Country music can be a hard place for women. Lyrics have women being drowned in rivers, abandoned as whores, or obsessed over as angels-in-the-flesh. From the beginning of the Nashville scene, husbands, managers, and music labels kept a tight grip on female performers' money and artistic freedom. In response to the systemic misogyny of popular country music, we give you this playlist that celebrates "putting the cunt back in country."
Kacey Musgraves is looking to change a mammoth, 44.6 million-albums-sold-last-year music machine from the inside out. And she's going to use pot, homosexuality, and atheism to do it. "EGADS!", one might say. "POT, HOMOSEXUALITY, AND ATHEISM?!" And then one might think for a moment. "No, wait. Those aren't that exciting anymore," one might realize. "Pfffft, Kacey Musgraves, nice try, with your 'controversial' singing music record. NEXT." But wait. How often do you hear about any of the above in a COUNTRY album? How often are small-town Texas and big-town Nashville starting those conversations? ZING! That's what I thought. Kacey Musgraves is a native of the former, and a product of the latter, and she's changing the genre that made her one song at a time.
Last night, nine million of us set aside our differences, turned on our TVs, and watched Connie Britton and Hayden Panetierre go country. That's right y'all, it was the premiere of ABC's Nashville, a Music City version of All About Eve with enough rhinestones, twang, and Powers Boothe bitchface to fill the Grand Ole Opry (which they did, because the first few scenes were actually filmed there). In keeping with ABC's reputation for primetime soaps, last night's episode set up plenty of fun hot-people-with-secrets drama, but it also set up a tired Madonna/whore dynamic between its two female leads. Set to a kickass soundtrack, of course.
The advent of Garage Band as a major media outlet for musicians and songwriters has provided a great many opportunities for the reinvention of the earnest acoustic wheel in the last five years or so. Shane and Essy are not reinventing that wheel. They are not inventing twang, they are not inventing milky-smoky vocals, they are not inventing dusty-country-roads guitar accompaniment. But they are making all of those older invetions look (and sound) real good-like.
A couple of commenters have raised questions about progressiveness in country music. Today, I want to suggest that there are progressive voices, at least in Americana, roots, and alt country music, but those voices are limited. They are almost always white, and usually populist and male. There are a few women in country who arguably identify as feminists. None of these artists are evangelical Christians like some major label country musicians, but faith imagery permeates much of their songwriting. It is often used in visions of a Utopian future, or it takes on a perverse meaning.
There's a script for women in commercial country music that doesn't necessarily coincide with more mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about women. If you've ever heard Carrie Underwood's ubiquitous 2007 single, "Before He Cheats" (lyrics), you'll recognize the tropes.
Of course there are exceptions, but the ideal country woman is often blond (and white), feisty, world-wise, and hot. She is deeply possessive of her man, and aims to squelch competitors for his affection. She gives the appearance of working-class roots even if she didn't grow up working class, and she's equally comfortable talking about guns (Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"), Jesus (Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel"), and heterosexual romantic relationships (Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away").
One of the newer variations on these themes is the girl group Pistol Annies (Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley). Check out the first single of their August LP, Hell on Heels (lyrics):
Americana artist Gillian Welch has always included southern Christian imagery in her work. Though not native to the South, her music is at its most comfortable when it explores the tragedy and violence of working-class survival in the region. Welch and partner David Rawlings write and record sparse songs unlike any others. In part, this has to do with Rawlings' masterful guitar work, but it also stems from Welch's unuusal singing voice.
See "The Way it Goes" from new album, The Harrow and the Harvest (lyrics here):
My name is Kristin Rawls, and, yes, I am a preacher's daughter. I'm in my early 30s, and I was raised in an unusual blend of Protestant traditions. The preacher (my dad) grew up in the Southern Baptist church, got "saved" during the Pentecostal-influenced "Jesus movement" of the 1970s and ultimately settled in a mainline (not fundamentalist) tradition. My family practiced a confusing mix of them all. The result? I became pretty cynical about the the whole thing.
This blog series is named after blueswoman Michelle Malone's song, "Preacher's Daughter" (transcript here):