A few years ago, I saw Martina McBride live in concert.
Her show was pretty small with only a couple thousand people outside. While its settings were small, the music was not, nor McBride’s voice. And frankly, the former is something current country music could use more of.
Martina McBride is one of few country music singers I can appreciate in today’s market of increasing bro country.
Bro country, a subgenre of country music highlighting stereotypical themes of recreation for rural, young, adult males, is a narrow and unimaginative style of music.
There can only be so many songs about drinking beer, driving pickup trucks and womanizing. And there already are.
This is why women will save country music.
Women are quite underrepresented on the country charts today. As of April 4, two women were in the top 20 Hot Country Songs tracked by Billboard: Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris.
Now how will women save country music? Easy. They sing about things of substance.
McBride, for instance, has a catalog of wide ranging themes in her music, which extends to social issues.
Her songs have covered topics of child abuse, domestic violence, cancer and alcoholism, for example. Her 25-year career in music has had social relevance and positive messages in parts of all her albums.
Maddie & Tae, a more recent artist, also offer a breath of fresh air. The duo has a definite mainstream sound but not mainstream content.
In fact, their 2014 song “Girl In A Country Song” took a dig at bro country with a music video objectifying young men in skimpy outfits and lyrics jabbing bro country artists:
“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 your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along / and be the girl in a country song.”
Frankly, Maddie & Tae are right. Nameless, passive, young women are objectified in countless country songs of today’s music.
Take these lyrics from Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night,” for example:
“You’ve got that sun tan, skirt and boots / Waiting on you to look my way and scoot / Get your little hot stuff over here / girl, hand me another beer.”
Bryan, however, takes “offense” to being labeled as bro country artist, as he said in an online interview.
“I feel the initial term ‘bro-country’ was created to be kind of a little degrading to what’s popular, to what country artists are doing right now,” he said. “It’s frustrating because whichever artists may or may not get labeled as that, they’re well beyond that. For people to call me the father of it, well, whatever. It just seems like a term that was invented to cheapen me as an artist.”
OK, well, whatever, Luke.
Country singer Merle Haggard, who died Wednesday, had a career spending decades and told The Forum last year today’s country artists “sound like a bunch of (crap) to me.”
“They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody,” he said to The Forum.
We need a little variety in country music themes. We need subject matter beyond trucks and girls and beer.
We also need more women on country radio.
That’s why we need Maren Morris to sing about her church.
We need Maddie & Tae to sing about fishing.
We need Kasey Musgraves to sing about following your arrow.
And we need Martina McBride. Good Lord, does country music need her.