Issue Date: June 14, 2009
Favorite country music videos of the stars
As you cast final votes for the USA WEEKEND Breakthrough Video of the Year, we ask Nashville's hottest which musical "mini-movies" they'll never forget.
The final four nominees are:
Jamey Johnson, In Color
Julianne Hough, That Song in My Head
Lady Antebellum, Lookin' for a Good Time
Zac Brown Band, Chicken Fried
By Dennis McCafferty
Many discover their favorite country stars through the power of music videos, as striking images propel words and music to new levels. Whether gritty or funny, clever or poignant, country videos can make compelling mini-movies out of familiar life -- from the birth of a child to the loss of a parent, from the giddy first days of romance to the heartbreak of a breakup.
As the USA WEEKEND Breakthrough Video of the Year is awarded Tuesday night at the CMT Music Awards, another great visual story will be celebrated. This award is special. It not only honors promising talent, but it's also voted on by USA WEEKEND readers and country fans nationwide.
It's appropriate that readers and fans get to decide. After all, via video, country stars come into American homes and let their life stories unfold.
CMT Music Awards
Tuesday, June 16
8 p.m. ET on CMT
VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE AT CMT.COM, until Midnight Sunday, June 14
Take Kellie Pickler, winner of last year's USA WEEKEND Breakthrough award. Her video for I Wonder was based on her relationship with her biological mother, who left Pickler when the star was just 2 years old. The emotional video sparked a special bond between fans and Pickler. "I have 5-year-olds who ask me to sing it at concerts because it's their favorite song," she tells USA WEEKEND Magazine. "I'll be pumping gas at a station, and I'll have an 80-year-old man come up to me and tell me how he wasn't raised by his parents either. The great thing about country music is that we can tell real stories about real people."
Gretchen Wilson won the Breakthrough award in 2005 for "Redneck Woman." In the video, Wilson demonstrated the down-to-earth quality that has become her trademark. "They shot me in a trailer with my laundry," she says. "I still had some baby fat from my pregnancy, so I wanted to show that off, too, where I stripped down while tossing my shirt into the washer. It was cool and raw and different."
"Big & Rich" enjoy a video street festival.
What defines a great breakthrough video? We asked Pickler, Wilson and other top country music talents to make their picks for the best. Interestingly, some of their choices have been in the running for this year's Breakthrough award. (And these selected videos can be seen at CMT.com.) To find out more about the videos that have most influenced these country stars, read on:
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Favorite video of Kellie Pickler
Dolly Parton shares a loved one's picture in this screen grab from her video.
"I was wowed when Brad Paisley teamed up with Dolly Parton for When I Get Where I'm Going (2005). The song is so amazing, and the video is just so simple and sweet, with all of these pictures of real people holding pictures of loved ones who have gone to heaven. Putting Dolly and Brad in the same song and video is really clever, too, because it shows how much more of an event you can create when you have two huge stars who appeal to such a wide demographic."
Gretchen Wilson's favorite video
"'Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)' (2004), from Big & Rich. Yeah, I know I have a bias because I'm part of the MuzikMafia with these guys. I'm even in the video, but I'm wearing a ball cap, so you probably wouldn't even know I'm in it. It's a great breakthrough because it's one big street freak parade, with a marching band, Two-Foot Fred, Cowboy Troy, horses and dancers. And the best part is where 'Big' Kenny Alphin is sitting in a car with some red-headed mannequin, and, at the very end, the mannequin comes alive. It's a cool collection of crazy images."
Favorite video picks from more country music stars:
"Wild at Heart (2009), with Gloriana. This video conveys what music is meant to be: getting a band together and having a blast. There's no script -- just a lot of energy on the screen."
"In Color," from Jamey Johnson (2008). Sometimes, it's just a simple touch that makes a video a breakthrough. In this case, Jamey is sitting in a chair with a long goatee, playing his song with all of these black-and-white pictures around him. Suddenly, all the pictures turn to color. That's genius."
"It has to be Miranda Lambert's 'Kerosene' (2005). It's got a great edge. She's filmed in a white tank top with all of this fire around her. It's full of danger and sex at the same time -- just like Miranda's music."
"I'll never forget Johnny Cash's Hurt (2002). It was filmed in the twilight of his life, but it's still a 'breakthrough.' It's full of quick edits and pictures of Johnny in his early life, but it also conveys a raw, unfiltered depiction of him in his last days, when he was very ill. He really lays it on the line for the video. There's a touching moment when June Carter Cash walks down the stairs with love and compassion in her eyes. She died not long after that, so, to watch it now, it's like she's coming down from heaven to say, 'It's going to be all right, John. I'm here for you.' Our videos now are so polished and slick. This one gets to the soul of an artist."
"The Dance, from Garth Brooks (1990). It's so well done, with images of people who have passed away. One of my idols, Keith Whitley, is in it. But it also has images of non-music people, too, like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King."
Karen Fairchild, from Little Big Town
"LeAnn Rimes' Probably Wouldn't Be This Way (2005). It's about a woman losing her husband. This came out at about the same time that Kimberly Schlapman from our band had lost her first husband. The video perfectly captures what Kimberly went through. She has told us that she had trouble just moving his shoes from a certain spot in the house where he always kept them, and there's a part in the video where LeAnn sees her late husband's shoes, and she doesn't want to touch them. It's heartbreaking."
Cover and cover story photos of Kellie Pickler and Gretchen Wilson by Joseph Anthony Baker for USA WEEKEND
EXCLUSIVE ONLINE EXTRA:
"I'll never forget Garth Brooks' The Red Strokes (1994). It was just him sitting at a piano in a white suit. The floor is white, and the piano is white, too. Then, there's red paint pouring all over him. It was so out of the box for our industry. It was something you expect to see in a rock video, not country. Garth really stepped out for that one."
"Ol' Red (2002), with Blake Shelton, is one of my favorites. And it really made him, because it's one of his biggest songs. It also has great celebrity cameos, with people like NASCAR's Elliott Sadler. In the video, Blake is in prison, and Ol' Red is his dog. Because Blake is on good behavior, he gets to take Ol' Red for runs in the woods when the rest of the inmates are doing road-crew duty. Then the dog meets up with another girl dog, and they fall in love. I think it really tickled audiences when Blake escapes from the prison, and they send Ol' Red to hunt him down, but Ol' Red goes to meet his girlfriend instead!"
Brad Mates of Emerson Drive
"Golden Ring (song released 1976), a duet with George Jones and Tammy Wynette. It was a concert performance that they use on video now. To see the two of them together simply singing the song -- and telling a story together, realizing what happened to the two of them -- is really powerful. Now, we have story lines and concepts and props to tell a story in video. This was just two people expressing their emotions through lyrics and song."