It’s no surprise that country has been leaning more and more towards pop, and not just with infectious and uptempo jams like Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It.” But many of the hooks to cross country radio’s golden ropes have pop sensibilities, and artists like Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, and Luke Bryan are cashing in. Recently, country has even taken a turn towards soul, and hip-hop crossovers that once meant just a rap verse now extend to 808-heavy production and R&B grooves.
But the genres seem to have finally met in the middle with the structurally and sonically similar “Kick The Dust Up,” Luke Bryan’s latest single, and Jason Derulo’s new song “Broke,” the latter of which features Stevie Wonder and Keith Urban instrumentally.
Both songs begin with their tagline – Bryan sassily speaks, “kick the dust up,” while Derulo sassily sings, “mo’ money, a mo-mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ problems” – and then launch into sparse, guitar driven instrumentals. Derulo’s has an organic, acoustic feel (courtesy of Urban), while Bryan’s is heavily treated, a Middle Eastern sound along an Arabic scale line that mirrors the efforts of Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” without the lyrical logic for its inclusion.
As the verse begins, “Broke” adds a banjo to the mix, again with a raw, untreated feel. It builds to the tag (“mo’ money…”) and then breaks down to a hoe-down harmonica that creates the melodic hook, interspersed with choppy ‘hey’s for rhythm. As the production builds in subsequent bars, Derulo adds a couple lines (“and all my people say-“) before landing on the tag once again.
After “Kick The Dust Up”‘s instrumental lead, a heavily treated percussive enters the mix, supporting the verse. The pre-chorus is basically spoken, a couplet that results in a chorus that is, melodically, quintessentially Bryan in style, using the upper range of his vocals. Like “Broke,” it builds to the tag, a spoken “kick the dust up,” followed by a melodic line defined by solo instrument that, again, creates the melodic hook. Interspersed are a couple lines from Bryan, again spoken: “back it on up / fill your cup up / let’s tear it up up,” then landing on the tag once again.
The most genre-fulfilling moments of each are the bridge, where “Broke” slides heavily through a pop build, while “Kick The Dust Up” features a soaring guitar solo quintessential of artists like Jason Aldean.
In some ways, “Broke” is going out of its way to include country elements – the feature from Keith Urban seems more of a credibility play than an actual inclusion of the Aussie’s artistry – and “Kick The Dust Up” borrows heavily from other genre’s ProTools instrument packs. Neither feels particularly natural, and it may be showing in sales – “Kick The Dust Up,” sold 127k first week, seriously lower than Aldean’s “Burnin’ It Down” (184k first week) or Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” (182k first week). Radio does seem on board, at least as far as adds are concerned – though the song officially goes to radio this coming Monday, ita ready boasts 115 historic adds, 105 of which came last week.
However, unlike a Sam Hunt or Kelsea Ballerini, for whom, perhaps despite criticism, their crossover styles seem a 100% natural reflection of their artistry, Derulo and Bryan’s similar grasps at sonic straws don’t quite hit the mark. For all their similarities, feeling contrived too is a common denominator, and may either challenge or, if they succeed, re-enforce such borrowings to reach an increasingly complex crossover audience.