Open Mic with Mike Thomas: ‘Crossing the Line’

Written by SLN Staff Writer
Open Mic with Mike Thomas: ‘Crossing the Line’

Last week we introduced you to our new weekly column, “Open Mic with Mike Thomas.” We’ve been chatting with Mike on the radio for the past three years and are happy to share his (sometimes controversial!) insight into the world of country music. Read below for Mike’s second column where he discusses country-pop crossovers…

Taylor Swift isn’t country enough. Rascal Flatts doesn’t sing country songs. Blame Sugarland for trying to bridge the gap between country music and pop. Welcome to country music in the 21st Century, where we’ve been asking the same question since Elvis hit the stage: “why is it okay for one artist to enjoy commercial success and not others?”

Trying to tackle the “country-crossover” subject is on the same level in my book as talking Presidential politics with a friend: you really run the risk of hurt feelings. Finding common ground on some of the issues that make up this subject is much easier. Let’s start with this fact: country music is not a mass appeal genre of music. Simply put, you either love it or hate it. However, there are artists in our genre who are able to build a bridge to reach out to the pop world.

As the old saying goes, “how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you began?” According to my internet research for this piece, the joining of country and pop music began in the 1950s with the Rockabilly sound. Ironically, record producers were trying to find artists to create a new kind of style that could grow beyond country radio and sell more records. What came with this “new sound” was the removal of key country recording instruments: the fiddle and the banjo. The examples that I found continued to explain the growth of the country-pop format, from the 1960s to today.

The last time we had a few major examples of the country crossover was during country’s last big boom in the mid-90s. Lonestar, Faith Hill, and Shania Twain all discovered that with a few minor changes, they could be more than just country chart-toppers. John Rich left Lonestar and Richie and the boys ditched their boots and cowboy hats just in time for “Amazed” to hit the radio. When their album Lonely Grill hit stores in 1997, that song made Lonestar country’s next super group. Faith Hill watched “This Kiss” fly up the country charts and crossover to the pop world. She went from sharing the country female vocalist nomination conversation to diva-like status. That same year, Shania Twain had the second biggest selling album of the year with Come On Over on Billboards 200 chart and established herself as a crossover singer.

With these past examples, I can see why country fans today become nervous when they hear some of today’s hottest country artists such as Lady Antebellum, The Band Perry, or Carrie Underwood on pop radio. As a fan who watched Garth Brooks fail miserably with his “Chris Gaines” project, I’ll say this: it’s almost expected that country megastars today flirt with the pop world. Thanks to years of crossover success, county music has grown beyond Nashville honky-tonks and county fairs. Country fans today have diverse musical interests: a Rhianna ringback tone, the Beatles catalog on their iPod, or an old Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet” concert T-shirt. But when one of our favorite artists gets too close to crossing that pop line, that’s when our claws come out!

Where an artist crosses the line is when they try to market themselves as something other than what they are. As fans, being “country” is more than where you grew up, what you do for a living, or even where you are in life. Country is who you are. Just like with the small towns and simple people that make up America, when one of our own makes it, we’re proud of them. We’re not jealous of their success – we’re afraid they are going to leave us and never come back.

Mike Thomas is a country radio personality and has been entertaining listeners since his sophomore year of high school when his Mom had to drop him off at the radio station. Now he’s a successful morning show host and has met many of country’s biggest stars during his almost twenty years of broadcasting. He lives in upstate New York, enjoys football more than you can possibly imagine, and is currently rolling a 5-for-5 record against his wife for picking great movies to watch on the weekend.

Be sure to check back to CountryMusicIsLove each week for a new “Open Mic with Mike Thomas” column!

The opinions expressed are those of the author only. They do not necessarily represent the views of CountryMusicIsLove.