There’s a reason we’ve never heard of these “Famous Friends” before: Judging from the song, they’re not worth knowing.
Chris Young may well be the Barbara Mandrell of our time, because while everyone is jumping onto the same-sounding Blandemic trend right now, Young was boring before boring was cool (seriously, I’ve been running this Korner for four years now, and he’s earned a 5/10 every flipping time he’s popped up on my radar). I didn’t expect him to break that streak when I saw that he and Kane Brown (another artist whose star has waned recently—he’s topping the charts, but he’s not driving the country conversation the way Thanos is) had joined forces for the presumed third single off of Young’s presumed eighth album (it’s been nearly two years since “Raised On Country” came out; that album’s got to be coming out someday…right?). Spoiler alert: He actually did manage to break his streak…except he did so in the worst possible way: I hate everything about this track, making it the perfect closer to this tire fire of a year. (Editor’s Note: There are still some songs that need to be reviewed before the year-end lists come out, but this may be the last song to get a full review.)
To say this is the same stupid guitar-and-drum mix everyone else is using is giving it too much credit: The song opens by smashing you in the face with several barely-distinguishable electric guitars (the only one you can really pick out is a slicker, higher-pitched one borrowed from Jake Owen) and a run-of-the-mill drum set, creating a toneless, relentless wall of noise that the mix just beats you over the head with for the entire song. (There are some keyboards buried deep in the background, but they contribute nothing to the overall feel of the arrangement.) The volume level, darker guitar tones, and frequent minor chords give the song an ominous and even slightly aggressive feel, causing it to clash badly with your subject matter—the song comes across less like a celebration of their “famous” friends and more of an opportunity to shove them in the listener’s face for no apparent reason. While Jason Aldean would be proud of the result, everybody else is repulsed by the unnecessary attitude and seriousness of the sound (this isn’t fun, it’s just annoying). This is about the worst possible mix that you could use to back a song like this, and the audience is heading for the exits before the second verse is complete.
We all might like to name-drop important people we “know” to feel special by association, but nobody likes to listen to other people do it, and unfortunately that’s pretty much all Young and Brown do here. There aren’t any technical issues here (both artists are capable singers who breeze through the song’s minimal range, flow, and power demands), but no one sounds like there’s actually having fun here. Instead, the vibe I get from the singers is smug self-importance, flaunting their connections to “important” people to make themselves appear above the city folk they’re addressing. There’s a defiant, holier-than-thou edge to both artists’ vocals, and it puts listeners on the defensive instead of bringing them into the narrator’s camp: Instead of the reaction being “Oh wow, it’s super cool that you know these people!” it becomes “F*ck you, I know some important people too, unlike the two-bit hacks you hang out with!” It reminds me a lot of Robert Counts’s “What Do I Know,” as there’s a strong undercurrent of “us vs. them” exclusivity in the deliveries of both men. (And don’t even get me started on the fact that there’s no reason this should be a duet: Having two singers here brings adds absolutely nothing to the track—it’s just an excuse for Young to try and use Brown’s star power to jump-start his stagnant career.) Instead of elevating the track, Young and Brown actively drag it down with their vocals, making the narrators unlikable and the song unlistenable.
My biggest problem with the lyrics is that completely fail at their main task: Framing the narrator’s not-actually famous connections as people we should respect and care about. Instead, the song reduces them to a laundry list, and we get throwaway lines about preachers and teachers and some brief mentions of people who frankly aren’t worth celebrating—why should we care that someone is ” the life of every party” or holds a local football record? (The attempted bragging about the narrator’s police officer connection really irritates me, as it smacks of undeserved privilege, and it’s more than a little twisted that the line is given to Brown, a biracial man who knows all too well how police officers would view him and that they wouldn’t just let him go.) You could potentially make these characters into interesting figures, but the writing leaves them as one-dimensional cardboard cutouts and relies on the listener to fill in the details. (Think you can’t flesh out characters like this in the span of one song? Randy Travis begs to differ: He took “a farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher” and turned in into one of the best songs of the 2000s.) Throw in the fact that these are the sort of generic roles and professions that everyone name-drops on a track like this, and the writing winds up feeling more lazy than anything else (and no, randomly tossing in the county you grew up in does not make the song feel personal). As I mentioned before, there’s a reason these “famous friends” aren’t actually famous, and the writers completely fail to convince us that they should be.
“Famous Friends” is a complete failure on every level: The production is dark and edgy instead of warm and celebratory, the lyrics are bare-bones and run-of-the-mill instead of descriptive and unique, and Chris Young and Kane Brown make the narrators less instead of more likeable. Much like with “What Do I Know,” there was a possible way forward with a track like this, but everyone involved did the exact opposite of what they should have, and we’re left with this monotonous, aggravating drivel that has no place on country radio, pop radio, ham radio, or any sort of radio. Brown still has enough clout and popularity to survive this misstep, but is this is what Young is going to drop on us after several years of putting us to sleep, then it’s time to let Brett fill our Young quota in Nashville, and put Chris on a shelf (next to the elf) for a while to make him think about what’s he’s done.
Rating: 3/10. Get that garbage outta here!