Brothers Osborne has officially pushed their chips to the center of the table. Your move, country music.
While the duo has been a part of the genre for nearly a decade now, TJ and John Osborne have been critical darlings more than commercial powerhouses (they’ve won nine ACM/CMA awards, but their 2015 single “Stay A Little Longer” is their only Top Ten track to date, leading a certain critic to call them out as a “one-hit wonder” in 2018). However, the duo unexpectedly became a test of country music’s supposed inclusivity when TJ Osborne came out as gay back in February, becoming “the only openly gay artist signed to a major country label.” Once again, the genre failed the test spectacularly, as “All Night” fell off the charts just two months later with only a #25 peak to show for it. While you could make the case that the song wasn’t good to begin with and that it had already stalled out by the time the announcement was made, with the sort of historical baggage that country music carries around, you can’t discount prejudice and discrimination as factors in the song’s demise either.
In response, the duo has decided to force the issue by releasing “I’m Not For Everyone” as the second single from their Skeletons album. It’s a simple declaration that being different is okay, and much like Chapel Hart’s “I Will Follow,” it’s also “a gentle “f**k you” to anyone who thinks this group shouldn’t be part of country music.” It’s a noticeable step up from the group’s previous work, and it forces the genre to face their reputation and finally take a stand.
The core of the song’s production remains the guitar-and-drum setup that dominates the genre, but it brings in enough different elements and sets a strong-enough tone to catch the listener’s ear and draw them into the song. John Osborne’s electric guitar opens the track and calls back to the rollicking axes of the 90s (even if calling the riffs here ‘rollicking’ is a stretch), and the drum set has a rougher feel to its sound than many of its radio contemporaries. While there’s a lot more pieces to this arrangement, I would say the biggest disappointment of the sound is that the producer doesn’t do a whole lot with them: Only the accordion gets enough prominent screen time to make its mark on the mix, adding a bit of flavor to the sound and giving it the song a bit more presence. The keyboard and organ stay in the background and are mostly used to support the guitar riffs, and the fiddle gets lost in the accordion’s shadow and is barely noticeable as a result. The good news is that the instrument tones are relentlessly bright and optimistic, giving the song a relaxed and positive feel, and both the tempo and guitar work provide the energy necessary to keep pushing the song forward. It gives you the sense that despite the narrator’s claim that they aren’t for everyone, they would be for you, an important victory given the song’s context. While I wish the production had done more, it does enough to support the subject matter, taking the edge off of the song’s meta commentary and helping to make the track something everyone can relate to and enjoy.
Lead singer TJ Osborne sounds a little different this time around, for a couple of reasons:
- Generally, TJ tends to dive into the low end of his vocal range to make his sound a bit more distinct and edgy, but this time he stays exclusively in his higher range, matching the brighter feel of the production. Truthfully (and a bit surprisingly), TJ sounds completely comfortable at this range, losing none of his typical tone or power while reflecting the sunnier feel of the song.
- For the first time that I can remember, TJ isn’t the exclusive lead singer for a BO single, as John Osborne takes the reins for the entire second verse. As you might imagine, the brothers sound fairly similar, but John’s voice isn’t quite as rough and he can’t quite match TJ’s vocal presence or charisma. Still, he acquits himself capably here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more from him on future releases (I can’t speak to album cuts; he may already sing on a few).
The overall vibe of the vocals here is comfortable: Both singers come across as relaxed and even cheerful, and they have no problem convincing the audience that their narrator is totally okay with being different, even if others don’t feel the same way. There’s no malice or anger present in their deliveries, and the harmony work is solid (if also a bit unremarkable). Given the context, selling this song and making it believable is the biggest key to it finding success, and both Osbornes have no issue in this regard here.
So let’s talk about this context, shall we? By themselves, the lyrics don’t really say a whole lot here: The narrator acknowledges that people are different, declares that they themselves are an acquired taste, and notes that “I’m good for some, but I’m not for everyone.” The “differences” are left vague enough for the song to apply to anyone who feels a bit out of step with the mainstream, and while the verses feel more than a little disconnected (they go from discussing peoples’ clapping and drinking habits to…taking about what kind of tea or bar the narrator would be?), they further the point that the speaker doesn’t subscribe to orthodox thinking (they’re tea that isn’t sweet, a church that celebrates the sinner, etc.). It’s a bit generic on the surface, but its heart is in the right place, as it tries to maximize its target audience and tell them that being different is okay.
Put this song alongside TJ Osborne coming out of the closet, however, and it takes on a whole new meaning, becoming a call for understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community. When the narrator says “Some people are just like me, I hope y’all forgive ’em,” they’re asking the genre and its audience (which are not typically known for their inclusivity) for tolerance of Osborne and others like him. “I’m a bad joke at the wrong time” suddenly flips from a reference to the narrator’s poor sense of humor to a calling out of the slurs and derogatory terms (which are often couched in terms of bad-faith humor) that members of this community have had to endure. The description of a bar that’s always open and welcoming becomes a vision of the world the narrator wishes to see, where people can gather without pretense or prejudice and revel in their common humanity. While the message isn’t as forceful as “I Will Follow,” there’s an implicit declaration in saying “I’m not for everyone” that the Osbornes aren’t going to change who they are and what they do, even though they realize that they won’t please everyone. There’s an understated power to this song when considered within a broader context, and it projects both a determination to be true to oneself and a message that it’s okay for you to be who you are.
While I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of Brothers Osborne and their music, I’m intrigued (and even a little excited) to see how far they can go with “I’m Not For Everyone.” Unlike Mickey Guyton or Chapel Hart, TJ and John Osborne have an established presence on the airwaves (even if their track record is a little weak), and with a strong song like this one, they’re forcing country music to make a choice: Is the genre just paying lip service to being inclusive and welcoming (a perception reinforced by the fact that Morgan Wallen is already starting to regain airplay traction), or is it going to take a stand and put their money (and their spins) where their mouth is? Time will tell, but either way, with the song’s expressive production, the calm vocal presence of both TJ and John, and a message of acceptance and understanding, this is a track that deserves to be heard.
Rating: 8/10. Check this one out.