I don't admit it often, but country music is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. It used to be that I couldn't stand it, but over the years it has grown on me. It seems that you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't really take the country out of the boy. Many times, when I can't find anything else, I'll switch my Sirius radio to The Highway, Channel 59, and catch some Florida Georgia Line or Randy Houser. And then I'll change the channel again before anybody else gets in the car.
It's no secret that, of all the genres of music, country music gets the reputation for being the most conservative. The blind flag-waving and occasional attack on undocumented immigrants in some of the songs is often enough to make me turn the channel. It's certainly not often that a country song comes along and pushes the envelope in any major way.
That's why I was surprised when, one day, I heard this song by Kacey Musgraves come across my radio:
The entire song--which is all about just being yourself, and screw everybody who judges you--pushes back against conservative attitudes, but these lyrics in particular made me rewind and listen again to make sure I wasn't hearing things:
Make lots of noise / Kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls if that's something you're intoNot to mention that the next lines urge us to "roll up a joint...or don't" if "the straight and narrow gets a little too straight."
On Tuesday, I heard the song again when somebody played it on the jukebox at the lesbian bar I was hanging out in. I told my lesbian friend to listen to the lyrics, and she was as pleasantly surprised as I initially was. As playful and innocent (and, well, boring) as the line is, it's just something you don't hear very often.
The song has sort of been playing through my head all week, so I thought I'd dig up a little more on the song and Musgraves--and what exactly she's trying to accomplish with this song. Follow me below the fold...
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What I first ran across was a New York Times piece on openly gay country songwriter Shane McAnally and on being gay on the country music scene (which Dave in Northridge diaried about here). The article, which is well worth a read, touched on the rebellious lyrics in "Follow Your Arrow" and the conversation happening in the industry about homosexuality:
Like previous Nashville iconoclasts they are changing country from the inside, upholding its songwriting traditions while tweaking its clichés and tipping its sacred cows. Ms. Musgraves’s mission statement song is “Follow Your Arrow,” co-written by Mr. McAnally and Ms. Clark, which spunkily advocates nonconformity of various kinds, including same-sex romance: “Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls, if that’s what you’re into,” Ms. Musgraves sings.Indeed, Musgraves indicates in an interview with PrideSource that she had larger intentions when she wrote the song, recalling her own experience growing up in small-town Texas.
Ms. Musgraves recalled the “Follow Your Arrow” co-write: “I had a few lines, ‘Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys.’ I was like: ‘I wish I could just say: ‘Or kiss lots of girls.’ And Shane was like, ‘Why can’t you?’ I’m not sure that line would have happened if Shane wasn’t in the room.”
Mr. McAnally said: “ ‘Follow Your Arrow’ might be kind of a bridge. I mean, there’s absolutely going to be an out gay country singer, sometime in the near future. I can’t help but be a little disappointed that it’s not me. If I was 19, and I had the energy, I’d do it. I think the labels might even be excited by the idea.”
Tell me about growing up in a small town in Texas. Did you know many gay people when you were living there?It's definitely past time, but not everybody is embracing the song, as you might expect. A Billboard article highlights the kind of bigotry "Follow Your Arrow" comes up against at individual stations:
No, actually. My first roommate out of high school came out to me and it was a big deal, because he came from a really conservative family. I just knew how hard it was for him to come to terms with that; I was in the Bible Belt in a really small town where everybody knew everybody. It really opened my eyes to a lot when he came out to me and I could see how hard it was, you know? It really made an impact on me. Since then, several guys that I grew up with have come out, and I'm just so proud of them.
It just makes me sad that there are other kids who are struggling with that and parents are worried about whether their kids are gonna come out of the closet; in reality they should be worried about way scarier things.
...it's rare the gay community be acknowledged in a country music song. It doesn't happen very often, does it?
No. It never happens and I'm sick of it. It's ridiculous. Whether or not you agree with gay marriage or the fact that people don't choose to be gay, we share the same emotions, needs and wants. I just think that everyone should be included in that. It's definitely time.
"I wish I could play that song on my station," said one programmer who preferred to remain anonymous.Musgraves' interview with PrideSource seems to indicate, however, that she was well aware of the industry landscape when she wrote the song.
"This is not only pushing the envelope, it's where the envelope gets mailed to," said Mike O'Malley, a programming consultant with Albright & O'Malley & Brenner.
Several radio pros said that the song, if released as a single, might play in New York or L.A., but "not Birmingham."
And of course, there's always the chance that Universal Music Group could bring a re-cut, more "sanitized" version to radio.
Otherwise, said one programmer who preferred to remain anonymous, "It's a shame that such a fine piece of music won't find its way to a number of stations."
Well, I didn't expect...country radio to play it. They're not gonna. That's OK, though. I think the song can be bigger than country radio. They wouldn't know what to do with it, anyway!That hasn't stopped Musgraves from bringing the song's message to her fans, many of whom have undoubtedly been affected by the lyrics.
As far as backlash goes, the reaction has been surprisingly positive, and when I sing it live people really like it and they really listen to the lyrics. Even older people that I wouldn't think would be into it get a laugh out of it. I think even if you don't agree with everything I'm saying, as a human, hopefully you can just recognize that people should be able to do what they want to do and love who they want to love.You may or may not give a chainsaw about what happens on the country music scene. But the important work of changing the cultural landscape on issues like LGBT acceptance happens on all levels. And I applaud the voice Musgraves is lending to the fight in an area that is in much need of open-mindedness.
For the rest of us, "Follow Your Arrow" offers some pretty sage advice.
UPDATE 7/27/2013 by brillig: Here's the correct mojo, the gremlins needed a quick kick out of the interwebs:
1) just read it - WOW by aaraujo — 195
2) They disgust me, by AnnetteK — 192
3) Thanks for being there. by Giles Goat Boy — 182
4) You joke about bridges, but this is very by noise of rain — 140
5) to clarify by ProgLegs — 128
6) I know what you mean. by Giles Goat Boy — 124
7) They aren't making money. by Giles Goat Boy — 121
8) 10. â€œWrite articles on [sic] 4th grade level!â€ by FishOutofWater — 114
9) For what it's worth (and I could be completely by Susan G in MN — 114
10) "You Say You Want a Revolution?" by JekyllnHyde — 115
11) Never rang true by niteskolar — 108
12) For 20 years they've been listening to right wing by burlydee — 108
13) Incipient fascism is what some places are coming by Kombema — 106
14) The problem with B-37, imo, is that... by Meteor Blades — 105
15) Whoa.... by Diogenes2008 — 105
16) I'm amazed by this point that there still are by ColoTim — 100
17) I must admit that I by AnnetteK — 96
18) Oh man, I'm speechless. What have we come to? n/t by plankbob — 92
19) We can only hope by Diogenes2008 — 86
20) Hope? Lol by dkmich — 85
21) Back to Alabama? by Scottie Thomaston — 84
22) LOLOLOLOLOL by MinistryOfTruth — 83
23) Garbage.... by dkmich — 79
24) yep - it's the old Freedom Works crowd by aaraujo — 78
25) He was using the same lame racist excuse. by Dick Woodcock — 77
26) Okay, now we're measuring the rationality of the by lineatus — 77
27) Anything with Breitbart.... by dweb8231 — 76
28) Thank you! The only thing I'm not looking by weatherdude — 76
29) Thanks for the comprehensive diary Joe by Agathena — 74
30) Keep singing. by Giles Goat Boy — 73