It started with the blind promos. Snippets of John C. McGinley delivering a speech in a college lecture hall, challenging the notion of what has value, how one defines happiness, what really makes you rich. They began popping up on SiriusXM’s homepage, The Highway and Y2K Country with only the tag “World Video Premiere,” along with a date (Friday, 4/28/17) and a time (10 a.m. EST).
Nothing more than the intriguing pieces of a lecture, and a plain page. What it was about remained to be seen, and that was the intention of Kenny Chesney, who’s spent his last two album cycles doing the unlikely and the unpredictable.
That inclination continues, as the man The Los Angeles Times deemed “The People’s Superstar” made a full-budget video for “Rich and Miserable,” an album track from Cosmic Hallelujah, teasing its world premiere with no mention of the song or the artist. Teaming with SiriusXM for the rollout, it marked another first: a world premiere on the satellite radio platform as Chesney created a new dynamic for videos.
“I think there’s so much more to what goes on a record than radio can play,” Chesney says of the decision, “and some songs need to be heard. For ‘Rich and Miserable,’ it felt like it was addressing so many of the things we’re sold and told – about what makes us happy, or we’re supposed to want, or are expected to do. I didn’t want that message getting lost, so we decided to skip a video on some of the singles and do this instead.”
“But what was even better,” he continues, “is that the people we work with at SiriusXM understood doing this was about the message. They allowed us to break out what the song was about without relying on an artist’s name or the usual tags. They saw the importance of what we’re trying to say.”
SiriusXM Senior VP/General Manager, Music Programming Steve Blatter concurs, saying, “Kenny Chesney has always been an artist who’s brought innovation to his music. When we started talking about what he wanted to do, it was so unconventional – and yet, it made sense. Like SiriusXM, he’s always trying to find a deeper way to explore the music, so we were delighted to partner with him on this world premiere.”
With its layered harmonies and under-rhythms, “Rich and Miserable” may be the most sophisticated production the songwriter/superstar from East Tennessee has ever recorded. But the Shane McAnally/Josh Osborne/Jesse Frasure song also digs deeper into the psyche of the striving American condition. Though known for his kicked-back kind of country, Chesney hoped the song would connect in a way that would create some introspection about why we need our getaways so badly – and possibly recalibrate the way we prioritize our lives.
“When I called John (C. McGinley) to see if he’d do this for me, we talked for a while about what the song was about,” Chesney offers. “It was something we’d talked about before, and he told me he understood why I thought this song was important. Those lines he delivers are something he and I both feel very deeply – and it’s something I think we’d all do well to consider. The fact he’d come do this video for me, knowing it’s never going to be a single… This video is strictly for calling attention to the message… says a lot about who he is, and the things that he values. Like me, he hopes this is a discussion worth having. Maybe this video does that.”
“We are always looking for innovative ways to bring our listeners closer to the music,” notes J.R. Schumann, senior director of programming for SiriusXM. “When I heard ‘Rich and Miserable,’ it was immediately clear this was an important piece of music and something people needed and deserved to hear.”
With lyrics that include, “We don’t know what we want/ But we want it and we want it all right now/We’re too young until we’re too old/ We’re all lost on the yellow brick road/ We climb the ladder but the ladder just grows…,” “Rich and Miserable” is a song for a world moving faster, the bar always being raised higher and the impossible stress that comes with it. For Chesney, who’s become the antidote to these pressures, it’s a clarifying song designed to cast a light on how we get to such intensity, in hopes that we might find a less excruciating way to find balance.
“I know people don’t always do things like this,” Chesney admits. “But sometimes, if you want to make it about the music and what the songs are trying to say, you need to. I love this clip, love John’s speech, every student’s reaction hearing someone break it down for them — and every single word written on that board. Nothing would make me happier than to have people starting thinking about their word. And if you have to watch the clip to figure out what I’m talking about, well, the journey starts there! What’s your word? Tell me.”
Chesney headlines the final night of this year’s Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif. this weekend. After kicking off his handful of 2017 shows with close to 40,000 people on the beach in Fort Lauderdale for the Tortuga Music Festival that saw The Sun Sentinel writing, “A most uncommon common man, Chesney is country music’s reigning superstar — yes, a performer worthy of that overused term — who fills football stadiums, challenges listeners to his popular No Shoes Radio channel with ahead-of-the-curve picks from Michael Kiwanuka and Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, while also running the premium Blue Chair Bay Rum distillery. But Chesney is also a songwriter of deep sensitivity, a son of small-town East Tennessee and the eastern Caribbean, a humble poet of simple virtues that come with no political litmus test. In an era when authenticity seems hard to come by, the heart-on-sleeve honesty heard on poignant Chesney ballads such as ‘There Goes My Life,’ ‘Don’t Blink’ and ‘Coach,’ seems even more rare and valuable.”
And with SiriusXM teaming for this most unusual video debut for “Rich and Miserable,” Chesney looks to continue expanding his passion for music and the people who find their lives in his songs.