The Hodgepodge: Pop Duets Ignore Country’s Rich Talent Pool of Female Artists

Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – “Different for Girls”

Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato – “Without a Fight”

Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk – “Setting the World on Fire”

One of the most recent musical trends out of Nashville, as you can tell by the above pairings, is partnering a male country singer with a female non-country singer to record a non-country song, probably in hopes for a crossover hit. Three big, veteran names in country music are using the big names from female pop acts to gain even more exposure and revenue.

This isn’t a terrible trend, and Paisley and Chesney’s songs aren’t terrible. “Different for Girls” has some backwards lyrics, but Dierks and Elle sing the song well, and I like the production to the tune. My only gripe with this trend is that it blatantly ignores a large, talented pool of female singers in country music. Females who already struggle to get songs on the radio by themselves. To be fair, Dierks Bentley also recorded “I’ll Be The Moon” on Black with newcomer Maren Morris, a song which received quite a bit of album promotional play and press before the album’s release. However, the label decided to move forward with the Elle King duet as the single, not the Morris duet.

I know the answer to this question is money and marketability, but why not record these same songs with country newcomers? Mickey Guyton has a vocal power similar to Demi Lovato, and could easily fit into “Without a Fight.” In Fact, on several occasions while on tour with Paisley, Mickey Guyton sang Allison Krauss’ role in “Whiskey Lullaby.” I think Mickey Guyton could have sung Lovato’s parts and “Without a Fight” could still be just as good.

Like I said, I know that there’s a certain marketability that comes with having Demi Lovato’s or P!nk’s name attached to a song as opposed to Mickey Guyton or Cam. Outside of the obvious pop demographic (which the songs are clearly catered toward), those two names are just simply more well-known. But even some singers like Kellie Pickler and Lauren Alaina are good singers themselves and have the American Idol notoriety surrounding their name.

Obviously the larger purpose of songs like the ones mentioned above is the fact that these females attract a non-country audience to song and probably double the listening potential. But coming off a year in which the problem of females on country radio, or lack thereof, was headlining everywhere, it’s odd to me that producers would gloss over that potential talent pool.

Chris Young recently had a number one song on the Airplay Charts that he recorded with Cassadee Pope. “Think of You” is just as Adult Contemporary sounding as the three aforementioned songs. So don’t try to argue that “country females won’t sell” because clearly a duet between male and female COUNTRY singers sold and succeeded.

I’m probably just beating a dead horse and screaming at a brick wall because complaint’s like this haven’t helped. Even with Tomato Gate on everyone’s mind last year, Carrie Underwood and Kelsea Ballerini are still the only females getting consistent radio airplay. Yet women like Lori McKenna, Brandy Clark, Aubrie Sellers, and Margo Price have all released great albums this year. Why don’t we hear them on the charts? Why aren’t labels pursuing duets with these talented singers? Yes, Aubrie Sellers has recently signed a deal with Warner, and Lori McKenna has seen excellent success as a songwriter from “Girl Crush” and “Humble and Kind.” However, it’s still a shame that several of country’s talented female singers are overlooked for a cash-grab pop duet.

Upcoming/Recent Country and Americana Releases

  • Mo Pitney has announced his debut LP through Curb Records. Behind This Guitar will be released October 7.
  • William Michael Morgan announced his debut album, Vinyl, will be released on September 30.
  • Reckless Kelly will release Sunset Motel on September 23.
  • Also on September 23 Dwight Yoakam is releasing a bluegrass album titled Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars…
  • Jack Ingram will release Midnight Motel on August 26. Hear the new single, “I’m Drinking Through It.”
  • The Cadillac Three will release Bury Me in Boots tomorrow.
  • Cody Johnson will release Gotta Be Me tomorrow.
  • Next Friday, both Cody Jinks (I’m Not The Devil) and Kelsey Waldon (I’ve Got a Way) will release albums. A day which is sure to be a good day for new country music.

Throwback Thursday Song

“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn With all the talk of country duets today, what could be better than a duet from two of country’s best singers? Sit back and enjoy this 1973 hit from their duet album of the same name.

Non-Country Suggestion of the Week

Foo Fighters “Everlong” The only non-country music I’ve listened to this week is the Foo Fighters Greatest Hits album, so I recommend what is probably my favorite Foo Fighters song.

Tweet of the Week

I told myself not to mention a certain country group that I wrote about in last week’s Hodgepodge, but this tweet pretty much sums up my opinions on “Comeback Kid.”

iTunes Review for Big Smo

Screen Shot 2016-08-03 at 5.50.44 PM

This guy hates the fact that country fans call Big Smo not country. Especially when later on in this review, he clearly states how Big Smo raps. Sure we don’t technically own the word “country” but we know which music is actually country music and which is actually rap or hick hop.

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22 thoughts on “The Hodgepodge: Pop Duets Ignore Country’s Rich Talent Pool of Female Artists

  1. But when it did happen like with Blake Shelton/Ashley Monroe it doesn’t seem to really boost the female singer’s career. At this point I don’t know what can be done to break more female performers as it’s not as simple as just playing more of them if they are going to be Kelsea Ballerini types. That would just be more not better representation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed, that seemed like a perfect set-up for Ashley, with the song going #1 and her new album coming out. It was actually a decent song too.

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  2. I’d love to hear Mickey Guyton take Demi’s part in Without A Fight. And I’m sure Mickey did a fine job on Whiskey Lullaby as well, but when Brad’s tour made a stop here in God’s Country, Cam was the opener, and she delivered what I consider to be hands down the best performance on Whiskey Lullaby that I’ve ever heard. Her quieter, more reserved vocals fit the song better than I think Mickey’s power pipes would. Now I’m gonna have to go to YouTube and look for a poor quality cell phone video of Brad and Mickey on Whiskey Lullaby.

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  3. I agree that it needs to be higher quality representation and not just more of it. If it just leads to duets with Kelsey Ballerini then it really doesn’t accomplish anything.

    Artists like Aubrie Sellers and Lori McKenna are the ones we need more of.

    For upcoming releases, I am already enjoying Cody Johnson’s new album. It’s not perfect, but I’d give it a solid 7.5/10.
    Looking forward to the new Jack Ingram album.

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  4. Case 1: Dierks Bentley feat. Elle King – “Different For Girls”
    DB is a format star. He is on the way to become a a-list name. But he is 40 years old. Since his current album is watered-down pop-country “Black” might be his last chance to become a superstar. A duet with a pop-singer will help to reach the goal. Is Elle King the right choice? No. I hope she stays away from country music in the future. “Different For Girls” will reach #1 (Country Airplay). That’s it.

    Case 2: Brad Paisley feat. Demi Lovato – “Without A Fight”
    Disappointing track. Desperate singer. Last chance (!?) to stay relevant. Will Demi Lovato fans turn to country music & buy Brad Paisley albums now? No. Will Lovato fans fill Paisley concerts? No. “Without A Fight” is already fighting to reach the Top 10. Huge mistake by BP & his team not to record a duet with a (younger) female country singer.

    Case 3: Kenny Chesney feat. P!nk – “Setting The World On Fire”
    Kenny Chesney is an aging country singer. Big name in North America. P!nk is an aging pop singer. Big name worldwide. Will P!nk fans in France or Germany go gaga over “Setting…”. No. The track is not pop enough for the international fans & radio. “Setting…” is not a country song. Just another Ross Copperman track. It might help Kenny Chesney & his new album “Cosmic Hallelujah”. What’s next? A duet with a 12 year old Disney child star? Kenny Chesney is desperate. Like Brad Paisley he will do whatever it takes to stay in the race.

    New Album: Moe Bandy – Lucky Me – 11 tracks – Bandy Productions – released 7/29
    Old farts will remember Moe Bandy. The 70+ year old singer was popular in the 1970’s & 80’s. He reached #1 with “I Cheated Me Right Out Of You” (1979) & had a handful of other Top 10 hits (like “It’s A Cheating Situation” with Janie Fricke, 1978). “Americana” was his last Top 10 hit in 1988.
    He recorded a couple of successful albums & singles with Joe Stampley too (“Just Good Ol’ Boys”, #1, 1979).
    His new album is classic country: western swing, ballads, gospel… . Sam Hunt & Chris Lane fans will be very disappointed. Duet partners: Oak Ridge Boys, Riders In The Sky & Ricky Skaggs. 10/10.

    New Ep: Kelsey Hickman – Gypsy – 7 tracks – Go Time Records – released 7/29
    Kelsey Hickman is not a rookie. She opened for Lady A, Chris Young & other acts with her (former) band Still Kickin’. The Ep is produced by Kent Wells. The first single is “Gone”. Radio-friendly & should be hit on the “Music Row CountryBreakout Chart”. Kelsey Hickman can sing, the songs are modern-country & the Ep sounds like a winner. My highlights: “Gone”, “Gypsy” & “If You Stay”. 8/10.

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  5. I will say Brad & Demi’s collaboration “Without A Fight” seems genuine, like they are genuine friends (as evident by the music video) and wanted to duet. Plus the song is really good imo.

    For Dierks & Elle, I recall Saving County Music saying that Elle King didn’t even know Dierks before their duet. Kenny Chesney and Pink well, I like the song as it reminds me of “El Cerrito Place” for some reason, although the timing looks suspicious.

    Also to Olar about Elle King. I genuinely believe she’d be a great talent to possibly have in country music and she has said she takes influence from country into her music as well, is it the main source of her music? Well no, but you can tell by her voice she has a natural raspiness to her voice that’d be a welcomimg addition.

    Now for “Without A Fight” I genuinely believe that’d be more of a Lauren Alaina type song as she is more of a strong singer without straight up belting, like Mickey Guyton, although Mickey Guyton would be another good choice as well.

    For “Different For Girls” that’s a song I can see being in Cam’s wheelhouse as Cam has a nice sweet emotive voice that could work very well.

    Finally “Setting The World On Fire” I can see an artist like Clare Dunn sing it as she has a rather commanding voice and a definite microphone prescence, just terrible production is her biggest problem.

    All these suggestions all have promising female newcomers and all would probably still do very well on the radio.

    That’s the thing with the big pool of female singers, radio hardly gives them the time of day, so for the most part I imagine that these A-list guys don’t even know who these singers are for the most part or if they do are heavily discouraged from approaching said female talent.

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    • “Also to Olar about Elle King. I genuinely believe she’d be a great talent to possibly have in country music and she has said she takes influence from country into her music as well, is it the main source of her music? Well no, but you can tell by her voice she has a natural raspiness to her voice that’d be a welcomimg addition.”

      Talent, influence, natural raspiness….good for Elle King. But there are enough female country artists fighting for radio time, record contracts & chart positions. Female country artists with talent, country influence & a natural raspiness.
      “Welcoming addition”…what about Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry or Selena Gomez? Who needs female country artists? Beyonce on the Opry stage, Ariana Grande winning “Female Country Artist” awards, Selena Gomez leading the country charts with a Chainsmokers remix of an old Duran Duran song?

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      • All I said was she’d be a nice addition.

        I never said anything about Beyonce, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry or any of those pop singers. All I know is Elle King has openly admitted her music is influenced by country music, along with soul, pop and a little blues.

        See this is what p*sses me off about music. It’s when people lump pop stars as to like sounding the same or of being the same mold. Generalization of artists, in any genre drives me nuts. Regardless of genre I always judge a singer individually.

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        • “All I said was she’d be a nice addition.”
          And all i said was i don’t want more pop artists (or rap, or rock) in country music. The talented country artists are ready, willing & able. But the Nashville machine & country radio prefers Steven Tyler, shitty duets with Elle King or Kelsea Ballerini disney-pop.

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  6. The problem with even the successful male-female duets cited, is that they have failed to establish a lasting foundation for the featured female artist.

    Cassadee Pope is suffering the worst flop of her career with “Summer”: despite the timing of its release and a video conjoining its release. And Ashley Monroe did cut a critically-acclaimed “The Blade”, but its obvious attempt at a radio hit, “On To Something Good”, was also a major flop.

    I think the point, rather, is for Music Row to invest more in developing their female roster. The talent is already there, but now it needs to be cultivated and managed efficiently if they are to enjoy the sort of legs many of their male chart rivals are enjoying.

    *

    In the same breath, there is rampant industry sexism that needs to be exposed, addressed and resolved. Nowhere has this been more clearer than with the legal battle surrounding Katie Armiger. We haven’t even heard from her since March (the label controls her social media accounts besides Instagram), but at that time she said she was filing a counter-lawsuit against Black River Entertainment and acknowledged for the first time that the label was pressuring her to sex up her image and music among other things.

    Who knows if Katie Armiger is alone in this sort of struggle? I’m inclined to highly doubt it.

    Then we have other names who have struck me as likeable and having some appeal like Kelleigh Bannen: who has yet to even have a full-length studio album to her name. She has struggled just as badly as Katie Armiger on the charts and, yet, has changed labels in half the time it took for Katie Armiger to try breaking away from her only label to date. She released a bad single with “Famous”, but I found her other two singles “Sorry On The Rocks” and “You Are What You Love” enjoyable to listen to in their own ways. She already has that Sheryl Crow-leaning pop sensibility like Maren Morris does, so why not develop that more? Is she being pressured much the same way as Armiger?

    Then there’s Lucy Hale, who would be perfect in reconciling the pop-country divide. I still consider “Road Between” one of the best mainstream albums of either genre of 2014. Why aren’t they investing in her talent?

    *

    I guess the point I’m making is that duets have their place, but they’re usually unreliable in elevating a featured artist’s career.

    The labels simply need to get with the program and realize how grateful they are to already have such talent in their ranks. All they need to do is frickin’ make use of it!

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    • Lucy Hale seems to be focused on her acting career so that’s kinf of why there hasn’t been a followup and the label Lucy Hale doesn’t seem to have much radio pull. Same thing with Katie Armiger as Cold River has yet to have a song reach the top 40 on BB (“Better In A Black Dress” reached #39 on MB)

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    • Kelleigh Bannen: her new Ep was released 6/17 (Cheap Sunglasses). The name of the label: “Whiskey Rain”. Not her best work.

      Rosanne Cash/Twitter about her first album: “In all-male record label mtg for my 1st record, they said (to me) that the main marketing idea was to make me appear ‘fuckable.'” Katie Armiger is not alone.

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  7. Oh, and yay for William Michael Morgan and Mo Pitney bot being cleared for their debut releases! =D

    *

    As for the Foo Fighters, I’ve always been a fan of theirs.

    I love how despite being one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the past two decades, Dave Grohl has not been the least bit spoiled by success. He sounds as grounded and humble as ever. I see in him and his bandmates a charm similar to that of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Foo Fighters are definitely noisier for the most part and touch on more angsty themes and emotions, but they both generally draw from a familiar melody-heavy vein and owe much to heartland rock sensibilities.

    Most would consider “The Colour and the Shape” to be their best album, but with me it’s “There Is Nothing Left To Lose”. I think that album best showcases their melodic chops while also showcasing their Seattle hard rock roots. “Aurora” would have to be my all-time favorite song of theirs, and I’m sure the band realizes how special that song is because they still play it often as an album track live.

    When it comes to singles, it’s really a toss-up. If I’m in more of a mood for lyrical intimacy, it would probably be “Everlong”. But sometimes I’m in more of a primal listening mood and “All My Life” is my favorite single of theirs in that case (“Let It Die” also still gives me chills every time I listen to it in how it builds itself up from an acoustic-driven near-whisper to a brutal metal-roaring close.)

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  8. Would it be nice if female country artists were featured in these duets? Sure. Would it really mean anything? History shows it wouldn’t.

    Ultimately it’s all about downloads of the particular single. The “country” guys are going to benefit from the downloads of the pop starlet’s fans. They wouldn’t get near the hit from the fans of the country female artists. Neither fan base is going to cross over. It’s all about the single. It would be the same if a country female artist were featured. No fans gained on either side.

    To me, it’s probably better all the way around for these duets to be with pop artists. That way the female country artists don’t get dragged down into the muck that is country radio.

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  9. Re: The “Country pairing” duet of Cassadee and Chris Young, and that duet not helping her Country solo career. First off, she may be in this genre, but that’s only due to The Voice and Blake. She came straight from the pop band Hey Monday. Her one “Country” hit, Wasting All These Tears, was all pop. So anyway, maybe the duet didn’t help her Summertime single, but it finally gave her some Country cred. Her problem was that most of her Hey Monday fans didn’t follow her to Country. They hated the fact she dumped that band to crossover. With this duet she gained a lot of much needed Country fans. So future releases might fair better?

    If record execs want to boost Country females, then definitely let them in on the duets. But how about this: Female name, feat. Male name?

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  10. Most of the discussions here are about collaborations between country males and pop females, but I’m surprised nobody has mentioned Kacey Musgraves’ duet with Miguel ? I have not bothered to hear it, but since it’s an example of a country female-pop male, perhaps that adds something to the discussion ?

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    • I mentioned it in a Hodgepodge right around when it came out (earlier this year?). I find it to be pretty good, as well as the other collaborations and remixes he did of his song “waves.” It’s a really cool project. As for the collaboration between Miguel and Kacey, they have great chemistry and really impressed me with how well they sound together. While it didn’t garner any major attention, I would consider it a successful collaboration.

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    • Was the Miguel/Musgraves track a (radio-)single?
      An album track is one thing. The impact of a single release can be much higher. Without a big push by her (country-)label (a duet single?!) Kacey Musgraves will not play a big role in the next years. In the same boat: Ashley Monroe.
      Not in the same boat: Pope & Alaina (among others). Winning a talent show (or beeing a runner-up) a couple of years ago is…well…winning a talent show. That’s it. The shelf-life for a talent show winner is how long? More talent shows = more talent? No. But Carrie Underwood…yes Carrie Underwood hit the jackpot.
      Even a duet with Chris Young is not enough to push Cassadee Pope & the “new” Lauren Alaina album was recorded in spring 2015.

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  11. Don’t discount the talent show winners tho. Someone on here commented a while ago about what record labels want, or maybe demand from new artists. And that is a built in fanbase. For example, the Country fans who supported Carrie, runner up Bo Bice, Daughtry, etc., on Idol have long memories, and are very fiercely loyal fans to this day. Bo didn’t disappear btw. He is touring the world as lead singer for Blood, Sweat, and Tears. So they all pretty much keep these fans and labels see this. That’s one reason why you see the labels back Kellie Pickler, Scotty, Alaina, Cassadee, Danielle Bradbery, etc. So they keep their record deals, and are still releasing new music. If they part ways with one label, another one picks them up. They get reality shows and other gigs too.

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  12. With respect to Elle King–I think it can be said that, if you listen to her own hit “Ex’s And Oh’s”, she sounds a fair amount like Brenda Lee or Wanda Jackson during their late 1950s/early 1960s heyday; and those two are well known for having both country roots and rock and roll roots. Does that necessarily mean Elle should be doing country, either on her own or doing duets with Dierks Bentley or whoever else? That depends, if you like that raspy sound of her voice (IMHO).

    But with respect to these country artists doing collaborations with people from the pop side of the fence–yes, it does feel like they’re doing them more for the money and the attention than anything really resembling art; and, regardless of how one feels about these kinds of duets or if they feel that country artists should collaborate only with other country artists, clearly not many people (if any) are being fooled–especially since most of these pop artists have little-to-no actual understanding of the country genre.

    One duet I don’t think too many people would have objected to would have been one with Trisha Yearwood and her spiritual role model Linda Ronstadt, who, while never considering herself a country artists in the strictest sense of the term, knows the history of the genre and has made history inside it herself (e.g., her two TRIO albums with her pals Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris). Of course, because Parkinson’s Disease destroyed Linda’s voice, that can’t happen now. But I don’t believe a duet between those two would have caused any kinds of problems, unlike some of the ones that are there on the radio now.

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