(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)
Some reasons why Jason
Aldean is an unlikely superstar:
He has not been and likely will not be on the cover of Rolling Stone, which
in these flea-bitten days of problematic celebrity remains probably the last standing true indication of full-blown stardom.
Why hasn’t he? He’s not a classifiable country “type” that the RS crowd can easily understand. RS much prefers
its country in classifiable bundles. And it especially likes malleable country stars who can be guided in interviews into
saying some things they quickly regret and other things that they will regret in the future.
The last cover-star country
artists that RS easily understood and put on the cover were Garth Brooks
and the Dixie Chicks. Brooks was an undeniable multi-genre superstar,
and the Chicks were easily labeled as rebellious but harmonious free spirits.
Maybe it’s Aldean’s up-yours unfashionable
cowboy hat, which signals he’s not a safe commodity, or his casual give-a-damn attitude. He does not act like he even wants
to be a big star. Maybe it’s the fact that his rise has been gradual, building slowly over the years since his chart debut
in 2005 with the song “Hicktown.” Maybe it’s the fact he’s on a small
label and doesn’t have the kind of high-powered major-label juggernaut machinery that can breach RS‘s defenses and
get some writers and editors out to actually see and experience an Aldean show for themselves.
He is a Marlboro man
at a time when the world thinks it doesn’t need Marlboro men. This has nothing to do with the cigarette. No, it’s that Aldean
is a return to the no-nonsense, firm-jawed alpha male in a metrosexual world. Maybe if he wore skinny jeans and a porkpie
hat and pointy-toed shoes and a satin vest, he would qualify as hip.
But he looks no-nonsense in form-fitting Wrangler
retros, unremarkable Ebay plaid shirts and boots. And then there’s that unfashionable cowboy hat. And there are no blindingly
white teeth. Who is the dentist who’s getting rich by providing certain country males with all those porcelain-pure-perfect
Aldean’s songs for the most part have come from the same common well — which means theoretically
that any male country artist could have recorded them. They come from the pool of the usual Nashville co-writers, starting
with John Rich and Big
Kenny and going on to Brett James and others. Aldean’s debut was the very obvious country pride song “Hicktown” (written
by Big Rich with Vicky McGehee), and it hit an immediate chord with
the audience. Aldean was originally signed as a songwriter before his recording contracts, and he continues to co-write, but
his huge breakthrough was “Dirt Road Anthem,” which came
from the pens of Colt Ford and singer-songwriter Brantley
Gilbert, who is also responsible for such hit-or-miss similar familiar-themed songs as “G.R.I.T.S.,” “My
Kinda Party” and “Country Must Be Country
Aldean has embraced hip-hop, which most country fans profess to hate. His collaboration in performing a
duet on “Dirt Road Anthem” with Ludacris was sounded as natural as one of these cultural clashes can. Although, in this case,
it was not as much of a clash as you might expect. As country singers and hip-hop artists are increasingly pointing out, both
musical genres are predominantly storytelling formats.
His videos are, by and large, understated. They are not beer-babe-beach-blowouts,
which in itself is unusual in best-selling country music these days. The video for “Fly
Over States,” probably his best video, fits the song and amplifies and expands its atmospheric themes. And it shows a
knowing visual rhythm. The director of this video, Wes Anderson, probably knows how to properly plow a field. Which is a whole
lot more difficult than you might think.
Aldean is now a star at Lakewood, the common name for Atlanta’s Aaron’s Amphitheatre.
The concrete structure and lawn seat 19,000 and seldom sees a country artist playing there. The 404 area code is not usually
country-friendly. Alden recently sold out two nights there in record time, something that I don’t think anyone else has done.
It’s becoming apparent that — just as Garth Brooks did in his ascendency — he is attracting disenfranchised rock and pop
fans. And it proves again that anytime there is a vacuum in rock and pop music, then country music steps forward with a sound
to fill that vacuum. Brooks did it with a spectacular show and solid songs. Aldean is accomplishing the same thing with a
hard-edged rock show that is loud and intense. Who else in country has included a Guns N’ Roses medley in his show?
has attracted his share of very vocal non-fans. To them, Aldean said on Twitter, “To all u haters … if you don’t like what
I do or think im ‘ruining’ country music, feel free to unfollow me. Nobody is forcing u to listen.”
So there you have
it. All the reasons why Jason Aldean is an unlikely superstar. But he sure enough is one.