The Bro-Country Backlash Is Here

"Girl in a Country Song" skewers the last few years of Nashville machismo—which is a refreshing change, and smart business.

Dot Records

Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye are calling Nashville out.

Not that you’d know it to hear them talk. The two 18 year olds, who together make up new country duo Maddie & Tae, come across as sweet, effervescent, and totally innocuous when talking about their upcoming debut single, “Girl in a Country Song.”

“One day ... we were just talking about all the country songs we love that are on radio right now ...” Tae says in a videotaped interview. It’s left to their co-writer Aaron Scherz to finish the thought: “And Maddie said, ‘You know, I’d hate to be the girl in those country songs.’”

No wonder. As Entertainment Weekly’s Grady Smith has documented so well, “bro- country” has taken over Nashville. You could play Country Radio Bingo—some people actually do—with all the references to downing endless beers, driving in trucks on dirt roads, and dancing on tailgates in the moonlight. While women are usually essential to these activities, they’re referred to simply as random, almost Frankenstein-like collections of scantily clothed body parts—most often tanned legs in cutoffs.

Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” is usually cited as one of the worst examples, though in fact it’s typical. It starts as follows:

I got that real good feel good stuff,
Up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck,
Rollin’ on 35s,
Pretty girl by my side.
You got that sun tan, skirt and boots,
Waiting on you to look my way and scoot
Your little hot self over here,
Girl, hand me another beer, yeah!

Those two sweet 18 year olds have something to say about that.

Bein’ the girl in a country song
How in the world did it go so wrong?
Like all we’re good for is looking good for
You and your friends on the weekend, nothin’ more
We used to get a little respect
Now we’re lucky if we even get
To climb up in the truck,
Keep our mouth shut
Ride along
And be the girl in a country song

And a little later, as though in specific response to Bryan and some half-a-dozen other singers’ invitations to scoot or slide on over:

Tell me one more time you gotta get you some of that
Sure I’ll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped

Cheekily appropriating much of the sound of modern country, the two young women directly quote well-known bro-country lyrics and titles, from the likes of Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, and Blake Shelton. Everything gets lampooned, from the cutoffs (“it’s gettin’ kinda cold in these painted-on cutoff jeans”) to the constant use of “girl” and similar epithets:

I hear you over there on your tailgate whistlin’
Sayin’ "Hey girl," but you know I ain’t listenin’
’Cause I got a name and to you it ain’t
"Pretty little thing," "honey," or "baby"

As Dot Records general manager Chris Stacey says in his new duo’s introductory video, “That’s a viewpoint we haven’t heard in the marketplace before.” Not, at least, since the glory days of Conway Twitty and George Strait, the only two male singers to get respectful tributes in “Girl in a Country Song” as men who “never did it this way.” Strait, who’s still recording, is one of the few who’s never given in, even the tiniest bit, to the “bro-country” trend.

At this particular moment, he should be glad he didn’t. Because the undeniably catchy "Girl in a Country Song" has the makings of a hit, generating strong buzz ahead of its official July 15 iTunes release. It arrives at a time when more and more audiences, critics, and even male singers have been expressing bro-country fatigue and wondering whatever happened to the great women of country—at a time when those few female country singers who do still have influence, like Miranda Lambert, are generating good sales with their own calls for change.

Plus there’s another, surprising reason to predict that the single finds an audience: It’s being put out and promoted by Big Machine Label Group, of which Dot Records is an imprint.

That would be the same ultra-successful Big Machine that numbers among its artists Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett, etc.* Which means Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta is releasing a song that attacks many of his own most prominent artists.

Why? Maybe Borchetta just thinks of the track as a cute novelty song that’ll make a splash and then disappear. Or maybe he’s employing the keep-your-enemies-close tactic. Or maybe, he's just a savvy enough businessman to know when his company has pushed a trend as far as it will go, and is ready to get out in front of the ensuing countertrend.

“Females are going to love this record,” Borchetta predicts in the video. Meanwhile, “every guy that we’ve played it for laughs at it.” Maybe. But if “Girl in a Country Song” is the hit many hope it will be—the kind of hit that can shake up a moribund music scene—Nashville’s men may be singing a different song.

* This post initially stated that Luke Bryan is on Big Machine. We regret the error.