Amid all the hullabaloo about how independent artists that are not played on mainstream country radio are continuing to gobble up market share and attention from their mainstream counterparts—requiring now that the mainstream must search for more organic, more substantive, and more country-sounding performers to keep up the pace—there are still plenty of exceptions to that rule as the last expiring gasps of Bro-Country still can find traction, especially on country music’s commercial radio format.
Case in point is Morgan Wallen’s song “You Proof,” which over the Christmas/New Year holiday set a rather landmark achievement by becoming the first radio single in country music history to spend 10 weeks at #1—a record that despite the song’s country lyricism as a heartbreak drinking song, can only be regarded as dubious due to the decidedly non-country sound and production of the track.
Previously, Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” from 2003, and Lonestar’s pop crossover hit “Amazed” from 1999 had both shared the record at eight weeks total at #1.
It’s empirically true that when regarding Morgan Wallen’s musical output, he’s always been slightly more country, and slightly more prone to releasing better songs than his predecessors from the Bro-Country era such as Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, or someone like Walker Hays. The success of Wallen has also helped usher in a wave of these “slightly better” mainstream stars such as Ernest and Hardy.
It was Ernest’s duet with Morgan Wallen on the song “Flower Shops” that might’ve set the pace for the most country-sounding single on country radio in 2022, despite it stalling at #18, likely because it sounded so country. Similarly, Hardy’s duet with Lainey Wilson called “Wait in the Truck” is supplying country radio with a unsettling story to ponder upon, which again is rather unconventional for the format, however implausible that story might seem to some.
But a song like “You Proof” proves why Morgan Wallen is an artist that still leaves much to be desired. Despite a contingent of traditional-leaning country fans that would never go near an artist like Morgan Wallen or a song such as “You Proof” finding themselves in the crowd of apologists for the Tennessee native after his attempted cancellation due to the now notorious ‘N’-word incident, “You Proof” certifies why this is an imperfect, and in certain ways, unwarranted alliance.
Sure, you can think that the way the media portrayed the ‘N’-word incident was hyperbolic, and at times, outright false, because in certain instances, it was. But that doesn’t mean that Morgan Wallen still didn’t make a completely stupid decision and shouldn’t have said what he said, and it doesn’t make a bad song good. Wallen can record much better and healthier songs such as Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up” or the aforementioned “Flower Shops” all he wants. But if he releases songs like “You Proof” as singles and they end up shattering records, this is what will define his career, and country music in the present tense.
“You Proof” was the beneficiary of a few fortuitous turns to earn this 10-week record. Since it peaked right during the holidays when few if any new singles are being released—and labels aren’t trying to force different singles to the top of the charts since everything is centered around Christmas music—it left “You Proof” to reign almost indefinitely through the season. Radio and the country industry as a whole also seem to be eager to signal that they’re through with all the drama around their top superstar. Morgan Wallen apologized profusely, donated money to charitable causes, and now it’s time to move on.
In fact, “You Proof” also proves that if Morgan Wallen is some sort of racist, it certainly doesn’t translate or extend to his influences or listening habits. “You Proof” is a hip-hop-inspired pop song with somewhat country lyricism. The dirty little truth behind the Morgan Wallen “N’-word incident has always been that he wasn’t having a racial outburst. He was an artist who’s been outspoken about how he is inspired by hip-hop music quoting a very prolific and commonplace hip-hop lyric.
But again, “You Proof” is just not a very good song. Perhaps it could have been a harmless, though pedestrian track if it had been rendered without the electronic production, and hip-hop cadence in the chorus. But it wasn’t. And so similar to the record-setting songs on Billboard’s consumption based Hot Country Songs chart like Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise,” Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road,” and FGL/Bebe Rexha’s “Mean To Be,” the song holding country radio’s #1 record is a pretty bad one, and we can only hope that someone that is part of the current resurgence of good country music will eventually come up to knock it off it’s perch.
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