Brad Paisley is doing something different here, and attention must be paid. He is putting his mass popularity on the line addressing and trying to bridge the Red/Blue divide in acts of brilliant lyrical tightrope walking – and yes, performance art. He has his core audience to lose if he gets it wrong, or is even perceived to be getting it wrong, which must be even scarier.
When Stephen Colbert mouthed off at the White House press dinner, he knew he had his core audience to come home to. When Springsteen gets political and fills stadiums with mournful anthems on the wrong American working man, well, ditto. When Quentin Tarantino made “Django” — he crossed several lines, but that is in his job description as outrageous cultural warrior and provocateur .
But Brad Paisley is a beloved country star, a medium not known for encouraging complex internal debates. If he screws this up, he’ll lose his bully pulpit — a risk that Big Hat – or Big Ego superstars are not prone to take. In this, Paisley is now among the big boys. Bob Dylan’s made a career of shocking his audiences. Duets with Johnny Cash in 1969, going Christian in 1979, putting out unlistenable Christmas albums in 2009. But being contrary is part of Dylan’s brand. We expect no less. Neil Young is another ornery cuss who comes to mind. But neither of these esteemed gentlemen enjoy the kind of stadium filling success that Paisley currently enjoys. There is nothing Paisley really has to gain by pushing his audience in these challenging directions – and non-country fans will probably just sneer anyway.
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