What Did Go Wrong with Gretchen Wilson?

Jim Malec is on the verge of kicking her out of country music and I can’t say that I blame him.  I just wonder–what went wrong?  Is she a natural ballad singer stuck in an endless cycle of forever more derivative versions of “Redneck Woman”?  Is it because she stopped writing her own material?  Is John Rich secretly a bad influence on her?  What?  And what can she do to right herself?

I still think she could do an interesting cover of “I’m Going to Hire a Wino,” which might still be kind of like “Redneck Woman” but from the other side.  But I have to think that the other thing she needs to do is get back to being true to herself.  People connected with her, I think, because they thought they were really hearing from her and “Redneck Woman” wasn’t just a “fuck you” party song.  There was a sharp, strong edge right along the spine of that song–that whole “Well, if I can’t have your stuff, fuck you, I don’t want it” that rang so true.

And if ever there was a time for a woman who would sing about how people make a hard life work for them, isn’t it now?

21 thoughts on “What Did Go Wrong with Gretchen Wilson?

  1. Gretchen has gone away because she turned her back on the folks at radio stations. In Country music, radio is still king–there isn’t an act out there that sells albums that doesn’t have support from radio (in Country…. Dixie Chicks are the only exception, but that’s a whole other story).

    After Gretchen rose to fame so quickly with such a huge record (“Redneck Woman”) she did not in any way, shape or form endear herself to the program directors that spun the song 60, 70, 80 times a week, making it such a huge success. The decision makers at radio started to see her as an ungrateful, stuck up snob. And she will carry that burden for a long, long time now. Radio decision makers in Country don’t give second chances.

  2. Is she a natural ballad singer stuck in an endless cycle of forever more derivative versions of “Redneck Woman”?


    She was signed because of “When I Think About Cheating,” according to Joe Galante. And he should know; he signed her. Ballads are her strength. But she was sold as the rock ’em up party girl, and that’s what got her her original fan base. Which doesn’t like ballads, unless maybe they’re power ballads. So her great songs tank on radio, and she’s going to be considered a failure if she doesn’t have huge radio hits, so she’s stuck.

    Of course, she could always go alt-country, where she’d be a superstar if she only went gold with each album.

  3. i’m gonna have to disagree, there, bunny. nobody has ever been able to show that radio spins equate to record sales. there is no correlation. not even in country music. the radio stations would love you to think so, and all of us at the labels would love it to BE so (it sure would make marketing a lot easier), but we see study after study that show that spins do not equal sales. period.

    i’d love to know how to fix gretchen’s decline. i actually have a stake in that. but it can’t be pinned on radio… poor choice of material? maybe. john rich? well, i (like most nashvillians) hate the guy, so i’m more than willing to lay it at his feet…

    my thoughts run like this: people liked redneck woman because it was an anthem of female kick-assery. sort of a giant, upturned middle finger to the entertainment industry. it was an anti-establishment punk song with pedal steel and shit-kicker cowboy boots. people loved it… the industry, not so much. she pissed off a lot of people by being what they loved to hear her sing about. and i think that would have been ok, the music industry is full of folks who piss off (and who piss on) the industry and still do quite well… it would have been ok, except that she decided to try to play the industry game – cowrites, material that she had no part in, that whole music mafia bullshit. she played the nashville game and it washed out her image.

    i think b is right… she needs to get back to it. this is the time to sing about working hard, playing harder and being pissed off about it.

  4. I for one will stop listening to her altogether if that’s all she does. To me, it’s her party songs that sound canned, calculated, and forced, and her ballads that sound honest. And, you know, it’s also the ballads that sound individual; do I really need to hear yet another song about playing hard? There are half a dozen singers out there who do that, and who cares?

  5. I’m all for a person being proud of who he/she is & although I don’t dig the whole schtick she had going, at least it was something different at the time. She seemed like a breath of fresh air when she hit mainly b/c she was owning who she was and that whole lifestyle – “here I am, this is what i am, where I’m from and I’m proud of it, so what?”

    But at some point, it sounded like a broken record (no pun intended) and it got really hokey. Even if a person can sing well, the material has to remain interesting. And hearing the same thing over and over gets old fast.

  6. I have to say I got tired of Gretchen Wilson’s “proud to be a redneck” schtick after about the third single. In the same way I wanted to rip that dang cowboy hat off Terri Clark’s head after a while. I mean, enough already.

    Artists need to be allowed to grow, and I’m not sure if the fact that she hasn’t is Wilson’s fault or the fault of her record label. I do know that the Nashville’s Music Row is as close to the old Hollywood studio system as one will find in entertainment today, and it’s enormously difficult for artists–especially female artists– to rebel against their handlers. The Dixie Chicks did that and look what happened, when trouble came calling Music Row hung them out to dry.

    Wilson’s image is that of a rebel and an outsider and while she may be that personally, professionally she’s as manufactured an artist as any of them.

  7. Ha, it’s funny because I both agree that she hasn’t been allowed to grow as an artist AND I find myself feeling sure that part of the problem is that she’s not quite allowed to make music that is fundamentally hers. I would like to see her be able to get back to songs like “Redneck Woman.” Not in tempo or subject matter, but in — again, like I said — that sense that you were hearing from a real person. I thought “Here for the Party” and even “All Jacked Up” were fine, but they were just songs. To me, they weren’t songs that only Gretchen Wilson could sing–they were songs any fool at a karaoke bar could take a swing at.

    And I guess I see her in a place now–having had some fame, seeming to have kind of lost it, having a bad break up, some other private turmoil, some weird friends, being shoved into a weird industry.

    She’s got fodder. Lord she’s got fodder. And, if she’s really, honestly got the talent, this has to be the moment when she can take all that and give us something real.

  8. Wilson suffers from what we could call the Billy Ray Cyrus syndrome. The Nashville machine took an artist who had a degree of talent and launched that artist’s career, not with a song that showcased her talent, but with something that was essentially a novelty number. And to the masses, that makes Wilson, like Billy Ray Cyrus before her, a novelty act who will never be taken seriously.

  9. I hope you’re wrong about that, Scott. I think she’s got serious talent and I’d like to think she could make a success of it, even if it’s as an indie artist rather than mainstream.

  10. The Nashville machine took an artist who had a degree of talent and launched that artist’s career, not with a song that showcased her talent, but with something that was essentially a novelty number. And to the masses, that makes Wilson, like Billy Ray Cyrus before her, a novelty act who will never be taken seriously.

    in other words, the artist becomes a caricature of his/herself.

  11. Alls I know is I liked “Work Hard, Play Harder” a lot better when it was still called “Jealous Again”.

  12. Before Billy Ray Cyrus broke, I knew someone who worked for his manager. She kept telling me about this great artist they were grooming for the big time who was going be HUGE! When she played me “Achy Breaky Heart” for the first time, I agreed that it would be a big hit. But I also told her to make sure he didn’t spend it all because it would be the only thing people would ever remember him for if they made that his first single. There were songs on his debut album that actually had some substance to them. They wouldn’t have been monster #1s, but they would have been a good introduction to a talented singer who could then have the monster hit as his second or third single and then have a long career as a serious singer afterward. Sorry no one listened to me, Billy Ray. But hey, I thought you were great in Mulholland Drive!

    Years later, after I had given up on anything the major labels in Nashville were doing, I read about Gretchen Wilson and even without hearing her I felt kind of the same way. Maybe when she finally gets dropped from Sony, some quality label like Dualtone will pick her up and let her make good records.

  13. Lost Highway would be better; Dualtone can’t do anything for anyone on their roster, but LH can get a little publicity out there.

  14. Ah. Nice work in the ballads. Long ago I knew someone who was trying to break in to the system with her voice – it’s a hard road when you want to be yourself.

  15. In fairness, “Redneck Woman” is also a super song. But it sure got her a bunch of fans who won’t listen to anything that doesn’t clone the sound and concept.

  16. Gretchen Wilson sang a beautiful hymn-like ballad called “Heaven Help Me,” about drinking / quitting drinking and blaming everyone else … something along those lines. It was like a beautiful AA ballad, and moved me to tears. The one song of hers I ever purchased.

    I got tired of the rest of her catalog since they all seemed to be alcoholic drinking songs or put down of “California women” or fighting some woman in a bar for “looking at her man,” or some other kind of bitter defensive drunken trailer park trash. Alcohol has that effect on people, doesn’t it?

    “Heaven Help Me” was absolutely phenomenal, and I could barely believe it was coming from her; absolutely fantastic. Best thing I’ve ever heard. Hope she can get back to doing more songs like that. I’d be a big fan.

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