Axios Nashville

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February 20, 2024

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Today's newsletter is 919 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Beyoncé rides to country radio

Beyoncé at New York Fashion Week on Feb. 13. Photo: James Devaney/GC Images

Beyoncé's embrace of country music has racked up millions of streams and rave reviews.

  • But her new songs have spurred controversy, too. An Oklahoma country station initially refused to play her single "Texas Hold 'Em" before reversing course.

Why it matters: Beyoncé's new music revived an ongoing debate about diversity and inclusion in country music, where white artists dominate the airwaves with only a handful of exceptions.

  • If Beyoncé is able to buck that trend, advocates hope it could open doors for other artists who have struggled to find a foothold.

Driving the news: Artists like Rhiannon Giddens, who played banjo on "Texas Hold 'Em," have worked for years to spotlight the ways Black artists have shaped the sound of country music. And groups like The Black Opry have celebrated ascending Black artists.

  • Despite their work, and multiple industry initiatives, mainstream radio success remains elusive for the vast majority of Black country artists, particularly Black women.

State of play: Rhodes College professor Charles Hughes told the New York Times that the initial decision not to play Beyoncé was emblematic of how "country radio has systematically excluded artists of color."

  • But Hughes said Beyoncé and her legion of fans could be an influential tipping point for the genre.
  • "Maybe that power will create an expanded space for all these great Black women making country music," he said.

The intrigue: After cheering Beyoncé's journey to "our side of town" on social media, artist Brittney Spencer shared a list of her favorite Black country artists "while we're at it."

What he's saying: Bobby Bones, a massively popular radio personality with a nationally syndicated country music show based in Nashville, said he plans to program the song during his syndicated weekend show dedicated to female artists.

Zoom out: Despite the short-lived trepidation of the Oklahoma station and some vocal critics online, major radio execs align with Bones.

  • "Why wouldn't we play this? This is a gift," Brian Philips, chief content officer at Cumulus Media, said, per Variety.
  • "We have 55 major country stations and it's very hard to get them to agree on anything. But everybody at country wants to play it."

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2. Nashville leaders condemn neo-Nazi march

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Leaders from across the political spectrum are condemning a group of neo-Nazis who marched through downtown Nashville on Saturday.

Driving the news: The group carried flags with swastikas. Photographs on social media showed them at the state Capitol and Public Square Park.

  • "Some persons on Broadway challenged the group, most of whom wore face coverings," Nashville police said in a statement, per NBC News. "The group headed to a U-Haul box truck, got in, and departed Davidson County."

What they're saying: Gov. Bill Lee, U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, state lawmakers and Metro officials released statements expressing outrage.

  • Mayor Freddie O'Connell said police were working with faith and community leaders "to ensure people are safe."

"Our nation spent significant blood and treasure during World War II to rid the world of the wicked and murderous ideology of Nazism," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) said yesterday in a statement.

  • "To see this hate resurface on the streets of our state capital was horrific. Those thugs do not represent Tennessee values and they are not welcome here — ever."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville said the march was "painful to many in our community."

  • "It is another example of the alarming increase in antisemitic and hate activity in our state."

The latest: Faith leaders and elected officials spoke out against the demonstration at a gathering yesterday.

3. The Setlist: Cold beer is safe in Tennessee

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

🍻 Lawmakers poured cold water on a bill that would have banned sales of cold beer in Tennessee. (NewsChannel 5)

🏆 WPLN's podcast about juvenile justice in Rutherford County won a national award. (WPLN)

🎟️ The ticketing policy that restricts public access to the Tennessee House chambers is constitutional, the state attorney general said in a legal opinion. (Tennessee Lookout)

4. 🛸 UFO sightings in Tennessee

👽 Reported UFO sightings per 100k residents
Data: National UFO Reporting Center, U.S. Census; Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Area 51 isn't the only place in the country where people experience close encounters of the odd kind.

  • People in the Nashville metro area have reported 657 UFO sightings since 2000, per National UFO Reporting Center data. That's a rate of 32.1 per 100,000 people.

Why it matters: Discussion and reports of UFOs — or the more modern term, UAPs (unidentified anomalous phenomenon) — have been going more mainstream in recent years, Axios' Alex Fitzpatrick, Erin Davis and Alice Feng report.

  • Members of Tennessee's congressional delegation are part of the federal push for answers.

Zoom out: The Nashville area's rate of sightings is less than the national average of 34.3 sightings per 100,000 people.

  • The Tennessee counties with the highest rate of sightings per capita are in low-population rural areas.

Details: Anyone can submit a report to the UFO center, but volunteers work to weed out what they consider obvious hoaxes or false reports.

The bottom line: Don't rush to buy Reese's Pieces. There's still no proof we're being visited by extraterrestrials.

  • Many of these sightings are likely military activity, satellites or scientific phenomena.

Explore the interactive map

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5. Belated Music Monday: Lost in space

Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

We here at Axios Nashville have never seen a UFO, but we have cranked up the volume and sung about them.

We're following Beyoncé out of the honky-tonk and into the disco for "Alien Superstar." And we spend some time with David Bowie's "Starman."

🧑‍🚀 Adam here: This playlist is mostly my excuse to share the Carpenters' seven-minute epic "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft."

Follow our playlist on Spotify

⭐️ Gold stars to our latest quiz champs: Ben P., Marina T., Rick K., Caroline M., Sydney R., Debbie D., Julie D., Ann Marie O., Diane B., Shelley A. and Mark W.

Our picks:

Nate's song of the day is "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" by the Ramones.

🍿 Adam enjoyed seeing "Casablanca" at The Belcourt with his boyfriend Forrest.

This newsletter was edited by Jen Ashley and copy edited by Katie Lewis.