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  1. #1

    Default Come Together, Right Now, Over Queen B

    From Radio Insight:


    One of the things I appreciated about Beyonc?’s ?Texas Hold ?Em? is how it short-circuited a lot of the other music discussions that were taking place at the time. On Saturday, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations were announced. The next day, Usher played the Super Bowl’s Halftime Show. Suddenly, a lot of old arguments about which artists belonged where were being relitigated online.*
    Just a week before, seeing Tracy Chapman and Luke Combs on the Grammys had reinforced my belief that people wanted to bond over music. Discovering that somebody likes the same music is always great; it?s even better when they surprise you. A while back, I told a radio friend half my age that I had discovered the hardcore-but-mainstreaming band Turnstile. ?I love you,? he said. With radio less able to create shared experiences, friends and family and people you can talk to music about are more important than ever.
    On Super Bowl Sunday, it felt as if the world could not disagree on even music without being disagreeable. On Monday, although the spotlight was on Country, programmers in all formats struggled with what to make of ?Texas Hold ?Em.? By last Thursday, it was growing steadily everywhere, and Monday?s ?huh?? had become ?okay, we?ll try it.? By this Tuesday, ?Hold ?Em? was most added at Hot AC, Top 40, and Country.
    It’s early days yet, but however ?Hold ?Em? plays out with listeners, it means next week?s scheduled panel on ?inclusive radio? at the Country Radio Seminar will be much less abstract. The discussions about the song ? but also about all our musical hot topics of recent weeks ? have also helped crystallize some thoughts that began taking shape several years ago. Some are more clearly related to ?Texas Hold ?Em? than others; all are related.
    Crossover is the thing over the years that has made music, radio, and charts the most interesting for me. When I began to understand radio programming, Washington, D.C., and Detroit were the two most fascinating markets for their intersection of Rock and R&B. When I heard Houston radio in the early ?80s, Country and R&B overlapped in ways that made it inevitable that ?Texas Hold ?Em? would come out of that market. It made sense that Houston and Detroit were Beyonc?’s first Country adds. In between, I had discovered Country radio at a time when its parameters were changing daily, and many of its hits were covered at R&B (and vice versa).
    For most people, their golden age of Top 40 ? whether that?s 1967, 1979, 1983, or 1998 ? was the moment when ?Top 40 played everything.? Usually, that turns out to mean ?R&B and Country together.? Top 40?s first and most obvious bottoming-out moment was the 1980-82 ?disco backlash,? when Country dominated, and R&B nearly disappeared.
    People who lived through ?Top 40 plays everything? generally understand that ?rock and roll? means more than guitar rock. But they have a hard time extending that to artists from after they gave up on current music, whether that was rock radio in 1968, disco in 1979, or Hip-Hop in 1994. People who understand the Supremes as ?rock and roll? don?t see the contradiction in complaining about Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey being Rock Hall-worthy. Like the argument about Classic Rock vs. Usher/Dr. Dre/J-Lo & Shakira at the halftime show, a lot of the ?don?t even call it the Rock Hall, then? pouting is about the music that makes one feel old.
    The last wildly successful era of Top 40 was atypical. It didn?t play everything. The musical influences were broad, but there was less actual crossover from any other format. Even Usher made separate records for CHR and Hip-Hop/R&B radio. For a few years, it gave parents and kids something to talk about, and made adults feel more connected. Eventually, though, CHR became claustrophobic and remains thus, although the sound it overindulges has changed. Last summer, it was Country crossovers. Now, there is as much retro-disco in CHR as there was actual disco in February 1979. Those songs sound great and help a tempo-starved format, but they also make ?Texas Hold ?Em? a welcome change-up.
    Over the last 10 days, ?Texas Hold ?Em? has struck me as a lot of things, including the successor to Shania Twain?s late-?90s hits, where Mutt Lange filtered a genre?s entire history through his own musical frame of reference. (The “Pour Some Sugar On Me” reference telegraphs that.) Sometimes, it feels like ?Macarena,? the unifying party record arriving at another time of musical angst.
    ?Texas Hold ?Em? had to come from outside. If Beyonc? had gone to Nashville to make a Country record, radio would have likely welcomed her. Many PDs grew up with Destiny’s Child or played her in a previous format. She was, unlike Lil Nas X, from the time before many veered away from Hip-Hop/R&B. Maybe the record Beyonc? made within Nashville would have been ?Wagon Wheel,? Darius Rucker?s perfect synthesis of everything that was one of Country?s biggest 2010s moments. But maybe it would have been Sheryl Crow, a well-loved artist struggling to give radio what it wanted. If ?Texas Hold ?Em? works everywhere (or anywhere), it will be by trying to fit nowhere.
    Country has always contained multitudes, something less obvious if you’ve followed it only through the headlines. It is the format where even the PDs who tried to play ?Old Town Road? quickly backed away, but it is also ?*

    • The format where Merle Haggard?s politics changed in front of listeners over a 10-year-span from ?The Fighting Side of Me? to ?Irma Jackson? to ?Rainbow Stew.?*
    • The format that depended on both Toby Keith and the Chicks during the format doldrums of the late ?90s/early ?00s; many years later, I saw Keith at CRS mention John Prine (clearly a Chicks influence) as a favorite artist, and I was sorry that music clearly wasn?t enough to foster understanding in this case.*
    • The format in the late ?10s that most often addressed America?s division until songs like Kenny Chesney?s ?Get Along? or Luke Bryan?s ?Most People Are Good? no longer felt like enough to bridge the gap.*
    • A format where some of the same PDs who played ?Rich Men North of Richmond? are the ones breaking ?Texas Hold ?Em.? (There are a few pop PDs who have played both as well.)

    Long before ?Try That in a Small Town,? Country?s ratings in larger PPM markets made me wonder if perhaps some existing listeners felt uncomfortable. Did it begin with losing the Chicks? Was it too many songs about small-town values without a balance? Not enough females? Or were the concerns more universal ? not enough tempo? Too much ?boyfriend country?? Not enough older music? Those things were issues for Country listeners in most markets before the recent resurgence.
    Seattle was one of the markets I wondered about. As it happened, all it took to grow Country?s numbers was KKWF (the Wolf) to lose its competitors. And in many of the same markets, including Seattle, Top 40 has had issues too. But as CRS convenes, I still hope Country is encouraged to cast a wide net. It is the current-based format with a large-enough platform and a history of addressing real-life issues to bring people together through music. CRS 2024 was already shaping up as a victory lap because of the format?s musical resurgence. I hope that ?Texas Hold ?Em? turns out to be a part of the success story at CRS 2025 but that, whatever its outcome, the discussion doesn?t hinge on one song.



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