Love-scorned and Prowling: How Women Tend the Roots of Country Music, by Josie Cicogna
“Bro, country is out. Hoe country is in.”— Meta
While bro-country (which I’ve also heard called stadium country) will always have its place among 17-year-old boys and people who own boats, the broader cultural attitude toward this genre has been negative in the last few years, especially among Gen-Z. But every few months I see a new trend of young women on TikTok making video after video about how they hate country EXCEPT songs like Mama's Broken Heart (Miranda Lambert), Before He Cheats (Carrie Underwood), Independence Day (Martina McBride), and Goodbye Earl (The Chicks).
Songs about a woman scorned are the most obvious modern continuation of the themes at the roots of country music: storytelling with a rough edge; a common man's ballad. Not everybody can relate to buying a huge truck and moving to Nashville, but they likely have a shitty ex. A glaring difference exists between breakup songs by female country artists and the breakup songs of other kinds of artists. The country woman does not cry and beg to be taken back when a man abuses her, cheats on her, or does her wrong; she simply kills him. The characters in these songs have a strong sense of agency to them. And even though reaching for your gun isn’t the best solution in real life, it sure is fun to sing about it.
This style of song isn't a recent phenomenon. They go all the way back to the earliest radio country stars. In Angel In Your Arms, from Reba McEntire's first album in 1977, the speaker finds out that her partner has been cheating on her and responds by leaving and sleeping with another man. In 1952, Kitty Wells released the very first Billboard No. 1 radio hit by a solo female country artist, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, which was a response to The Wild Side of Life by Hank Thompson and blamed unfaithful men for creating unfaithful women. Loretta Lynn, the most awarded female country artist ever, has written many songs that engage with the theme of the scorned woman, each with her own storytelling flair. My personal favorites, though, are Wine, Women and Song (1964) and Fist City (1968).
Aside from breakup songs and ballads about shooting shitty men, women country artists have continued to hit the mark. If you’ve never heard Y’all Means All by Miranda Lambert, which was featured in season 6 of Qeer Eye, go listen to it right now. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had listening to a song written for a TV show. Kacey Musgraves' Blowin' Smoke tells a conversational, dynamic story about a group of coworkers at a restaurant, which is strikingly different from most of the genre right now. It reminds me more than a little bit of 9 to 5 by Dolly Parton. Most chart-topping country music has abandoned the storytelling format in favor of a more pop and rock-influenced style with a focus on a single idea. While there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, it's less dynamic and interesting than the storytelling style.
The best modern country musicians are the ones that draw from the style of the classics. If that’s what you're looking for, here are some personal favorites and recommendations: The Chicks (Not Ready To Make Nice, Travelin’ Soldier), Miranda Lambert (If I Was a Cowboy, The House That Built Me, anything off of her album The Weight of These Wings), The Pistol Annies (Got My Name Changed Back, Hush Hush, Hell on Heels), Brandy Clark (Who You Thought I Was, Girl Next Door), Ashley McBryde (A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega, Martha Divine), Sugarland (Everyday America, anything off of their album Love On The Inside)! And, if you want a man who’s still doing country right, Colter Wall is a great place to start, along with Zac Brown Band.