It’s about time this genre stepped up to the plate.
Country music’s first reaction to the turmoil of 2020 was to double down on mindless partying reminiscent of the Bro-Country movement a decade ago (hence the ‘Cobronavirus’ term I keep throwing around), but a few artists are starting to reflect the seriousness of our times in their material. Luke Combs and Dolly Parton tried to offer reassurance in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Mickey Guyton asked us all to consider the perspective of people of color in America, and now Kane Brown is doing a little bit of both on “Worldwide Beautiful,” a surprise single release who proceeds are being donated to the Boys and Girls Club of America. While it can be a bit awkward and repetitive at points, the message here is still a thoughtful one that emphasizes our common humanity, and it’s capped off by perhaps Brown’s best performance to date.
The production here is pretty standard for Brown’s work, but it succeeds in setting a suitable tone for the song. It opens with the typical slick electric guitar and prominent drum machine for the first verse, sticking with this sparse arrangement to emphasize the lyrics. Starting with the first chorus, some more-conventional guitars and real drums jump in to add some punch and volume to the mix and help it build momentum as it goes (although it makes the mix sound a lot more generic as well). The final piece is the backing choir, which slowly gets more lines during the choruses and are the primary “instrument” featured on the bridge solo (the guitar drops a mediocre solo as well, but all the attention is on the choir), giving the song a spiritual feel and helping it close on a high note. The regular minor chords and dim-but-not-dark instrument tones impress the seriousness of the matter on the listener, and the increasing volume and spacious feel of the sound are what convey the hope and optimistic the producer was shooting for. Overall, it’s a well-constructed arrangement that does its job well.
I usually criticize artists who try to pull a Sam Hunt and half-sing, half-speak their way through a song, but I think having Brown recite the opening half of the first verse was brilliant, as it made the message feel more direct and personal (and it let him use his distinctive lower vocal range, while the rest of the song traps him in his upper register). His technical skills remains sharp (good range, solid flow, enough power to get the job done), but it’s charisma that this song really demands (after all, you’re asking people to reconsider potentially-longheld beliefs), and that’s exactly where Brown shines on this track. His opening statements come from the heart, and despite the vague, generic platitudes that characterize the rest of the track, the listener can feel Brown’s passion and emotion behind it, and it moves them to line up behind his message of equality. Unlike his disappointing performance on “Cool Again,” Brown brings his A-game to the table here, and the song is much stronger for it.
The lyrics here are really the tale of two songs: The first verse, and basically everything after it. A wise man once told me to “put the punch line first,” and that’s exactly what happens here, as the former is easily the stronger of the two pieces. Despite the awkwardness of using death as a way to show our common bond, the message still gets through: We’re all human, we’re all equal, and we’re all beautiful (hence the “worldwide beautiful” hook). The verse is simple yet powerful, and it begs the question “If we’re all equal, why doesn’t the justice system see it that way?” Beyond this verse, however, the song weakens considerably: There are vague calls to come together, the hook isn’t really that strong, and the “one love, one God, one family” and “Thank God” chants get really repetitive really quickly. (The reliance on religion as a uniting force seems like a questionable choice as well, given how much blood has been spilled across history over the debate about exactly who that “one God” is, or whether they exist at all.) Thankfully, the recognition of the inherent beauty within all of us gives the song a more reassuring and optimistic tone, which helps tie the two pieces of the song together. On the whole, however, I’d like to have seen this song go through a few more drafts to make the latter portion as strong as the opener.
“Worldwide Beautiful” isn’t the defining song of this era (that would be “Black Like Me”), but it’s a great addition to country music canon, and is a far better than “Cool Again.” While the writing it inconsistent, its gets its point across, and Kane Brown and the producer do their part through expressive vocals and a well-constructed arrangement. This song contributes far more to the genre than the plethora of Cobronavirus tracks that preceded it, and with any luck it will be songs like this that stand the test of time when the history books look back on 2020.
Rating: 7/10. Check this one out.