“The tabloid thing to me is a love-hate relationship, you know?” he says by phone, a week before he headlines a concert at Jiffy Lube Live in Bristow, Va., on Sept. 12. “I feel like, obviously, a lot of them are very much disrespectful… but on the other side of it? We’ve done some things with them that are cool.”
In other words, Aldean and Kerr agreed to sell exclusive photos of their Caribbean wedding to Us Weekly in hopes that the paparazzi would leave them alone. (It didn’t really work – a photographer tried to sneak on the beach by boat.) “It’s the always trying to catch somebody with their hand in the cookie jar… that, to me, is the part that just becomes a really shady thing,” he said. “It makes it really hard to be nice and play ball with these guys sometimes.”
An unusual amount of attention on his personal life is just one of the things that frustrates Aldean about the industry these days, particularly as he’s an artist with a very sharp focus on the business side. He pulled his music off Spotify last year, and became the Nashville representative as a founding partner in Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service in March. He’s changed his lyrics to reflect an endorsement deal. He hasn’t written a track on his latest albums, preferring to cull hits from songwriters who served him in the past.
“We’ve had some guys over the years that have sort of been proven hit makers. Guys that always seem to rise to the occasion when it’s time to cut an album,” said Aldean, currently in the studio working on his seventh album. He added: “I honestly don’t really care where the song comes from — I’m looking at the best songs possible. But at the same time, if you’ve had guys that have proven over and over again that they’re gonna write you a hit, you’re gonna give those guys an opportunity to bring you some songs.”
These decisions have literally paid off: Forbes recently named him No. 3 on the list of highest-earning country stars, worth about $43.5 million. Since launching onto the scene in 2005, the Georgia-bred singer racked up the hits: “Amarillo Sky,” “She’s Country,” “Big Green Tractor,” “The Truth.” In 2010, he had smashes with “My Kinda Party” and the rap-infused “Dirt Road Anthem,” becoming one of the first artists to have massive success with country-rock party anthems. Since then, he’s gone on to have a slew of No. 1 hits, including three from his latest album “Old Boots, New Dirt”; platinum-selling albums; and sold-out football stadiums on his tours.
While at the top of his game with fans of all demographics, Aldean isn’t thrilled with the criticism of the now-exhausted topic of “bro-country” — like when a Billboard cover story called him the “King of the Bros.” Aldean has been vocal about his dislike of being grouped together with other male artists. He feels that the detractors are dismissing some of his songs that deal with deeper subjects, as opposed to the “girl with long tan legs riding shotgun in my truck” hit tunes that flooded country radio.
“I have a few songs, sure, that sort of fit that mold. That’s what I grew up doing, it’s what I know, it’s what I sing about… on the other side of that, there’s a ton of songs on my records over the years that have nothing to do with that,” he said. “And I think for me, that’s more the aggravation of, like, don’t try to come in here and tear us down for something when you really haven’t taken the time to listen to the rest of our songs.”
Either way, Aldean is relieved that as an established artist, he doesn’t have to get involved in trying to break out in the intensely competitive country-music world. He ticks off some younger acts that have impressed him (Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, A Thousand Horses) but doesn’t envy them. “It’s just a different experience these days in music,” he said. “And I would honestly hate to be a new artist these days, because it’s just tough.”
And what about female singers, the demo that has the most trouble breaking into the genre? It’s become a major talking point this year that women, more than anyone, struggle to get their songs heard on country radio.
Aldean doesn’t know why that is, but he has one theory: “I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing – and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this – a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know?” Aldean said. “A lot of times they just sound really similar to me. And then you have some that come out like a Carrie [Underwood] or Miranda [Lambert] or somebody like that, that really has a different, distinctive sound to their voice, then it’s like, oh, okay, you can tell them apart all of a sudden. They go on to be obviously big stars, but I think it’s because you can distinguish between them.”
Aldean clarified that it doesn’t do any artist (male or female) any favors to sound like every other person: “Listening to country radio, you always have these labels that are putting out new acts and it’s like, you already don’t know who this person is. So what is going to make you remember them?”