Is country radio ready to accept a clever new song from up-and-comer Kacey Musgraves that advocates same-sex love and smoking a joint, "if you're into that?"
The country music industry audience cheered for Musgraves, an ACM Female Vocalist of the Year nominee, following her performance of "Follow Your Arrow" at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium during the Universal Music Group showcase at the Country Radio Seminar today. But with lyrics that tell the girls to "kiss the boys" and then to also "kiss the girls if that's what you're into," some radio decision-makers were a little taken aback by the time she left the stage.
"I wish I could play that song on my station," said one programmer who preferred to remain anonymous.
"This is not only pushing the envelope, it's where the envelope gets mailed to," said Mike O'Malley, a programming consultant with Albright & O'Malley & Brenner.
Several radio pros said that the song, if released as a single, might play in New York or L.A., but "not Birmingham."
The recent Thomas Rhett single, "Beer with Jesus," met resistance in some markets where radio stations felt pressure from religious listeners who weren't ready to hear lyrics about a man who'd like to talk to Jesus and ask him questions over a couple of beers.
It sounds quaint now, but in the 1990s, Shania Twain signaled a sea-change in the genre by showing her belly button for the first time in a country music video, wearing a cropped-top. That was fairly earth-shattering at the time for what's always been considered a more socially conservative format.
Recently, a number of country hits have lyrically addressed marijuana, including Musgraves' "Merry Go Round," with the lyric "Brother's hooked on Mary Jane," and Eric Church's "Smoke a Little Smoke."
Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" also includes the lyric, "roll up a joint, or don't."
With the Musgraves song, "I think I'd want to do some casual plays for some country P1s to gauge their feelings," said Mike Preston, program director at Seattle's KKWF-FM "The Wolf."
And of course, there's always the chance that Universal Music Group could bring a re-cut, more "sanitized" version to radio.
Otherwise, said one programmer who preferred to remain anonymous, "It's a shame that such a fine piece of music won't find its way to a number of stations."