This is really more of an observation than a consistent thesis, although I’m grateful for any suggestions to take this a bit further. I got to think about this question when I stumbled across young country duo Maddie & Tae’s recent hit “Girl in a Country Song,” in which the singers criticize the stereotypical representation of women in contemporary mainstream country.
It’s a cute, refreshing country song that points out the objectification of women by male country singers, although it is also a fairly tame protest that works solely within the framework of the genre: “We used to get a little respect,” the women sing, presumably invoking the “good old times” when Southern women were still treated as “real ladies” – not exactly a cry for liberation and gender equality. Still, contrasted with the ridiculousness of some popular country songs in regard to the stereotype of the country girl – yeah, I’m looking at you, “She’s Country“! – this is a nice change of perspective.
What this video made me think of, however, is the way female artists in Europe recently have been using the genre to package feminist critique in a parody of country music. The first example that comes to mind is British singer Lilly Allen’s by now infamous song “Not Fair” that inserts a criticism about men’s inconsiderate laziness in bed into a (fictional) performance in the Porter Wagoner Show, complete with banjo music and cows on stage.
Another case is German Annett Louisan’s song “Dein Ding” (Your Thing) – for the non-German speakers, this is basically a song about the female version of revenge porn: since aspects of a relationship like consideration, respect or faithfulness turn out not to be the singer’s love interest’s “thing,” she posts his “thing” on the internet; with the twist that instead of the embarrassment over his nude pictures going viral, his humiliation stems from a lack of interest – no one likes, shares, or comments on his pictures. Again, this revenge fantasy is set to a country-themed tune and a Western town setting.
I’m not entirely sure there is a larger point to make here, although I am curious as to why the country/western theme seems to be so gratifying a backdrop for feminist satire in European pop music. At least in Germany, where (German) folk music has the inevitable reputation of being fundamentally conservative, American country music, too, is often grouped quickly into this category. Thus, the easy explanation might simply be that it automatically invokes precisely the gender stereotypes that Maddie & Tae criticize in their song – although of course this also opens up a space to think about Western European stereotypes of the US in general, and gender relations and country music in particular.