The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 4, 2022

Several years ago, Josh Schott started a weekly feature on the Country Perspective blog that asked a simple question: Based on Billboard’s country airplay charts, just how good (or bad) is country radio at this very moment? In the spirit of the original feature, I decided to try my hand at evaluating the state of the radio myself.

The methodology is as follows: Each song that appears is assigned a score based on its review score. 0/10 songs get the minimum score (-5), 10/10 songs get the maximum (+5), and so on. The result (which can range from +250 to -250) gives you an idea of where things stand on the radio.

This week’s numbers are from the latest version of Country Aircheck, but I’m going to link to their archives since I never remember to update this from week to week. Without further ado, let’s crunch some numbers!

Song Score
1. Sam Hunt, “23” -1 (4/10)
2. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)
3. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
4. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
5. Cole Swindell & Lainey Wilson, “Never Say Never” 0 (5/10)
6. Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” 0 (5/10)
7. Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” +1 (6/10)
8. Carly Pearce & Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” +2 (7/10)
9. Keith Urban, “Wild Hearts” 0 (5/10)
10. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
11. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
12. HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” +1 (6/10)
13. Walker Hayes, “AA” -1 (4/10)
14. Tim McGraw, “7500 OBO” 0 (5/10)
15. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +1 (6/10)
16. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
17. Miranda Lambert, “If I Was A Cowboy” +2 (7/10)
18. Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” -1 (4/10)
19. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
20. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
21. Ernest ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 0 (5/10)
22. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
23. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
24. Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” 0 (5/10)
25. Dylan Scott, “New Truck” 0 (5/10)
26. Frank Ray, “Country’d Look Good On You” 0 (5/10)
27. Justin Moore, “With A Woman You Love” +1 (6/10)
28. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
29. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
30. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
31. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
32. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
33. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
34. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
35. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
36. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
37. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
38. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
39. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
40. Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” +3 (8/10)
41. Midland, “Sunrise Tells The Story” +2 (7/10)
42. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
43. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
44. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
45. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
46. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
47. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
48. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
49. Lady A, What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
50. Michael Ray, “Holy Water” +2 (7/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +2
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +9
Overall Pulse +11
Change From Last Week
+5 😎

*Preliminary Grade

Best Song: “Bye Mom,” 8/10
Worst Song: “Come Back As A Country Boy,” 1/10

Gone:

  • Parker McCollum, “To Be Loved By You” (recurrent)
  • Taylor Swift ft. Chris Stapleton, “I Bet You Think About Me” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (down from #1 to #2)
  • Toby Keith, “Old School” (down from #29 to #31 with a 450+ point loss)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” (holds at #10 and had a decent week for a change. Does it have anything left?)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (up from #13 to #12, gained 123 spins and 504 points. Still much weaker than its competition, especially given that the four songs right behind it all notched 1000+ point gains this week)
  • Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” (up from #33 to #32, but gained only eighteen spins and fifteen points)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (down from #37 to #38, lost its bullet again)
  • Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” (down from #39 to #40, gained only twenty-two spins and 143 points)

In Real Trouble:

  • Luke Bryan, “Up” (up from #20 to #19, but gained only twenty-four spins and 126 points. This one has looked shaky for a few weeks now; what happened?)
  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (debuts at #50, but without a bullet)

In Some Trouble:

  • Eric Church, “Heart On Fire” (down from #5 to #7, gained only thirty-one spins and ninety-one points. This one’s starting to look shaky too…)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” (debuts at #39)
  • Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” (up from #42 to #35)

Is still Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (up from #8 to #6)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Caitlyn Smith, “Downtown Baby”
  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”

Overall Thoughts: There wasn’t a ton of movement this week, but Johnson’s abdication of the throne meant a lot of prime airwave real estate got released back into the market, and it allowed most artists on the chart to post decent point gains even if their spin gains were small. I also get the sense that PDs are getting more picky about the tracks they put into heavy rotation, and thinking a lot of more about whether a song is really an interest-driven hit (versus a label-driven one). There was as much downward movement at the top of the chart as there was upward movement this week, with Church baring the brunt of the judgement, and there are a few songs in the middle of the chart (Bryan being the most-prominent example) that are beginning to face some tough questions. I expect to see a bit more movin’ and shakin’ next week as the ex-Johnson spins dry up and tracks have to fight over scraps again, and there are still a lot of tracks just hanging around that could fall apart at any moment.

On the coronavirus front, the current outlook is concerning: The descent of the daily new case average is slowing, and the death averages have actually increased over the last two weeks, and the extremely-transmissible omicron BA.2 variant now accounts for almost three-quarters of new cases in the America. While it’s still unknown if the expected rise in new cases will lead to increased hospitalizations and deaths, we should still be trying to get out in front of BA.2 and any other variants that might appear in the future, which is why it was disappointing to see the recent COVID funding bill pass without any funding for global vaccination efforts and potentially-limited funding to cover more shots here in the U.S if they’re needed. The best way to combat new variants (and it’s a matter of when, not if they emerge) is a) to work to vaccinate as many of the world’s people as possible, and b) to make sure we can pay for and provide enough shots here if people need them (although it sounds like we may need to tweak the shots to better match up against omicron), so currently we run the risk of letting new variants rise and being unprepared when they do.

We can only control what we can control, however, so for now I’ll keep preaching what I’ve always been preaching:

As much as we want to return to some semblance of normalcy, it’s going to depend on how well we’re able to limit the spread of the virus. By doing the right things to protect yourself and your loved ones (and properly funding efforts to do this; I’m looking at you, Congress), we give ourselves the best chance to reach “normalcy” sooner rather than later.

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