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Fit to Be Tied: Country's Angry Women

Modern country music is in love with a new trend: women inflicting violence on men, when the men deserve it... and even when they don't.

A Hog-Tied Cowboy

Then again, if you ask Miranda Lambert, only destroying the guy’s car is akin to turning the other cheek. Lambert would probably blow the car to smithereens and then head after him into the bar with guns blazing. If any gal has embraced country music’s gun fetish, it’s Lambert, who performs with a mic-stand built from a shotgun and has forged her persona as one trigger-happy redneck girl you don’t want to mess with. In “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, the title cut from her 2007 album, she targets the other woman (“I wanna pitch, little bitch”) for a 21st-century update of Loretta’s “Fist City”, except she’s promising a pistol rather than a punch. (Lambert’s duet with Loretta on last year’s Loretta tribute album makes even more sense in this light.)

“Gunpowder and Lead”, from the same album, is another ferocious Angry Woman Song, but this time Miranda goes after the man: “I’m going home, gonna load my shotgun” and “show him what little girls are made of: gunpowder and lead.” The humor—the twist on the nursery rhyme in the chorus—mingles with straight-up terror in a song that, unlike “Before He Cheats”, was written by the singer herself, providing the feeling that Miranda is perfectly willing to put her metal where her mouth is. Fun clip: a YouTube video of Miranda joining Kid Rock on stage for a duet of “Picture”. At one point, he tries to throw her off by changing the lyrics. Miranda’s response: “Stop messing with me, boy. I’ll shoot ya.” Kid Rock cracks up, but admits: “For some reason, I believe her”.

Other recent country singles with standard-issue non-violent cheating lyrics have been made into videos that nonetheless depict generous doses of man-beating/shooting/binding. Laura Bell Bundy’s “Giddy On Up” clip, a campy Wild West parody, features Bundy as a purty saloon-girl, pissed off about some cowboy’s amorous infractions. As the fella visits Bundy’s boudoir, the singer, frilly of teddy and feathery of boa, puts him to angry interrogations (despite the 1800s setting, she references Bath & Body Works and accuses him of smiling when he looks at his phone). Bundy is another who is handy with the firearms. In a gunfight, 20 paces in the dusty main street, she fires her six-shooter with enough precision to disrobe the guy as he lies in the dust. Last shot: Bundy drags the hog-tied cowboy through the streets from her horse. Cut to a close-up of Bundy laughing deliriously.

Reba McEntire’s #1 hit “Turn on the Radio” is another song with boilerplate cheating lyrics. Yet, for the video, Reba plays a mysterious figure in black coat and shawl and oversized sunglasses who walks into an abandoned warehouse at night just on the wrong side of the tracks. She strips down to a black tank and crucifix, arranges a bunch of vintage boomboxes on a shelf, and then starts yelling at…some no-good, two-timin’, mistreatin’ sumbitch whom—wouldn’t you know it—is tied to a chair. (Ryan is his name, Reba’s iPhone tells us.) Eventually, she binds him even tighter with her microphone cord, although Ryan’s real punishment is having to sit and look consternated for four minutes while Reba struts around him and then leaves him there, presumably to starve to death while listening to Reba on the radio. Hell hath no fury like Reba.

Reba’s video points toward a bizarre new direction in the Angry Woman subgenre. Formerly, songs and/or videos, Carrie’s and Miranda’s, for instance, depicted women as infuriated victims of abuse who finally have enough and lash out with retaliatory violence. In a string of new country videos, however, women are portrayed as criminally insane psychopaths with a flair for secure knot-tying who torture innocent men.

For instance, there’s Jaron and the Long Road Home’s “Pray for You”, with its video featuring Jaimie Pressley as a wife who at first appears to play the role of the dreamwife in a silk nightie. We see her lovingly bring Jaron a cup of coffee, and then, for no apparent reason at all, sling the scalding beverage into his face. Elsewhere, she puts Jaron through a deadly game of dodge-the-dishes, kicks him in the nuts, and trips him down a flight of stairs. Then there’s a scene of inexplicable sadism in which Jaron is belt-strapped in a bathtub full of water into which Pressley continually threatens to toss a running hairdryer. Just to cover all of the Angry Woman basics in country music, at the end of the video Jaron stands helpless, in bandages and slings, as Pressley drives a monster truck over his car.

Or how about the video for Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue”, a love song that hands nothing whatsoever to do with abuse or violence, in which singer Jennifer Nettles plays a character who carries out an obsession-fantasy relationship with a male model. She gazes dementedly at his photos, stalks him outside his home, and waits in the car to kidnap him. Nettles, in a variety of Mrs. Robinson-style tiger prints—she’s a predator—knocks on the hapless guy’s door, and, with the help of guitarist Kristian Bush, throws a bag over his head, stuffs him in the car, takes him to some sort of twisted basement shrine, ties him to a chair (natch), pours cough syrup (or Schnapps) down his throat, and forces him to watch Jennifer perform an ‘80s aerobic-dance routine in a let’s-get-physical unitard. (Where did those backup dancers come from?) Finally, while speed-feeding him bites of cake, his cellphone rings, which indicates that another girl is trying to call him. Jennifer boils over and punches the guy in the face, knocking him out cold as the screen cuts to black.

What the Jaron and Sugarland videos have in common is that the male victims have no culpability for the violence being afflicted on them, which is at odds with the Angry Woman country that came before. By painting men as blameless victims and women as sociopathic lunatics, these artists have attempted to cash in on the commercial benefits of the imagery of a woman kicking a man’s ass, but they appear to have utterly misinterpreting the reason those images resonated in the first place. In these new versions of Angry Woman country, every woman is a black widow, beautiful but deadly, acting not out of vengeance but of sheer unhinged malice.

This motif is one that Toby “Who’s Your Daddy?” Keith is happy to get behind. The video for his recent single “Bullets in the Gun” tells a Bonnie-doublecrosses-Clyde story, in which the biker-mama femme fatale, as her man is injured and begging for help, leaves him for dead and rides off on his motorcycle with all the loot. Never trust a woman. Keith is the guy, remember, who in his 2006 video for “A Little Too Late” tied his girlfriend to a chair in the basement and threatened her with a shovel. If Keith, then, finds the latest state of Angry Woman country music fitting into his wheelhouse, things have been twisted into a tricky knot, indeed.

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