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Culture 'Bro Country' gets called out and the bros ain't happy

‘Bro Country’ gets called out and the bros ain’t happy

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

To view a video of ‘Girl in a Country Song’: www.youtube.com/watch

Emily Yahr (c) 2014, The Washington Post. “Girl in a Country Song,” the breakout first single from duo Maddie & Tae, just hit No. 1 on the Mediabase and Billboard country airplay charts this week. It’s cause for a lot of folks to cheer: for Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye, enjoying a triumphant debut before either turns 20. For Big Machine president Scott Borchetta, who signed the unknown pair this year to his new imprint Dot Records. And for anyone sick of “bro country,” the massively dominant sub-genre that celebrates endless streams of ice cold beer, those rambling dirt roads to the old swimming hole and hot girls with long, tan legs dangling off of the back of truck tailgates.

“Girl in a Country Song” brilliantly mocks this bro country, in the voice of a woman who is tired of being half-clothed and always riding shotgun — seems that country girls never get to drive. “Well I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet,” the song opens. “And it’s getting kinda cold in these painted on, cut-off jeans/I hate the way this bikini top chafes/Do I really have to wear it all day?”

The chorus sums up her complaint: “Being the girl in a country song/How in the world did it go so wrong? … We used to get a little respect/Now we’re lucky if we even get/To climb in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along/And be the girl in a country song.”

As we said before: Gauntlet thrown down. When it first hit this summer, the song was widely praised as ushering a new era. Now, its No. 1 status makes history: Maddie & Tae are the first female duo in eight years to top the charts with a debut single. Dye admitted that initially, they were nervous about playing the song for Borchetta, since it called out so many top artists — some that he represents. So they were relieved when the label head not only loved it, but thought it was hilarious. He signed them to a record deal almost immediately.

But despite the critical acclaim, one group is definitely not laughing about the success of “Girl in a Country Song”: The alpha bros themselves.

It makes sense that the male artists referenced in “Girl in a Country Song” (Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Tyler Farr, Thomas Rhett, Cole Swindell, Florida Georgia Line, etc.) might not be thrilled to be the subject of mockery. But Maddie & Tae made it clear that it was all in good fun — in fact, the bro-country songs they specifically quote (“Boys Round Here,” “My Kinda Party,” “Redneck Crazy”) are from artists they enjoy. “We respect all the guys we’re poking fun at, we’re just giving the woman a voice in these songs,” Dye said.

But the guys in question have been pretty humorless. When the song dropped, the bros were tellingly silent amid the waves of hype, if not downright annoyed. Asked about the song by the Chicago Tribune, Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley claimed he didn’t know what the interviewer was talking about. When asked further, he got snippy. “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,” Kelley said. “That’s all I’m gonna say to you. That’s it.”

“We love them and their music, but you see, he’s a dude,” Dye responded when asked about his comments. “He doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, or to be the girl in these songs.”

The reaction was in marked contrast to praise from bro-country artists for Nashville artist Maggie Rose, whose “Girl in Your Truck Song,” released around the same time, rhapsodized about getting the chance to claim that passenger seat. She got positive tweets from Aldean, Bryan and Swindell. Maybe the bros really do believe that all women would love to ride shotgun for eternity.

The only guy who publicly praised “Girl in a Country Song” was Florida Georgia Line collaborator Chase Rice, though he also managed to completely miss the point: “I love this new @MaddieandTae song,” he tweeted. “Somethin sexy bout a little (expletive) talkin. Keep it up girls.”

(When the song went No. 1, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley gamely tweeted congratulations — though they’re not the target bros that the song goes after.)

Then again, this was the year that country bros began to chafe against the bro-country label — which loosely covers not just the world of beer-truck-girl lyricists but also the artists infusing pop and hip-hop sounds into their music:

– Luke Bryan told ABC News the term was “aggravating and derogatory”: “Yeah, do I sing about a truck and a beer on one song, but then do I sing about a completely different subject matter. I mean, listen to the whole album and don’t judge me on one song.”

– Tyler Farr: “A lot of my friends sing the new stuff, what they call bro country. I mean, whatever. I have no clue what it is and whoever invented that term, I’d like to smack him upside the head.”

– Thomas Rhett: “I just have never actually used the term ‘bro country.’ I don’t get it, and I don’t like the term ‘hick hop’ either. The things that we sing about are the things that everybody in this crowd are doing every single night. So I don’t understand why it’s considered bro country.”

– Blake Shelton, mocking the label on Twitter: “When will people understand that country music constantly changes.. Always has and always will. It’s song about real people …”

– Sam Hunt: “I don’t know if the phrase originally was meant to be derogatory but it’s turned into that. It’s sort of a snobby thing to say.”

– Cole Swindell: “You kind of have to laugh it off but I don’t think anyone loves it.”

So, yeah, surprisingly bitter. Interesting, especially considering that those type of songs have taken over the radio, country charts and made them lots of money. Just a cursory look at the country charts and it’s clear that bro-country is still reigning over everyone else.

But this could have an upside: Maybe if the bros are really offended by people assuming they only have one, narrow view to offer, maybe they’ll realize that was one motivation behind “Girl in a Country Song” in the first place.

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