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Kenny vs. Keith

Mike Sudhalter  |  May 18, 2007

Each decade in country music has one or two artists that define that time period in the genre, and the Academy of Country Music reminds us with an artist of the decade every 10 years.

It's hard to argue with George Jones or Marty Robbins in the 1960's, Jones and Loretta Lynn in the 1970's, Alabama in the 1980's or Garth Brooks in the 1990's.

But the artist of the 2000's is a two performer race, and the fun-in-the-sun, beach bum Kenny Chesney is ahead of the flag-waving, good ole boy Toby Keith with the race coming close to an end.

Chesney moved closer to that honor by winning his third consecutive ACM Entertainer of the Year award on Tuesday night. Keith had won the previous two.

The award is announced in 2009, so if Chesney four-peats in '08, he can pre-deliver his artist of the decade speech next May. Keith, on the other hand, would likely need to win the next two to be considered.

Should the ACM honor both artists, like they did in the 1960's and 1970's? Possibly. I think they should have given the honor to both Alabama and George Strait in the 1980's.

Chesney and Keith bring very different elements to country music. One is laid back and sings tunes about every day life. Keith's music is about as in-your-face as you can get.

Both have defined and re-defined country music this decade, and they've both re-invented themselves since they were mid-level stars in the 1990's trying to find their niche. Their success gives hope to all of the acts who are currently paying their dues.

Chesney went from a 90's hat act to a mixture of contemporary country crossed with John Mellencamp and Jimmy Buffett. Keith transformed from an artist known for the 90's most-played country song "Shoulda Been A Cowboy" to a country headliner and a controversial pop culture figure.

The pop world will know him only for "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" and his feuds with the Dixie Chicks and the late Peter Jennings. Unfortunately, they don't get a chance to explore the full scope of his music, both the early years and this decade.

It's been great to watch these two artists develop into superstars, and may the best performer win.

:: Posted at 2:25 AM by Mike Sudhalter ::
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