Making The Case For Cassadee (Pope)

I don't watch NBC-TV's "The Voice," never heard of the band Hey Monday and clearly, I'm not in the demo and/or gender Republic Nashville is targeting for Cassadee Pope.

So why am I pulling for her?

Well, my experience with Pope is all positive, based on two live performances (one acoustic, one full band) and two conversations (one off the record, one on).

Oh yeah, and her debut album on Republic, "Frame By Frame," has spent weeks of heavy rotation in the car, a years-long, reliable barometer (for me, anyway) when it comes to evaluating music and artists.
There's all that, but in a broader sense, I'm convinced our format is blessed with a burgeoning class of young ladies percolating juuussst beneath the surface as we speak -- in spite of the fact that we're still struggling to break just one right now. And I remain certain the musical pendulum is poised to swing dramatically sometime during the next 18 months. When that happens, a lot of the mainstream press Country attracts will be focused on the renaissance of female artists, supplanting the "Bro-Country" dialogue, while creating a refreshing, renewed and substantive layer to the format, thereby expanding its overall appeal.

But enough with the crystal ball.

This isn't bandwagon-jumping. I've dedicated two previous columns chatting up new female artists (Lindsay Ell and Leah Turner). While they and all the other new ladies -- Cassadee, Kacey Musgraves, Kelleigh Bannen, Danielle Bradbery, Maggie Rose, now Jamie Lynn Spears and others, too - are making strong music, radio hasn't arrived at a consensus on one of them yet. Some ladies have developed pockets of believers - a Kacey camp, a Lindsay Ell coalition and Cassadee confederation, for example. But many programmers I talk to have told me and I agree: Until all of radio wraps its arms around the same female at the same time -- for a long time -- that pendulum is gonna take a minute.
So consider this #3 in a series and let's call it: The Case For Cassadee.

Pope just impacted with "I Wish I Could Break Your Heart," S-2 from "Frame By Frame" and the follow-up to "Wasting All These Tears." You could make a strong argument that she's already at the head of the female class, what with Platinum sales for "Tears" marking the first time since Taylor Swift's "Tim McGraw" in 2006, that a solo female Country artist has earned Platinum certification on a debut single. That, and the song's chart success, peaking at #10 on the Mediabase Country singles chart in January.

While Pope told me "Tears" performed "better than I ever could have imagined; I'm very proud," she has even greater expectations for "I Wish I Could Break Your Heart," saying, "I hope this goes to #1 -- that's everybody's goal."
In our All Access Spotlight Track for the song, I called it another example of Pope exposing vulnerability initially shown on "Tears." I asked if she agreed and suggested the new single is a sequel.
"Or a prequel," she replied. "And yes, it's about being more vulnerable than the other person because you're more invested - with that comes the worry they can break your heart at any moment, but you can't break theirs, because they don't love you enough."

That heart-on-your-sleeve style is one point of difference in Pope's music now, versus the time with Hey Monday, her band prior to "The Voice." Hey Monday's sound, said Pope was, "More pop and rock in general. The songs were not as personal in my songwriting, mostly because I was in a band and didn't feel being on stage and doing that made sense with the guys behind me. Now I feel I'm able to be more personal."
Some rock and pop influences remain with her now, she says, "With more real instrumental parts happening - it's more authentic." And that quality - authenticity - is something Pope believes is a key element for her and all new females trying to establish career traction. "You can tell when someone is really just being themselves; you set yourself apart by being you."

There's another ingredient, according to Pope: "It's also due to how hard you're willing to work. Last year, I flew 156 times and that got me a top-20 single. So my thinking is, I have to do double that for a #1. That's where my brain goes. The more people you meet, the stations you visit, the more you're in THEIR brain."

After an extensive radio promo tour on the heels of her season three win on "The Voice," Pope shared a couple of takeaways from the experience that helped also shaped her beliefs about a sustained career; "I heard a lot of stories [from radio] about meeting artists and moments they created. So I realized I had to leave a memory and great impression they'll never forget. They gave me advice without really knowing it. I also realized you have to make relationships with these people. You have to get e-mails and phone numbers and stay in touch This is a partnership. They trust and believe in your music; they are giving you a huge opportunity and you need to appreciate that."

I always ask artists who come from televised singing competitions, which is harder --performing on TV, or in the nearly one-on-one environment in a radio station conference room?

"I would say national TV," Pope explained. "Being on live TV and knowing what it sounds like is very scary. The vocals are so prominent. You hear every little thing. If there's one pitchy note they can say, "'Oh, she just messed up.' In the conference room, it's more of a story-telling environment. It's all about catering to the audience in front of you."
After "The Voice," a national tour with Rascal Flatts and countless conference room shows, Pope has learned to adapt well. And apparently, she successfully made it into the brains of programmers, evidenced by airplay success of "Tears" and ringing endorsements like this from WJVC INC. Country WJVC/Nassau PD Phathead, who told me, "Of all the females I've seen recently, Cassadee seems to have that whole package that I can see selling out arenas five years from now. The look, personality, work ethic, sincerity and, of course, the voice! She could be the next Carrie [Underwood] for sure."
Underwood and Kelly Clarkson are the most famous and successful singing competition alumni; so much so that many fans don't know their career origins. I asked Pope if she eventually seeks separation from "The Voice," or wishes to retain the connection.

"I think both. I always want to be associated with the show and tip my hat to them," she explained. "I'll gladly go back to sing or even just visit. I love the show and all it has done for me. But artists such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood - you forget they came from a show like that. So I want that, too. I want to have so much success, so that people will see me as an artist away from 'The Voice.'"

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