“Something Bad” by Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood should be on in the background as you read this piece. Something bad has been happening in country music, and as usual, it’s hurting the ladies.
It seems that booze, parking lot parties, and getting laid are what it is all about nowadays. Recently, country music has been dominated by men with a very specific agenda. Artists like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, and Lee Brice seem to dominate the charts with songs explicitly dehumanizing and objectifying women. Love ballads from the good ol’ days of country seem to be forgotten and are now replaced with songs like Bryan’s 2011 track “Country Girl (Shake it for Me)”.
The term “bro-country” can accurately describe this phenomenon; these young men are morphing bro culture with guitars and boots and calling that country music. Bro-country was first coined by Jody Rosen in regards to the band Florida Georgia Line where he refers to them as “country’s first boy band.” In the piece published by Vulture, Rose dissects the song “Cruise” stating that:
In short, “Cruise” is bro-country: music by and of the tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude. It’s a movement that has been gathering steam for several years now, and we may look back on “Cruise” as a turning point, the moment when the balance of power tipped from an older generation of male country stars to the bros.
Country has always been a gentleman’s club. I love myself some Dolly and Patsy Cline, but these girls are in the minority. There seems to be “17 men for every one woman.” It is impossible for women to make it because country’s biggest artists right now have a very specific view on women: they are to be sung about. And in a particular way, at that.
As a response to Country Weekly’s declaration that 2014 is the Year of the Woman, Tasha Golden quotes Karen A. Saucier who wrote, “[T]he only appropriate roles identified in country music lyrics for women are those of lover, wife, and mother – never as worker or career woman.” Golden continues this by stating that, “Saucier also documented women as comforters and consolers of tired, hurting men (“When She Says Baby,” anyone?). Thirty years later, the only shift that’s taken place among chart-topping songs is the absence even of wives and mothers: the two respectable female roles in traditional country/southern culture.”
These “country girls” featured in bro-country songs are products of a misogynist imaginary. The ‘girls’ (as they are so often described) “have to be able to hang with the guys but also be feminine and pretty,” according to Luke Bryan, who goes on to wonder why the industry is so tough on women.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Bryan says that “the girls that make it, man, they can wake up early at 5 a.m., throw a hat on, roll into a radio station, hang with the guys.” This expectation of needing women to take so much extra time out of their day to make themselves “presentable” yet also “be one of the guys” is what is hurting women in country, and bro-country artists are the people perpetuating it. Mainstream country tends to stick very heavily to traditional gender roles, leaving women no wiggle room, and hurting anyone who doesn’t fall where they are expected to.
Women are not inherently weak. However, with misogyny selling so well, it’s hard for them to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. In fact, it’s been increasingly more difficult for women to make it in country, considering that a solo female artist hasn’t had her first two singles reach the Top 10 since Taylor Swift in 2007.
It’s not that not enough women are trying to get into this industry. It’s that in bro-country, the face of the country music genre, any deviation is automatically considered less worthy. This is something that needs to be talked about; with deeper analysis than our pal Bryan gives us.
Your audience may be mostly women now, but what happens when they catch on?
Photo via parade.condenast.com.