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Why Bro Country Is the Sound of My Summer, Every Summer

If 'cracking open a cold one with the boys' had a soundtrack, it would definitely be Luke Bryan.

by Emma Garland
28 June 2017, 2:56pm

As soon as summer suggests its arrival, my friends begin to hate me. The moment the temperature rises to a level where I can sleep on top of the bedcovers and drink a pint outside without spilling half of it on the road due to shivering like a dog on the bus, my listening habits take a turn down an even more divisive road than usual. Gone is the respectable spread of Paris Hilton, My Chemical Romance and Daddy Yankee that usually comprises my music library in order to make room for the arrival of: bro country.

For the unacquainted, "bro country" is the term you would use to describe country music with a hard edge. We're talking Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton. We're talking Dierks Bentley, Tucker Beathard and Jason Aldean. We're talking white men with patchy facial hair, script tattoos and woven leather bracelets who appear on album covers with their arm resting upon one raw denim-clad knee, looking wistfully into the distance. Like most traditional country artists, the majority of their songs are about cold beer, heartbreak and trucks – what sets them apart is the fact that they sound less like Hank Williams and more like Fall Out Boy.

The relationship between country music and pop-punk, which goes both ways, was well summarised in this article on Pitchfork earlier this month, so instead – for my first Noisey Staff column that you will probably never return to after this – I am going to tell you a little bit about why I think bro country is absolutely class.

Firstly, IT IS ABSOLUTELY CLASS, LADS, ARE YOU DEAF? Genuinely though, bro country makes me feel joy unlike any other genre. Its formulaic template of a mid-tempo beat, bouncy melody and jumping-into-the-air-in-slow-motion power chorus is soaked in blind optimism. Like Blink-182 or the Beach Boys, it has a sense of reckless abandon about it. It's "taps-aff" music. It's pissing into the wind music. It's locking eyes with someone across the bar and becoming overwhelmed by a rush possibility music. It is also nursing a drink alone or driving around feeling sorry for yourself but also very much enjoying it music, which has its merits too.

There is something about the gentle sway of Tucker Beathard's "Rock On" – essentially "Single Ladies" for pied men – that makes me feel deeply relaxed. Chris Janson's "Buy Me A Boat" – whose hook goes: "Yeah, and I know what they say, money can't buy everything / Well, maybe so.... But it could buy me a boat" – is such an absolutely ridiculous mix of aspirational, superficial and dumb that every time I listen to it I feel like I've entered an uplifting new dimension through which irony has never passed. Same goes for Dierks Bentley's "Drunk On A Plane", which I initially thought was a parody song but is actually the biggest and best post-breakup 'fuck you' I've heard since Frankee and/or Eamon. It's party music, at the end of the day, which is something that will often be looked down upon whether it's Justin Bieber, Good Charlotte or Luke Bryan.

For the record, I cannot stress enough how absent bro country is within the UK. Even Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" – the best-selling digital country song of all time in the US – only managed to crawl to a peak of number 75 in the UK country charts, and that was only thanks to the remix with Nelly. I have played country and bro country alike to my music-loving friends and each of them has looked at me with the same expression of concern as when I declared my crush on Disney's Robin Hood. So far the only person to indulge me has been a friend from North Carolina, and he only made things worse by sending me a two-hour-and-ten-minute Spotify playlist titled "Breaux Country".

Obviously, the genre is not without its criticisms. Pretty much every song is about being horny or being dumped, and you'd be hard pressed to find a video without a white woman with a bikini top on her impossible body requiring assistance at the gas station. This sort of thing has sparked a war between traditional country artists and the 21st-century wave of country bros. Zac Brown (not entirely wrongly) claimed Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind Of Night" as the "worst song I've ever heard," Garth Brooks literally banned bro country from his comeback tour, and even Kenny Chesney – writer of such songs as "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" – sounded off to Billboard about the genre's objectification of women, saying: "over the last several years, it seems like anytime anybody sings about a woman, she's in cutoff jeans, drinking and on a tailgate." There's even a bro country diss track in the form of Maddie and Tae's "Girl In A Country Song."

There's a line between a well-meaning song about a crush and lazy sexism, and that line is the difference between Joe Nichols' "Yeah" and Joe Nichols' "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off". In my humble non-American opinion, bro country is at its best when it skews towards the former. Maybe it's because my real life is neurotic and horrible, but there's something quite charming about the fact that bro country is mostly comprised of hyper-masculine dudes – and Cassadee Pope – having some feelings. Just kind of grinning, identifying a basic emotion – namely happy or sad – and not caring to analyse it any further. It takes everything complicated and frustrating about life and lust and boils it all down to one, easy-to-digest image of two people relaxing against a Chevy, sharing an alcoholic beverage in matching plaid. Reductive? Absolutely, but also quite comforting in the same way watching Love Island or lying on the beach doing sweet fuck all is comforting.

It may be the same song and structure over and over, but that's also true of the All Time Low brand of pop punk or the Little Mix brand of pop. Being formulaic doesn't necessarily make something any less enjoyable. I suppose it's something of a blessing that I am never exposed to country music unless I choose to be, so all these songs have managed to retain their charm for me more than they might for someone who has to hear Brantley Gilbert's "Bottoms Up" whenever they go to the shop. Still, when you're feeling sad, drunk and broke, bro country is there to pick you up and pat you on the back while offering some uselessly feelgood advice like "you're alright". If cracking open a cold one with the boys had a soundtrack, it would definitely be bro country. It's the sound of the summer, every summer.

Then again I have, on several occasions, had to be talked out of getting "FREE BIRD" tattooed on the backs of my legs, so I would say that.

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