Once again Kenny Chesney is putting Bro-Country in his crosshairs, and specifically its objectification of women. In a new cover story in the upcoming issue of Billboard, the four-time CMA Entertainer of the Year includes some bellicose language about how country is portraying the gentler sex these days.
The cover of the Billboard issue announces, “Tired of Bor-Country songs that objectify the hell out of women, Nashville’s all-time, good-time guy is retooling his message (but keeping that tiki bar).”
Chesney’s actual quotes are a bit more reflective. “Over the last several years, it seems like anytime anybody sings about a woman, she’s in cutoff jeans, drinking and on a tailgate — they objectify the hell out of them,” Chesney says to the magazine. “Twenty years ago, I might have written a song like that — I probably did. But I’m at a point where I want to say something different about women.”
This sentiment isn’t anything new from Chesney. As he’s been making the media rounds promoting his new album The Big Revival, he’s spoken specifically about how country treats women in the context of his song “Wild Child”—a duet with Grace Potter.
In September, Chesney told radio.com, “In the last several years, a lot of the songs about women have been written in kind of an objectifying way. If you didn’t wear cut-off jeans or a bikini top, or sit on a tailgate and drink, then you really weren’t worthy, you didn’t really add up. But ‘Wild Child’ is telling some girl out there that’s got dreams, that’s a free spirit, who’s smart and interesting, that she has a chance, that she is worthy…All the women that have been in my life…they all had this idea of the ‘wild child’ in them…I think it’s an important song, because it’s saying that they don’t have to be this one thing that’s been sung about over and over again recently. And I’m proud of that, that we wrote a song that lifts up a woman in that way.”
In both instances, Chesney is careful not to call out “Bro-Country” specifically. It’s more implied by the authors. But is this all marketing, and the same effort to exploit the growing anti Bro-Country backlash we’re seeing with songs like Maddie & Tae’s “Girl In A Country Song”? Many times artists will craft talking points around the release of a song or album, and this objectification point seems to be one Kenny has created for “Wild Child” and The Big Revival. It’s part and parcel with him saying that he scrapped an entire album of material that went in a more Bro-Country direction before deciding on his new approach.
Even if Cheseny’s words are more marketing than meaningful, that doesn’t mean these aren’t important points to make, or that Kenny doesn’t believe them. However when you listen to “Wild Child,” it’s hard to see where it casts the female identity in a “worthy” light.
Lyrics like “She’s Penny Lane in a Chevy van. She loves to love” seems to portray a groupie, not some great example of a proud, accomplished woman. It may be a stretch to say “Wild Child” objectifies women itself, but Chesney seems to oversell the idea that it is the antithesis of Bro-Country. Meanwhile he’s also booked a lot of Bro-Country’s worst offenders like Chase Rice and Cole Swindell on upcoming tour dates.
Nonetheless, Chesney remains one of the largest draws in country music today, and his words about the way women are portrayed in country music can’t hurt. If nothing else, Kenny’s quotes will continue the dialog surrounding country music’s female problem both in their portrayal in country songs and their absence on the charts.