|Cultural origins||Early 2010s, Southern United States|
Bro-country is a subgenre of mainstream country music originating in the second decade of the 21st century. It is a general term for styles of country music taking influence from 21st-century hip hop, hard rock and electronic music. Many "bro-country" songs are about attractive young women, the consumption of alcohol, partying, and pickup trucks.
The first use of the term was by Jody Rosen of New York magazine in an article published on August 11, 2013. He used the term to describe songs by Florida Georgia Line, particularly their debut single "Cruise". He also named Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Jake Owen to be notable singers of the genre. Entertainment Weekly also cited "Boys 'Round Here" by Blake Shelton, "Ready Set Roll" by Chase Rice, and "Redneck Crazy" by Tyler Farr as other examples of "bro-country".
The genre drew criticism from other country singers; artists who have spoken against the "bro-country" subgenre include Ray Price, Dale Watson, Jean Shepard, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Gary Allan, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Travis Tritt, Kacey Musgraves, and Zac Brown. The popularity of the genre opened up a divide between the older generation of country singers and the bro country singers which was described as "civil war" by musicians, critics, and journalists.
In the early 2010s, the genre began to gather steam, but the song that brought the movement to the attention of music journalists was the 2012 Florida Georgia Line song "Cruise". In 2014, "Cruise" became the best-selling digital country song of all time, with over 7 million copies sold in the US while also holding a record 24 weeks as the No. 1 Hot Country Song. According to Jody Rosen: "We may look back on 'Cruise' as a turning point, the moment when the balance of power tipped from an older generation of male country stars to the bros."
A number of highly popular albums and songs by singers such as Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton considered to be bro-country appeared in the first half of the 2010s. In 2013, Luke Bryan's Crash My Party was the third best-selling of all albums in the US, with Florida Georgia Line's Here's to the Good Times at sixth, and Blake Shelton's Based on a True Story at ninth. It has also been estimated in research that about 45 percent of country’s best-selling songs could be considered bro country, with the top two artists being Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line.
While bro country was popular with country music fans, programmers and those within the industry grew tired of the genre. According to radio programmer R.J. Curtis: "The real fatigue on it has been with [radio] programmers and the people who have to listen to it a lot and evaluate it — the air personalities and the program directors. The people who aren't really sick of it are the listeners." Some thought the genre had waned by 2015, others however felt that the genre was here to stay and argued that it had expanded in a positive way. According to radio program director Phathead: "The hip-hop, rock and R&B influence you hear in Sam Hunt, Thomas Rhett, Brett Eldredge, Cole Swindell and all the others is about to take us to new places, and it's awesome."
The "bro-country" movement has been criticized by listeners and music reviewers for its subject matter, namely repeated lyrical themes of partying associated with Friday nights, alcoholic beverages, and trucks, as well as its exclusion of female country artists. Traditional country fans and artists have expressed the sentiment that bro-country music is a poor representation of country music. One critic who spoke favorably about "bro-country" was David Horse of The Los Angeles Times, who wrote: "But this music has an appeal not unlike the teen surfing songs of the Beach Boys or the screaming guitar, take-everything-too-far anthems of Bon Jovi and Sammy Hagar...For a young man, the allure of reckless freedom is forever strong. And it’s not just young men. I know I’ve got a 25-year-old bottled up inside my decidedly not young self who still longs for the fantasy."
The genre was also criticised for being formulaic. A video by Greg Todd, an aspiring songwriter, which highlighted the similarities between bro-country songs went viral after being featured by Time in January 2015. The video combined six songs released between 2011 and 2013: Shelton's "Sure Be Cool If You Did", Bryan's "Drunk on You", Florida Georgia Line's "This Is How We Roll", Cole Swindell's "Chillin' It", Parmalee's "Close Your Eyes" and Chase Rice's "Ready Set Roll". Todd noted the formula as "a tight, mid-tempo backbeat; a quick, two-verse set-up, often laced with clever wordplay and bouncy, lyrical melody; and — bam — the power chorus to bring it all home and keep them coming back."
In addition, some also criticized the music's portrayal of women. In November 2014 country artist Kenny Chesney, interviewed by Billboard, spoke out about bro -country: "over the last several years, it seems like anytime anybody sings about a woman, she’s in cutoff jeans, drinking and on a tailgate... they objectify the hell out of them".
In December 2014 Brad Paisley spoke out against bro-country and the lack of females on country radio: "one of my frustrations with radio now is lyrics: [...] there's a lot of stuff on the radio about, you know, put your tan legs on the dashboard and we'll roll around in the truck and go party. It's like, 'Guys, come on!' – and specifically, yes, guys, 'cause there are no girls! We can say something too. There are phrases that are totally cliché that we as songwriters owe it to ourselves to not use again".
In response to the criticisms, Blake Shelton said in January 2013 that he didn't care about the "old farts" who complained about their songs: "Well that's because you don't buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don't want to buy the music you were buying." In turn, that sparked a response from Ray Price via his Facebook page: "It's a shame that I have spend (sic) 63 years in this business trying to introduce music to a larger audience and to make it easier for the younger artists who are coming behind me. ... You should be so lucky as us old-timers. Check back in 63 years (the year 2075) and let us know how your music will be remembered." Shelton later apologized to Ray Price.
Zac Brown described Luke Bryan’s "That's My Kind of Night" as the worst song he had ever heard, to which Jason Aldean replied, "nobody gives a shit what u think." Jason Aldean also called the term bro-country ridiculous, and was bothered to be labeled as such because he didn't "feel like it's a compliment," that "it's sort of a backhanded thing that comes from a very narrow-minded listener". On his song about drinking and trucks, he said: "Yeah, we've had some songs that talk about that stuff. But that's also what we really grew up doing. A lot of us grew up in these little towns where there wasn't a whole lot to do, and we were entertaining ourselves. I can't sing you a song about being a stockbroker on Wall Street, because I don't even know where the hell Wall Street's at."
Rosen himself was unhappy the way the term bro-country had been used by some as an insult and felt that some criticisms of the genre came from class and regional prejudices and snobbery. He thought that artists such as Jake Owen and Thomas Rhett made music that pushed the genre into "exciting new territory", and said: "All the ways country is flirting with R&B and hip hop, production-wise and otherwise, I think it’s really cool." To Rosen, bro country has changed country in a positive way, producing an increasing diversity of sound and subject matter on country radio.
Reactions in music
A number of country singers expressed their criticism of the genre in their songs. In July 2014, female duo Maddie & Tae released their debut single, "Girl in a Country Song", which criticized and referenced many "bro-country" songs, particularly the roles of females within such songs. In the same month, country singer songwriter Maggie Rose released her single "Girl in Your Truck Song". In the song, she praises bro country songs saying she actually wants to be the girl in their songs.
In August 2014 country artist Brad Paisley recorded a song called "4WP" for his album Moonshine in the Trunk. In the song, Paisley pokes fun at bro country by joining the trend and heavily relying on some of its recurrent elements. A sample of Paisley's hit single "Mud on the Tires" is also featured in the song. About the song, Paisley said: "In the middle of this bro-country movement, with all this criticism about [the genre's reliance on] the jean shorts and the mud and the outdoors, we do a song that's just like that... but we include a sample of myself from 2003! Which is kind of like saying, 'I have a little license. I kinda did this already'. But it's written so tongue-in-cheek, and it doesn't take itself too seriously."
In April 2015, songwriter Brent Cobb, who has cuts by Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Frankie Ballard, and Luke Bryan, released a song called "Yo Bro" which mocks and pokes fun at all of bro-country's clichés stating that it was "inspired by frustration".
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