Sam Hunt, the former college football player turned country hit-maker responsible for love-lorn, hip-hop infused tracks, has been compared to Drake before, in a way that perhaps reveals the mainstream music press’s biases a little too clearly. (They’ve been particularly linked after Hunt covered “Marvin’s Room” in March).
But Hunt’s performance at CMA Fest Thursday night solidified the link; the women in the front row of LP Field screamed for him in a way reminiscent of the fans of the boy bands of the ‘90s, and one of them went home with Hunt’s huge grin in her phone—he’d snapped it without stopping during a song to take a selfie.
“I don’t wanna blow your phone up/I just wanna blow your mind,” Hunt crooned on “Take Your Time,” before getting into his sometimes Macklemore-esque delivery style, the closest he gets to rapping: “And I know it starts with hello/And the next thing you know you’re trying to be nice/And some guys getting too close/Trying to pick you up/Trying to get you drunk.”
This mention of technology and modern communication wasn’t a one-off, but in “House Party,” Hunt’s lyrics recalled Drake’s “Energy.” “You’re on the couch, blowing up my phone/You don’t want to come out, but you don’t want to be alone,” sings Hunt; “I got bitches askin’ me about the code for the wifi/So they can talk about they timeline,” is Drake’s slightly less sweet version.
There’s also Hunt’s style. On Thursday night, despite the high temperatures, Hunt was wearing a red plaid shirt buttoned all the way to the top, with a long white shirt underneath and black leather pants. Very Kanye.
Hunt was one of the few changes to the LP Field lineup at CMA Fest this year, which is the ticketed portion for the Nashville festival (as the Nashville Scene pointed out when the lineup was released, Hunt was one of only four of the 21 acts that had never played the stadium during CMA Fest). He knew it too; “Just a few years ago I was sitting right down here,” he told the crowd, a sentiment he’d also expressed playing a CMA kick-off party earlier in this week.
To say Hunt’s the Drake of country is overly simplistic and doesn’t do either of them much credit, but it does easily break down one thing about Hunt: he’s a glimpse of a mainstream emofication of the infamous bro-country genre dominating the radio. Similar to what Jordan Sargent noted on Gawker about the queering of rap music, to which Drake has been connected, Hunt represents a possible trend away from hyper-masculinity in country, while the heterosexual focus of his music is still very much there.
But while Drake has moved on away from his sensitive tortured man role, and is now just sort of tortured and a little bit of a dick, Hunt is still sweet. So maybe it’s best to say that Hunt is the Drake of a few years ago of country music. Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite the same way, though.
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