In Defense of Bro-Country

By 2015 there was a sense that what is termed "Bro-Country" was a fad that had worn itself out. Since then, however, there has been a resurgence of Bro- that is not likely to diffuse any time soon. Being new to Country music, I only recently discovered that I was a fan of Bro-Country without realizing it. To me, as one who never listened to Country radio, I thought that what I heard was Country music -- modern Country music, no doubt, but Country regardless. Then I began to study Country music.

The disgust leveled against New- or Bro-Country artists by Country "purists" is unparalleled in the music industry. City Pages relentlessly lists their Top 10 "douchebag" New-Country artists, including the likes of Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan, Florida-Georgia Line, and Kenny Chesney. (link) (Hunter Hayes and Keith Urban are "spared the guillotine because they can really shred on guitar.") The primary complaint against Bro-Country is the formulaic nature of Bro- lyrics: namely, "repeated lyrical themes of partying associated with Friday nights, alcoholic beverages, and trucks, as well as its exclusion of female country artists." Is this the fault of Bro- artists or the industry?

I disagree that females are inherently and, more importantly, intentionally excluded from a Bro- context. Women, typically, merely think and express themselves differently; yet women are at Bro-Country concerts, beer in hand and ready to party on a Friday night, stepping out of their husbands' or boyfriends' or their own truck -- all the elements that comprise Bro-Country themes. In other words, themes such as having fun, getting together, drinking on a Friday night, wearing a good pair of jeans and boots, driving a truck, etc., are the aspects of life for many people; and that is why so many identify with, sing along to, love and, most significantly, purchase Bro- music.

Sure, female Country artists are not "bros," but many female Country artists engage Bro- themes. Maggie Rose, for example, has no issue being the girl often referenced in Bro- songs, as she demonstrates in her song, "Girl in Your Truck Song." Maggie does not want to be objectified, of course, but she does enjoy the Southern mentality rife with trucks, jeans, boots, drinks and country boys. Still, female Country artists maintain their own niche, often singing about the man who cheated on them ("Before He Cheats" and "Dirty Laundry" by Carrie Underwood), a man not being good enough ("A Better Man" by Little Big Town, which is written by Taylor Swift; "Cowboy Cassanova" by Carrie Underwood), lost love ("I Could Use a Love Song" by Maren Morris) and revenge ("Kerosene" and "Mama's Broken Heart" by Miranda Lambert).  Female Country artists nurture their own specialized alcove within a male-dominated genre.

Who primarily purchases music? According to an October 2016 find, Spinditty reports, from a Consumer Trends survey by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), that people over age 45 purchase more music than their younger counterparts (link), and females spend the most money on music. (link) Think about this demographic, then, when considering the popularity of Bro-Country music. First, listeners must be enjoying the subgenre, otherwise they would not purchase the music. Second, if women are offended by the themes promoted in Bro-Country music, they would not purchase and financially support the music via attending concerts, etc.

Before we are too hasty to ridicule Bro- lyrical themes, let us consider that Country music has generally and historically been perceived as entailing heartbreak, the use of alcohol, the blues, a dog on a front porch, freedom and Southern-American values (as related to the received traditions of those in the South) and good 'ol lovin'.

Even Country artists like the late Merle Haggard, no fan of New-Country music, sang about themes related to alcohol ("Who'll Buy the Wine," "Heaven Was a Drink of Wine," "Misery and Gin," "Back to the Barrooms Again," "I Don't Want to Sober Up Tonight," "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," "Why Am I Drinking?"), the military or pride of country ("Soldier's Last Letter," "Here Comes the Freedom Train," "Good Old American Guest,"), and women ("The Farmer's Daughter," "Carolyn," "It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)," "My Woman Keeps Lovin' Her Man," "I Wonder What She'll Think about Me Leaving," "To All the Girls I've Loved Before"). In other words, we are not permitted to to critique Bro- music for promoting themes inherent in Country music for decades by traditional Country artists, at least not without being called hypocrites.



A refresher course in Country music might be helpful. Consider some of Conway Twitty's singles: "She's Mine," "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On," "The Pickup," "There's a Honky Tonk Angel (Who'll Take Me Back In)," "Play Guitar Play," "Georgia Keeps Pulling on My Ring," "Boogie Grass Band," "I'd Love to Lay You Down," "Tight Fittin' Jeans," "Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night," "Between Blue Eyes and Jeans." What we find is typical Country fodder: Women, love, guitar playing, cheating (adultery), sex, and jeans -- the same notions we find in New- or Bro-Country music.

I think what troubles purists (and that term is quite misleading, given the relative nature of preference to an older sound or style of Country music, say of the 1960s or 1970s) is that today's New-Country music does not sound like the Country music of yesteryear. Certainly the likes of Sam Hunt, Chris Lane, Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett sound like a blend of Pop and R&B with a Country flair. Florida-Georgia Line intentionally break boundaries with their Southern-Rock/Pop/R&B/Country-tinged sound.

Yet I think what we should ask ourselves is not necessarily whether New-Country must sound just like Old-Country but if New-Country is good and entertaining music. The problem with such a question, however, is the relative nature of the question itself. Someone will love Cole Swindell and Luke Bryan while not necessarily appreciating Hank Williams or Willie Nelson and Lynn Anderson or Tammy Wynette. But styles within any genre of music change and we, culturally, must also evolve or get left behind.

For example, in the Summer of 1955, the number one song on Rock charts was "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets. In the Summer (July) of 1965, the number one song was "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. In the Summer (July) of 1975, the number one song was "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain and Tennille. In the Summer (July 13-20) of 1985, the number one song was "A View to a Kill" by Duran Duran. Within the Rock genre, the sound changed drastically, from Bill Haley & His Comets to the Rolling Stones, Captain and Tennille, to Duran Duran. Did Rock purists complain about emerging new Rock sounds? Absolutely! Perhaps, then, what we are truly complaining about is change; but we mask our reluctance to change by promoting our preferences as viable complaints.

As to radio DJs and Country music industry-types being weary of Bro-Country formulae: consider that this repetitive nature is shared by all genres of music: all radio stations (Rock, R&B/Rap, Country, Gospel, Pop) play their particular brand of genre over and over and over again, all day long, every single day. Because Country industry folk play songs all day, every day, they can more easily become tired with hearing recurrent themes such as tractors and trucks and drinking and love and jeans and boots and heartbreak and cheating, etc. Without doubt Pop music industry-types maintain the same complaint. This is, then, not a valid complaint against Bro-Country music.

Consider, lastly, a truth that I think Blake Shelton spoke in defense of Bro-Country music. Generally, Country music has always presented lyrics that were true-to-life for Southerners, and they include elements in which these people live their very lives. The themes in Bro-Country music -- i.e., trucks, boots, tractors, drinking with friends on Friday night, love, values, pro-military, loving a good woman -- are not just ideological tropes placed in rhyme to sell music. These themes are experienced in the lives of those who identify with and purchase Bro-Country music. Art, then, is imitating life; and many of us are enjoying hearing these themes sung about through the speakers in our trucks. Moreover, New-Country has given me, personally, an introduction into Old-Country, as well -- an introduction that I would not have encountered otherwise.

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Jon Bream, "Women Edged Out by 'Bro-Country' Party Song Trend?" in The Seattle Times. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 24 April 2014.

ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.