“Girls! What do you mean ‘girls’?!” I shout at my car radio every other day. I’m responding to a jewelry store ad, hawking some bling that your (presuming you are a man) “girl” has been eyeing. The diamond rings are “what every girl wants.” “How about ‘women’? Or men! Misogyny is alive and well!” I mutter to myself.
A song comes on. I turn up the station to hear the first few notes a little better. That’s the thing about country songs — most of them start out exactly the same. A few beats in and … yes, oh hell yes. “She grew up around here on that southwest side / Where the corn grows up to the road side,” I sing, loudly. I freaking love Josh Turner and I’m swaying in my seat, crooning the chorus, “I need a pretty little homegrown hometown girl / With a ribbon tying back those waterfall curls.”
And there I am, a country music loving feminist cruising down the highway (cue Florida Georgia Line banger, “Cruise”.) What’s more, I’m an irreligious, country music loving feminist, who belts FGL’s “God, Your Mama, and Me.” Hell, I even like their mega-religious hit, “H.O.L.Y.”
I can’t quite reconcile my convictions with my country obsession. Sexist jewelry ads piss me off, and yet, I am an adoring country music fan. I’m the worst kind too — I’m really not very discerning. Yes, the Dixie Chicks will always, always be my favorite band. I love Randy Travis and Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson and Shania Twain and Lynn Anderson — the list goes on. Don’t even get me started on contemporary female country singers, ones who can knock me to my knees — here’s looking at you Miranda Lambert — like Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark.
At the end of the day, though, I equally love all those “pop-country” crooners — mainly dudes — blasting through my speakers every day.
And no, I don’t think the Chicks or Shania would appreciate Luke Bryan’s “Play it Again,” with such quotable tidbits as, “She was sittin’ all alone over on the tailgate/ Tan legs swingin’ by a Georgia plate/ I was lookin’ for her boyfriend/ Thinkin’, no way she ain’t got one.”
But I don’t care.
My relationship with country music is as long and as tear-stained as the very songs the genre produces. Well, sort of. Growing up in a small rural town in southeastern Virginia, I heard country music nonstop on the car radio — until I could drive my own car. Then, in what we assumed was the most badass act of rebellion we could imagine, my sister and I blasted anything that wasn’t drenched in cowboy boots and daisy duke references.
Rap was good. Moody punk was even better. Fuckin Frank Sinatra was the best. We rolled our eyes at our peers. We thought we were — and it pains me to say this now — “better” than country music.
I grew up and I grew out of what I now realize was a defense mechanism to keep country away from me. Josh Turner brought me back to myself (and I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that); my heart knew what it wanted. Turner’s “All Over Me,” released just before my second year of college, saturated my summer days, when I’d drive my shitty jeep around, meddling with my aux cord so the sound would reach the back speakers. “Bring on the sunshine, bring on a good time / Girl, let me look at you…”
The thing about country music — in addition to most of the songs sounding vaguely familiar — is that it’s not all sexist bullshit. It’s love, it’s heartache, it’s independence, it’s family. For me, it’s a connection to my home — to the musty smell of my father’s truck to the background noise of happy hour on the porch to the deep, oily smell of diesel fuel at the local marina, paired with a rusty old radio — there’s really nothing like it.
My fiance and I cook dinner to the sounds of Josh Turner and the Dixie Chicks; I drive with my windows down if and only if Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Backroad” is playing. I’ll probably stop you and ask about your truck’s Trump sticker, but I’ll stick around to sing the latest Jason Aldean song with you. Really, I will.
And when you, fellow irreligious feminist friend, tell me to “just Google that one article” about how all country songs sound the same, feature the same content, use the same damn lyrics — I’ll gladly oblige. I’ll smile, turn up my radio, and say, “Yeah, yeah they do. Isn’t it great?”