30 May 2024
0 5 mins 1 mth

One of the first lines of poetry on Taylor Swift’s double album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” finds the singer crooning, “I was a functioning alcoholic ’til nobody noticed my new aesthetic.” The lyric could very well have been penned by the featured artist and co-writer on the song, Post Malone, who has had his fair share of public struggles with alcohol. The guest spot on the moody electropop opener “Fortnight” is Malone’s latest high-profile gig in a growing list, perhaps because of, as Swift tweeted, “those melodies he creates that just stick in your head forever.”

Malone scored his first hits doing hip-hop cosplay, but he never had much interest in rap or being a rapper. Almost as soon as he swagger-jacked his way into the monoculture, the artist born Austin Post set off on a path closer to his heart, swerving his Bentley through a genre-agnostic pop sphere and, like any scenester worth his salt, jumping lanes and crashing into the zeitgeist.

Now, after a handful of albums full of breezy pop-rock odes to self-medication and self-loathing, Post Malone is going country.

It’s not an entirely surprising move: His albums have increasingly flirted with the timbres and tropes of country, in the spurs-on-the-snare stomp of “Go Flex,” the gently strummed orchard metaphor of “Lemon Tree” and several country-cousin pop tunes on last year’s “Austin.”

The inevitability of Malone’s country turn intensified last year, when he appeared on a remix of “Dial Drunk” by rising stomp-clap banjo picker Noah Kahan. Like pop’s leading culture vulture, Drake, Malone jumped on the bandwagon just in time to say he was holding the reins. Soon, Malone began teasing collaborations with country megastars Luke Combs, fresh off a cover of one of the best songs ever written, and Morgan Wallen, a wannabe outlaw with a pinched twang and trouble with alcohol. Then, he made his latest case for bland ubiquity by drawling vowels on Beyoncé’s brand-friendly “Levii’s Jeans,” a head-scratching collaboration that even Nile Rodgers and The-Dream couldn’t save.

Malone is a savvy navigator, and he knows his stuff. He name-dropped country revivalists Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers and Colter Wall on — where else — Joe Rogan’s podcast, and over the years, his choice in country cover songs has been pitch perfect — Simpson’s “You Can Have the Crown,” Toby Keith’s “As Good as I Once Was,” Brad Paisley’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her” — even if he hasn’t been. When he’s strumming and singing country tunes, Malone is heavy on the vibrato but light on the gravity.

Last November, Malone kicked off his country coming-out party at the CMAs, joining Wallen and Hardy for a cover of Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man.” Malone outshined both the bro-country star and the butt rocker, and was well received — unsurprisingly, he was spared the backlash that festered into Beyoncé’s “Cowboy Carter.” But the real star of the show was a true rapper-gone-country, Jelly Roll, a 39-year-old who sings the country gospel from the heart and has actual rap bona fides: He was pouring out Southern rap syrup when Malone was making synth-pop parodies for high school projects.

On the road to his country album, Malone helps kick off the new release by Taylor Swift, who made the crossover from country to the highest pop heights years ago. While he’s doing the opposite, he’ll probably find success, especially if he surrounds himself with the best collaborators, songwriters and session players that Nashville can provide. But inevitably, Malone’s country dalliances will probably go down like one of the countless Bud Lights that has underwritten his career: with decent taste, but no flavor.

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