There was a time, long, long ago, when Blake Shelton was not the most obnoxious man in country music. 15 years ago, Shelton was a baby faced, curly mullet-wearing crooner just becoming famous for “Austin,” his vaguely creepy love song about a man who so thoroughly can’t get over his ex that he records his outgoing answering machine message to mention her.
Or perhaps you remember him as the singer of “Old Red,” that track about how dog sex helped Shelton’s protagonist escape from an old-timey prison. Either way, those days are long gone. Now, Shelton is a superstar, a man whose presence has grown well beyond country music. In addition to that lucrative gig on The Voice, Shelton has rapidly become a tabloid fixture thanks to his post-divorce fling with Gwen Stefani.
Now, it appears that the duo is planning to record a country album, which is either the first horseman of the apocalypse or a sign that country music is much more doomed than we originally thought. The gossip rags reported yesterday that Shelton and Stefani were headed into the studio, and that the former No Doubt frontwoman plans to use country music as a sort of catharsis after her own divorce from Bush’s Gavin Rossdale.
“The album will be a whole new outlook on music, mixing Blake’s country voice and Gwen’s pop expertise — it’ll be an amazing crossover record,” a source told In Style. “Blake is just excited to be working with Gwen again. He can’t wait to show her the country ropes! He’s her No. 1 supporter.” Just when you thought that Shelton couldn’t get any worse, he is now officially proving that he is one of the worst things to happen to country music in a long time.
Shelton used to record quality country tunes, like those two aforementioned tracks that are infinitely better than anything else he’s ever released. As his star has risen, though, Shelton has transformed from an above-average vocalist into country’s spokesman to the mainstream, and that’s a real problem if you have any interest in preserving this genre’s last remaining strands of integrity.
In fact, before Shelton got with Stefani, he was responsible for some of the worst country music of the past few years. Remember “Boys Round Here,” with its disgusting “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, SPIT” refrain that took over the airwaves in 2013? Until this year, the best part about Shelton was that he was married to bonafide badass Miranda Lambert, with whom he recorded his best music, like “Over You,” the wrenching track Shelton penned after the death of his brother. He is not, as Stefani might say, the “Michael Jackson of country music.”
Outside of that anomalous one good song, Shelton has also been decidedly part of the problem as country music has tried to battle back its bro-country influences. He is arguably the godfather of bro-country, the guy who made it possible for Luke Bryan and his contemporaries to have careers. Shelton referred to country legend Ray Price and other critics of his bro-country brethren as “old farts and jackasses,” which would’ve been offensive if Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson hadn’t co-opted the term as the name of their tour. If Shelton were fit to carry Nelson’s roaches to the garbage, much less share a stage with him, that statement might have a little more gravitas.
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And if all that — the terrible music and the insulting Ray Price — weren’t enough, now he’s going to bring Gwen Stefani into it? Just about when we’d forgiven Stefani for getting “B-A-N-A-N-A-S” stuck in our head and appropriating all that Japanese culture, she’s going to record a sappy country duet with Blake Shelton? That might make sense if Stefani had some gigantic voice or even a passing interest in the genre, but at this point, it just feels like yet another gross pandering move to a crowd that is losing interest in the genre by the moment.
But maybe it will be great. Perhaps Stefani has been studying old Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells records and will throw down this incredible country performance that no one expects. Miley Cyrus did a great job singing “Jolene” that one time, so anything is possible. The very real likelihood, though, is that this will be yet more bland, middle-of-the-road pop music kissed with just enough banjo to make it viable on country radio.
The Voice isn’t exactly great for most of the contestants who don’t actually win the show, but it’s been killer for Blake Shelton. Shelton earns about $13 million per season of the smash-hit show, and the contestants on Team Blake generally tend to fare well. Unfortunately, they also often release terrible music, like RaeLynn’s nauseating “God Made Girls.” Perhaps Blake Shelton has a future in artist development, one that takes him off the airwaves entirely. One can dream.
Or maybe, and this would be even better, this will be Blake Shelton’s final attempt to call himself a country artist. Maybe Shelton will go full-on Taylor Swift and say “later, country” in search of a fancy new pop career with his pop princess lady-friend or bigger, better pairs of underpants. Either way, it’s about time for country to dump a guy who's consistently been part of its problem. It could also, of course, all be bullshit — you can never trust those gossip rags.