It’s a growing trend in country music right now: the collaborative re-release. I’m talking about Dan + Shay re-releasing Speechless featuring Tori Kelly, Maren Morris and Gabby Barrett re-releasing their hits The Bones and I Hope featuring Hozier and Charlie Puth, respectively. I’m talking about Kelsea Ballerini and her ‘remix’ of hole in the bottle featuring the one and only Shania Twain.
It’s everywhere you look, and it’s not just country music. Famously, Ed Sheeran did the same thing with Perfect, releasing the song both as a duet with Beyonce and as an Italian language remix with Andrea Bocelli.
Back to country music. It’s dominated mainstream country radio over the last year or two, and I don’t think we can blame it solely on the pandemic. It began back in 2019 and it continues today, after restrictions have begun to lift and long after artists have kitted out their spare rooms for home recording. I’ll be honest: it’s not a trend I’m wild about.
For artists like Morris and Barrett, who collaborated with more mainstream, pop and adult contemporary artists, it allowed them to break into new radio niches and parade their music in front of new audiences – audiences they wouldn’t have reached previously. Kelsea Ballerini collaborated with Shania Twain to re-release her hit hole in the bottle. Ward Thomas recently reimagined their song Don’t Be A Stranger with country superwoman Cam, and the trend continues with last week’s re-release of Caylee Hammack’s Small Town Hypocrite, this time with a little Chris Stapleton magic in the harmonies. Most of these re-issues happened within months of the original hit – before the ink had even dried.
So, if it’s not to introduce their music to a wider audience why aren’t these artists collaborating on something new, rather than re-releasing an existing song with few, if any, melodic or instrumental changes? A collaboration would attract fans of both artists, regardless of the song’s age. And wouldn’t creating something new be more fulfilling for both artists?
Well, as far as I can tell, the strategy is largely self-serving and perhaps even a little self-indulgent (not that there’s anything wrong with self-indulgence) – taking so much pride in this one creation that you want to hang onto it just a little longer. In fact, longevity seems to be the biggest benefit. By re-releasing as radio play starts to wind down, you give the single a second wind and extend its radio shelf life. It also extends the shelf life beyond radio – as seen at last weekend’s ACM Awards, where Maren Morris took home the award for song of the year – for a song she released back in 2019. It was the cleverly-timed re-release of the single that granted eligibility for this year’s awards.
So, for the major label hit-machine artists, it appears to be little more than a strategic marketing ploy and an exercise in vanity. It’s not all grandstanding, though. There are instances where this could be a bountiful exercise. Brooks & Dunn re-released an entire album of their songs as collaborations with contemporary artists. Many were re-imagined, some just re-recorded and polished – but all of them throwbacks. What about the rising star who finds herself on a Spotify curated playlist with thousands of new listeners – by re-recording that surprise smash hit with an emerging artist, she’s able to generously share that spotlight.
Check out our playlist of re-released collabs. Which version do you prefer?
Find it here on Spotify.