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Country's “Girl Crush” Controversy Shows that When the Bros Win, LGBT People and Women Lose

The type of sexuality that country music is comfortable with is absolutely never queer, and absolutely never focuses on pleasure for women.
April 4, 2015, 4:00pm

Photo courtesy of Little Big Town

Country music is not known for being the most progressive genre. It seems like the genre is always taking one step forward (Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow”) and then two giant steps back (anything by Luke Bryan). Last week, fans of country music showed just how ass-backwards many of them can be by protesting radio airplay of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” a song that purportedly sensualizes a fantasy, quasi-sexual relationship between two women.

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Little Big Town isn’t exactly the kind of act that attracts controversy, either. Other tracks, like “Day Drinkin’” and “Boondocks” fit more into pop country's beer-drenched party tunes, and they rarely wade into issues that are even remotely political. Now, they've found themselves in the middle of a controversy that some have likened to the massive backlash faced by the Dixie Chicks after the trio made divisive comments about former President Bush and the Iraq War.

Allison Lynn, a country DJ in Boise, Idaho, told The Washington Post that she received an onslaught of hate mail and phone calls from listeners after playing the Little Big Town track on her station. According to Lynn, listeners accused the station of “promoting the gay agenda” and threatened boycotts. Radio stations across the country have since pulled the song from their airwaves.

Of course, this controversy is even more ridiculous than what happened to the Dixie Chicks. If these outraged listeners (i.e. idiots) had even bothered to listen to the lyrics, they’d realize that “Girl Crush” isn’t even about being gay. The track, which sounds like a mix of Lorrie Morgan’s “It’s A Heartache” and old Patsy Cline ballads, is actually about being jealous of an ex-boyfriend’s new love. It’s like a

Single White Female

remake of “Jolene.” There is undoubtedly sexualization of the woman in question, but only in that she’s a sexy woman who appeals to the man that the singer wants.

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I want her long blonde hair

I want her magic touch

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then

You’d want me just as much

I got a girl crush

Even a hint of “the gay agenda” is clearly too much for country listeners, though in what may be surprising to even hardcore fans of country music, there has always been an small, alternative subset of the genre that focuses on queer issues. Sexuality is sort of the “final frontier” in country music, evidenced by a depressing dearth of out country artists. Ty Herndon, Billy Gillman, and Chely Wright all came out of the closet long after their careers had peaked; late last year, Gillman came out in a tear-jerking YouTube video, saying that “I'm in a genre, in an industry that is ashamed of me for being me." Lavender Country, a Seattle-based country band led by Patrick Haggerty, was comprised almost entirely of homosexual members. Their 1972 song “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” is widely considered to be one of the first (and only) gay country songs, known only to gay fans of the genre and music nerds who discovered the track when it was re-released by Paradise of Bachelors in 2014.

Homosexuality may be the genre’s remaining taboo, but women expressing their sexuality isn’t exactly acceptable, either. A 2012 study of sexualization of women in music found that female country musicians were the least likely of female musicians in any genre to portray or display any kind of sexuality in music videos. Another analysis found that Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill” contains the sole mention of a female orgasm in the genre’s history, and it is certainly subtle -- “the feelin’ good comes easy now.”

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And let’s be real—country music has never been afraid to talk about sex, so long as it’s heterosexual dudes who are laying down the tracks. Conway Twitty made an entire career out of writing seductive songs, like the 1973 title track “You’ve Never Been This Far Before.” This ode to taking a young woman’s virginity—no joke—contains these lyrics:

I don't know what I'm saying

as my trembling fingers touch forbidden places

I only know that I have waited

for so long for the chance that we are taking

More recently, the genre’s racier songs have gotten much more explicit in their sexual messages. The ascent of “bro-country” has made it entirely acceptable to write lots of songs about having sex, so long as they follow a specific set of gender roles: the hyper-masculine man, the submissive, sexually available woman. Artists like Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, and Florida Georgia Line aren’t afraid of openly talking about fucking anymore, but they insist on doing it in a way that is almost always dehumanizes women. Chris Young’s “Gettin’ You Home” is entirely about getting his date home so that he can talk her out of her little black dress and she can “love him all night long.” More egregiously, the never exactly high-brow Florida Georgia Line’s song “Sun Daze” is all about getting stoned, getting laid, and taking a woman out in the sticks so that he can stick his “pink umbrella” in her “drink.”

Still, country has always been a genre full of love songs, and some of those are inevitably going to be about sex—until now, the kind of sex where female pleasure is completely discarded in favor of a man’s wishes, where she is an object instead of an actual person with agency and desires. The type of sexuality that country music is comfortable with is absolutely never queer, and absolutely never focuses on the pleasure of women.

This shame surrounding non-heteronormative sexuality in country music goes far beyond “Girl Crush,” which itself isn’t a legitimate example of LGBT inclusion. That shame will continue to exist until country fans stop acting like assholes by supporting artists that are actively working to keep women and queer artists out of the genre by perpetuating harmful ideas about sexuality. Until country music artists and their fans can grow up enough to realize that being more inclusive will actually improve the genre, female and queer artists still have a long row to hoe in terms of having their identities and sexualities recognized, and ultimately, respected.

Amy McCarthy is boot scootin' the patriarchy on Twitter.