The Jury Is Still Out On Sam Hunt

The Jury Is Still Out On Sam Hunt
Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Photo courtesy of Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
Sam Hunt is good-looking. Like, 6-foot-4 and incredibly good looking; think Tom Brady before he got on that weird diet. Chris Hemsworth good-looking. He’s even got the all-American backstory. Grew up in Georgia, played college football (quarterback, of course), even got invited to an NFL training camp.

Hunt picked up music after high school. It was viewed as nothing more than a hobby, a way of passing idle time while pursuing a professional football career. Roughly a decade later, his football career a distant memory, Hunt was a platinum-selling artist and one of the most popular acts in country music.

So, yeah, Sam Hunt — who plays RodeoHouston tonight — is unquestionably successful. But is he actually good?

To answer that question, we must first clarify one thing. Hunt, contrary to popular opinion, is not a “bro country” type. Whereas artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Cole Swindell have found success with tracks about tailgates, tanlines and Dixie cups, Hunt’s class of country doesn’t really fit into that particular sphere, mostly because the jury is still out whether he's even a country singer at all.

In a way, Hunt is almost like a male Taylor Swift. Tall. Attractive. Charming. Talented. In short, the total package, a marketing machine come to life. But to classify Hunt as a country singer is like classifying Swift as one around the time she released her third record, Speak Now. Yeah, there are elements of country in there to be certain, but there are plenty of other genres at play too.

With regard to Hunt, his sample size isn’t nearly as expansive or celebrated as is Swift, widely regarded as not only one of world’s biggest pop stars, but also its most famous people. Whereas Swift has released numerous platinum-sellers, Hunt has released only one – 2014’s Montevallo. Of course, the man knows how to make an impact; six of the album's ten tracks eventually became hit singles, and a seventh, "Cop Car," was previously a hit for Aussie crooner Keith Urban (Hunt wrote the single).

But unlike the aforementioned Bryan, the unquestioned king of the country bros, Hunt’s brand of country is fairly diverse. While Bryan has made a living alternating between uptempo party tracks and catchy-as-all-hell love ballads, Hunt’s debut features traces of hip-hop, EDM and R&B. Hell, Montevallo features drum machines and turntables. Dude even followed up Montevallo with a mixtape, 2015's Between the Pines. Conway Twitty, Hunt is not.

He doesn’t appear to be reining it in any time soon. One listen to Hunt’s latest single, “Body Like a Back Road,” from an upcoming album that has neither a title nor release date, sounds like a man doubling down on what made him famous in the first place.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, one of the things that differentiates artists like Future and Drake from their peers – and certainly plays a role in their success – is their ability to weave a variety of sounds into one unique blend (take Future's latest albums — one hip-hop, one R&B — as an example). Hunt takes country, R&B, hip-hop and EDM, blends them together, and out pops another hit.

Personally, I’m fairly indifferent towards Hunt. I get his appeal, and certainly respect his talent, while acknowledging that his music isn’t really for me. But that’s the point: it's not made for me. Rather, Hunt caters to that coveted female 18-34 demographic, and does so better than anyone outside of maybe Drake and Justin Timberlake. If you don’t agree with this, check out the reaction from the RodeoHouston crowd tonight.

Point being, beauty (figuratively and literally) is in the eye of the beholder, and Hunt is beholden to a demo that loves him and his music wholeheartedly. Does that make his music good? Not necessarily. But he’s an artist with an audience, and in today’s country music scene — where decidedly non-country artists have taken over the album and singles charts — it makes him an artist worth watching.

Plus, the chorus to “Take Your Time” is just so damn addictive.

Sam Hunt performs at RodeoHouston tonight at NRG Stadium, One NRG Park. Rodeo starts at 6:45 p.m.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Clint Hale enjoys music and writing, so that kinda works out. He likes small dogs and the Dallas Cowboys, as you can probably tell. Clint has been writing for the Houston Press since April 2016.
Contact: Clint Hale