By now, you are almost certainly aware of Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song.” Just in case you’re not, though…
Two teenage girls newly signed to Big Machine’s Dot Records imprint have released a ‘bro country’ answer song – calling out all the familiar tropes and many of the specific songs – that’s so on-the-nose and of-the-moment that it has Yahoo Music, NPR, The Washington Post, Saving Country Music, Farce the Music, Rolling Stone, Country Weekly, Taste of Country, and most other country media outlets talking. As a mark of the extent to which this song has captured the country zeitgeist and become water cooler discussion, it was discussed on NBC’s Today Show the same morning its music video was exclusively premiered by NPR – not your typical debut single rollout for a new act. Within the country realm, “Girl in a Country Song” was the most added song at radio this week.
How fast has this happened? Maddie & Tae weren’t even signed to a label until last month. When they did sign, it was on the strength of “Girl in a Country Song.” That song was only written back in March, just as Scott Borchetta was announcing that Dot Records would be revived but offering no details on who would be signed. Because he didn’t know yet or because he needed to keep plans under wraps? Possibly because the song that would inspire the label’s first signing had scarcely even been written.
So what’s all the fuss about? Lyrics like these, for one thing:
Being 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, nothing 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 it sounds good, too. Two teenage girls have accomplished what a hundred beardy guys bitching about Nashville couldn’t: They’re effecting change from within. Slick and pretty enough to appear on radio and video playlists alongside the acts they’re calling out, but with backbone. Their beef is ideological, not musical – and so, for the inattentive radio listener who can’t be troubled with what songs are about, this might pass the cursory sniff test of sounding like any other country hit. To those who do pay attention to messages, it’s warmly delivered and funny enough to actually make the trouble with ‘bro country’ clear to those who never felt bad about enjoying “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”
In other words, it’s an answer song geared toward people who actually listen to the songs it’s answering. One precisely calibrated to get through the door and have an impact at country radio, where its success – if it proves successful – could go some way toward broadening the range of expression available to country women and normalizing fuller, fairer handling of gender relations by country men. This is the sort of song that elevates the discussion by entering it: It shouldn’t be possible to hear this and go right back to building songs of the same old casual, unthinking misogyny.
Which won’t keep Chase Rice from trying.
Oddly, the modern sound of “Girl in a Country Song” might limit its appeal among those who agree so heartily with its message that they already left country radio for the more fertile pastures of roots or Americana and never looked back. Even as it rides a wave of anti-bro sentiment, “Girl in a Country Song” doesn’t seem built for preaching to that choir. Rather, it’s a song for the in-between space where change actually happens: Enough to tip the scale, but not so much that it comes crashing down. If the sheen turns you off and you wish they’d excoriated Luke Bryan & Co. even more mercilessly, this isn’t for you. For the audience it’s aiming to reach, it’s exactly right. And probably pretty important.
Having struck a fine balance with the lyric and recording, the duo has done it again with the music video, which does a good job of mocking the more ludicrous elements of modern country videos while remaining sweet and sunny enough to live alongside said videos on CMT and GAC. Neat trick.
I don’t know where Maddie & Tae go from here, but they have my attention.