This Week in Country: Doin’ What we Like!
Not much has changed since last time I glanced lovingly and lingeringly upon the bright, bold graphics on the Billboard Country Top Ten list. Luke Bryan’s ode to his departed brother and drinking beer on the dock is still number one, followed by David Nail’s ode to a Frankenstein’s monster of romantic feminine ideals and patronizing archetypes, and Cole Swindell’s ode to the elusive and orpheic pastime of “Chillin’ It.”
Lady Antebellum’s country-style-youth anthem, “Compass”, with it’s slobbering devotion to four-on-the-floor pulsing downbeats and choruses of “oh, oh oh!!!!!….” interspersed with jovial hand-claps is still frolicking around somewhere on the bottom half. And the rest of the unmemorable, throat-clearing pop-roarers are likewise still bloated and floating at the top of the chart.
There are, however, three deviations. They aren’t surprising by any means – the new appearances (at numbers 7, 9 and 10) are by Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Diercks Bentley – three horsemen of the dawning blowhard-country apocalypse if there ever were some. They’re big sellers, wear leather cuffs and little hats and have their voices recorded giving the ID signal for local stations all across America. I’d like to talk about Blake Shelton first.
Blake Shelton, the man, the performer, the guy who wears a shirt-pant Denim Combo at the CMAs and Grammy’s, the man who used to have such ridiculously, playing-a-character-in-Into-the-Woods-on-Broadway-long-shiny-curly-locks-that-it-makes-me-feel-guilty-to-even-mention-them: he’s full of shit. But I also think he’s pretty fun. See his summer time chart topper “Boys Round Here,” which I named several months ago as the bearer of the current “Shameless” crown for the summer in country radio. The chorus of that rouser, combined with the crude enjambments of religious zealotry in an otherwise wacky, colloquial litany of backwoods brazenness, make it sadly unlistenable. Its spunky spirit and the laid back, sly vocal delivery on the verse hooks can’t overtake the forcefulness of the anthem-like chant: this is what it is like to be from here (we know that you know that here is everywhere . . . we claim that we are different . . . who are we, who are we, where are we from, what is my name, did you find my heart in the red dirt road, in the Georgia clap, in the Mississippi mud, in the dust of the west, in the plains, in the prairie, in the sky, oh, but for that we all could see the sky!). It’s what it is like to be from, rather, everywhere.
They mention the “dougie” in “Boys Round Here,” and part of the wide-eyed recurring refrain is this:
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco SPIT.
Chaw. Goddamn-plastic-water-bottles-with-a-Kleenex-on-top-full-of-it-leaning-over-in-bed-and-spitting-thick-liquid-tobacco-swamp-onto-the-floor-because-fuck-it– chaw.*
Blake, who looks like a red-shirt, three episode arc intern on Grey’s Anatomy who fucks two lesbian doctors but then is killed by a bomb that explodes inside of a patient, is married to woman – of – my – dreams, Pistol Annie Miranda Lambert.
While she’s an undeniably better performer, musician, star, everything, whatever (this is objective truth), she pops up in his canon every now and then for fun. “Doin’ What She Likes,” however, really takes the goddamn cheesecake.
The song is, if you believe it, a long list of things that Blake Shelton does because Miranda Lambert likes them and he likes doing things that make this woman happy. Okay, Blake Shelton, that’s pretty sweet! I mean, probably. I fear I’m starting to get the tinge of “daw, lookit her try and make dinner and burn it, walkin’ around on her tan bare feet! Silly little girl – I’m totally gonna drill that later! ‘Tee-hee,’ she’ll say” and maybe I’m deflecting it because Miranda is the shit, or maybe I’m putting up safe-walls around the conflict section in my brain that starts predicting infantilizing sexism before I actually see evidence of it.
I’m thinking about how “Boys Round Here’, his former hit, shameless and frothing, does indeed endlessly circle around a wee little key Shelton has found that seems to unlock great existential truth: Boys who were born in this area tend to do things and also not go far away, girls fall in love with the boys who do things, give birth to more boys who do things and girls who will fall in love with the boys who do things (around here, where they will stay).
But please! Let’s wait. So far, all I have evidence of is that Blake Shelton is talking about appreciating and supporting the desires of one woman in particular. This device, I’d have you note, is abso-fucking-lutely nowhere else to be found not even just in modern pop country, but in basically any medium that mad-capitalist-scientists have deduced to salivating trigger codes – “art” that is an algorithm that fills us with lusty, lusty cash. Country songs have been elegizing and trying to bang this one, pretty precise slice of female, down-with-it character, for at least twenty years. But even though they’ve been singing a shit-ton of songs about her for all that time, we never have any clue what makes her special enough to write some shitty-ass song about! Even the color her hair and eyes or other rabidly shallow details remain eerily ambiguous.
I want to know: what kinds of things does Blake Shelton like doing because Miranda Lambert likes that shit? (I’m not even going to bother to make lame sex-position jokes because 1. It’s gloriously obvious that Miranda is hella DTF and I wouldn’t for a blinking second want to throw shade on her swagger** and 2. The re-mix of “Drunk in Love” came out yesterday with Kanye rapping on it and there’s not room in this world for more sex position jokes until the 35th of Nevuary).
She likes it when I call in sick to work
Spend the whole day hanging with her
I might get fired but that’s alright
I’m doin’ what she likes ***
Let’s go on:
She likes it when I bring home fresh fajitas
And mix up a pitcher of margaritas
Catch a kind of buzz that lasts all night
Doin’ what she likes
Dare I say: “LOL.” This is what I’m talking about, and I absolutely fucking believe it that Miranda Lambert calls up Blake (I imagine her with a flip phone!) and asks him to, on his way home from like, wearing a snake-skin button up shirt and some floppy jeans in the studio, “Pick up some faJITAS!!” And he’s like, “aw-ight, baby!” And then he’s like “Also here are some margaritas!” And she runs out on the porch wearing a tank top and like 10 necklaces and is all, “Woo!” and they make up an actual pitcher of margaritas for the two of them, and they have plastic glasses in the margarita glass shape and some little umbrellas, and they sit on the deck, and he fries up the fajitas and it’s dark outside but warm because they live in Texas and they get all tipsy!
I also imagine this is happening in an early 2000s style, plastic-brown and granite, beige carpeted, two garage home on a cul-de-sac with pale sidewalks. Later they are totally gonna fuck! OR MAYBE , Blake will simply indulge like so:
. . . running my fingers through her long hair
Lightin’ watermelon candles upstairs
Lettin’ them burn and holdin’ her all night
I like doin’ what she likes
I would mention what I’ve already noted about what I think Miranda likes, but that was literally the second to last sentence I wrote and I’ll refrain. I love the watermelon candle detail because there is no way that is not real! What the heck! Hold that girl Blake, yeah, sure, whatever you fuckin say.
Other things Ms. Lambert likes are:
- Sitting in the passenger seat while Blake drives 95 mph on gravel roads. I think this is balls-crazy, because if someone drove my truck 95 mph on a gravel road I would be really mad because my truck would have a hole in the bottom of it and would be upside down and there would be a rock in my eyeball that had been chucked through the crack in the windshield. I guess I can try and give some allowance for gravel roads in Texas being flat, straight, muddy and rolling on down through rows of cornfields toward some floppy swimming hole (i.e. dummmmb), and not like a fucking twisty, rhododendron blocked monstrosity with drainage ditches the size of a dead deer dug in every 40 feet (I mean gravel roads in Oregon), but I still think it’s fucking insane. I’m not overly convinced by Blake’s mention of “getting it past second gear” either, because come on dude you are going 95! What are you doing! Miranda get out, he is drunk!
- And she likes it when I find a road that’s dark
Can we pull up somewhere and park?
Turn the radio on and turn off the lights
I mean, sure. Get it. I guess maybe part of the narrative of this song is that by the end of the song, Blake will have finished doing what she likes, and then will do the one thing he likes, which has to do with penises. I don’t even care, that sounds fine guys, have fun, that’s not a joke, y’all are married, what.
3.She likes hearin’ how good she looks in them blue jeans
4.Little kisses, sweeter than sweet tea
Also, yeah, I get it, you are from Texas. Sweet tea. You love Sweet tea in Texas. Got it.
5. Things I whispered in her ear, oh my
But what’s the significance of Blake breaking the cast iron, appealing country gal mold, and throwing in these straight up Miranda styled goofy-ass scenarios? Am I reading into this again, and drinking margaritas and driving unsafely on un-maintained roads are actually pretty uniform, regular parts of enjoying existence for huge swathes of American women? I mean, I like it, we all know that. If you don’t think you’d like this riding out to the end of a nowhere road at midnight and drinking bottle whiskey, then by all means, let me invite you on a redneck date with me, your life will never be the same, we will see stars you never heard of, please find my phone number attached, don’t look the dog in the eye, yes, there’s an extra rain jacket for you it’s under the seat, I know you didn’t bring one.
It’s bold in some ways for Blake to get specific, but he’s doing it in the safest way possible. Jesus Christ I just had the horrifying thought that perhaps the fantasy is for everyone to be married to Blake Shelton.
The nice thing, though, is that because it’s just about one woman, we aren’t requiring her to be a stand in for all appropriate behavior – by mentioning a couple of inoffensive but distinct tastes (watermelon, fajitas) that could be interchangeable (apple! Chimichangas!) without a huge risk or loss, she can be a safe, but unencumbered individual. Likewise, it’s fun to have the regular narrative of “Girl, I can tell what you like,” or “Girl, you don’t expect to like this, but let me show you Something,” turned on it’s head into: “Girl, what would you like? That? Oh yeah? Fuckin’ hell yeah!”
It’s goddamn refreshing!
And that’s basically it. I didn’t even talk about what the song sounds like, which is, I guess somewhat obviously now – insignificant. It’s bland and annoying and not catchy. I’ve heard it probably 30 times in the past two weeks and I just spent an hour thinking the lyrics in my head and I’m still a tad sketchy on where a few syllables land.
See, the best part was imagining their margarita married-folks night. Have fun guys, but keep it to yourselves!
Listen to this maybe once to get the Margarita pitcher image and be glad that there is one person in one song who is not a masky-faceless-face-ghost, then hopefully forget the rest, and come back later to hear about a song that is literally about a truck and a guitar that look old but are precious and I have the feeling that they just might have something lurkin’ beneath the rusty ol’ surface!
*Alright, I can’t say, nor do I really have any reason to try and claim, that the last part of this is a generally common behavior. But the times in my life that I have encountered a puddle of that sweaty, raw molasses on the ground next to a bed, and then imagined the crux of the moment when that decision was made, have really left a mark on me. L < I straight felt like that. L
**I am using that phrase in the way an 8th grader explained it to me two years ago, does it mean something different now.
*** I dunno, would she like it if you asked your bitch for other bitches? Are you talking about what “she” likes, Blake, as a secret code for what you like? Would you like to fuck her over the sink – and then get her something to drink? **** Would you? Is there any link between these songs besides my own living room? God willing.
****This is for you, Elizabeth, because you are the only one reading this and I’m pretty sure you aren’t familiar with “Bound 2,” so that is what song I’m talking about and you can go look it up and hear it now and I hope you learn to love it as much as I do. God swilling!