If you listen to country music, it's almost assured that you feel like everyone is dumping on your favorite genre as of late. As "bro-country" increasingly becomes the butt of the joke for serious music critics and old-school fans alike, this unfortunate plague on country music's artistic house continues to be immensely popular - and profitable.
But the chorus of critics is growing, and sometimes in quite unlikely places. Newcomer girl-power duo Maddie and Tae have joined in with "Girl in a Country Song," the duo's first release that is receiving some major attention even from people who don't consider themselves fans of country music. The duo, comprised of two bubbly, blonde, small-town girls, uses their first fifteen minutes of fame to take on the sexist and outdated stereotypes about women that have only continued to get worse as bro-country has made its ascension.
The tropes that Maddie & Tae address in "Girl in a Country Song" are so common in country that it's almost painful upon a first listen. From the opening words, Maddie & Tae acknowledge the ubiquitous bare feet and painted on blue jeans, along with the annoying insistence on addressing women as "girl." These are all elements crucial to a Brantley Gilbert or Florida Georgia Line song, including the one that currently sits atop the Billboard Hot Country 100, "Dirt."
As much as hardcore fans protest that these lyrically shallow country boy jams aren't "real" country and chastise artists like Gilbert and Florida Georgia Line for straying away from the genre's roots, they are what are making country artists and Nashville labels money. Until an artist with some serious commercial appeal pushes back against these pervasive stereotypes, we won't see much of a change.
Which is why Maddie and Tae's new song is so refreshing and has such potential to create broader change in country music. This kind of pushback is served best to country fans when packaged in a way that is equally appealing as their bro-country counterparts. Maddie and Tae aren't saying that country music is inherently bad, just that the female artists in the genre, along with the women described in these songs, deserve much better.
It's not surprising that Maddie and Tae chose to present the issue of female objectification with a good sense of humor. In the video, the short shorts are on the men for a change, and the song jokes about chafing bikini tops and slapping overly-friendly country bros that insist on calling women "baby."
The use of humor in tackling tough issues in country music is nothing new, and some attempts are much more successful than others, both critically and commercially. In 1999, the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl" made getting murderous revenge on a wife-beater into an oft-repeated punchline. The song was successful - one of the Chicks' highest-charting - and brought a little seriousness to otherwise superficial country airwaves.
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Last year, Brad Paisley made a similar attempt. "Accidental Racist," showcased a well-meaning Paisley who was attempting to address assumptions about subtle Southern racism. Ultimately, Paisley fell on his ass and the song was considered by both music and social critics to be generally terrible, but it still sparked a public conversation about race and country music. Not all of country music's forays into social commentary are going to be successful, but it is important that the genre, and fans, create a space for them.
Fortunately, "Girl In A Country Song" succeeds where "Accidental Racist" fails. By being so thoroughly on the mark, down to poking fun at lyrics taken directly from top-10 songs, Maddie & Tae are forcing us to talk about sexism in the genre that we love. They're also doing it in a way that doesn't sound like a lecture or put the men in the genre on the defensive. They're just invited to join the party, and leave their outdated ideas about women at the door.
It doesn't hurt that this track is infectiously fun, a something you'd have no problem adding to a playlist alongside Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, and Miranda Lambert. "Girl in a Country Song" is currently working its way up the charts, and has sold over 26,000 downloads on iTunes. On YouTube, the video surpassed a million views in just four days. It's clear that country music fans are interested in what Maddie & Tae have to say, and record executives in Nashville should pay attention.
If country fans continue to support progressive music with their wallets, we'll begin to see more artists like Maddie & Tae. Ditching sexism and other ass-backwards bigotry doesn't mean that country music has to lose any of its down home charm, but it does mean that artists need to be more vocal with their values instead of letting country's stalwarts control the narrative. Country music needs more artists who aren't afraid to tackle important social issues, even if their criticisms are more tongue-in-cheek than serious.