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TAYLOR’S LOVER: READING BETWEEN THE LAYERS
It goes deep in places. (8/23a)
THE GRAMMY CHEW:
ALBUM CONTENDERS
These machers have one-track minds. (8/23a)
NEAR TRUTHS:
IT’S TAYLOR’S TIME
Looking at her big week from a different angle. (8/23a)
LOVE FOR LOVER FROM SCOTT AND SCOOTER
An olive branch? (8/23a)
UNDER HIPGNOSIS: MERCK CATALOGS HIS PLAN (PART 1)
From the horse's mouse (8/23a)
TAYLOR SWIFT!
Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift? Taylor Swift; Taylor. Swift. Taylor Swift!
TAYLOR SWIFT.
Taylor Swift...  
TAYLOR SWIFT?
Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift.   
TAYLOR. SWIFT.
Taylor!
Music City
CUTTING-EDGE COUNTRY, GRAMMY'S NEW REALITY
2/12/19

By Holly Gleason

While the Country radio dilemma for female artists remains, the Grammys broke much ground in the name of artistic achievement. Not only did Kacey Musgraves sweep the Country Solo Performance (“Butterflies”), Song (“Space Cowboy,” written with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally) and Album (Golden Hour), but the 30-year-old singer/songwriter from Golden, Texas, also took the night’s top prize: Album of the Year.

Her slightly genre-blurring third album soft-focused on good feelings, stretching outside influences beyond her hard-roots foundation to include traces of dance, trance, pop, adult contemporary and all things in between. The result shimmered when you listened and pulled you away from your tension if you’d just surrendered to it.

Musgraves’ major win is an extension of a yearlong domination of the media and tastemakers. She’s where all the cool kids are, touring with Harry Styles and tributing Dolly Parton. But just as importantly, the girl with a strong sense of performance art also took this moment to strip things back.

For the Grammy performance, it was all white—piano, clean lined dress, staging—that gave up a rainbow-colored strip near the song’s end. As much in solidarity to her LGBTQ fan base as a literal cheery on top of “Rainbow,” it was tasteful, tuneful and emblematic of her finding the happy ethos.

The only award Musgraves didn’t win was Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group. Though nearly as ubiquitous as Florida Georgia Line with Bebe Rexha’s “Meant to Be,” “Tequila” was a breakout moment for a duo that’s been slowly simmering. After a black-and-white performance—and a big note held for a full 20 seconds—Dan & Shay announced their presence to the industry with authority.

An award later, Jason Owen’s duo was picking up the Grammy for Duo/Group giving Sandbox Entertainment a country sweep, plus the night’s top honor. With Little Big Town supporting Dolly Parton on “Red Shoes,” her solo turn in the MusiCares tribute, it seems Owen’s artists all have an unfailing uniqueness that allows them to—as Musgraves sings—follow their musical arrow.

And in some ways, that is also the uber-manager’s secret sauce. Or as he says, “I let my artists be who they are, and leave the music to them. My role is to support their vision and to give them the opportunities to win.”

Indeed, it seems singularity rules. Whether it’s Randy Goodman’s turbo-good ole boy Luke Combs, who was up for Best New Artist; super-streamer Kane Brown, who helped present Country Album; thumping, Coors-leaning duo Brothers Osborne; working-class female songwriter Ashley McBryde; or Third Man’s Margo Price, it is the unique artists who get the breaks. When so much of country sounds like it came straight from the Xerox machine, the Grammys leaned into the artists daring to be different.

Even Brandi Carlile, who, in many ways, is anything but country, electrified America with a heart-outside-the-body reading of “The Joke” that was built on Nashville’s core values of good songs, real musicianship and an artist who means it. At a time when Jed Hilly’s Americana is gaining traction, the question begs asking: is there a place on country radio for the more C&W-leaning Americana artists?

With so much real creativity coming from the above, plus fellow nominees Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, country as its defined by radio, is more poised than ever to play women. Beyond Miranda and Carrie, there’s some amazing music being made. All the genre has to do is quite swallowing its own tail—and inhale some fresh air. Who knows where it might come from.

Sturgill Simpson famously loves to rail about being excluded, and Jason Isbell drives forcefully in a more rock direction. But what about Price? Carlile? McBryde? Hayes Carll? Is there an Americana act that could split the difference? Could a Lindsey Ell or Carly Pearce actually break through? As the gap between what’s on the radio and what’s streaming widens, can Americana artists have a place in the gray area? Or can women be more than clichés with pop beats? Given how much is up in the air right now—and the much-moaned-about “girl problem” on the dial—this is fixing to be a fascinating Country Radio Seminar.

As Musgraves and Carlile both lit up both iTunes Track and Album charts, it’s obvious—regardless of what “the research” says—if you expose people to great, they will respond. Maybe not since Bonnie Raitt have two true artists emerged from the quiet and dug into the sales universe like these two. As Beyoncé says, “Who rules the world?”