Marketing k.d. lang’s new album presents a challenge that would frustrate the canniest Pentagon strategist. ”She’s never been a country artist,” says Bob Merlis, vice president and national director of publicity at Warner Bros., which distributes Sire, lang’s label. ”Who’s to say who her buyer is? She’s unique. Her niche is her own.” Merlis says country stations are ”not in the mix” to promote the album. Instead, the label will focus on adult contemporary (soft rock) radio stations, VH-1, and an April 3 spot on The Tonight Show to sell the goods.
Regarding radio, that’s probably a smart move. ”We don’t play anything by k.d. lang,” says Jim Tice, program and operations director of Birmingham, Ala.’s WZZK, one of the highest-rated country stations in the U.S. ”She’s got a great voice — it sounds like Patsy Cline — but she just doesn’t do well with our research.” Tice echoes sentiments of other country-station programmers, who view lang, Lyle Lovett, and other idiosyncratic singer-songwriters as gray areas — neither rock nor country (nor sporting particularly normal haircuts).
To complicate matters, lang ran afoul of many radio stations, especially country, when she appeared in an antibeef TV commercial in 1990. Will that backlash have any effect on the current publicity campaign? ”No promotional hot dogs or hamburgers, that’s for sure,” says Merlis.