By Kurt Wolff
We all know that Keith Urban is a major country fan. After all, he hosts the annual We’re All for the Hall benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame, which earlier this year included a wide ranges of guests, from outlaw greats like Billy Joe Shaver on up to contemporary stars such as Jason Aldean and Sheryl Crow.
But as Urban revealed in a Rolling Stone article published today (Dec. 20), he also loves plenty of pop, rock, electronic and hip-hop as well. Specifically he calls out 2013 releases by Blood Orange, Kanye West, Justin Timberlake and Lorde.
“I just [find] her magnetic on so many levels,” Urban says of the “Royals” singer who, like him, was born in New Zealand. “She has a lot of artistic depth and gravitas for someone at that age.”
As for Blood Orange, he says that he’s been playing Cupid Deluxe “nonstop in my car for a week.” He credits his wife, Nicole Kidman, for hipping him to that album. “I love electronic music,” he continues. “It’s a lot of what I listen to, because I hear fusion sounds in my head that it draws from. I just love the atmosphere and ambience and the sort of emotive soundscapes that comes from a lot of that music. This album captured it in a way that I don’t think anybody really did. It took the best of Frank Ocean and Prince and New Radicals. I can kind of hear so many of my favorite artists and albums all in one album. I just find it amazing.”
Timberlake’s song “Mirrors” stands out for him because it “hits some deep melancholy places in me.” And Kanye? He was knocked out watching the Yeezus singer on Later…With Jools Holland. “His performance was so mesmerizing because it was so bold and different from any type of art form,” Urban says. “That combination of having pre-recorded music but then having the sharpness and bold aggressiveness – minimalism, conviction, singing blatantly through a vocoder and being unapologetic about it – the whole thing just reeked of ‘totally new art form’; not just a musical performance, but an entirely new art form. And that stuff just exhilarates me, because there’s endless new ways to make art, whether it’s music or whatever.”
Equally insightful is Urban take on the current state of country music. “People ask me what is country music and I always say at the least, it is what’s on country radio at the moment, because if it isn’t, they wouldn’t be playing it.” He notes that Garth Brooks’ influence still looms large and is playing out in the arena- and stadium-sized shows from the likes of Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift. Garth, he says, “changed the perception of what a country concert could be and where it could be.”
Speaking of arena’s Urban smartly points out that the venues country artists play today continue to affect the sound of the music.
“So many of us play in arenas, so we need the big arena sing-along choruses,” he says. “David Byrne has a great book called How Music Works, and there’s a great chapter about how the environment kind of drives the creativity as well. The venue dictates a lot. So on one hand you can say, ‘Oh, you’re just making these arena-ready songs.’ No, I found out I was playing in arenas and most of my songs didn’t work, so I had to rethink what was going to work in this place.”
And a country song he heard this year that he thinks stands out? Florida Georgia Line’s smash hit “Cruise.” “Any songwriter who thinks you can write those songs, why didn’t you?” Urban says of the deceptively simple song. “They’re really hard to write because they’re magical.”
Urban’s diverse taste in music, though, can be traced back to his childhood — at least as far back as his teenage years. Because decades before he became a judge on American Idol, Urban was himself a contestant on a television talent show in Australia. Video has now surfaced of Urban’s performance on show New Faces from 1983, when he was only 16 years old. And the song he chose to perform? “All Out of Love” by Air Supply. Watch it below.
Urban’s Light the Fuse Tour continues in 2014.