Melissa Scholke: A problematic "Girl Crush" on country music

By Melissa Scholke, Columnist
Published March 31, 2015

If you know me closely, I make my predilection for music apparent. My iPod isn’t just a device I carry with me on my walks to class, on jogs or during study sessions at the library; it’s an appendage. My conversations — perhaps to the chagrin of my friends and roommates — revolve almost solely around newly released singles, the quality of recent music videos and album critiques. I’ll often surprise (read: annoy) my friends with random biographical tidbits about artists when we’re riding in the car and listening to the radio. My love for music is easily described as an obsession lingering on the cusp of an addiction.

I proudly (and quite frequently) declare my immense appreciation for indie and pop artists, like Florence and the Machine, Marina and the Diamonds, and Bastille. Despite my self-declared status as an indie and pop music aficionado, country music — much to the surprise of my friends — is a genre that remains entwined in the measures of my life. Scroll through my music library, and you’ll discover a small selection of country amid tracks my mother prefers to call “my weird music.”

I vividly remember her shock when she heard “Amazed” by Lonestar playing from my iPod. Admittedly the song is a bit before my time, but it’s connected to a memory. Memory and recollection are the forces responsible for my country music appreciation. Contrary to what some may suppose, a love for country music is not hardwired into my DNA because I’m a Yooper. Rather, the genre connects me to recollections of everything I have left behind in the Upper Peninsula. I can vividly remember the nights my cousin and I would sing along to Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel like a Woman” when we were little girls.

Fast forward to our first summer back home from college, the incessant plays of “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line on the radio quickly led it to acquiring the title of the “song of the summer” among my friends. Whether it involved awkward school dances, sitting around a bonfire during summer nights, driving with friends or even going to the bar with my family when I was back in the U.P. during holiday breaks, country music was most likely playing in the background.

My fondness for the genre occasionally leads to defending it when people refer to it as “hick music.” As my mother once aptly explained, country is music meant for common, everyday people. It’s a relatable depiction of working-class life, which easily explains its popularity in areas like the U.P. I look fondly upon my hometown and love the people who reside there. However, like some residents of that same area, country music, in recent years, continues to uphold problematic and archaic ideologies I passionately disagree with.

Despite the progress made toward obtaining marriage equality and other rights for the LGBTQ community in recent years, various communities across the country continue to display vehement disgust and prejudice toward anything remotely homosexual appearing in the public arena. A subset of country music listeners can now be added to the list.

Within the last week, a single released by Grammy-winning country group Little Big Town became an object of controversy, as an abundance of listeners nationwide experienced selective hearing. Meant as a song about a woman desiring the physical features of her ex-boyfriend’s current girl and wishing she possessed those attributes in order to win back the guy, the track entitled “Girl Crush” was viewed as propaganda to “promote the gay agenda.”

Focusing solely upon lyrics like “I want to taste her lips/Yeah ‘cause they taste like you/I want to drown myself/In a bottle of her perfume,” angry listeners ignored the rest of the song and automatically thought the track was about a lesbian relationship. Parents actively opposed the notion that their children be exposed to such material. As a result, the track was removed from radio stations playlists, and its radio rankings plummeted to No. 33.

The fact a song mistaken for presenting a homosexual relationship caused such an incendiary uproar only further illustrates the flawed nature of our media industry. Country music, in its contemporary state, features sexually explicit lyrics and objectified descriptions of submissive female conquests in order to appeal to a heterosexual male audience. This trend, accurately described as “Nashville’s bro explicit adventures” in a Washington Post article was mocked by two young country starlets Maddie and Tae when they wrote a “Girl in a Country Song” to illustrate the ridiculously sexist representations of women in many of today’s country songs.

Taking into account that I can remember hearing Big & Rich’s highly suggestive track “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” frequently as a 10-year-old in 2004 when it was released, I find it hard to understand why suggestive, sexually explicit and misogynistic lyrics aren’t as concerning as the possibility of a song portraying a romantic relationship between two women or two men.

The “gay agenda” parents and politicians are exceedingly suspicious of creeping up in our media and “infecting” the minds of children, in reality, is exactly the same as the agenda of every human being. Humans, regardless of sexual orientation, want to appreciate the everyday, to be respected, to experience love, to enjoy our family and our friends, to have fun, to grow as individuals and to sort out our place in the world — basically partaking in every theme ever discussed in a song. The entire point of creative expression, whether in the form of writing, artwork or song, is to encompass and celebrate the entirety of experiences available to humanity.

Considering the ever-present struggle to both extend and ensure basic rights to the LGBTQ community, trying to enclose children and the general public in a world of heteronormativity will only further inhibit future legislative and societal progress. Music provides an excellent example of this. If you refuse to expose a student of any age to a subsection of notes solely because some individuals incorrectly deem them immoral or inappropriate, their ability to comprehend and play music — possibly music they strongly identify with or enjoy — will be limited. Limiting awareness of the world will likewise inhibit the ability to enact future change we need.

Melissa Scholke can be reached at melikaye@umich.edu.