Maddie and Tae Are Having a Moment

Maddie and TaeBy 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.

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  1. says

    This still isn’t a song that I’ll be playing for my own listening pleasure, since it’s just not sonically my taste, but as I’ve considered that, I’ve come to the same conclusion that you’ve put so well here. It’s better that they’ve done it this way than my initial wish that they had made it more sonically appealing to my tastes. This song does need to fit into today’s current sound in order to have a chance of making any sort of difference. So, good for these two girls for doing that.

    • says

      Having read about this a good deal before actually hearing it, I was expecting to admire the message but dislike the sonic packaging and delivery. And so I wasn’t in a big hurry to listen. But when I did, I actually found the musical part better than expected – even setting aside the lyrics, I’d rather hear this than most of the songs it’s sending up. Not sure how it’ll sit next to Jason Isbell or Holly Williams on personal playlists, but I’ll enjoy it if/when it comes on the radio and probably buy a copy to help reinforce letting young women be people as a viable artist management strategy.

      • says

        I actually listened to it again after reading your article and I think it’s growing on me, because I don’t find the sound of it as annoying as I did the first time I heard it. I do plan to buy the song in order to support it on principle.

  2. KC says

    I hope you’re right that this song will change things, but I’m not so optimistic. It’s the country version of P!nk’s “Stupid Girls” which was also talked about a lot, but didn’t change anything.

  3. Albert says

    Good ” timely” lyric .

    Production kills it overall because it DOESN’T stand out from the musical wallpaper ‘country’ radio has become . Turn off the sound and the video looks like every other ‘daisy duke’ video …two attractive young girls with “painted on jeans ” dancing and singing on a tailgate . Shouldn’t they have been a couple of unmade-up farm girls in overalls milking cows or baling hay ,dirty and sweating like the ‘real’ girls they are singing about ?

  4. Felipe says

    Actually, these girls were signed with Scott by at least 6 months for now, since BML already had posted some songs of the duo on Soundcloud a few months ago. The decision to move them to Dot Records and everything was really smart, but they are completely faking it when they say it was a rush and a new discovery deal.

    • says

      That part of the timeline is a little hazy, but my understanding is that they were already signed to Big Machine’s publishing arm as songwriters, but it was “Girl in a Country Song” that prompted their upgrade to artists on the Dot imprint.

      Per a June 2 press release on the Big Machine site, concerning their signing to Dot:

      “Just three days after graduating from high school last June, Maddie & Tae moved to Nashville for a development “summer camp,” where their vocal harmonies and topical lyrics began to really shine. With a hearty catalogue of new material, the pair earned a full Big Machine Music publishing contract and shortly thereafter impressed Big Machine Label Group President and CEO SCOTT BORCHETTA and Stacey with their talents.”

      • Felipe says

        I’m not blaming you for writing that, and I’m sorry if that’s what it sounded like, but I’m blaming them for keep telling things like this to make us believe in that story.

        About 6 months ago, Maddie and Tae’s Soundcloud page contained about 4 songs, including Boomerang, a Heather Morgan penned tune that was already released as a single by Ashley Gearing. I believe the other 3 were co-written by the duo. But anyway, giving that timeline, obviously they didn’t record those 4 songs in a short period of time, as we know how things work, and if they were considering outside material, they were already planning a recording career. And if there was already a page called “Maddie and Tae” they weren’t just songwriters.

        I really like the song and hope them to succeed, but I find this made up story completely unnecessary.

        • me says

          Actually..they an over comment is spot on. They were songwriters for a while at big machine. Boomerang was not the Ashley gearing song, but a maddie & tae song with the same title (jana Kramer has since recorded it). They did not have a record deal until girl in a country song was written..some time after st. Patricks day

  5. pat says

    well i dont know i love the song i herd it on the radio and i loved it i wish i could meet them they made lots of music and there great singers man if they were part of my family that would be cool i want to be like them if i all country singers…


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