I get the cross-over thing. Especially where country music is concerned. While listenership of most other music products has declined in recent years, country music continues to grow in popularity. So it makes sense that artists from other genres are trying to steal a piece of the pie. It is why we see Darius “Hootie and the Blowfish” Rucker re-emerge as a cowboy. Why Carrie Underwood went the country route after her American Idol crowning. And I would imagine John Mayer was thrilled to get the exposure offered by sharing the spotlight with shredder extraordinaire Keith Urban.
And of course, cross-over appeal is why we saw urban rap/rocker Kid Rock from that universally accepted birthplace of southern twang, er, Detroit, hosting the CMT music awards. He did a decent enough job, I suppose (read: he kept it clean enough). And as a fellow Midwesterner who remembers cornfields and biker bars surrounding the town where I grew up, where Lynyrd Skynyrd was always in my tape-deck, Kid Rock is to me kind of a country boy; a self-professed “straight off the trailer” kinda guy. So I guess he brought with him enough “dirt road cred” to stand up on stage with Hank Williams Jr. while such country staples from Tim McGraw to Reba McEntire to Brooks & Dunn and even ol’ #43 Richard Petty of NASCAR fame looked on.
Then something that should never, ever (and I mean ever) happen again took place before my unbelieving eyes when two Jersey Shore reality-TV characters, Nicole “Snookie” Polizzi and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, stepped into the spotlight with the first lady of angioplast-chic southern home cooking, Paula Dean. While watching, I nervously wondered if a mob of zombies led by a triumvirate — looking suspiciously like Marty Robbins, Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings — was going to burst through the double doors, storm the stage and go full George Romero on these soon-to-be-yesterday’s news.
There is a line beyond which cross-over marketing becomes just a blatant attempt at jamming a square peg into a round hole in the name of crass commercialism. In the case of these Jersey Shore poster-children for the check-your-brains-at-the-shore-house-door culture, that line was not just tip-toed over, it was pole-vaulted.
These Seaside goofballs represent the personification of the term ‘over-exposure,’ which is bad enough. But whoever decided to try and hustle these two airheads — who probably don’t know Willie Nelson from a full nelson — in front of a CMT crowd did the entire evening a real disservice. It cheapened what should have been a celebration of one of America’s most parochial musical expressions…one that has grown in popularity and scope, but with dignity and a seamless expansion of sound and musicality that only the purest of pure Conway Twitty fans would label a diabolical sell-out.
There is an identifiable link between the Hee-Haw of yesteryear and today’s Zac Brown Band. But when the two sprayed-tanned phenoms stepped into my TV screen, I, quite simply, felt like a sucker. At best I questioned whether I’d accidentally DVR’d the MTV Awards by mistake.
I have been a country music fan most of my life — ever since I first heard Charlie Daniels croon “Long Haired Country Boy” back in the day. And my appreciation for the art form has grown along with the ever greater breadth and incredible talent of the artists who have been drawn into its still evolving fold. On the flip side, I also happen to have located my business on the Jersey Shore. So I offer myself as an informal expert of sorts on both sides of the coin: I may even put on my resume:
“Country Music Bubba/Jersey Shore Meathead.”
Maybe not. MTV’s popular program to me represents a bit of a Truman Show look at a bunch of muscle-bound grease monkeys and classless air-headed bimbos with cumulonimbus hair who seem to not grasp the fact that we tune in each week to mock them…not to live vicariously through them.
That they are the butt of a national joke.
“They hate us cause they ain’t us,” is The Situation’s default catch-phrase to deflect this observation. But that is simply not the case. We don’t hate the Jersey Shore rats at all. Far from it. They are good entertainment because they are so over-the-top tacky — such caricatures of unapologetic guido-ness, that like a tone-deaf singer who attracts a crowd because no one can believe one can sing this badly and so must be a spoof, they are the last to know the true source of our voyeurism.
Whatever one thinks of the Jersey Shore, whatever one thinks of country music, I think I can say with some confidence that never again should the two meet.
What happened was not entertainment. It was a farce. Fortunately, it was a brief moment of pain in an otherwise terrific night. And since the quality of the performances during the rest of the show more than made up for any insult to my intelligence that The Situation’s ab-flashing may have inflicted, let’s just forget this ever happened and move on, shall we?
Because forgetting about the Jersey Shore crowd will happen sooner than they may want to think. Their fame is fleeting faster than an IROC on the Garden State Parkway. But country music is here to stay.