Song Review: Sam Hunt, “Kinfolks”

This is a bad song, but perhaps not for the reason you might expect.

Sam Hunt was perhaps the primary culprit for ushering in the Metropolitan era back in the mid 2010s, and as late as 2017 he spent the entire summer atop the country world (and nearly the entire musical world in general) with his mega-yet-mediocre hit “Body Like A Back Road.” Since then, however, Hunt has been mostly AWOL: “Downtown’s Dead” had a brief shelf life and petered out at a surprising #15 on Billboard’s airplay chart, and otherwise…nothing. Few shed tears over Hunt’s disappearance, however, and even fewer are rejoicing over his apparent return with his yearly single “Kinfolks.” This song, however, isn’t the boundary-pusher that his previous work (partially because the boundaries are still stretched out from his prior work): Both the sound and subject matter tread what feels like familiar territory, with the latter joining an increasing (and irritating) trend of creeper guys who want to jump immediately to Step 69 of the relationship the moment someone catches their eye. We just cleaned up from the last time this plague went around, and I’m not about to stand for it now.

Let’s start with the surprise: The production, while certainly not anything I’d call “traditional,” isn’t the synthetic, 808-heavy mix you probably expected from Hunt. Yes, it’s still slicker than my aunt’s newly-polished floor, but it’s a choppy acoustic guitar that does the heavy lifting on the melody for a change, and the drums are nowhere near as busy or as prominent (or as fake, giving the real drums that jump in on the first chorus) as you’d think. The clap track appears briefly, and there’s a token banjo buried deep in the mix (and some of the strings have an exotic flair to them, like the sitar-like banjo that dominates the outro), but otherwise this mix feels surprisingly conventional, as if Hunt has finally carved out a space in the genre where his style of sound belongs. Unfortunately, the result this time around doesn’t feel remotely romantic or sensual, and it doesn’t entice the listener to pay it much mind.

It wouldn’t be a Sam Hunt song if he didn’t talk-sing his way through the verses, but even his unorthodox delivery has conceded some points to the mainstream this time. His lines stay (almost) completely married to the tempo for a change, and he at least tries to infuse the verses with some tone and cadence. Unfortunately, his attempt isn’t terribly successful, and instead of coming across as a sincere suitor, he feels like a generic meathead who is not believable at all when he claims he wants to introduce the other person to his “kinfolk.” (When he says “I don’t want to wait around for the right time,” he sounds like a pushy jerk looking for a quickie rather than someone who doesn’t want to watch their chance for forever love walk away.) Hunt’s reputation as the Metro-Bro to end all Metro-Bros precedes him hear, and unlike some artists who’ve shown some actual growth and maturation since 2014 (Cole Swindell, Thomas Rhett, etc.), Hunt’s growth appears minimal at best.

While I consider Hunt to be at least a decent songwriter, the lyrics here are basically the exact same pile of garbage that I called out Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber for: Guy meets girl, guy just has to partner up and learn absolutely everything about this girl right this very moment, and leans on the old ‘introduce you to my parents’ trope to signal their “devotion.” First of all, slow your freakin’ roll dude: Relationships and meaningful connections don’t just happen, and the other person has a lot more say than you imply in this decision: They will decide when and what to reveal about themselves on their own schedule, and if you don’t like it, you can take a long walk off of a short pier. The narrator comes across as a slimy player who’s not interested in love beyond the physical connection, and  statements like “I know what I like, and you’re the only one of you” just make my skin crawl. (50/50 calls like the aforementioned “I don’t want to wait around for the right time” all go against this joker in the audience’s mind, and boilerplate denials like “I don’t mean to pry” ring as hollow as an empty soda bottle.) Hunt really needs to take his own advice and “Take Your Time” on this one, because rushing in to a relationship like this makes everyone within earshot question the speaker’s motives.

There’s a dichotomy happening in country music right now: While women seem to be doing a lot to push the genre forward, men are releasing stalker tunes like “Kinfolks,” fawning incessantly (and insincerely) over the object of their affection to get the same slice of booty they were getting five years ago. The production may have a different feel this time around, and Sam Hunt may have changed things up slightly to better achieve his goals, but it’s not nearly enough when the writing is this sleazy and Hunt’s track record is this long. Where Hunt, D+S&B, and Chris Lane come across like simplistic idiots, someone like Ingrid Andress is taking the ‘take you home to mama’ trope and actually making it meaningful. Come on guys, y’all need to learn something from the ladies and step up your game.

Rating: 3/10. Bleh.