture, and will infulence those that come after themRF was the biggest (and practically only) visible and hugely successful country and crossover band for an entire decade.

    Ironically, Carrie Underwood invited them to sing with her on Idol, and they gained a big following; they also gave Taylor (who was unknown at the time) her first chance to play for huge audiences that fit her demograpic and appealed to her image.

  10. Since I have no background in the country music of the past I can’t add anything relevant to this discussion. But what I do want to say is that when the former superstars join forces with the new ones, it can be magical….. the audio quality of this youtube video isn’t the best but I think that the video still manages to show how amazing and memorable this moment was for all who attended…

  11. I will never understand all of the Eric Church bashing, especially in the area of reverence for the history of country music. The song “A Lotta Boot Left to Fill” is about how country music used to be and how it would be better if it were that way today. As he sings, “I think we all got a lotta boot left to fill,” the boot he is referring to is the boot of the people that came before him, such as Willie, Waylon and Hank Sr. Eric Church may come off a little too cocky, but as someone who has followed his career closely, he has shown nothing but respect for the people that came before him.

  12. I’m no big expert on country music. I’m from Europe, so my exposure to country music is (understandably) limited compared to most of the visitors of this blog. Before 2000 the only country singers I knew were Dolly Parton and Shania Twain, the latter of whom was definitely completely pop over here. Oh, and LeAnn Rimes, but like Shania she was pretty much pop over here.

    But even with my limited exposure to the genre at the time, I’ve delved into the music of the past after Carrie Underwood dragged me into the genre a few years back. And while not everything might be my taste of music (I really am a more pop-country kind of guy), I can appreciate yesteryear’s great talent for what it is. And people like Taylor Swift and the majority of today’s country stars really aren’t up to standard. Not even just with song writing, just in general.

    As far as the song writing goes, though, I think Carrie Underwood is a perfect example of how wrong Hillary Scott is. Carrie is (arguably) the most gifted female country vocalist in a long, long, long time. She’s had a couple of great songs (not always released to country radio), almost all of which have one thing in common: Carrie didn’t have a hand in writing any of them.

    “I’ll Stand By You”, “I Told You So”, “Before He Cheats”, “Wasted”, “Just A Dream” and “Someday When I Stop Loving You” are just a couple of examples of (in my eyes/ears) great songs that Carrie had nothing to do with beyond her stellar vocals.

  13. As most here will know, I am more a fan of the traditional country music than the contemporary country music, although there is much good contemporary country music as well. Country has always had its share of poorly written songs – the great stuff is remembered and the lousy stuff deservedly is forgotten. I have about 7500 vinyl country albums – trust me when I say that not all of the recordings that fill these albums are immortal classics

    That said, I do think that the constant co-writing of songs does tend to result in rather bland product. Also today’s production values tend to lessen the impact of even stellar material.

    With regard to Ms Scott’s statement, I think that there is actually less self-written material being recorded today, if by self-written material you mean songs written entirely by the singer alone and/or in conjunction with members of the band. The minute you bring in a Jeffrey Steele or Matraca Berg (or whomever) to co-write, it really isn’t a self-written song anymore and I suspect that the big name artist’s actual input into many songs for which they share co-writer credit is pretty minimal

    And let’s not bash Linda Davis – while on major labels she made the recordings she was allowed to make. She’s really a pretty talented vocalist

  14. Just to nitpick:

    “In pop music, most women like Katy Perry, Keshia, Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Riannaha, and tons of others are relying on sex and image over talent and quality.”

    These women do all have highly sexualized images, but I don’t like this oft-visited argument that they rely on them. I won’t dispute that most of them can’t really sing (Rihanna I haven’t heard live much, but I think she’s good enough on record), but most of their best tracks are addictive, well-produced bubblegum, which has always had a place in pop music. I think the problem is just that there’s no balance to that in pop music right now, no Jewel or Alanis Morissette or Carole King or (whoever) to represent women in a more “serious” fashion. Taylor Swift is like the closest thing we’ve got, in terms of women who regularly get Top 40 airplay.

  15. Have to agree with this article. Can’t believe that H. Scott said “But I think in the ’80s and ’90s it went through a phase where everyone was recording songs written by other songwriters”.

    My first thought was she never heard of Mary Chapin Carpenter? She had a few well known collaborations with Don Schlitz and a few others but many solo writing efforts. Of course, there are others as Kevin indicated.

    I’m not good at math or spacial perception but I wonder how much space does it take to store Paul’s 7500 vinyl albums. How many months, years would it take if you were to attempt to listen to all of them without disrupting your normal daily activities? I’m retired and I think it would take me years.

  16. Bob – a lot of those albums I probably should discard – it is well over 50 linear feet, but I haven’t actually measured the space actually taken up (some are in boxes rather than on shelves) and there are some I haven’t listened to in quite a while – lately I have been digitizing my favorites so I can play them in my vehicle

  17. “I think the problem is just that there’s no balance to that in pop music right now, no Jewel or Alanis Morissette or Carole King or (whoever) to represent women in a more “serious” fashion.”

    What, you mean you don’t see the depth in Lady Gaga’s lyrics or the serious issues she tackles, like riding disco sticks? She writes that stuff herself, you know.

  18. Funny thing is I do see Katy Perry and Lady GaGa as more than their images and they are actually good songwriters and Gaga actually can carry a tune when you strip all the silliness of her wardrobe away.

    As for Hillary Scott’s comment, she was being more or less as ‘cocky’ as Eric Church gets. The funny thing is Lady Antebellum uses the approach that even the strong Miranda Lambert uses, while they can write, they WILL cut outside material.

    As for Carrie Underwood’s co-writing, it’s known quite a bit here in Nashville in songwriting circles that she contributes little to the songwriting process. She basically just goes to ‘retreats’ with the same group of writers from her first album and they basically re-write the same stuff from her first album over and over again. The minute she gets away from that and cuts an outside record like they did the first one, she may find more fantastic material.

  19. I respect GaGa’s raw talent, but as an artist, her music doesn’t have much of a message (yet) besides “lose your inhibitions.” Her image does say something, I think. I like that it defies the glamor of the normal entertainment-industry affiars.

    Perry’s put out some singles I find addictive, but nothing I treasure so much that I’d miss her if she disappeared tomorrow. I don’t think many people really connect with her as an artist; they just download her hits, dance to them, move along.

    Sara Bareilles has got it, but her sound needs to get a little bit more colorful or something before I’ll be fully onboard. Like, I enjoy so many individual components of “King of Anything”, but the whole still comes off a bit vanilla.

    Country music? What country music?

  20. “King of Anything” is blah, but there’s some good stuff on her albums. Regarding Lady Gaga – the girl can sing. Really well. I like my singer’s singers and I’ll take them wherever I can these days!

  21. Matt —
    With all due respect, you’re completely wrong. Carrie’s had much more than a small hand in her writing, as she’s stated numerous times, as well as the people she’s written with.
    Underwood came up with the idea of “Temporary Home”, which has now become a #1, Gold-certified single that has also won a CMT Music Video Award, and has been nominated for 2 Inspirational Country Music Awards.
    I don’t think they would’ve given Underwood the credit had she done such little as what you’ve stated. “Retreats”? Hardly. She took nearly an entire year off in 2009 to work on “Play On”. I doubt she spent it slacking off and going to a couple “retreats” here and there, and had everyone else do the work.

    Underwood hasn’t written a song on her own, and that’s perfectly fine. She still pens a part of her work, and that’s good enough for me. I don’t think someone else could’ve written “Temporary Home”, “Mama’s Song”, or other gems such as “Play On” and “What Can I Say?” on the album without Underwood’s personal, emotional state being incorporated into the mix.

  22. Craig, Carrie actually held a three-day songwriters retreat at the Ryman for Carnival Ride. But I agree with you that none of the songs above would have materialized with the same heart had she not had a hand in the process.

  23. Besides the obvious financial benefits, I never could figure out what the big deal is about a singer writing their own songs. When I hear a song that I love listening to, I really don’t care who wrote the song.

    Regarding balance on the Top 40, although she’s not a Jewel or a Sarah McLaughlin type, I’d say Beyonce is one who tips the scale back to the quality and talent side.

  24. @ Danni:

    I think it tracks back to legends like John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan, who really formed the basis of the singer/songwriter movement of the 1960s, in which artistic creativity was paramount to them; they needed to express themselves in whatever way they could, and if what they created made money, either through their own recordings or cover versions by others, so be it.

    I think it is somewhat important, not to mention inevitable, that a lot of artists do write their own material, but I agree with you that it’s not always necessary to know this fact in order to enjoy the song.

  25. To clarify, I meant no disrespect to the artists mentioned in my above post. Music and image is synonmous with any genre of music in this generation, and I recognize that.

    Everyone has their own perceptions of musical quality and enjoyment, and music is far too subjective to debate over such issues.

    I actually love Lady Gaga, and recognize her incredible talent. I respect her for being an entertainer that isn’t afraid to speak her mind on various issues. She’s the most powerful entertainer in the world, and I respect her for using that to inspire change.

    I was specifically reffering to her antics as an entertainer, and how that (and sexualized images) have become the focus of music, rather than the music itself.

    As for Lady A, I think they’re a talented group, but they consistently fail when it comes to actually making relevant music that will make people remember their contribution 20 years from now. That’s the issue with most current music- if the artist has actual talent, they often waste it on material that will serve as nothing more than enjoyable background music once it’s off the radio and record sales slow down.

    If Hillary is going to make such provocative statements about the state of music, I’d at least expect her to have better examples than Taylor Swift.

    While Taylor is a talented writer, her music isn’t particularly memorable or substaintal. Just because an artists writes their own music doesn’t mean their improving the music industry.

    Few current artists have the talent to write, sing and play music that’s all excellent. Just because you have talent in one area, doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to succeed in others.

    Even as a teenager myself, I have enough experience listening to music to recognize that no artist today is moving it forward, as Hillary proclaims. There are still artists with talent, but few can write, sing and play well, and it’s all too commercialized to enjoy at times.

    I might enjoy Taylor and Lady A more if they recorded quality material, and everything they accomplished wasn’t shoved in my face every five minutes. Even Taylor is a prime example. She’s a great role model, sweet and modest, but she’s so overexposed it’s difficult to respect her music and remember what she’s trying to say an artist. That’s all that matters in the end, but it gets lost in the shuffle of a certain image and marketing techniques, that artists forget what’s most important.

    As long as I have a talented artist who records quality music, that’s all that matters to me. It’s not about image or making sure you write all your own music.

  26. I love Linda Davis, but I wonder how Hilary was brought up musically… because she did grow up (as a teenager) in the 1990s, where pop-country was rampant in the mainstream….

    ….Personally, I don’t really notice if a song is written by the artist or not; I gain a new appriciation for the artist if they wrote said song (and if it’s a good song, I love it even more)… But I don’t think it should matter.

    I think it is dangerous for artists to be egotistical, which is one thing that (from what I’ve seen) a good majority of today’s ‘country’ singers not show, especially Taylor Swift AND Carrie Underwood. And that is another aspect of what makes an artist appealing, IMO.

    Anyways, I would say that Sugarland is also a good example of artists who write their own material (and very well, I might add).

    And what’s best about country music is that even if the artist does not write the song themselves, it feels like they actually wrote it. (ie: Reba’s “For My Broken Heart” & “Greatest Man I Never Knew”)

    So, I guess Scott just felt a need to profess something positive about her friend, who doesn’t always get the best vocal reviews…. And I think we should take note of the fact that their friendship definatly has played a part in Scott’s comments about Swift.

  27. For me, all that matters is feeling a connection to a song. A good artist makes a connection with the song regardless of if they wrote it or not. Alison Krauss is probably one of the most respected artists in country music and other than a couple of Christmas songs and 1 on the last AKUS album she doesn’t record much of what she’s written.

  28. A lot of co-writer credits have been given to get the artist to cut the song. After all. if you are a starving songwriter 50% of a big hit is worth more than 100% of nothing.

    This practive was significant in the 1950s and I suspect it continues unabated to this day

  29. I think this idea of singers having to write their songs to be successful is ludicrious.

    I think it’s cool if an artist writes a song, and it brings a face to relate to, but a song is a song. Garth Brooks was one of the biggest things to come to country, and he wrote very few of his songs.

    I love Taylor Swift, and I’m gonna admit I think it’s impressive that she has written all her songs, but that’s not why she’s famous. She’s famous because these songs resonate with people. Maybe not the country audience they used to, back when she was singing about Tim McGraw and before eshe had to have elaborate costumes to perform on an award show. But they resonate with some people…and even if it was some other girl singing about Drew, they still would be relatable to girls. And the point about Carrie Underwood not writing many of her hits shows this further.

    What about “The House That Built Me”? I bet even good ole Hillary Scott would call that a good country song…but that’s one of the few tracks Miranda didn’t cowrite on her CD.

    Point being, I wish the view was good songs are good songs. Just because a singer wrote it doesn’t neccesarily mean it’s good, and I wish artists could see it’s more about good writing and relatibility and words that mean something and not a cowriting credit, that’s what I want to hear at least.

  30. In response to Matt about Carrie not writing: If this is true, why is it that when I emailed Bill Anderson about “Oklahoma Wind” inquiring about whether it would see release he said he “hoped” so and that he was “incredible surprised” by the “imagery that Carrie brought to the table.” Just sayin’.

  31. Its funny how some criticize certain artists for not writing their own material. Using Underwood as an example, when she first hit the scene everyone said, yeah she has a great voice but she doesn’t write her own stuff. Then on her 2nd and 3rd albums she contributed more and more to the efforts. But then again she is criticized, that well she doesn’t write her own songs she co-writes them with others. Then she is immediately compared to Swift who leans toward strictly writing her own songs without co-write helps. Now we hear in some of the comments here, that well Carrie doesn’t contribute much to the co-write sessions she just pretty much shows up. Come on, must we just keep criticizing this girl. She is extremely talented. Not to mention that she can really sing. On the other hand Swift is gifted in writing but cannot sing. Scott is not a great singer as well. Carrie is both. Temporary Home is a deep song. Not too many people get the true meaning of the song. Bottom line, no matter what it seems is put out there, will be criticized for one reason or another.

  32. She proves once and for all that life is for Mummy and Dadas little darlings. She’s very attractive but FAT. And apparently nobody told her you do NOT marry the drummer; what an idiot.

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