Music, when combined with television, results in an art form that allows both forms of entertainment to shine. There are currently two television shows running that take a good hard look at the music industry, from all angles possible. Nashville deals with country music, Empire with hip-hop. Here’s how they compare.

The Leads

Rayna James (aka Connie Britton) is a country music superstar. Nashville focuses on her personal and professional lives. A typical old country singer, who is more concerned about her family and the quality of music she’s making, than fortune and fame (after acquiring a plethora of said fortune and fame.) A tiresome do-gooder whose only flaw is a fickle mind when it comes to matters of the heart.

Lucious Lyon (aka Terrence Howard) is a hustlin’ thug drug dealer from the Philly streets, turned founder of multi-millionaire music label/media corporation Empire. He thrives on making money and does what he needs to do to stay on top. He has strained relationships with 2 out of his 3 sons, and pits them all against each other to prove to him who is most worthy to take over the company.

The Exes

Deacon Claybourne (aka Charles Esten), is Rayna’s guitar player/co-songwriter, ex-lover. They have one of those tumultuous, on-again/off-again love stories that is constantly plagued by bad timing, wrong choices, and Deacon’s penchant for alcohol.

Cookie Lyon (aka Taraji P. Henson) is Lucious’ ex, who starts the series fresh out of jail, after a 17-year stint. Her and Lucious used to make beautiful music back in the day, and she did in fact help him start he label before going behind bars. She puts family first, and can be kind of whack; but she’s also easy to love.

The Underdogs

Nashville has Juliette Barnes (aka Hayden Panettiere.) Your typical, bratty, new country entitled diva. Always barking orders, and making everyone cater to her. She’s also a crazy talented artist, with huge appeal to younger fans (think a more spoiled Taylor Swift.) You can’t stand her, but as you get to know her, you feel for her, and just wish she would stop making bad decisions.

Empire has Jamal Lyon (aka Jussie Smollett), the middle of the 3 sons. He’s musically gifted, can produce a track out of the nighttime noises of Brooklyn, and has the voice of an angel. He’s also gay, which causes his alpha male father to resent him, and treat him like crap. He’s on a mission to make Lucious recognize his talent and give him the praise he deserves. You root for him the entire time.

The Conflicted Ones

Andre Lyon (aka Trai Byers), the eldest son of Lucious and Cookie, and the most accomplished. Ivey league school-educated, smart, ambitious. He’s already CFO of the company, but Lucious doesn’t think he has it in him to be CEO because 1) he’s not musically talented; 2) he sold out by marrying a white woman; 3) he’s weak because he suffers from bipolar disorder.

Will Lexington (aka Chris Carmack, previously of The O.C. fame) is gay, but only a select few actually know that. He keeps his cards close to his chest, in paralyzing fear the country music industry won’t accept him if they found out. He tries hard to maintain his reputation as a womanizer; but struggles with the image too.

The Young’ns

Empire, rather Lucious, wants his youngest son Hakeem Lyon (aka Yazz the Greatest) to be the heir to the throne. He’s spoiled, and grew up with money coming out of his ears. He’s your stereotypical rap artist, who’s all about the bling, the money, the girls, the drinking. He doesn’t think before he acts, and lacks the maturity of his older brothers. His rhymes, however, are pretty tight.

Nashville has Scarlett O’Connor (aka Clare Bowen),  Avery Barkley (aka Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar Scott (aka Sam Palladio). All are trying to make it in the country music industry through songwriting, producing and/or performing. They’re still trying to navigate the country music scene, and sometimes you like them, sometimes they’re insufferable.

The Music

In both shows, all those singing (apparently) use their own voices. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Nashville is white country, Empire is black hip-hop. Two completely different genres, but each show handles their own so well, that you’re bound to become a fan, regardless of your taste in music. It is due in large part to the attention they pay to showing viewers all the processes involved in putting a song together. The ins and outs of the industry; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Both shows also have guest stars ranging from Vince Gill, The Band Perry, and Luke Bryan; to Snoop Dogg, Courtney Love and Estelle.


Nashville puts a lot more female characters in the spotlight, and is a little more adult, more dramatic, with much more character development. Empire boasts a lot more black characters up front. It’s more new school, trendy, but also more superficial. Several story lines are kind of dangled around and toyed with, but without much resolve. Having said that, it has only had 1 season compared to Nashville‘s 3.

Both shows are essentially the same story, just told differently. Different worlds, different surroundings, but the same issues. They both focus on the importance of music and its ability to heal and support. They both deal with multiple social issues, and the benefits and downfalls of fortune and fame. They both place a large emphasis on family too.

Either way, you’re going to be hooked.


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