Friday, January 2, 2009

Keith Urban -- From Outer Rim to Inner Circle

In 1997, Australia's not-yet-country-superstar-husband-of-Nicole-Kidman Keith Urban told the Sydney Morning Herald:
"I was raised on 100 per cent American country music. My intention has always been to improve the quality of Australian country music and to use the quality of American country music as a benchmark for that."
Urban may or may not have improved the quality of Australian country music, but he did move to Nashville and become an international star, crossing, as his biographer Jeff Apter put it "the great divide that separates rowdy outback pubs from the red carpet of the Grammys."

The Sydney Morning Herald now has an article reviewing Apter's new book, Fortunate Son: The Unlikely Rise Of Keith Urban, that tells how one of Australia's most famous cultural exports did it, moving from the backwoods to the center and making compromises to achieve success.
This is a story about the tension between artistic integrity and commercial success. It is the story of how individuality was crushed and an Australian country singer became a superstar. Oh, yes, and got the girl in the final reel.....

When Urban arrived on the Australian country music scene he was a true renegade. At the time country music was about bush ballads sung by Slim and Smoky in very Aussie accents.

Urban, looking like a countrified version of Billy Idol, wanted to reinvent the genre...

So, after Tamworth [Australia's major country music festival] rather begrudgingly acknowledged his talent (he had won a Tamworth Golden Guitar award for best new talent and, at 16, had won best junior male vocalist), Urban headed for Nashville.

What no one realised at the time was that Urban was so driven and focused that he was prepared to stay in Nashville until he succeeded and, as he would eventually discover, he would do anything, including making a truly Faustian deal with his record company, to achieve success.

To understand the choices that Urban confronted it is necessary to realise that country music in the United States is an eternal battle between pop country and trad country.

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