Miranda Lambert “The Fastest Girl In Town”
I’m doing a 30 day blog challenge with several of my co-workers, starting on August 1. When I watched Miranda Lambert’s new video for “The Fastest Girl In Town” and felt my mind racing with ideas about indicators and value differences between country and pop, I knew it should be the subject of my first blog.
While a large chunk of the American population are country music fans (the CMA says 96 million people), people who are not fans are not often complain that country is just pop music — or that country isn’t as authentic as it was back in the good old days (actually the latter is a complaint of many people who ARE country music fans and several country music artists).
I find both statements to be inaccurate and, using Lambert’s new video as a point of reference, will outline some intractable features of country music that distinguish it from any other genre.
Miranda Lambert is considered one of the more rebellious, or close to outlaw, country artists in mainstream music today. That said, she is still very much mainstream — think of her as the Rihanna of country music. While both pop and country feature simple, repetitive lyrics, female pop singers are more apt to be overtly sexual. Lambert’s song is in the voice of a woman owning her reputation as sexually adventurous to a man, but even still she refers to herself as “fast.” That’s as rough and tumble as the language gets — and no one has used the slang fast in America since approximately the early ’60s.
* Language: While Cee Lo can have a massive hit song (written by Bruno Mars) with the word fuck prominently featured, country musicians rarely curse. Anything heavier than “damn” is strongly frowned upon.
Further, while hip hop and pop consistently make up new vocabulary (recently see YOLO, HAM) or make heavy handed references to sexually explicit themes (recently see P!nk’s “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” Jennifer Lopez “Goin’ In”), country music not only does not advance discourse or regularly contribute to slang terminology but it actively relies on more old fashioned vocabulary like fast and frisky.
The one exception to that example is clearly Maroon 5, who have managed to resurrect Mick Jagger and payphones, in that order, for no apparent reason.
* Inflection: while pop singers actively try to sound like they have no accent (tricky for Canadian and British artists) or generate a generic accent, country artists actively cultivate a drawl. You can hear it clearly in Lambert’s delivery of words like bullets, baby, and lights.
* Location: This one is interesting. The writing in most country lyrics gets across the idea of being in a small town. Whether that means embracing small town values (always portrayed as better than those of city-folk values), being part of a small ecosystem where everyone knows you, or being among like-minded people, it is a recurring theme for the entire genre.
It manifests in this particular song via the knowledge that Lambert is the fastest girl in town. This is the kind of reputation you could only get if you live somewhere with limited population. The bigger the city or social circle, the less likely it is that most people in whatever town you happen to inhabit even know you much less spend time gossiping about you.
The catch is that of those 96 million country fans in the U.S.A., the Country Music Association says that 81% live in A, B or C counties. That is a Nielson classification for advertisers. A are big cities, B are counties with population exceeding 150,000 or is part of a metropolitan area with a population over 150,000, and C is any county that is not classified as an A or B county, and has a population between 40,000 and 150,000. Based on population dispersion and basic math skills it’s clear that of that 81%, a huge chunk of country music fans are people who live in major metropolitan areas — but the CMA backs that up by saying that 1 in 4 fans live in the top 5 DMAs (designated market areas). To put that number into perspective, there are 210 DMAs. The top 5 would include the most heavily populated areas, like New York City and Los Angeles.
* Idealization: So a hefty chunk of country listeners live in or near major cities but like the themes of rural living they hear in country music. They might never find themselves racing down the backroads highlighted in Lambert’s video or be known as the fastest girl in their town — or be known at all in their town — but the like the familiarity of it as a theme in music.
At its root, this is emotional comfort food. It’s identification with a notion of “the good old days” when things were a little bit easier or more simple. In reality, “the good old days” rarely exist as people remember them. It can often be attributed to idealization passed on via oral history (like country songs) or childhood memories. This is the same sort of prejudice that makes people who grew up listening to country feel like current country is “too pop.”
I happen to be currently reading The Magnificent Ambersons, published in 1918 and set beginning after the Civil War spanning up to the beginning of the 20th century. An ongoing theme in the book is the building up of cities as symbolic of the fading of the Amberson family’s importance. They are a wealthy family who are located ambiguously “out West” in a large family home out in the country. As time goes on, and small dramas kill the family happiness, the family are forced to sell small portions of their large estate. A town begins to form around them. By the close of the book due to poor planning their large, outdated home is in surrounded by a slew of slum housing while all the newly wealthy people who moved to town built and moved to homes further out in the country where the air is cleaner and it is less crowded.
As very few Americans come from large country estates, moving to a city these days is a step up from living in the country. In fact, it was also a step up for every character in The Magnificent Ambersons who wasn’t an Amberson. There are more opportunities, the chance to earn more money, and the opportunity to reinvent yourself when you live in a metropolis. So the idealization of rural values is just the wish to simplify modern life.
Psychology Today published a study that found unifying characteristics among music fans. It found that people who like pop and country music are “more conventional, honest and conservative compared with fans of other genres. ‘People who like country and pop might be more simpleminded, and that’s not necessarily bad,” says Jason Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge in the U.K.. “They just avoid making things unnecessarily complex.’”
While pop and country music, and their fans, may have a lot in common, Lambert shows us some subtle differences that add up to character differences.
* Less aggressive use of profane language and sexual themes.
* Not a lot of linguistic evolution or generation of new terminology.
* Preference to set stories in small towns vs. large metropolises.
* Stronger likelihood to idealize “the good old days” and values they embrace.
And in some other blog we’ll have to dive into why female country stars are given so much more license than female pop stars to outsmart and talk smack about men.
2 Notes/ Hide
- saibellanyc likes this
- rawcuriosity said: I remember reading some interview w/ Elvis Costello and he was talking about having tried to write a song with Ricky Skaggs (around the time of the Almost Blue LP, I think) and RS at one point said something like, “Man, you’ve got too many words.”
- thecourtneyesmith posted this