Bro Country

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.”

Image is the Most Interesting Man in the World. Caption says, "I don't always listen to country music. But when I do, it's not bro country."

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.

Bro Country

13 thoughts on “Bro Country

  1. rq

    My last contact with the world of country was Gretchen Wilson’s Redneck Woman. Fierce and unapologetic, though the video was a bit too misandrist for my taste (I mean c’mon, she takes a guy’s BEEERRR away!!!).

  2. 3

    “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.”

    Any takers on the likelihood Kelly’s ever bothered to ask any “girl” for her opinion? That he uses the word “girl” when referring to women plays pretty hard with the odds.

    Anyway, I came across Lydia Loveless not too long ago when she had a show at a local music hall and really like her. She’s a little more on the rock side of music but there are strong country elements in her songs and style. I’ve heard her described as what would happen if Sheena from the Ramone’s “Sheena is a Punk Rocker Now” was also “she” in Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country”.

  3. 4

    My wife listens to the country station and we both hate the “bro country” songs. Like you say, it’s not a new thing, but the specific style of the songs she is mocking is definitely a current trend. Here’s an NPR story with a songwriter talking about it. He also took six of them and mashed them up into one song to give an idea of how similar they all are.

    The song that really bothers me though is “God Made Girls”, which often gets played in the same block as Girl in a Country Song.

  4. 5

    Okay, no not really an article with him talking about it, just an article with his mashup. I thought I remembered it being longer when I last saw it. Maybe there’s something good hiding in the comments or something…

  5. 6

    There are strong feminist elements throughout the country tradition. It kind of surprised me that this song was as shocking to people as it was.
    Dolly Parton released Just Because I’m a Woman in 1968, Wanda Jackson had “My Big Iron Skillet” (although I don’t condone bashing your philandering husband with a skillet, it’s definitely a song about a woman standing up for herself), Loretta Lynn did “The Pill” in 1975.
    Hank Williams, Jr has “Outlaw Women”, which blatantly and shockingly respects a woman’s right to own her sexuality, societal standards be damned. George Strait did “She Let Herself Go”, about a woman who finds herself alone after devoting her life to a man. Instead of thinking about her wasted time, she lets herself go. Merle Haggard had “Irma Jackson”, in which he sings about breaking off an interracial relationship because of the pressure of society (of course, he also caught flak for supporting Hillary Clinton for president–does that mean he had to turn in his country music card??).
    In the Bluegrass tradition, Hazel Dickens did “Don’t Put Her Down (You Helped Put Her There)”.
    Modern artist Neko Case addressed abortion in “Pretty Girls”, a song about women waiting at a Planned Parenthood: “The TV is blaring and angry // As if you don’t know why you’re here // Those who walk without sin are so hungry // Don’t let the wolves in, pretty girls.”
    Even Hunter Hayes addresses consent in a wonderfully mainstream way: “Yeah, I could be so good at loving you, but only if you told me to.”
    And that’s just a short list. It’s really amazing when you consider the subculture these songs are coming out of that these ideas are even there. I grew up in a very southern country tradition, in a fundamentalist independent Baptist church, and to think that the same people that consistently preached that I was inferior and made to be subordinate were also introducing me to these very ideas that have crafted me into a feminist in the long run is just….mind-boggling.
    Definitely work to do, as in most areas of our culture, but there’s every reason to believe that feminism can take a beautiful stand in this type of music. It already has a history of doing so. Maddie and Tae are building on that tradition, not creating something completely new.

  6. 8

    ah, my husband introduced me to the petshop boys. What lovely cynical songs. Before I met him, it was showtunes and soundtracks for me. He introduced me to rock, where I’ve happily stayed ever since. Anything by Jim Steinman (Meatloaf sings a lot of his stuff), Kansas, Styx, Aerosmith, and I’ve graduated into scandanavian metal with its orchestrations and darkness.

    I will admit that I do like Johnny Cash, if that is considered country.

  7. 9

    @Hexidecima – you might want to take a listen to Ray Wylie Hubbard (“missisippi flush” or “ballad of the crimson kings”) or Fred Eaglesmith (“water in the fuel” or “drive in movie”)

  8. 11

    What’s interesting to me is that a lot of the country music sung by *women* during the 70s and 80s (Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire and such) is filled with songs about powerful, independent women who may enjoy the company of men but also get along just fine without. I’ve never really been a country fan but started listening to some of the older stuff recently, and I was very struck by how strongly feminist it was.

  9. 13

    Blues is basically the same.

    I adore the Blues. It’s my guitar style (well… that and Experimental/Psychedelic Rock). But the Blues that came (and still does come) from men is basically Bro Blues.

    If you want good feminist Blues, it’s to the women you want to look. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie, Billie Holiday, and many others from the heyday of the Blues. And of course you can’t leave out Bonnie Rait. And today, you want Chantel McGregor (please please please oh please listen to her; I’d put her guitar-playing up against Eric Clapton any day and her voice is incredible… plus, Jamie Kilstein is now a fan because of me :D), Samantha Fish, and so many others. And I gave you an extremely tiny list here. There’s so many more amazing women Blues artists out there to find.

    Much guitar-driven music seems to be like this, in fact. Blues, Country, Jazz, Rock, Punk, Metal, etc. In fact, probably the only music to kind of avoid this is Progressive Rock, and only then because they focused so much on pretending there was no audience that they kinda forgot about lyrics all together (I should note that I adore Progressive Rock and Metal, but yeah… they really forgot that they were playing to an audience)… so, avoiding the whole “Bro” aspect was more of an accident, and now that I think about it, Progressive Rock was basically all men with no women to be found (I still dream of an all-women band that takes Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree as inspirations), at least in the late 60’s and 70’s, anyways.

    In short, you get the Bro Music, then women fight back and write awesome stuff in the same genres.

    It’s really probably true of music in general, and not just the music I’m familiar with…

    The video was downright awesome, and I could get in to Country if more of it was like Maddie and Tae.

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