News Column

'Bro Country' comes to Philly - and the whole U.S.A.

July 31, 2014

By Dan DeLuca, The Philadelphia Inquirer

July 31--One morning in March, Sheryl Crow was tuned to a country radio station in Nashville while driving her kids to school.

Listening to dudes singing about pickup trucks, moonshine, and girls in their Daisy Dukes, Crow took to Twitter to vent.

"Will somebody please play a woman on the radio?" she pleaded. "Any woman. It doesn't have to be me but if I hear one more bro country song I'm gonna vomit!"

Sorry, Sheryl. The Bro Country onslaught hasn't abated yet -- though there are signs of a backlash, led by the teenage female duo Maddie & Tae.

And this summer, Bro Country is coming to the Philadelphia area in a big, Bro-dacious way.

Thursday night, Blake Shelton, Bro-friendly star of the TV music reality show The Voice, will play a free concert on the beach in Atlantic City for 60,000 toes-in-the-sand concertgoers.

On Friday, big-time Bro Jason Aldean headlines Citizens Bank Park, sharing the bill with Florida Georgia Line, whose 2013 hit "Cruise" is the prototypical Bro Country anthem.

On Aug. 15, the summer's biggest Bro event comes to Lincoln Financial Field, when Luke Bryan tops an all-male lineup that includes Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice, Cole Swindell, and Brantley Gilbert.

So what exactly is Bro Country?

"It's a style of songwriting and image popularized by young male country singers," says Joseph Hudak, senior editor of RollingStoneCountry.com, the Nashville branch of the music magazine, which, in one measure of country's growing mainstream profile, launched in June.

Sleeveless, wallet-chain-wearing Bro Country acts "are doing great, selling records, and bringing joy to a lot of music fans," says Hudak. "But the themes of Bro Country are, gosh, just so clichÉ. There's the pickup truck, the reference to women as 'girls.' The truck bed, the bonfire, moonshine. It's pro-drinking, pro-party, and nary a line about the fallout the next day."

Shelly Easton, program director for highly rated Philadelphia country station WXTU-FM (92.5), is not a big fan of the tag.

"It's a catch term," she says. "There's always a trend of the moment. Somebody came up with the name Bro" -- New York magazine music critic Jody Rosen, inspired by "Cruise" last fall -- "and it was like, 'Whoa, it's Bro Country.' . . . But the bigger movement might be 'Ball Cap Country.' "

In the Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson 1990s, country was all about cowboy hats. "Now, it's ball caps," says Easton. "And it's a different feel. Less twang. I don't think young people today are as format-specific. They like music. And the new generation coming up is leaning a little more towards rock, a little more towards pop."

Also toward hip-hop. Country-rap collaborations have become commonplace. Shelton's most Bro-ish hit, "Boys 'Round Here," is a country rap song. When Kenny Chesney played Wildwood beach in 2012 -- setting a Jersey Shore precedent for this week's Atlantic City concerts with Shelton and, on Sunday, Lady Antebellum -- the pre-show music was almost exclusively hip-hop.

In Bryan's deservedly mocked "That's My Kind of Night" -- jam-country act Zac Brown called it "the worst song I've ever heard" -- the Georgia singer exults: "Put in my country ride hip-hop mixtape/ Little Conway, a little T-Pain, might just make it rain."

Country music has always been loaded with drinking songs. But the classics -- Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass," Merle Haggard's "The Bottle Let Me Down" -- are filled with regret. Bro Country's cost-free drinking tunes are about nights to remember.

Bros are unabashed when it comes to expressing their catholic musical taste. "You're not going to mistake a Jason Aldean for somebody else," the CBP headliner, who covers Bon Jovi's "Wanted: Dead or Alive," said in an interview with The Inquirer. "I grew up on rock, Southern rock, '80s rock, and blues. I can sing the classic country stuff -- I love to sing it -- but I'm up for rocking a dirt-road anthem anytime."

That rock connection is one key to Bro Country's success in Northeastern markets like Philadelphia. "Musically and thematically, Bro Country is rock music with rural references," Hudak says. "It's escapism."

Bro Country has helped expand mainstream country's reach, and shifted the target demographic from soccer moms to frat boys. "Is there a surge in younger listenership?" Easton asks, then answers. "There definitely is."

Traditionally, country is tradition-bound. Commercial radio playlists are tightly formatted. XTU has just 20 to 25 songs in its new-song rotation, with Lady Antebellum's Bro-friendly "Bartender," Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood's duet "Something Bad," and Faith Hill -- who guests on Tim McGraw's "Meanwhile Back at Mama's" -- the only women.

So when a slick new style emerges like Bro Country, which has as much in common with 1980s hair metal as with Hank Williams, it kicks up a battle for country music's soul.

The push and pull is cyclical, Easton says. "When Garth Brooks was out, people said that was not country. When Shania Twain was out, they said that was not country." Another trend is always around the bend: "In two years, we might be talking about 'Bra Country,' " she says, using a term coined by female country singer Terri Clark.

Bro Country criticism has come from many quarters. Rising star Kacey Musgraves told British GQ, "Anyone singing about trucks in any form, in any song, anywhere, literally just stop -- nobody cares!" Elders like Billy Joe Shaver and Willie Nelson have spoken up, too, in the track "Hard to Be an Outlaw." "Some superstars nowadays," they sing, "Singing 'bout the backroads they never have been down / They go and call it country, but that ain't the way it sounds."

And then there's "Girl in a Country Song," the debut from Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye, who penned the anti-objectification anthem with cowriter Aaron Scherz.

The song -- and its video, which features scantily clad dudes getting drenched in outdoor showers -- upends Bro Country clichÉs. In response to these lines from "That's My Kind of Night" -

Waiting on you to look my way and scoot

Your little hot self over here

Girl hand me another beer, yeah!

- Marlow and Dye sing

Sure I'll slide on over, but you're gonna get slapped.

If Bro Country purveyors are listening, lyrics like these would leave them properly chastened:

We used to get a little respect

Now we're lucky if we even get

To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, ride along

And be the girl in a country song

And maybe that'll bring on that Bra Country trend, sooner rather than later.

ddeluca@phillynews.com

215-854-5628

@delucadan

www.inquirer.com/inthemix

A.D. Amorosi contributed to this article.

Blake Shelton with Dan & Shay at 4 p.m. Thursday on the Atlantic City Beach between Casar's Pier (Arkansas Ave.) and Central Pier (St. James Place). Free tickets are sold out. www.atlanticcitynj.com

Jason Aldean with Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr At Citizens Bank Park, 1 Citizens Bank Way at 7 p.m. Friday. Tickets: $111.50. Phone: 21393-6044. www.ticketmaster.com.

Luke Bryan with Dierks Bentley, Brantley Gilberty, Lee Brice and Cole Swindell at Lincoln Financial Field, One Lincoln Financial Way at 6 p.m.Aug. 15. Tickets: $109.85. Phone: 215-463-5500. www.ticketmaster.com

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(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)


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