Why is Sugarland's comeback single 'Still the Same' failing to take off on radio?

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 31: Ryan Seacrest speaks onstage with Sugarland at the Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2018 on December 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for dick clark productions)

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NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 31: Ryan Seacrest speaks onstage with Sugarland at the Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2018 on December 31, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for dick clark productions)

Posted Monday, February 12, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta's Sugarland had a solid seven-year stretch of success from 2004 to 2011, generating more than a dozen hit singles from "Something More" to "Stuck Like Glue."

Then the duo went their separate ways, focusing on solo projects. Now they have reunited and released a comeback single "Still the Same."

The song debuted on December 21 just before Christmas on country radio and most stations added it to their playlists. "Still the Same' addresses their absence in not-so-subtle terms. Sample lyrics:

Where have you been? How did that feel?

Where are we now? 'Cause that's what's real, yeah

"We are thrilled for fans to hear our new music, especially this new single," singer Jennifer Nettles said in a press release at the time of its release. "The title of the song is so meaningful to us as we want fans to know, we are still the same, we are still the same Sugarland they've known and loved."

Rolling Stone magazine described the tune as "a typically uplifting mix of country and rock in the U2 mold, with ringing electric guitars and Nettles' soaring vocals."

The video plays a bit off the nostalgia, showing vintage shots of Nettles and Kristian Bush from their heyday.

But less than two months after its release, "Still the Same" has been an airplay dud. On both the Billboard and Mediabase 24/7 country airplay charts, it barely scraped into the top 40 and quickly fell out. On the Mediabase 24/7 chart, it's currently ranked at No. 42. Its peak chart date was December 23, two days after it was released, when it ranked No. 37.

On the bright side, the show is showing modest upward week-over-week momentum. The song was spun 1,302 times on 160 stations the past seven days, up from 1,226 a week earlier. In comparison, the No. 1 country song by Old Dominion "Written in the Sand" was spun 15,237 times on 302 stations.

Locally, Atlanta's Kicks 101.5 played "Still the Same" 15 times last week, only in the evenings and overnight. 94.9/The Bull dropped its spins from 14 to 5 this past week versus the past week. Combined, the stations have given the song fewer than 200 spins to date, according to Mediabase 24/7, which tracks airplay.

The station nationwide that has given "Still the Same" the most spins to date is the Highway on Sirius/XM with more than 300 to date. But most stations have given it fewer than 100 spins.

Pete de Graaff, program director for Your Country 106.1/107.1, said the song not been given a real chance yet. "I don't think radio is even playing enough yet for listeners to hear it so its not resonating because its not being played."

Brian Michel, regional senior vice president for programming for IHeartMedia and program director at the Bull, agreed that it's not quite time to call the coroner yet.

"I think it is way too early given the amount of singles that are being pushed out of Nashville at the moment," he wrote in an email, "some of which are really strong and getting quicker reactions. It’s a good song in its own right."

Leslie Fram, who runs CMT, said at the last week's Country Radio Seminar, Sugarland was received warmly by radio executives so she thinks the single might get a second look.

Sean Ross, Edison Research's vice president of music and programming, also said the duo should not be discouraged. Fast-track singles are not that common and they usually come from the likes of current superstars Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, who have comparable singles out doing far better. Many No. 1 country singles start out slowly and can take 25 to 35 weeks to reach the top. "Still the Same" is only in its seventh week. (The average age of a song in the current country airplay top 10 is 29 weeks, or nearly seven months.)

By taking such a long break, Ross said, "they relinquished their automatic status" in terms of getting immediate airplay on country stations and a relative quick rise on the charts. "It's good for the format to have Sugarland back," he said. "They were a template [in 2004] in terms of records with more grit and texture and rock."

Of everyone I contacted, country radio consultant Joel Raab was most sanguine. He thinks it has a shot at the top 10, dubbing its current path as more "slow build" than "struggling." He noted that Garth Brooks' recent No. 1 hit took six months to hit No. 1. "There are quite a few new programmers less familiar with 2000s artists like Sugarland so in some respects, they are almost like a new artist to them," he said.

Explore RELATED: Sugarland talks about their reunion and efforts at a comeback to Billboard magazine

How the single's tepid reaction to date will impact their upcoming album is unclear. Sugarland has not released a name  for the album nor a release date.