Feminism and Country Music: Gasoline and Matches?

October 18, 2014, 11:00 am


Connie Britton, a.k.a, Rayna James: the people’s feminist?

The Radical household caught up with Nashville last night, one of our favorite shows. Serious debate ensued.  Will Juliette Barnes keep the baby? How very doomed is Deacon Claybourne’s new relationship with Luke Wheeler’s backup singer, since he will always be in love with Rayna Jaymes — who is engaged to marry Luke? How many people over 40 were having flashbacks, not just to “the accident,” but to Princess Di, as Rayna and Sadie Stone fled the paparazzi rioting outside the wedding dress store in a souped up Mustang convertible? When did actress Connie Britton, who plays Rayna, become the ultimate abortion counselor, here and on Friday Night Lights? 

These are the questions that consume us, even as work piles up in the in box. SPOILER ALERTS BELOW THE JUMP…..

In the Radical household, we are huge country music fans — but less so now that country has merged more with rock, and that the female singers are chosen to be young, perky and appeal to the teeny-bopper set. Juliette, played by the ever-luscious Hayden Panettierre, is an amalgam of all of them, but is mostly a Taylor Swift/Kelly Clarkson cross.

Country music has changed since I was captured by it in my youth, but especially for women. I mean, we are old enough to have seen Tammy Wynette in a dinner club, people; and Reba McEntire in a theater in the round in Wallingford Conecticut, where people brought flowers up to the rotating stage and she accepted them personally. In the same theater, someone asked Trisha Yearwood from the audience why she was getting married, since her music was so critical of men. Unforgettably, she replied, “Cuz I want to study one. Up close.”

That was country music, and it was altered more or less forever when Garth Brooks decided to run his concerts like rock shows and fly through the audiences in harnesses. Now the vast majority of stars play stadium shows, just like everyone else, with the resulting loss of communication with the audience and homogenization of the music.

But the biggest change in country music has been the demise of the woman solo artist, in favor of women lead singers of name bands, little girl woman singers, or no women at all. This is a critique this season of Nashville signals by putting a forthcoming Patsy Cline biopic (done to perfection by Jessica Lange in 1985) smack in the middle of the plot. Needless to say, la famille Radicale, was downright thrilled at Rayna’s passionate, feminist appeal to Sadie Stone to sign with her Highway 65 label, rather than Edgehill Records, citing Edgehill’s almost exclusive promotion of hat acts  (by definition hat acts are male) and poor treatment of women. But then Rayna asks, in a heart stopping moment: where are the women artists that used to dominate the country hit lists? As Rolling Stone reports it:

Backstage at the Ryman, Rayna confronts Sadie about signing with Edgehill. “I don’t want to be just another one of Rayna Jaymes’ artists. I want to be Rayna Jaymes,” Sadie tells her.

At this point, in a beautiful soliloquy worth of Shakespeare (country-radio programmers, take note), Rayna responds by saying, “Let’s get one thing straight: Edgehill did not make me. I made Edgehill. And I left Edgehill; do you want to know why? Edgehill isn’t the same label and the music business isn’t the same. Back then, you could listen to the radio all day long and hear so many female artists. We had Martina, we had Reba, we had Faith, Jo Dee, Shania, Pam. Do you know how many solo female artist there are in the Top 40? Two.”

She also notes that today’s country music is “big-hat cowboys” (including her man, Luke Wheeler), and says, “You don’t want to be Rayna Jaymes. You want to be the one and only Sadie Stone and I believe I can help you with that.”

Awesome. Feminist. Moment. OK, I would have included Loretta, Trisha, Tanya, LeAnn and Wynnona on the list. But even that proves the point: there used to be more female stars than you could name, and now there ain’t. Like every other form of popular culture, it is male and youthful female audiences that are being wooed by the country music industry.

Click on the video below to see Sadie Stone and Rayna cover Gasoline and Matches, made famous by (the previously unmentioned) LeAnn Rimes (who recently reassured us that she “is not a pill popper”) after Sadie announces publicly she is signing with Highway 65. Of course, choosing this song to launch Rayna and Sadie’s partnership probably means that everything will go terribly, terribly wrong. Don’t you think?

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