typewriter thoughts

infinite skills create miracles

I am writing this in response to a video that was posted by a country music writer, for Entertainment Weekly Grady Smith. It’s entitled (cleverly!) “Why Country Music Was Awful in 2013” and was made as a response to readers who didn’t like his top 10 country albums list for EW. It features clips from these artists: Luke Bryan’sThat’s My Kind of Night,Blake Shelton’sBoys Round Here,” and “Sure Be Cool If You Did,Florida Georgia Line’sRound Here” and “Get Your Shine OnRandy Houser’s How Country Feels” and a few others like Chris Young’s “Aw Naw." I tweeted last night about how I found the video to be sexist and Grady was quick to respond that no, he was the one revealing the misogyny! Gotta say first off, I am sick of dudes being like “Oh here I found the misogyny guys!” like they should get a prize or something. Usually it’s more along the lines of, “oh I found men expressing desire for women and therefore women are objectified.” Nah.

The lyrical tenets that the video highlights are as follows: “dudes” singing about trucks, old dirt roads, “begging” girls to get in their trucks, that they “only wanted girls wearing tight jeans” and driving girls to river banks, romantic sunsets and moonlights, and the presence of alcohol “aka the good stuff.” Also something about how calling girls “girl” is a bro tactic and magically works to woo women. (I like being called girl but it’s also a lyrical placeholder instead of names? Idk not offensive to me, especially given the number of verbal and literal placeholder words used in popular cultural to address women).

So that’s a lot of generalizations to swallow in the first place, and they’re all taken from the songs in a way that suggests the arc created in the video is the storyline in all of these songs—it isn’t. There’s also the bit of the storyline he constructs about women in these songs that sticks in my craw the most. As if there’s something inherently wrong with men singing about women, specifically about women who are sexual, who want to drink alcohol and wear tights pants or cutoff jeans. And as if this narrative is out of place or not prevalent elsewhere? Kacey Musgraves sings about her booty calls “It Is What It Is” and Brandy Clark’s got a song that’s straight up about marital infidelity (“What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven”) and while I admit that these are more nuanced storylines, they focus on the same topic: sex! Gasp. In fact, a number of the songs in the clip that he creates are worshipful of women, in awe of their beauty and even defer to the power that these women have over the men. None of these songs are slut-shaming the women for wearing tight pants or their spontaneity or their propensity to drink alcohol—it’s Grady who does that for us.

Maybe it’s boring or awful to hear about women wearing tight jeans and drink beer alongside romantic river banks in trucks because you want to police how women behave? And trucks are so offensive why? Because that’s a despicable passion to have? You want that dirty, ignorant working class to just go away, especially now that singing about these things has made them rich! How dare them still like trucks, or even want to connect with the audience on that level still. If only someone would introduce them to fine wine then they’d finally stop loving trucks so much! Natch—this mindset is so inset it almost disappears but outright that’s what it sounds like.

It’s never just derivative to sing about your lived experiences, even if a million people have before you. Clearly these songs are appealing to someone or they wouldn’t be beloved by the dreaded “mainstream.” I’m also firmly against shutting out one gender or the “bro-hatred” that’s erupted. I’m a feminist and I like bros. I don’t think hating men really gets much more done on the road to equality. I find these songs enjoyable and fun. I have worn skin-tight jeans and ass-baring cut-off jeans, drank way too much beer and whiskey and sat on river banks making out. That doesn’t make me boring or derivative. It’s interesting and fun and more women should try it! It’s freeing! 

The framing of this video fundamentally robs women of their right to wear tight pants, drink alcohol or get into cars (read: trucks) with men. It frowns on men who celebrate this kind of casual romance. Misogyny? Perhaps the line “bring that little sugar shaker over here” is hurtful to some women and it’s certainly sexist on some level—but I have never once heard a female ass described that way and I personally found it inventive and hilarious. Especially when plain old “ass” is so rampant in a lot of other genres (no shots). 

I’m tired of this binary that haters adopt of real country vs. fake country. The argument that persists in country and folk music about “pop” getting too far in or it not being authentic is tired and worn. It will go on in every genre and in every generation. I’m done with it. I cleave to music that makes me feel something—good, sad, ugly or confusing—and that upholds the spirit of the genre or region or people it seeks to represent. Many will disagree with where I draw this line, sure, and I disagree with the line that Grady draws in this video. I don’t think mainstream country is bad. I don’t agree with Tim McGraw’s on 2004’s “Back When" as he laments "They put pop in my country." It may well be that Tim was the start of pop seeping into country music and so be it! I think we’re better off for it.

I listen to an album like Sam Baker’s Grace and it is beautiful in its own way but I don’t want to live in the past. It is a haunting reflection set in traditional sounds, but what about moving forward? Florida Georgia Line interest me more and their songs resonate with me intensely. Same with Blake Shelton. and, might i add, the clip that he often dips into for Blake is “Boys ‘Round Here”—a song that actively seeks to display the integration of country “white” people and hip-hop “black” people. it might seem like another hugely gawky gesture like “Accidental Racist” but hell, the fact that these gestures are being made, no matter how corny they might be is still a fascinating, important step. (How could these bridges across genre and race lines NOT be awkward considering even the artist’s parents were raised amid blatant racism?)  This interests me, an attempt at reparations no matter how bungled, or an attempt to show the similarities in their lifestyles and the common ground. Or how about at the end of the song when the Shelton’s wife Miranada Lambert and her troupe of Pistol Annies show up? The scene easily alludes to the “O Brother Where Art Thou” scene with the sirens (read: female sexual empowerment) and they even chant “ooooh lets ride” a phrase that shifts the power balance—and maybe even the steering wheel—back into the hands of the women. Of course, these nuances are lost in a clip that merely isolates the words “beer” or “truck.”

I am most surprised that this clip was made by someone who purports to love country music because it plays into the most facile assumptions about the genre. Why are these topics so common? Because this lifestyle still exists—and there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s still people who live close to rivers and have beloved spots they visit to kiss their lovers, smoke cigarettes or talk about life. There’s still working class men who use their trucks as part of their livelihood and feel a strong connection the machines that enable them to earn a living. My dad has driven a truck for over 20 years now, it’s barely even a possession, it’s almost a coworker. There’s plenty of women who like to wear tight pants and kick back beers and yes even get into trucks with men! These are time-tested topics for a reason, they resonate with audiences who share this lived experience. That doesn’t mean country music is boring or horribly the same always. It means that human beings are often drawn to the most basic, carefree elements of life especially when they’re creating or listening to music. None of the songs in the clips chosen are devoid of meaning or “awful” because they address topics that are similar or have been discussed before. 

Furthermore, this concept could be applied to any genre. Hip-hop? Almost too easy. Pop: no problem. Indie rock?? Like shooting fish in a barrel. The real reason why country is so often held under this microscope and examined by scoffing critics is because the intellectual elite have a problem with the working class of America. They judge them for their life choices and for their beliefs, they see them as lesser beings and they’re confused by their lifestyle. So in place of this confusion and ignorance they choose mockery and hate. It’s disgusting and I’m sick of it. I came from a working class family for generations back and I also got an education and moved to an urban center. I can keep a foot firmly in both worlds and feel fine, but mostly people see them as antithetical. They only are because of fear and prejudice and putting another name on it is simply untrue at this point. It’s not the same as the backlash against hip-hop because that has a spine of racism supporting it too, but the hatefulness and dismissal is goddamn close.

Country music is good, often great art, and songs about trucks, river banks and beer are just different signifiers for the same subjects discussed in every genre. Sex. Love. Escape from reality. Dreams. Family and heritage. Spaces that hold significance. Relationships. Possession. Home. Loyalty. Victory and loss. etc etc etc.

THIS video doesn’t show what’s wrong with country music, it shows what’s wrong with the way people think country music can be treated. It’s become an easy punch line and the butt of a joke because standing up for it hasn’t been cool. Being poor, rural or working class hasn’t been cool. This has been the crux of my argument for most of the year about country—that finally the internet and post-genre listening lifestyles has led to a dissolution of many of the hierarchies in art that have been in place. I went to stagecoach this year and saw tweens unabashedly singing along to country artists old and new—in LA no less.! They like country because no one told them not to yet. Hopefully, no one ever will.­

3 months ago
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