The outspoken country singer is not backing down from critics, even as his new album arrives this week.
It's a good time to be Blake Shelton. As he kicks back on a couch in a side room of his management company's Nashville complex, his sleeves rolled up and a big grin on his face, the lean country singer looks downright content.
"Damn right, I'm content," says Shelton, who's also a mentor on The Voice. "I'm the luckiest guy in the world right now."
He's one of the busiest, too. The Voice is starting its fourth season (NBC, Monday, 8 p.m. ET/PT), and Shelton releases his new album, Based on a True Story..., Tuesday. Already the Country Music Association's entertainer of the year, he's up for the same honor at next month's Academy of Country Music Awards, a show he'll co-host for the third year.
The new album generally reflects Shelton's satisfied mind. Along with single Sure Be Cool If You Did and the churlish I've Still Got a Finger, a sort of modern-day version of Johnny Paycheck's Take This Job and Shove It, Based on a True Story... is full of rowdy songs and love songs, as well as plenty invoking pickup trucks, dirt roads and pretty girls.
"Outside of a couple of ballads, it's a pretty light album," Shelton admits. "From Ten Times Crazier to Sure Be Cool If You Did to Doing What She Likes, all these songs are kind of about this guy that's whipped. I really am happy, and it's coming through on the album."
Shelton, 36, is so successful these days that he has become reliable fodder for gossip magazines and hit-hungry websites.
Early this year, the singer riled up defenders of country-music traditionalism when he told cable channel GAC that country music had to evolve in order to survive. It wasn't so much what he said that raised their hackles as the way he said it, which included, "Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa's music. And I don't care how many of these old farts around Nashville (are) going, 'My God, that ain't country!' Well, that's because you don't buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don't want to buy the music you were buying."
The "old farts" and "jackasses" lit into Shelton for days online, depicting him as a blockheaded, talent-deprived flash in the pan - apparently ignoring, or unaware, of Shelton's reputation as a dedicated student of country music history. He's a guy who loves launching into a Jerry Reed or Eddie Rabbitt tune when playing the Grand Ole Opry. He also insisted on having Bobby Braddock, a renowned writer of George Jones' He Stopped Loving Her Today and Tammy Wynette's D-I-V-O-R-C-E, produce on his first five albums.
And Shelton won't back down from his first comments - though he did make a conciliatory visit to Ray Price when the Country Music Hall of Famer took issue with him.
"I think I get misunderstood a lot," Shelton says, "and, lately, I have enough haters out there that they just take something that I say and turn it into what they want it to have been - which is what happened with that comment.
"I never said anything about an artist. I was talking about anybody who bitches and moans about the sound of country today, saying that it's not country. Yeah, it is - get over it. Give me enough respect not to downgrade it and denounce it."
More recently, the cover of a tabloid magazine questioned the stability of Shelton's two-year marriage to Miranda Lambert because of a series of tweets to another female singer.
After seeing the publication, Shelton tweeted his wife, "I just read in a tabloid that our marriage is falling apart!" Lambert tweeted back: "Oh no! Can't wait to read if we make it or not." As to the real state of his marriage, Shelton says, "I'm still alive, so that must be a good sign.
"If it all ends, I can say I didn't do anything that I regret, and that includes marrying Miranda. I can't wait to see her every day. There's still a little part of me that thinks it's cool that I'm married to a country star."
If all this rankles the "old farts" and "jackasses," here's something they'll really hate: Though he won't be eligible for eight more years, Shelton's on a fast track to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He already has achieved the two career markers most indicative of future induction: Grand Ole Opry membership, which he got in 2010, and the CMA's entertainer of the year award, which came last year. Opry members go into the Hall almost twice as often as non-members, and 16 of the first 21 CMA entertainers of the year are also Hall of Famers.
The backlog of potential candidates remains so deep that Shelton may not go in on his first ballot in 2021, but if and when he does, his legacy will include "a bucketful of controversy, for sure."
And that sits just fine with Shelton. "If you're not being yourself, then how are you really going to make an impact on somebody's life?"
As Shelton begins his fourth season on The Voice, he's looking to help a singer win the competition for a third consecutive year. But, having seen fellow mentors Christina Aguilera and CeeLo Green leave the show, an exit strategy's also on his mind.
"My exit strategy probably will be when I say, 'I've got to have this much money to do this again,' and they're going to go, 'We're not going to pay you that much money,'" he says. "That's probably what it's going to have to come down to."
Shelton says he would have a hard time sitting at home and watching a show he helped build, but he also knows that neither the show nor his place on it can last forever.
"I don't have a plan, I don't," he says. "I think about it a lot. And I just don't know what I'm going to do. Or when I'm going to do it. It's just such a neat thing to be a part of. It would be hard not to get to do it ever again."