If you'd recently invited Miranda Lambert and Eric Church to the same party, you may want to reset that table with one or two fewer places. Country music's usually cozy clubhouse has suddenly developed a very public rift.
Lambert and her husband Blake Shelton both took to Twitter today to tear into Church, after he was quoted at length in Rolling Stone questioning the credibility of stars appearing on The Voice and other reality shows.
"I wish I misunderstood this," Shelton tweeted, in unusually succinct and humor-free fashion, after retweeting a link to the controversial interview in which Church ripped into The Voice and even mentioned Shelton by name, saying he'd rather "starve" than be a reality-show judge or contestant.
Lambert was more fiery than Shelton in her own subsequent Twitter response. She angrily wrote: "Thanks Eric Church for saying I'm not a real artist. Or @kelly_clarkson, @carrieunderwood & @KeithUrban. Your (sic) welcome for the tour in 2010," she added, referring to the 2010 Revolution tour that had Church as her featured support act.
(If you're wondering why Lambert included Urban among that company, he's a judge on the Australian version of The Voice. And it's almost easy to forget at this late datethat Lambert got her big break in 2003 as a third-place finisher on the now-defunct Nashville Star.)
After an initial "no comment" from Church's camp, he issued a statement tonight. "I have a lot of respect for what artists like Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and my friend Miranda Lambert have gone on to accomplish," he wrote at the end of a long clarification. "This piece was never intended to tear down any individual and I apologize to anybody I offended in trying to shed light on this issue."
From the sound of things, though, calling Lambert "my friend" may be wishful thinking on Church's part at this point.
What got this rare public country feud started?
"It's become American Idol gone mad," Church is quoted as saying in Rolling Stone. "Honestly, if Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green f---ing turn around in a red chair, you got a deal? That's crazy. I don't know what would make an artist do that. You're not an artist... If I was concerned about my legacy, there's no f---ing way I would ever sit there... Once your career becomes about something other than the music, then that's what it is. I'll never make that mistake. I don't care if I f---ing starve."
Ironically, Lambert and Church have a lot in common, being critics' favorites and enjoying near-equal amounts of acclaim as mainstream country's respective queen and king of Keeping It Real. And it's not as if Lambert has been wholly circumspect when it comes to commenting on other artists herself, as her recent Twitter tirades against the reacceptance of Chris Brown into the music community's good graces proved. But she's certainly taken the traditional tack of playing nice with everyone in the country genre itself. Meanwhile, Church just got a little bit real-er.
It's not just the Voice-related stuff that raised eyebrows. Church also alleges in RS that, when playing state fair gigs, he sent his guitarist out to do Pantera instrumentals before their sets to make sure it was only rock-tolerant fans left when he came on. "It didn't interest me to play for people who were 80 years old," he says in the article. "They'll be dead soon anyway. By the time you come back on tour and play again, they'll be gone."
Good quotes for the Rolling Stone audience, which presumably wants the more rebellious side of country, if any side at all. But good quotes for country radio, which still relies on even its outlaws seeming friendly to an over-30 female demographic? Maybe not.
Yahoo! reached out to representatives for all three artists this afternoon, but at first none of the artists were talking. Shelton was preparing to sing his new single, "Over," on tonight's live episode of The Voice. Lambert's publicist said that whatever she has to say "will play out on Twitter."
Finally, Church's publicity firm released a statement that began: "The comment I made to Rolling Stone was part of a larger commentary on these types of reality television shows and the perception they create, not the artists involved with the shows themselves. The shows make it appear that artists can shortcut their way to success. There are a lot of artists due to their own perseverance that have gone on to be successful after appearing on these shows, but the real obstacles come after the cameras stop rolling. Every artist has to follow up television appearances with dedication towards their craft, but these shows tend to gloss over that part and make it seem like you can be ordained into stardom. I have a problem with those perceived shortcuts, not just in the music industry. Many people have come to think they can just wake up and have things handed to them."
After saying, in effect, that he admired how Lambert, Clarkson, and Underwood had thrived despite coming from reality-show backgrounds, he wrapped up his statement by adding, "I am grateful for all of the artists and fans that have supported me along my journey and certainly did not mean for my comments to undermine their talent and achievements."
The severity of Church's statements was such that an apology was almost inevitable. But the artist has played the role of bad boy before, proudly getting himself in trouble with country acts just a little bit bigger and less ornery than he is. As the Rolling Stone piece recalls, he was kicked off the Rascal Flatts tour in 2006 for playing too long. Back then, he he spun the firing into PR gold by booking club dates on the nights and in the cities he had originally been booked to play as part of the Flatts arena tour.
Will this flap similarly result in a cred-boosting publicity bonanza for Church? Or will it make him a little bit more of an outlaw than he'd banked on in harmony-happy Nashville?