Female Revenge Ballads

Seriously what is this weaksauce bullshit?

The semester is nearly over, and I have potentially awesome New Year’s plans, and I am happy. As a result, I’ve been taking a break from the (now seasonally-appropriate) constant loop of hippy Christmas music, and have instead been rocking out to 94.9 The Bull, the Decatur area’s answer to all of your pop-country needs. Since the weather’s been nice, I’ve taken to blasting my music at the top of the Wee Honda Civic’s speaker capacity with the windows rolled down. My neighbors love me.

Folks are sometimes surprised by my tolerance for pop-country (and my straight-up love for good bluegrass). I will be the first to admit that this makes sense. Mainstream country music is often superproblematic. Sometimes, it’s just dopey and bad. Sometimes it’s all of Taylor Swift’s whining! I don’t know that it’s any more problematic than other genres, necessarily, (see Katy Perry’s visually arresting alien rape song) but the problematic things that crop up in pop country are not alien to my experience.

Like, other small children tried to witness at me for being Jewish back when we lived in Oklahoma. So certain flavors of Very Vocal Evangelism (and its friends Rigid Gender Roles and Woo America) make me wary, and they are more present in pop country than other genres.

But country music does one thing consistently well that I think is less of a Thing in other genres: female revenge ballads.

Now, revenge ballads extend past pop country. There is a storied history of murder ballads in bluegrass and old school country music (to the point that “murder ballad” is a legitimate sub-genre along with the train song). In a genre that’s historically been the purview of poor southerners, power fantasy songs make some sense. The same motivation runs through most “Fuck the Police“-esque rap songs. Same dynamic, different target.

But what is unusual about country, as best as I can tell, is the extent to which the revenge ballad has bled over to the poppiest part of the genre, and been made a legitimate part of the canon for young female artists as well as men. And that makes it fun to sing along with.

For example, what’s not to love about a song in which the narrator leaves her passed-out, abusive father on the couch when she seeks shelter from the tornado? She straight up lets the weather kill him. Or this additional Carrie Underwood song, in which she just goes to town on her cheating boyfriend’s car! Because reasons!

Want to get a little further away from pop? Then watch Gillian Welch (accompanied by David Rawlings), singing “Caleb Meyer!*” Listen to those lyrics, and realize that this is a song about a woman killing her rapist with the broken bottle neck from his moonshine bottle, and then telling his ghost to fuck right off. There are no consequences, because the moral absolutism of country music rolls that way.

Country music is not free of problems (god no). But if you’re looking for a genre in which women are actually allowed to do things, it’s got some appeal. Certainly it’s better than poppy glorification of dudes who are objectively terrible.

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