Seriously though, right? If some country music media outlet posted something like this, it would result in a shit storm of the highest proportions, especially with all the tomato talk going around after radio consultant Keith Hill’s comments. But when the shoe is on the other foot, apparently it is open season.
Just a couple of days ago, Billboard felt inclined to ask what male music celebrity had the best butt, Justin Bieber or John Legend? . . . complete with Instagram pictures and a voting widget. Hey, Billboard does some great work in the music journalism realm so I’m not trying to start a beef, but even the best have to go fishing for clicks in this digital age . . . apparently.
And that’s just where the objectification of men in music begins, and it’s arguably worse in country. In the last few days there’s been a rash of bare skinned country music stories, including the country music internet going ga ga over Dierks Bentley rolling shirtless at a recent concert. Then there was folks getting all hot and bothered over Luke Bryan going shirtless on the beach, and taking selfies with a couple of brace-faced pubescents. Does anyone else find this just a little bit creepy? Luke Bryan’s old enough to be these girls’ father for crying out loud.
Women going crazy over shirtless country music stars is nothing new, and I’d be lying to say that as a man I’m somehow offended by any of this. I could care less frankly, except for when I realized how fundamental this all is to the reduction and objectification of women in country music. That’s right. Though you may see body comparisons to female stars in the pop world, country has always been much more reserved and respectful in that category. So how could oogling at the butts and brawn of male country stars adversely affect the females?
Because once again it puts the women at a disadvantage to the men. What if a mainstream country woman shared a picture of her bare ass or chest on Instagram, what would she be called? My guess is it wouldn’t be “tomato.”
Male mainstream country fans all want to be the stars, and female country music fans all want to bang the stars like a screen door, regardless if they’re 14 ½ with braces, or 47-year-old divorcees. This oversexed environment is what has allowed bad music to foster, and female performers to take a secondary role. It’s the music equivalent of cheering for laundry in sports. It’s not about what in country music anymore, it’s about who. Country music used to be about the power of a song. Now, it’s simply an excuse to crush on hot guys who could be up there singing about laundry detergent. It really doesn’t matter what Luke Bryan’s music sounds like, as long as he’s doing “the move” on stage in his skinny jeans.
Sex has always been a part of the quotient in pop music, and maybe this is further evidence that pop is now country. But think of The Beatles and their screaming female fans. How did they rectify that degrading situation? By presenting themselves as intellectuals, and evolving their music in a more creative direction. And popular music was better off for it. Meanwhile in country, it’s the other way around. Luke Bryan started as a behind-the-scenes songwriter, and not a bad one. Now Dallas Davidson writes his singles, and all Luke is responsible for is shaking his ass.
The women of country can still be sexy. Dolly Parton anyone? She used sex to help sell her music for decades, but she never did it in a manner that gave up her dignity. Her self-awareness and self-deprecation made it the obvious topic she couldn’t avoid. And most importantly, her music was actually authentic and quality, and at times, empowering to her female fans. She used the power of the purse to become the foil of country males.
But when we look at the challenges facing country women today, it is one of not being able to steal attention away from the guys. The guys are already more inclined to pay attention to the guys. But if the girls are focusing more on who instead of what, especially at an early age, it’s going to be a challenge to ever see country music’s female performers win the equality their music deserves.