The Coronavirus Pandemic of Mainstream Country Music: April 11, 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. Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)” +1 (6/10)
2. Dierks Bentley ft. BRELAND & HARDY, “Beers On Me” -1 (4/10)
3. Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” +2 (7/10)
4. Sam Hunt, “23” -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. Thomas Rhett, “Slow Down Summer” 0 (5/10)
11. Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” -4 (1/10)
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. Jason Aldean, “Trouble With A Heartbreak” +1 (6/10)
16. Maren Morris, “Circles Around This Town” +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. Scotty McCreery, “Damn Strait” +1 (6/10)
20. Parmalee, “Take My Name” 0 (5/10)
21. Morgan Wallen, “Wasted On You” -1 (4/10)
22. Luke Bryan, “Up” -1 (4/10)
23. ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” 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. Jon Pardi, “Last Night Lonely” 0 (5/10)
29. Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” 0 (5/10)
30. Lee Brice, “Soul” 0 (5/10)
31. Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” 0 (5/10)
32. Dustin Lynch, “Party Mode” -1 (4/10)
33. Carrie Underwood, “Ghost Story” 0 (5/10)
34. Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” -1 (4/10)
35. Old Dominion, “No Hard Feelings” +1 (6/10)
36. Jackson Dean, “Don’t Come Lookin'” +1 (6/10)
37. Morgan Wade, “Wilder Days” 0 (5/10)
38. Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” 0 (5/10)
39. Toby Keith, “Old School” 0 (5/10)
40. Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” +1 (6/10)
41. Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” +3 (8/10)
42. Ingrid Andress ft. Sam Hunt, “Wishful Drinking” 0 (5/10)
43. Midland, “Sunrise Tells The Story” +2 (7/10)
44. Gabby Barrett, “Pick Me Up” 0 (5/10)
45. Priscilla Block, “My Bar” 0 (5/10)
46. Brett Young, “You Didn’t” +1 (6/10)
47. Jimmie Allen, “Down Home” 0 (5/10)
48. Conner Smith, “Learn From It” 0 (5/10)
49. Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” 0 (5/10)
50. Lady A, What A Song Can Do” 0 (5/10)
Present Pulse (#1—#25) +2
Future Pulse (#26—#50) +7
Overall Pulse +9
Change From Last Week
-2 😦

*Preliminary Grade

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

Gone:

  • Michael Ray, “Holy Water” (down to #51)

Leaving:

  • Cody Johnson, “‘Til You Can’t” (down from #2 to #3)
  • Sam Hunt, “23” (down from #1 to #4)
  • Luke Bryan, “Up” (down from #19 to #22 with a 700+ point loss)
  • Toby Keith, “Old School” (down from #31 to #39)

Zombie Tracks:

  • Blake Shelton, “Come Back As A Country Boy” (down from #10 to #11, gained only seventy-one spins and 455 points)
  • HARDY, “Give Heaven Some Hell” (holds at #12, gained 166 spins and 658 points. Not a terrible week given the circumstances, but how long can this thing really hold on?)
  • Tenille Arts, “Back Then, Right Now” (down from #32 to #34, lost its bullet again)
  • Caroline Jones, “Come In (But Don’t Make Yourself Comfortable)” (down from #38 to #40, barely regained its bullet by gaining twenty-seven points and losing spins)
  • Chris Janson, “Bye Mom” (down from #40 to #41, gained only fifteen spins and fifty points)

In Real Trouble:

  • Jake Owen, “Best Thing Since Backroads” (holds at #18, but lost its bullet)
  • ERNEST ft. Morgan Wallen, “Flower Shops” (hits the wall hard, dropping from #21 to #23 and losing its bullet with a nearly 375-point loss. This thing looked like it had some momentum; what happened?)
  • Midland, “Sunrise Tells The Story” (down from #41 to #43, lost its bullet. This one’s in danger of joining the zombie list)

In Some Trouble:

  • Chris Young & Mitchell Tenpenny, “At The End Of A Bar” (holds at #24, but gained only seven spins and fifty points)
  • Lee Brice, “Soul” (down from #29 to #30, gained only thirty-three spins and fifty-two points)
  • Kenny Chesney, “Everyone She Knows” (down from #28 to #31, gained only seven spins and lost points)
  • Zac Brown Band, “Out In The Middle” (down from #37 to #38, gained only fourteen spins and sixty-two points)
  • Priscilla Block, “My Bar” (down from #43 to #45, gained only twelve spins and thirty-three points)
  • Conner Smith, “Learn From It” (down from #46 to #48, gained only six spins and two points)
  • Mitchell Tenpenny, “Truth About You” (down from #47 to #49, gained only three spins and broke even on points)

In No Trouble At All:

  • Kelsea Ballerini, “HEARTFIRST” (debuts at #29)

Is still Thanos:

  • Luke Combs, “Doin’ This” (holds at #6)

Bubbling Under 50:

On The Way:

  • Chris Stapleton, “Joy Of My Life”
  • Little Big Town, “Hell Yeah”

Overall Thoughts: With no recurrent tracks and a big debut from Ballerini, this was a gut-check week for the charts, and a surprising number of songs failed the test. Yes, Johnson might get caught by the recurrent rules and Ballerini will regress to the mean, but I still think anyone who came up short this week needs to step back and rethink their radio strategy, because I’m still getting the sense that PDs are being more picky with their playlists and aren’t suffering songs that loiter for months on end the way they were before. Bryan may have just been stalling for time and will likely have new music out soon, but I’m getting the same vibe from Owen that I was getting from Bryan a few weeks ago, and somebody at Big Loud is probably being escorted out by security after ERNEST’s hard flop this week. Look for more movement next week, but also for more songs in the middle and at the bottom of the charts to give up the ghost, because the radio landscape seems to be getting harsher by the day.

On the coronavirus front…don’t look now, but we could be in trouble: New case averages are rising again, and now some are warning that we could be in the middle of another surge and not realize it because we’re not collecting the amount of data that we once did. The extremely-transmissible omicron BA.2 variant now accounts for over 85% of new cases in America, and while so far we’ve haven’t seen the surge that some countries in Europe did, it’s unclear whether the surge is still coming, not coming, or is already here (for what it’s worth, hospitalizations in this neck of the woods are rising again…). I know a lot of people would rather ignore the possibility of the pandemic dragging on even longer, but my fear is that it will one again reach a level we can’t ignore, and by then it will be too late to mitigate the damage. Instead, I’d advise folks to stay vigilant and be prepared:

With all the tools and strategies at our disposal, we aren’t powerless against this virus anymore. We can (and should) take steps to minimize its spread and protect the people we care about, because it’s ultimately the best way to bring the pandemic to an end.

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