Where Does Feminism Fit in American Country Music?

by April 10, 2016
filed under Entertainment

Getty Images // Miranda Lambert

Getty Images // Miranda Lambert

I have a confession: I love country music—I mean LOVE it. I grew up memorizing the tracks on my mom’s Kenny Chesney and Lee Ann Womack CDs, I have a bucket list exclusively for country artists I want to see, and some of my fondest memories of my high school experience in my hometown can be brought back with just the opening three seconds of the song “Springsteen” by Eric Church. I couldn’t be more thrilled about the surge in popularity that country music has experienced over the past few years.

But here’s the thing. I am also a feminist, and I have to recognize the issues in this music genre I love so much. Female artists are seriously underrepresented and under appreciated in the world of country music. In fact, last May, country radio executive Keith Hill openly cautioned against playing too many female artists on country radio or playing female artists back-to-back: “Trust me, I play great female records and we’ve got some right now; they’re just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females.” Um, what?! You don’t need me to spell out for you how ridiculous that comment is.

The Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards aired last Sunday, April 3, and only one of the five nominees for Entertainer of the Year, the most coveted prize, was a woman—and as you might’ve guessed, the nominee Miranda Lambert didn’t snag the win. You can scroll through the list of nominees and winners here to see just how few women were honored during the ACMs last weekend.

In honor of the ladies of country music, here are my three favorite country jams by strong female vocalists.

1. Girl Crush – Little Big Town

This is my absolute favorite country song of the past year, and I have to admit that my love for this song goes beyond my appreciation for lead singer Karen Fairchild’s gorgeous vocals. “Girl Crush” received much criticism over the past year for its assumed lesbian content: “I want to taste her lips, yeah ’cause they taste like you. I want to drown myself in a bottle of her perfume.” I love this song so much because it opened up a much-needed conversation about censorship in the country music community.

In actuality, if you listen to the lyrics in context, the ballad is about one woman’s jealousy of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, but the lyrics were deemed provocative by some. According to this Washington Post article, the alleged controversy over this song’s possible representation of lesbianism accounts for the song’s position at one point in time at #4 on the iTunes country chart but #33 on country radio.

Karen Fairchild has commented on the reception of “Girl Crush” and listeners’ split second judgment based on the chorus lyrics taken out of context. “That’s just shocking to me, the close-mindedness of that, when that’s just not what the song was about,” she says. “But what if it were? It’s just a greater issue of listening to a song for what it is.”

2. Follow Your Arrow – Kasey Musgraves

Like “Girl Crush,” this upbeat jam caught some flack for the mention of sexuality in its lyrics—but this time, lead singer Kasey Musgraves really was expressing her acceptance of same-sex relationships: “Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s what you’re into.”

In fact, this song is progressive for much of its content. “Follow Your Arrow” cautions against trying to please people’s expectations because no matter what, the world will criticize your life choices. The very first line of the song highlights one such lose-lose situation: “If you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore. If you don’t save yourself for marriage you’re a horrible person.” And so on. Kasey even sings about “[rolling] up a joint,” a definite step forward for the often-conservative realm of country.

Instead, Kasey encourages following your own path in life in order to make yourself happy. Listening to this song always brightens my day and makes my stressors seem much simpler. As Kasey sings, “You only get so many trips ’round the sun.” Somehow, this song perfectly draws attention to the harsh criticism in our society but still leaves listeners feeling positive in the end.

3. Girl in a Country Song – Maddie & Tae

I’ve recently heard this 2014 single by Maddie & Tae reemerging on country radio, and I couldn’t be happier that it’s circulating the airwaves again. “Girl in a Country Song” is the ultimate statement on the objectification of women within male singers’ songs and music videos: “We used to get a little respect. Now we’re lucky if we even get to climb up in your truck, keep our mouths shut and ride along, and be the girl in a country song.” Objectification is a problem in music in general, but the problem is only increased in country music by the lack of airtime for female voices.

The video also touches on the issue of catcalling, referencing the fact that many lyrics in country songs are less romantic and more man-on-a-city-corner-whistling-through-his-teeth: “I hear you over there on your tailgate whistling, saying ‘Hey girl,’ but you know I ain’t listening. ‘Cause I got a name and to you it ain’t ‘pretty little thing,’ ‘honey’ or ‘baby.'”

The music video is a satirical representation of typical country music videos. Maddie & Tae create a ‘role reveral’ as they sing on the bed of a truck and male dancers dress in bikini tops, crop tops and denim booty shorts. They even go so far as to slap one man’s Daisy Duke clad butt—a clear jab at the typical objectification of women’s bodies in music videos (and in real life). The men add to the satire by ridiculously striking stereotypical poses—touching their puckered lips, popping their hips, etc. Seriously, check out this video to clearly see the problems with female representation in music video clearly called out.

I love country music. But, when you love something (or someone), you should let it know when you need more from it. Country music, I need you to give the stage to more incredible female vocalists. I know they’re here—I want to hear them.

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