Keith Urban is a superb guitarist and passable singer, but he makes awful music. He often collaborates with Richard Marx--yep, that Richard Marx--which should tell you about all you need to know about Urban's artistic aspirations, or lack thereof.
Yet Nicole Kidman's Aussie countryman and husband may be the most influential male country musician of the last two decades, and it has nothing to do with what comes out of his mouth, but rather what people might want to put in it.
While Urban had toiled for a years as an axe-slinging session man in Nashville since relocating from his native New Zealand in the early '90s, he'd only recently achieved stardom as a soloist. With earrings in his ears, eyes that hinted at an affinity for manscara, and blonde streaks in his long, impeccably groomed hair, Urban resembled Richie Sambora with John Bon Jovi's porcelain complexion. He was, in a word, pretty. He also struggled with cocaine addiction and attracted Hollywood starlets. His considerable musical chops didn't much matter: On the strength of image and looks alone, Urban brought an androgynous glam-rock edge to Nashville of the likes it had never seen.
Hence, in a maneuver meant to prevent the wholesale concecession of their female fan bases to Urban, McGraw and Chesney hit the gym and hired stylists, and Nashville has never been the same. A hick image can still sell, to be sure, but man candy like Jake Owen and Luke Bryan has a better shot of landing in heavy rotation on CMT and selling zillions of records. Call it New Urbanism, and love it or hate it, it probably means less Opry dressing rooms are catered by Chick-Fil-A these days.