Saturday, February 17, 2018

Country in the NEWS: Where New Country meets Old Country ....February 17, 2018 (Bebe Rexha - Florida Georgia Line - Meant to Be)

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Bebe Rexha & Florida Georgia Line's 'Meant to Be' Hits Hot 100's Top 10, and Pop's Biggest Volume Shooters Keep Scoring
Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line

There was a time when seeing the names "Bebe Rexha" and "Florida Georgia Line" on the same Billboard Hot 100 entry would seem strange, even impractical. The singer-songwriter made her name with a series of EDM-pop singles and features earlier in the decade, while the duo has been a fixture on the country charts since their debut in 2012. If this was 20 years ago, it would be like Brooks & Dunn and Robyn appearing on a single together; it just wouldn't happen, and if it did, it'd seem too much like a novelty to be taken seriously on top 40 radio. 
But this isn't 20 years ago, and the success of Rexha and Florida Georgia Line's "Meant to Be" collaboration is a pretty good indicator of just how much has changed in the last few decades. After debuting on the Hot 100 at No. 61 on the chart dated Nov. 11, 2017, this week -- its 16th on the chart -- it finally climbs into the top 10, hopping two spots to No. 9 in its 16th week on the chart (dated Feb. 17). And if you've been paying attention to pop radio (and to these two artists' careers in particular), you probably won't find its presence, sandwiched between hits by Migos and Halsey, to be all that surprising. ("Meant" is being promoted both to pop and country radio; it climbs 17-13 on the latest Pop Songs airplay chart and 22-20 on Country Airplay.)

When it comes to collaborations within the top 40 world, it's safe to say that both Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line have taken a volume-shooting approach. Rexha has, since 2016, appeared on singles with rappers like Lil Wayne and G-Eazy, producers like Martin Garrix and Digital Farm Animals and pop-rock acts like Louis Tomlinson and X Ambassadors, sometimes with more than one of them on the same release. Meanwhile, Florida Georgia Line has joined forces with EDM headliners Alesso and The Chainsmokers, and pop stars Backstreet Boys and Hailee Steinfeld -- not to mention that their breakthrough hit came with a huge assist from rapper Nelly five years ago. 
Not all of these collabs have turned out to be tremendous successes. But both artists continue to score enough hits and near-hits using this approach -- both Rexha's Louis Tomlinson/Digital Farm Animals collab "Back to You" and FGL's Hailee Steinfeld/Alesso/watt superteaming "Let Me Go" peaked at No. 40 on the Hot 100 within the last year -- to make it a sustainable strategy. 
It's also worth noting that both artists have reasons to not simply go it solo. While Rexha has previously scored two Hot 100 top 10s -- in 2015, as a featured artist on David Guetta's "Hey Mama" (also featuring Nicki Minaj and Afrojack), and as a co-billed duet partner with G-Eazy on "Me, Myself & I" in 2016 she's yet to crack the top 40 on her own as an unaccompanied artist, coming closest with the No. 43-peaking "I Got You" in 2017. As a singer-songwriter without a clearly established solo sound or genre base -- and one who has yet to even release a full-length debut album, despite having been a recognizable pop presence for a half-decade already -- she might not yet have the star power to guarantee a hit by her lonesome, necessitating the bet-hedging of another recognizable name on her singles, for the sake of pop radio's easy embrace. 
Meanwhile, Florida Georgia Line has as firmly established a genre base as anyone in popular music: The duo has scored a stunning 11 No. 1 singles on the Country Airplay chart since 2012, including as recently as July 2017, with the Backstreet Boys-featuring "God, Your Mama and Me." But the twosome also understands that in the streaming age, country's ability to hit the top 10 of the Hot 100 without incorporating elements of other genres (or the aid of pop artists) is limited. To maximize their visibility both on top 40 and Spotify, country acts may need to go outside of their sonic comfort zone -- and the easiest way to do that is through star team-ups with non-country artists. (Others adopting the strategy of late include Maren Morris' EDM turn on Zedd's "The Middle" -- also with Grey -- which tops the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart for a second week, and Carrie Underwood's pop track "The Champion," featuring Ludacris, which blasts 29-4 on the all-genre Digital Song Sales chart, up 203 percent to 44,000 downloads sold in the week ending Feb. 8, according to Nielsen Music, sparked by its synch in NBC's Super Bowl LII and Olympics coverage.)
As for Rexha and FGL, given both artists' proclivity for genre-mashing collaborations, it makes sense that they'd each have their biggest mass-appeal hit in years teaming up with one another. "Meant to Be" feels like the ultimate midpoint not only between their respective styles, but for pretty much all of 2018 pop music: Its piano hook is EDM, its alternately snapping and skittering beat is hip-hop, its vocal twang is country and its chorus is smooth pop-soul -- and at a brisk 2:44, it's eminently digestible and replayable. Frankly, it's hard to imagine there being a streaming playlist that it couldn't be squeezed into. 
"I never thought a New York girl like me would have a country hit," Rexha told Billboard of the song's crossover breakout, "but I guess it goes to show you that some things are just… meant to be." Destiny aside, the top 10 success of "Meant to Be" is a somewhat extreme example of what most music fans in 2018 already know to be true -- that, in an era of both artists and consumers having grown up with technology that has broken down genre barriers, the elements of pop's periodic table are mingling more than ever, and that concocting a smash can be as simple as experimenting with as many different combinations of them as possible until one of them explodes.

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