In an August 7th article in The Chicago Tribune, Brian Kelley of Florida Georgia Line was characterized as being “unhappy” about Maddie & Tae’s debut single “Girl In A Country Song”. The song has been described by many as being “anti ‘Bro-Country'” with the way it puts the shoe on the other foot for country music’s young women and how they are characterized and objectified in many modern-day country songs.
In the Chicago Tribune interview, writer Allison Stewart portrayed questions to Brian Kelley about Maddie & Tae as “…the only ones Kelley, in a recent phoner, doesn’t sound happy to answer.”
When the reporter first asks about “Girl In A Country Song”, Kelley plays dumb. “I’m not really familiar with that,” he says about the song.
But when nudged a little further by Allison Stewart, who says to Kelley “They sing it from the point of view of the girl in the cut-off jeans, who never gets to talk? You’ve never heard that song?”
Brian Kelley answers, “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. That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”
Florida Georgia Line and Maddie & Tae are both on Big Machine Records.
Now, on-air personality Broadway of Country 92.5’s Electric Barnyard Show has interviewed Maddie & Tae, and asked them directly about Brian Kelley’s comments.
Broadway asks, “Are you girls feminists?”
The duo responds, “I would not say that. You know, the whole thing is just us wanting to come at this from a different perspective and making sure that the girl in these songs these guys are singing about gets a voice ’cause you very rarely ever hear from her.”
Then Broadway reads the Brian Kelley quotes from the Chicago Tribune article, and Maddie & Tae (who utter “uh-oh” at one point when hearing the news) respond,
“We love them and their music, but you see, he’s a dude. He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or to be the girl in these songs. We never intended to upset anybody. That was definitely not our intention, and we can’t really speak for anyone else. We just know that is definitely not something that we would want to do.”
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The problem is, “Girl In A Country Song” has put these two, very young 18-year-old girls in a very unenviable position. People who identify themselves as anti “Bro-Country” or anti pop country are going to want something from this song and this duo that they simply can’t deliver. These girls weren’t even born when Garth Brooks was hitting his commercial stride. They were 5-years-old when Garth retired. Even if they were raised with classic country being a part of their musical experience (which they claim they were), they’re still not going to have the perspective to be able to battle the entire country music industry when they are just starting out. Of course they’re going to say they like Florida Georgia Line and other Bro-Country artists. They don’t have the skins on the wall to say otherwise. Saying they hate Florida Georgia Line would be self-destruction. They have never even really been out on tour yet, or played any big shows. And if they had loaded up “Girl In A Country Song” with twang and steel guitars like some would have it, we wouldn’t even be talking about it right now because nobody would be paying attention to it beyond some pissed of classic country fans.
Of course the song isn’t great. But it’s effective, and that’s what it has over virtually every other modern country protest song. It isn’t on Maddie & Tae to battle Bro-Country, and it is unfair to them to foist that responsibility upon their 18-year-old shoulders. It is their job to simply express themselves as artists, and that’s what they did with “Girl In A Country Song”. And if the industry decided to co-opt the song for their own marketing purposes to re-integrate anti Bro-Country hatred, I can’t see how to blame Maddie & Tae for that either. People like Hank Williams Jr., Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson are the ones who need to be swiping the young pups on the nose, because they’re the ones who are in a position to do so. I can only imagine the nightmares these girls must be having, worrying that the entire country music world is going to turn on them when they’re still very much trying to figure out who they are as artists and people.
The dilemma for Maddie & Tae has been made one measure worse from Big Machine’s marketing strategy that has seen them court both sides of the cultural divide. The duo was featured prominently on NPR right after the song’s release, and then the video for the song was debuted first to NPR’s intellectual, upper-crust crowd. The girls were portrayed as pseudo-feminists, fighting objectifying gender roles. And at the same time, they were being pushed to mainstream country as having “good fun” with Bro-Country—which they really love.
And meanwhile a third contingent of critics have popped up to say this song has not risen quickly enough and is not even worth all this hubbub, as if a completely brand new female act is expected to land a #1 right out of the chute when it has been nearly half a decade since any country music female not named Carrie, Taylor, or Miranda has done so. The song slipped from #16 to #25 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart this week as singles featured on ABC’s “CMA Music Fest” special all saw boosts in sales, while “Girl In A Country Song” gained one spot to #30 on the Airplay chart.
Who knows what the fate of Maddie & Tae and “Girl In A Country” song will be. But it continues to be the most talked-about song in country music, and this in itself has elevated the dialogue about if the current direction of country music is a healthy one, both ethically and economically. And that cannot be a bad thing, no matter what perspective you bring to the table about the song.