The Misguided Smearing of Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl”

The biggest threat to the integrity and preservation of American country music in the fall of 2018 is not the onslaught of Bro-Country, which is slowly but steadily writing its swan song. It’s not the threat of the EDM-inspired “Metro-Bro” style of country music popularized by Sam Hunt, whose recent single “Downtown’s Dead” recently stalled outside the Top 10 on the charts. The biggest existential threat to country music is not even the incursion of pop music into the format, illustrated most demonstrably by Bebe Rexha’s song “Meant To Be” now spending its record-breaking and historic 43rd week at #1 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

No, the biggest threat to country music at the moment is the rampant and rancid ultra-politicization of the country music space by opportunistic, interloping, and woefully-misguided journalists attempting to use the genre, its fans, and its artists as unwitting pawns to assert a biased agenda to change the mindset of the American electorate in their favor. And if country music won’t acquiesce to this agenda, then it must be undermined as a cultural institution, if not outright destroyed.

Don’t believe it when these people characterize how they love country music. They love country music because they see it as fertile ground to assert their political ideologies upon others under the guise of objective journalism. The latest example is this undercutting of Chris Janson’s song “Drunk Girl,” which recently edged into the Top 10 on mainstream country radio, and was nominated for Song of the Year by the CMAs.

For months there has been this undercurrent of hatred for the song by blue checkmarked Twitter journalists who’ve infiltrated country media en masse after being indoctrinated in gender and women’s studies classes via well-healed universities, and see country music as a last bastion of culturally repressive whiteness that must be torn asunder. Thankfully though, this undercurrent of disdain for “Drunk Girl” due to a misinterpretation of the song has mostly been relegated to the content of these Twitter accounts—the favorite forum for these biased embeds since their ideas will be championed in ever-metastasizing social media echo chambers, feeding their brain stems with microdoses of dopamine with every like and retweet they receive as opposed to having their assertions challenged in the marketplace of ideas.

But now The New Yorker has decided to take the message of Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” head on, and inexplicably tie it to the nomination process of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to maximize the clickbait aspect of the story. In an articled entitled “The Kavanaugh Hearing, Chris Janson’s ‘Drunk Girl,’ and Country Music’s #MeToo Misfire,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Kathryn Schultz completely mischaracterizes the premise of the song, is totally incorrect about its performance on country radio, and like so many other articles recently, looks to set fire to something important and meaningful to country music fans to score political brownie points, generate clicks, draw blood from what they see as opposition, and unnecessarily politicize the country music populous around an item with an important message that is building an unusual amount of consensus in the often contentious country music space.

First, Kathryn Shultz implies that due to the Kavanaugh sexual misconduct allegations and the theme of Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl,” the song has been abandoned by country radio and its fans. The article states:

Then came the ongoing debacle of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination, and, entirely by accident, “Drunk Girl” became almost too relevant—and, dismayingly, almost too radical—to play on the radio.

This is completely false. The amount of spins “Drunk Girl” has received on country radio since the sexual allegations against Brett Kavanaugh emerged on September 16th has only gone up. Though “Drunk Girl” has remained at the #10 spot on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart over the last couple of weeks, and at #8 on the MediaBase airplay chart and not moved up, the song gained 130 new plays this week on MediaBase, and 303 new plays on Billboard’s Nielsen metrics.

Here’s the line data:

But if we’re to understand the premise of this article in The New Yorker, we should be celebrating the disappearance of “Drunk Girl” on radio, because its message is so misguided and incendiary. The author wants to chastise country radio for abandoning the song due to political fear, while at the same time saying it worth abandoning. The article states:

“Drunk Girl” categorically fails. Taking a drunk girl home, not to have sex with her but to make sure she gets there safely, is not the difference between a boy and a man; it is the difference between the perpetrator of a violent crime and an averagely decent, law-abiding human being. The song might think it is encouraging men to behave better. For that matter, as Janson clearly hopes, it might even be encouraging men to behave better. But it is also characterizing their worst and most destructive actions as a kind of natural rite of passage, the acceptable follies of youth—exactly the same “boys will be boys” defense of sexual objectification, harassment, and assault that supporters of Kavanaugh are now articulating, without the piano backing, twenty-four hours a day.

The New Yorker‘s Kathryn Schultz also makes sure to point out, “[Janson] has supported President Trump (including turning his hit song “Truck Yeah” into “Trump Yeah” for a performance at the Republican National Convention, in 2016), which makes “Drunk Girl” even harder to take.” This corroborates the biased, and politically-motivated take down of the song.

Like many of these think pieces on country music published in distinctly non-country periodicals, Kathryn Shultz gives a down-talking Cliff Notes version of the history of country music in the article, naming off multiple songs to bolster the premise she’s looking to assert. In these such articles, there’s one thing you can guarantee: they always mention Loretta Lynn’s song “The Pill” as evidence of country music’s progressive past that has been abandoned by the current regime of Trump supporting country entertainers. This article in The New Yorker doesn’t disappoint.

“Loretta Lynn’s wildly controversial, wildly successful hit, ‘The Pill’ from 1972, doesn’t admonish women to take control of their bodies and their futures; it tells the story of one woman who, belatedly, does so,” the article says. But what The New Yorker doesn’t point out is that the biggest Trump supporter in the last Presidential election wasn’t Chris Janson, or even Toby Keith. It was Loretta Lynn.

In an interview with Rolling Stone in February of 2017, Lynn criticized The Women’s March held shortly after Trump’s inauguration, saying that it had no class. She also said, “I think they ought to leave [Trump] alone and let him do his job. That’s what I think. He’s up there and he’s the president. They need to help him, not hinder him. Everybody ought to pitch in and help, do everything they can to help the man.”

Something else telling about The New Yorker article is it talks extensively about the history of drinking songs in country music, and the history of drinking songs from Chris Janson specifically. But what it doesn’t point out is that Chris Janson is openly sober, and has spoken about his sobriety publicly numerous times. This is an important point to understand when listening to “Drunk Girl.” The article says Janson “seem(s) to be edging toward a reckoning with the dangerous side effects of alcohol” with his recent songwriting, but misses the reason why. Once again, this is the result of bad research and an important piece of knowledge a journalist embedded in country music on a daily basis wouldn’t overlook.

But the ultimate failing of The New Yorker article is not the fabrication of its lack of support on country radio, the overlooking of Chris Janson’s sobriety, or even the politicization of the song by inexplicably somehow tying it to the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh. It’s that author Kathryn Shultz’s conclusion on the underlying thematic premise and narrative thread of “Drunk Girl” is categorically false, or at least, woefully misinterpreted.

“Drunk Girl” is not about a guy deciding simply to drive a drunk girl home and not sleep with her, as if the ethical decision he faces is either rape or walking away. If you actually follow the premise of the song, the girl is willing to go home with the guy, and it’s the guy that’s making the conscious decision not to.

Let’s talk straight: Women like sex too, and often use alcohol to loosen inhibitions, and at times hit the town to get laid, especially after breakups or other bad moments in their life. What’s so important and unique about “Drunk Girl” is that it canonizes the guy who sees a girl who has thrown her life on the floor (as the lyrics say), and makes the conscious decision not to sleep with her, even though he can, and with consent.

When a man sees a woman in a vulnerable position, but is still willing to give consent, they never get credit if they decide to walk away. No blue ribbons are handed out. There’s no blurbs about it in the paper. They can’t even take to social media and brag about it, because their Bro buddies would probably chastise them for being weak, stupid, or a “pussy.” Sometimes the women might think there’s something wrong with him, or he’s a “nice guy” that wouldn’t be exciting to date. This is the whole meaning behind the phrase “Nice guys finish last.”

But that’s where “Drunk Girl” is different. It challenges this mindset. Saying that the song’s message is simply “don’t rape” while also presenting some soft acceptance of rape culture is so shortsighted. It’s giving those guys who don’t take advantage of women who are looking to get taken advantage of a pat on the back, while listing the reasons to make the right decision. “There’s a million things you could be doing, but there’s one thing you’re damn sure glad you did,” the song says, and later resolves with the woman calling the protagonist back, and perhaps the interaction leading to something else—something more meaningful.

Sure, it’s fair to diagram a song like “Drunk Girl” and say it’s ham-fisted, sappy, or too direct to the point of being ineffective at conveying its message—all things The New Yorker article points out while also making sure to give the song some passing credit, though in a backhanded manner. Yes, nuance is important in music, especially when you’re trying to deliver a message.

But why is “Drunk Girl” the song we’ve chosen to pick on and parallel with sexual assault allegations? Why not sift through the gaggle of songs from acts like Florida Georgia Line and Kane Brown that basically boil down to an interrogation room account of a date rape? Has The New Yorker ever heard Chase Rice’s song “Ready, Set, Roll” with its line, “Get ya’ little fine ass on the step, shimmy up inside…”? Or how about Florida Georgia Line’s “Sun Daze” with the phrase, “I sit you up on a kitchen sink, stick the pink umbrella in your drink.” Or the song “Mind Candy” by Walker Hayes, where he’s caught lusting over a girl in his mind that is “17 years new”?

Yet finally we have a song in the mainstream of country music by a popular male artist that gets it right, and the media is singling it out, pairing it up with a politically polarizing subject, and pilfering it with incorrect information.

Chris Janson is no friend of Saving Country Music’s. On his breakout single “Buy Me A Boat,” Saving Country Music concluded, “Chris Janson becomes the perfect pitchman for exuberant and unhealthy American consumerism in the wholly-unoriginal, culturally-deprecated, and easily-forgettable Bro-Country track.”

But “Drunk Girl” is one of those rare songs that builds consensus across the country music cultural divide that separates the classic and contemporary, mainstream and independent. It’s fiercely relevant for our time, yet not opportunistic or objectionably sentimental. It’s not the perfect country song, but it’s about as perfect as you can expect from the mainstream these days, and even more importantly, it’s been commercially successful, helping to spread its positive message, at least up until the moment The New Yorker decided to shame it, while also trying to convince radio it should remove it from playlists for political safety.

But “Drunk Girl” isn’t about politics at all, even though it does carry a very important message, while not being preachy about it. If you’re a politically-motivated left-leaning journalist, a song like “Drunk Girl” is exactly what you should want to hear emanating from popular country music. But maybe that’s the problem. As left-leaning actor Sean Penn said recently about the #MeToo movement, “The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement has been to divide men and women.”

A song like this coming from a country music-singing, Trump-supporting straight white male presents a challenge to those who want to characterize country music as a bastion for the hatred of women. Instead, only women can carry these messages. Maybe that why sites like Saving Country Music, and male country music journalists who’ve championed the cause of country women recently are being attacked more than the actual men of power in the country industry who program the radio playlists, make the streaming decisions, decide who to sign to major labels and support with promotional budgets, and are directly responsible for keeping women down, while acts like Florida Georgia Line who present misogynistic lyrics and remain mum on the subject of women walk away with clean noses.

Chris Janson should be applauded for “Drunk Girl.” Characterizing it as a soft acceptance of rape is ridiculous. A song like “Drunk Girl” is important because it can bridge appeal across the cultural and political divide. And if you believe mainstream country is full of people who look down on women, the message of “Drunk Girl” is even more important expressly because it’s coming from someone like Chris Janson who supported Trump and will receive support from country radio where the message most needs to be heard as opposed to preaching to a choir. Articles like the one in The New Yorker don’t convince new people of anything. They’re simply virtue signaling to like-minded journalists and readers at the expense of a good song with an important message.

This is not about lashing out at left-leaning media. It is about preserving the ability of music to unite people behind common causes, come together around important issues, and listen to music that is compelling and enriching, no matter who you may have voted for during the last election. Regardless of your politics or your feelings on Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl,” resisting the ultra-politicization of the country music space by click-hungry journalists should be a consensus issue. You want to write about politics? Then go ahead. But don’t bring up country music in non sequiturs, especially when you don’t have your facts straight, and don’t comprehend the music you’re criticizing.

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Daughters, sisters, mothers, and nieces. Seeing them in the eyes of a woman you may encounter at a bar is what “Drunk Girl” is all about. Trying to make the song synonymous with allegations of sexual assault against a public figure is irresponsible to the point of contempt. “Drunk Girl” is a diametric opposite of such things.

Thank you Chris Janson and co-songwriters Tom Douglas and Scooter Carusoe for “Drunk Girl,” and good luck with your CMA Song of the Year nomination. It is well-deserved.