Just sit back and appreciate where we’re at for a second ladies and gentlemen. Here it is the dead of summer 2014, and the song that has everyone talking in country music is not some frivolous, carefree party anthem. It’s not some beach-bumming or beer on the tailgate half-baked haven for country clichÃ©. It’s the song from two young girls named Maddie & Tae that directly calls out the pervasive checklist trend of male-dominated country music, and does so in a very direct, earnest manner.
No, that’s not not the smell of suntan lotion and margarita quaffing through the air, it’s the burning dolor of protest and dissent. “Girl In A Country Song“— this is the song that has everyone buzzing. This is the song that virtually every DJ and every country music website and periodical is buzzing about. This song, these girls, and the scenario it thrusts upon country music is what people find fascinating, and has captured the country music zeitgeist at this moment in time more than any other topic or song, and during a season already chock full of blockbuster singles like Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”, and compelling narratives like the return of Garth Brooks.
Displeasure reigns, and all those people who wonder why such effort is put forth to complain about country music songs that could just simply be ignored are now seeing the fruits of spirited discourse and articulate criticism. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from perfect. It may even be a stretch to call it good. But like all artistic expressions that rise above the sum of their parts, it captures a sentiment that is exceedingly relevant, and melds with the imagination of possibilities of what its success could mean.
On Monday (7-21), Maddie & Tae made an appearance on NPR of all places, and explained the inspiration behind “Girl In A Country Song”.
“Looking good for the boys is not all we have to offer for them. We’re bringing a voice for the girls in country music, and that’s why we came at this topic with a different perspective … It’s just a trend that kind of became irresponsible in its view of women, so we wanted to come about it from our perspective … Because as women, we don’t want to be thought of as one-dimensional, and that’s kind of how these songs have been portraying women. So we hope that kind of changes the game just a little bit.”
As the NPR interviewer adeptly pointed out, Maddie & Tae also say that they like some of the Bro-Country songs and artists, and wondered if the girls were presenting a double standard.
“The thing is, we do feel like this trend has been very very consistent. And we want to give this girl that these guys love singing about a voice … We say it’s a tough gig because yes we wear bathing suits and we wear cutoffs, but we do it when we want to, not necessarily when the guy puts us in that place. It is a tough gig because you have to look a certain way to be looked at as a beautiful girl, and that’s one message that we want this song to put out there, that every woman should feel beautiful whether you’re in cutoffs, whether you don’t have tan legs.”
Something else interesting is that when writing the song, the girls put together a checklist of all the things they regularly heard in clichÃ© country songs. “I think it had trucks, tailgates, cutoffs, tan lines and tan legs, dirt road, and the most important one, the girls. The smokin’ hot girl.”
“Checklist” was the precursor to the “Bro-Country” term, and has been a overly-consistent trend in country music since 2011. “Checklist” is how Maddie & Tae referenced the trend, not “Bro-Country.”
Over the last 35 years, country protest songs have become an indelible part of country music, and not since “Murder On Music Row” was championed by George Strait and Alan Jackson have we seen a protest song with such importance and success in the mainstream. “Girl In A Country Song” is far from traditional, whether this is to purposely mock the songs that it targets, or to pander to country’s current trends. And of course “Girl In A Country Song” is marketing, looking to re-monetize negative sentiment. But that comes from how the song was underwritten by Big Machine Records, not how it was composed by Maddie & Tae, who by all accounts wrote it with sincerity.
Do the two songs that are set to dominate the summer of 2014—“Girl In A Country Song” by Maddie & Tae, and Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt”—signal a shifting of the winds in popular country music towards more substance? It still may be too early to make that determination. But it certainly is worth keeping an eye on, because anti-pop country music sentiment is at an all-time high, right beside the all-time high for country music’s popularity. Sports radio and sports websites are lampooning country regularly. It is the brunt of many pop culture jokes. What Maddie & Tae have done is given a voice to that angst, and they have done so using the same tradition Waylon Jennings started in 1975, which is taking the disappointment one has about the direction of country music, and writing a song about it.