A few years ago, Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford shocked the public by coming out of the closet. It shouldn't have been such a surprise--Halford had long been roaring onstage on a motorcycle, looking like the biker guy in the Village People or one of the leather-clad macho men from a Tom of Finland painting.
But then, in the world of heavy metal, the fact that Halford was flaunting a gay stereotype flew right under the radar. In an ironic way, Halford's hypermacho image jibed as well with the metal scene as it did with the Dallas Eagle. Hell, some people didn't know Freddie Mercury was gay, despite his image and the fact that he named his band Queen.
This article's not about rock or metal, though. It's about another macho genre--namely, country music. It also is not about outing people. We don't know if any of the people featured here are gay, and we're not making any allegations about their sexual preference--as far as we know, k.d. lang is the only gay musician with a country connection, though Ty Herndon was caught in a compromising, George Michael-like situation in a Texas men's room a few years back. We're just examining images here, and lately it seems as if many of today's top country artists have been spending quality time with the Fab Five.
Kenny Chesney performs at the Smirnoff Music Centre on June 5. Pat Green performs there on June 19, and Tim McGraw performs July 31.
Let's start with Pat Green. A few years ago, he looked quite the man's man, and not in that way, if you catch our drift. The top left photo presents us with the kind of guy who would chug-a-lug a can of Old Milwaukee and then belch and crush the empty against his head, the kind of guy who would unrepentantly walk around with a five-alarm chili stain on his T-shirt. Then Green signed with Republic, a New York-based subsidiary of Universal, and it shows in the picture beneath. Gone are the taco'd hat and the flannel shirt, replaced by a mop of feathery, highlighted hair, puka shells and the sort of shades sported by the hairdressers to the ladies who lunch in Beachwood. He doesn't quite look gay, but he sure as hell is pushing the metrosexual envelope. "He looks like one of Bon Jovi's band members," a colleague told us upon seeing Green's latest publicity shot. And we can just see some New York image consultant telling Green, "That Texas thing won't play in Peoria. We'll have you looking like Richie Sambora in no time."
Moving along, we come to Tim McGraw, pictured to the right. Circa 1993, McGraw's image was kind of redneck dweeb--an aw-shucks wallflower at the hat-act dance. He looks pensive, insecure--as if he's thinking, "One day I'll be as cool as that doggone Garth Brooks. Dadgummit, I'll show 'em. He sure as shootin' won't kick sand in my face again." Fast-forward a decade. McGraw enrolls in a Charles Atlas program or something like that, and presto! To take Keith Jackson about as far out of context as he's ever been taken, whoa, Nelly! You can leave your hat on, Tim. Suddenly he's buff and looks like a guy whose wall calendars move lots of units across the sexual preference spectrum. "Who doesn't like Tim McGraw?" enthused one Amazon.com calendar buyer. "He is a handsome hunk to look at 12 months of the year. The photos could be better, this is not his best. A gay fan." (Another disclaimer: Just because he has gay fans doesn't mean he's gay, so don't trip.)
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Next we have the strange case of Kenny Chesney. Capricorn gave him his major-label break in 1994 and tried to package him as the Dwight Yoakam clone pictured in the top photo above. After switching labels to BNA a year later, he was peddled as a Garthlike hat act for a time (not pictured), before he entered the Ralph-Lauren-at-the-Santa-Fe-spread phase captured in the photo below. Like McGraw, Chesney seems to have spent some quality time at the YMCA, and thus we have the recent shot (bottom)--which always puts us in mind of the Electric Six for some reason ("I've got something to put in you--at the gay bar, gay bar!"). This shot seems to be sending some sort of message. What's Chesney thinking there? Something like, "Hey, cowboy, wanna wrestle?" And then there's the fact that on Sharp Dressed Men, the 2002 country tribute to ZZ Top, of all the songs in the trio's body of work, Chesney chose to sing "Tush." Lord, take him downtown indeed.