I want to let you in on a secret of mine. I, Mary Luncsford, really truly sincerely enjoy country music. I think it all began when I was a child (I’m lying down on a couch as I write this). My mom would put on that channel that played the country music videos all day and I would watch and dance and it was all downhill from there. Once something holds some sort of nostalgic quality, there’s really no going back. Over the years, I have learned to hide my love for horrifically corny, sentimental songs about heartache and wide open spaces. I have PLAYED IT COOL (or at least tried my hardest). But lately I’ve been thinking (and listening to a LOT of Kasey Musgraves), and really country music has some redeeming qualities. The one I would like to share with you today is that country music is full of WOMEN. BEING. DONE. WITH. YOUR. SHIT. Please imagine me clapping my hands between each of those words.
I would like to make a disclaimer before I give you some examples of this. I am VERY aware that the whole of the genre is extremely white-washed and functions on the idea that everyone is straight. And the majority of country songs, whether about love or heartbreak, center around the ideal of the heteronormative relationship. The genre is problematic. No question. But I would like to use the idea of reparative reading (thanks, Eve Sedgwick!!) to look at what some women in country music are doing to push back within this oppressive masculine structure. Is this okay? Are we cool? Just message me if not and we can totally talk about this more.
First, let us begin with Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 classic “Harper Valley PTA.”
This is a tune about a woman being chastised for dressing and behaving in a way that the local PTA deem “inappropriate.” Does Mrs. Johnson just accept this? No way! She marches into the PTA meeting and calls out the members on their hypocrisy. Preach.
Next let me bring to your attention a little song called “The Pill,” by the Queen Mother of country music, Loretta Lynn.
She’s done having babies! She’s got birth control! She’s got autonomy over her body and her life! Just try to stop her! Considering women’s reproductive rights is STILL a debate we’re having, the fact that this song debuted in 1975 is pretty badass. Thank you, Ms. Lynn.
Jo Dee Messina is my guiding light. I knew her songs before I was even in school. It’s hard to pick just one of them because there are so many that embody being a ~*strong woman doing her own thing*~. So I’m putting two on this list.
“Stand Beside Me” is PEAK JDM. “I want a man that stands beside me, not in front of or behind me.” Yes, this music video is perhaps the cheesiest thing ever created, but the message here is really empowering. Her lame boyfriend comes back and begs for her to forgive him (ugh). Does she go with him? NO. But it’s not as if she puts on that it’s an easy decision to make. “It’s hard to tell him no when I want him so bad, but I’ve got to be true to my heart.” She’s making the harder choice because it’s the one that is better for her. Imagine baby Mary with crossed eyes singing this song while standing on a coffee table. Don’t you feel inspired?? Same.
“Bye-Bye” is less dramatic than “Stand Beside Me”, but I still get a lot of life from it. And bonus: another A+ video. I feel like Jo Dee Messina could teach us all a lesson in being DONE with people who aren’t treating us like they should. In this scenario, she is finally fed up with her indecisive love interest. Instead of moping over lost love, she rips her rear-view mirror off!! I think that’s maybe illegal but whatever, good riddance!! Onto the next. Amen, Jo Dee. Amen.
The Dixie Chicks do not need an introduction. Their majesty stands on its own.
This is one of their more um…out-there songs. But what is girl power if it isn’t opening up a fruit stand with your bestie after murdering your abusive husband?? Please note the glory that was the bandana top.
Shania Twain is a country Queen from Canada. Her greatest hits album deserves its own shrine.
In this song, Shania rattles off her expectations for any man she dates. “Are her standards too high,” one might ask. Heck no! He’s gotta be considerate, charming, and PUNCTUAL. Plus, as this video shows, she’s so hardcore that she lives in a stable and frolics around a field in a denim on denim ensem. I think she knows what she’s talking about here.
More currently, Nikki Lane is smearing the image of the perfectly tidy country singer. She swears, she has tattoos and when I saw her live last year, she took off her wedding ring, dropped it on the ground and held up two middle fingers—all without missing a note!! She’s a true outlaw.
While the song itself isn’t necessarily to do with ~sister’s doin’ it for themselves~, the video is all about girls being fed up with shit. Nikki assembles her vigilante girl gang to go stir up trouble, and in the last scene even passes on the opportunity to keep chatting up some cutie because her friend comes in and explains that they’ve gotta go because she just found out her boyfriend was cheating on her so now they have to go light his motorcycle on fire. And Nikki’s like, “yeah, of course, let’s do it.” Brings a tear to the eye.
FINALLY–and I feel like we’ve really gone on a journey together–we end with Kasey Musgraves. Who is possibly the coolest country artist that ever lived. Most of her songs are about chilling out, embracing who you really are, and also smoking weed if that’s your thing.
“Follow Your Arrow” is such a simple and sweet song, and it matters a lot coming out of a genre that hasn’t always embraced progressiveness. Did I cry when she sang this on her Tiny Desk concert? Yes, yes I did.
For all of its cheesiness, close-mindedness, and numerous flaws, country music made by some true Queens has a few promising qualities. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go sing each of these songs at the top of my lungs.