Closed Minds and Country Music

Country music is a big deal where I’m from. When tuning into local radio at any given time, you’re most likely to hear gospel music, sports broadcasts or country hits. Personally, what they play on country radio stations today isn’t really my style, so it takes a lot to make me want to talk about mainstream country music. But this week, I came across some headlines that caught my attention.

Alabama superstars, Little Big Town, were surprised to see their catchy new tune spark widespread controversy for being too “provocative.”

Now, I will admit that “Girl Crush” contains lyrics that could be misconstrued if listeners don’t pay attention to the full song. After a close listen, it turns out to be a song about jealousy.

Even I’m in the loop enough to know that most empowering females in the country music world sing about betrayal and bitterness toward men, and they all handle those emotions differently. While Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift seek out revenge on their exes by slashing tires and smashing windows, “Girl Crush” is a different take on the same story.

But the lyrics have upset quite a few people. I can definitely picture conservative fans hearing the song for the first time and freaking out when they hear the female lead sing “I wanna taste her lips.” Of course they tune out immediately and miss the very next line “Yeah, ‘cause they taste like you.”

This poor girl is clearly singing to her ex who left her for someone else. All she wants to do is live up to the standards that this new girl supposedly meets. She “wants everything she has” so the guy will love her the same way. It’s really quite the sob story.

I appreciate what Jason Owen, Little Big Town’s manager, had to say in The Tennessean:

“Everyone always focuses on the negative and they make the negative a bigger deal than the positive,” Owen said. “In my opinion, we’ve had so much positive about this song from day one, from critics, from fans, from the industry. Everyone has said this is the best song on the record if not of Little Big Town’s career. Anytime there’s an inkling of drama, that comes to the top and becomes the story.”

This is true about a lot of major news stories we see in the South. As soon as anyone says anything “controversial,” it’s on the front page. Conservatives and liberals alike tend to jump to conclusions, and misconceptions abound when people don’t open their minds.

The Washington Post suggests that country radio is the problem, and in fact it may actually be dying out. Those who are still regularly tuning into the radio are more likely to have traditional, old-fashioned values than younger, more progressive audiences that are buying music from iTunes. “Girl Crush” currently sits at the top of iTunes’ country music charts, but it’s falling behind on radio rankings. Several fans are going so far as to threaten to stop listening if stations keep playing the song.

A music director for a country station in Texas wrote a blog post about the angry phone calls and emails she received firsthand. She defended Little Big Town, saying that although she was skeptical at first, she loved the song after listening to it, and she doesn’t understand how people can actually think that this song is trying to push “the gay agenda” on listeners.

Country music fans, please try to have an open mind about songs you are hearing on the radio today and if you don’t like them, that’s fine, but don’t not like them for the wrong close-minded reasons.

This whole ordeal might be saying something bigger about the generational gap in the music industry. I can see why fans who thought the song had a completely different meaning were upset, but would it really be right for them to be upset even then?

The media has been normalizing homosexuality for years. We see it on television every day on Glee, Jane the Virgin, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, House of Cards, The Office, Modern Family, Friends, Mad Men—the list could go on and on. Perhaps these shows aren’t getting the same kind of attention because of the audiences they cater to. I’m fairly certain that the writers of Orange is the New Black don’t have the same concerns as country music writers.

The Post talked to Karen Fairchild from Little Big Town about the close-mindedness of listeners:

As for the lyrics tripping up listeners, Fairchild guesses people hear the “taste her lips” line sung by a female singer and take assumptions from there — she’s still surprised by the controversy. “That’s just shocking to me, the close-mindedness of that, when that’s just not what the song was about,” Fairchild said, “But what if it were? It’s just a greater issue of listening to a song for what it is.”

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