Now that “bro-country” is part of the broader musical lexicon — in that you can look it up in the damn Oxford English Dictionary — it would appear that we’re stuck with this subpar sub-genre of country music. Made famous by guys like Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell and other tight jeans-wearing party boys, bro-country is responsible for country music’s current lackluster state.
Last week, Bryan — the father of bro-country himself — took offense to that label. In an interview with Cleveland Entertainment, Bryan said that he finds the term “bro-country” to be “degrading,” in one of the biggest unintentional displays of irony of all time. “I feel the initial term ‘bro-country’ was created to be kind of a little degrading to what’s popular, to what country artists are doing right now,” Bryan says in the interview.
Well no shit, Luke. The term bro-country is not one that was bestowed out of love, but out of frustration and disgust with what had become the most popular music of the genre. What is most ironic, though, is Bryan’s deliberate choice of the word “degrading,” especially when you consider just how degrading the music that has made him one of the most influential men in country music is to the women who make and enjoy country music.
It's worth noting that some of Bryan’s bristling can be attributed to what he clearly views as an attack on his fans. “My fans are there because my version of music is what they love, and that’s what I’m all about,” Bryan argued. “When people say ‘Luke Bryan fans are nothing but beer drinkers,’ that makes me mad because I know they’re more than that. They are the people who make this country go round and round.” Unfortunately, though, they’re also the fans that have made some of Bryan’s most degrading tracks No. 1 hits.
Much of Bryan’s most sexist content is seemingly pretty harmless, especially in his 2015 release Kill the Lights. Many critics argued that this record was Bryan coming into maturity as an artist — at 40 years old. Still, consistent mentions of “little girl” and “come on, girl” are infantilizing and annoying, but certainly don’t have the same sort of sexualized content that, for example, can be found in his 2013 hit “Country Girl Shake It For Me.” “Shake it for the catfish swimming down deep in the creek,” he warbles over a bass-infused rhythm. “For the crickets and the critters and the squirrels.” Romantic indeed.
But Bryan has continued to produce lyrics that are progressively more sexual. “Strip It Down,” the most recently released single from Kill the Lights, is pretty explicitly about fucking. “Dirty dance me slow in the summertime heat/Feel my belt turn loose from these old blue jeans” isn’t exactly explicit, but it does hint at a very specific act. In nearly every Luke Bryan song, women are described exclusively as nameless conquests, certainly not the kind of sex that is associated with enthusiastic consent and, God forbid, women’s pleasure.
This is not to suggest that some women — many, even — don’t really enjoy Bryan and his music. Thousands of Facebook memes are dedicated to objectifying Bryan’s butt in tight jeans, and plenty of women would be happy to crawl up onto the tailgate with him at the drop of a cowboy hat. But women frequently enjoy or at least tolerate sexism from men in entertainment (Donald Trump has female supporters; some women defended Bill Cosby), and that doesn’t mean they’re not aware the lyrics are degrading to them.
The women who love Bryan just don’t give a shit that his music is sexist, and enjoy listening to twangy hip-hop-infused music whilst drinking Coors Light on a river bed, and that’s fine. Not everyone has to agree that country music should be a feminist utopia, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t women who enjoy country music and find themselves completely alienated from the genre because of guys like Bryan.
Which is why it's laughable that Bryan says the term “bro-country” is degrading. He clearly doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Let us not forget that this is a guy who told a reporter in 2013 that female artists weren’t as successful in country music as men because they can’t “hang with the guys” and spend too much time putting their makeup on, or as he said, "dolling up." In response to the “tomatoes” fiasco earlier this year, Bryan seemed confused as to why there weren’t many women in country music. “You’ve got to figure out why it’s going on and start making a concerted effort to start fixing that a little bit,” was his response.
Apparently, that effort doesn’t apply to him. Bryan clearly doesn’t plan to quit telling women to slide their “little hot self” over or bring him a beer, much less actually do anything to support female artists. At present, Bryan has no female artists on his tour, which could be a brilliant opportunity to introduce up-and-coming female artists to his audience. Last week, Bryan announced plans for his 2015 Farm Tour, a fundraising event that benefits students from farming communities, and only one woman — Chancie Neal — will join that lineup.
If Bryan should be offended by anything, it's his own inability to recognize how he's contributing to country music’s “woman problem,” both lyrically and in action. Poking fun at bro-country for being shallow and sexist isn’t “degrading,” but the lyrics that Bryan spews on the airwaves certainly are. If anyone in this situation is allowed to truly be offended, it's the women who have been begging for country music to pay attention to their music and their wishes, both fans and artists.