Tim McGraw: Reflected

Tim McGraw is a busy man. His new album, Tim McGraw Reflected: Hits Volume 2, dropped on 28 March. His mega-tour “Soul 2 Soul II,” with wife Faith Hill, kicks off 21 April. And the newest film remake of My Friend Flicka, titled just Flicka this time, in which McGraw takes a leading role, is scheduled to open on 28 July.

It comes as no surprise, then, that NBC’s special Tim McGraw: Reflected is an hour-long gush-fest promoting the country singer’s various projects. The show features performances by McGraw at New York’s Avalon Club and impeccably staged “casual” numbers at his Tennessee farm, including “My Little Girl,” his new song for Flicka. Interspersed are snippets of conversation with Hank Williams Jr., and playful, if fractured, duets with Hill. Their banter and beautiful harmonizing demonstrate they are really and truly very much in love. It’s all about brand synergy, and Reflected sells McGraw to excess.

I don’t pretend to be in any way positioned to evaluate the relative merits of McGraw’s music. But the music is rather immaterial to Reflected. What is front and center throughout is Tim’s charisma and sex appeal. And let’s face it, McGraw is a very sexy man.

Reflected makes the most of this. In the Avalon segments, McGraw performs in a kind of working man’s/country singer drag. He’s outfitted in black leather cowboy hat, perfectly tight maroon t-shirt, and boots. But there’s something a little bit queer in the fact that the t-shirt is woven with some few silvery threads that sparkle in the spotlight, and that the jeans are perhaps a little too tight, and adorned with some sort of bead-work curlicue-ing up one leg. It’s like a gay Marlboro man fantasy come to life. The camera lingers over McGraw’s sculpted chest, and there are copious crotch and ass shots for all to enjoy. If that’s what’s for sale here, I might be interested in buying.

I didn’t think male country singers were supposed to be so conscious of their bodies. Such attention to fashion detail compromises the mythos of country’s easy, salt-of-the-earth masculinity. Reflected displays some anxiety about this sexual objectification, and attempts to reconnect McGraw to good old boy-ness in the bits at his Tennessee farm. There he’s dressed more “simply,” in leather jackets and less crotch-conscious pants, but still snug sweaters and shirts. By contrast, Hank Williams Jr., with his ratty-looking duster, weathered face and scraggly beard, embodies a more familiar country masculinity with seeming ease. McGraw’s perfectly coiffed and toned body looks positively metrosexual.

This tension between traditional gendering and a new body consciousness is refracted in Reflected‘s other anxiety, about the “proper” place and audience of country music. To put it simply, Tim McGraw is huge. His uber-stardom transcends any presumptions we might make about the audience demographics of country. Thus his appearance at New York’s Avalon Club. The sold-out crowd is comprised of presumably “savvy” New Yorkers (mostly women), which suggests the universal appeal of country. But there’s something suspect here. I can’t help but think of the old Pace Salsa commercial, which featured a group of craggy cowboys exclaiming in horror that a competitor’s brand is made in “New York City!” New Yorkers aren’t supposed to like country, just as Tim’s not supposed to be so body-loving, and yet he is, and they do.

McGraw alternates between traditional and hip (see his wildly successful duet with rapper Nelly), and sometimes even becomes “political” (see his and Hill’s complaint that the administration’s response to Katrina has been slow). To quell audience concerns that he may be drifting too hip, Reflected returns McGraw to his roots on his Tennessee farm. Note the slippage, though: it’s not McGraw’s boyhood home, but, in fact, the old Williams family farm that McGraw purchased not so long ago (Hank Jr. waxes on about his boyhood there). Here McGraw reclaims a rural past (not necessarily his own, but the show suggests his is simpatico), part of country music history.

The target audience of Tim McGraw: Reflected won’t worry that the packaging is slick. Reflected rewards his legions of fans with tight performances and tight jeans, and encourages everyone to sing along, just as the trendy New Yorkers do.