Did I ever tell you that the first karaoke song I ever sang was a country song? It was. My friends and I went to a karaoke bar, where I was like, “I don’t sing karaoke but I’ll drink alcohol and cheer for you,” but then they were like, “Let’s do Dixie Chicks!” and they dragged me out to their car so we could listen to “Goodbye, Earl” ten thousand times so I would know the words. So my first karaoke experience was all about misandry*, possibly foreshadowing my current life as a feminist. I figured this event would not kill my metal cred because the Dixie Chicks had said mean things about George Warmonger Bush, and also I could say my friends made me do it.
I actually used to be a country music fan before I started doing the gateway drugs of Petshop Boys, Aerosmith, and Bon Jovi. Back in the day, I owned a lot of Juice Newton and George Strait albums, and loved Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys, and thanks to David Allan Coe and my own research, I knew that a country song was not perfect unless it included mama, trains, trucks, prison, or getting drunk. I first learned about tequila from Shelly West, although I couldn’t figure out who Jose Cuervo was. I ended up thinking he must be the cowboy she woke up next to, and she just forgot his name. Yes, I was a somewhat sheltered child. Or possibly my parents were too busy laughing to explain…
Anyway, I grew up listening to people who either sang sappy songs about virtuous married life, or songs about sexing up all the pretty ladies in honky tonk bars, sometimes all on the same album. Then they’d sing about divorce, possibly because they were sexing up the pretty ladies while their virtuous wife was home with the kids. As the old joke says, if you play a country song backwards, you get your wife back, your kids back, your dog back, your house back, &c. There was a definite appreciation for the gals in their cut-off shorts. Women were there to be pursued or be put on a pedestal, pretty much. A lot of songs were all about chivalry, defending a good woman against her no-good man. And once the men were done with those ladies, there were the humorous songs about exes.
I haven’t been in to country since the 90s. What’s-his-guts, Billy Ray Cyrus and his ilk, they drove me up a wall, although now I can’t remember exactly why. I found I couldn’t respect songs whining about tears in their beer anymore. I could no longer stand the exaggerated twangs and the maudlin crap about pickups, so I passed. Thus, I missed the fact that there’s such a thing as “bro country,” which is apparently made up of songs that “are about partying, attractive young women, consumption of alcohol, and pickup trucks.”
People are acting like this is a new thing, and I’m all like, “Dude, hasn’t there always been ‘bro country’?” But there is this bro thing, and some lady country singers made fun of it, and the bro country dudes had a massive sad, and I can’t say it surprises me a bit. I mean, country songs have been chocked with sexism and macho bullshit from the beginning, the genre is full of strutting white dudes, and really, it surprises me more that some country dudes are like, “Dude, not cool.” (Good on yer, Kenny Chesney! No, I still will not listen to your songs, but here is a cookie for not being a complete douchebag.)
So anyway, Maddie & Tae made a song talking about being the girl these bros are chasing, and you can guess how they reacted, because you’ve seen what happens every damned women speak up, even if they’re doing it in a fun and funny song and they try to be gentle on the delicate man-feelz.
It makes sense that the male artists referenced in “Girl in a Country Song” (Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Florida Georgia Line, etc.) might not be thrilled to be the subject of mockery. But Maddie & Tae made it clear that it was all in good fun — in fact, the bro-country songs they specifically quote (“Boys Round Here,” “My Kinda Party,” “Redneck Crazy”) are from artists they enjoy. “We respect all the guys we’re poking fun at, we’re just giving the woman a voice in these songs,” Dye said.
But the guys in question have been pretty humorless. When the song dropped, the bros were tellingly silent amid the waves of hype, if not downright annoyed. Asked about the song by the Chicago Tribune, Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley claimed he didn’t know what the interviewer was talking about. When asked further, he got snippy. “All I’m gonna say about that is, I don’t know one girl who doesn’t want to be a girl in a country song,” Kelley said. “That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”
And then they whine about people calling them bros and they’re just being realz and they’d like to beat up the people who made up the term bro country and why are you so mean to meeeee!!! Also, those little girls aren’t really country. The only real difference is, they don’t seem to have been flooded with death and rape threats, so it looks like country’s bros aren’t so vicious as most of the others. Yet. We’ll see what happens as women get more uppity in the country music scene.
I’m no longer a country music fan, but I will now undertake to listen to a modern country song, because solidarity. Also, I hear they made the dudez wear the cut-offs, so I’m in.
Not bad! They’re making a good start on this equality thing. With a little time and experience, they’ll probably realize the women in those old country songs were treated just as much like objects as the poor girls in country songs today, and that being “treated like a lady” is just another way of being infantilized. But they’re already way far ahead – back when I was 18, I was too busy being “different from most girls” to pay attention to how culture objectifies women. If only I’d noticed! I had male friends who would’ve happily dressed in sexy wimminz outfits to poke fun at all the rampant objectification, and we could’ve outraged the moral sensibilities of our very small and religious town even further.
It’s good to see women in country tackling bro culture and making people confront this stuff. And hey, if it turns out country can go feminist without the backlash we’ve gotten from pretty much every other sub-culture we’ve asked to maybe, possibly, consider treating women like people, I may have to suck it up and become a country music fan. Now if I could only find another Shelly West, I might even enjoy it…
(Tip o’ the shot glass to Paradoxicalintention.)
*Actually, it’s about an abuser who gets murdered by his victim and her friend after he put the victim in the hospital when she tried to leave him. Is it still misandry if it’s self defense? But the song is really just the (white male) songwriter getting rid of a recurring character in an over-the-top way, which just cheapens the whole thing.