What Exactly Is Bro-Country Music Anyway

Luke Bryan is a very successful bro-country singer
Luke Bryan is a very successful bro-country singer
Even critically acclaimed female artists like Kacey Musgraves can't compete with bro-country
Even critically acclaimed female artists like Kacey Musgraves can't compete with bro-country

I've always loved country music and grew up listening to Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, Merle Haggard and John Denver. However, I've never listened to country music radio, so I'm always unaware of what's going on in modern country music. That's not to say I don't listen to younger country singers. I love Kacey Musgraves (24) and indie artist Lydia Loveless (23). I just discover them in other ways. And maybe it's a good thing I don't listen to country radio because according to the Spectrum Pulse review of Musgraves' album Same Trailer, Different Park:

...the country charts are buried in an influx of acts with no one taking a definite lead in the genre. For the most part, too many of these guys sound the same, with the same country rock style and the same bland lyrics that seem to be about booze, girls, cars, and loving America. You hardly ever get acts that stand out much against the herd here...Kacey Musgraves is the country singer-songwriter that should be leading the field, because she bloody well deserves to be.

Now, I'm sure some older country music was about "booze, girls, cars, and loving America." But it covered many other topics as well. It often dealt with people's day-to-day struggles: marriage, divorce, heartbreak, addiction, dead-end jobs, financial struggles, war, etc. Sometimes those struggles were serious and sometimes they were downright silly. Take two great Johnny Cash songs Folsom Prison Blues and A Boy Named Sue. The former song is about a convicted murderer pining for the life of a free man while the latter is about a man who wants to find and kill his father for naming him Sue. If you haven't heard a country album that's all about "booze, girls, cars, and loving America," you're missing out on bro-country music. Although you might think missing out is a good thing.

Bro-Country Samples

These are two popular bro-country songs for your listening pleasure or pain.

Luke Bryan - That's My Kind of Night

Jerrod Niemann - Drink To That All Night

Do you like bro-country music?

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The Bro-Country Formula

Today's popular country albums have titles like Here's to the Good Times, Crash My Party, and Tailgates and Tanlines. According to the LA Times:

Female country singers are complaining that their music is being pushed off the airwaves by a new crew of young, male, “bro-country” musicians singing interchangeable songs about dirt roads, pickup trucks, girls in tiny cutoff jeans and beer, lots of beer.

The formula given for a successful country song of the bro variety is:

  • a drive to a river or lake
  • alcohol
  • a truck with a tailgate
  • moonlight
  • a dirt road
  • a country boy
  • a country girl with a tight tank top and skimpy shorts

PolicyMic's Elena Sheppard also came up with a similar list in 9 Things You're Guaranteed to Hear in a Bro-Country Song. The 9 things are:

  • Endless summer - it's never cold in bro-country
  • The weekend - unlike country music in the old days when a week had 7 whole days, bro-country has just Friday and Saturday. What else do you really need?
  • Moonlight - daytime is no fun. The real action happens at night
  • A girl - she must not be named and according to Sheppard she must have "no defining characteristics, no identity." These guys just want to get laid
  • Booze - in the oldies country songs drinking was often associated with sadness and drowning your sorrows. Not in bro-country. Drinking and getting drunk are all about having a good time
  • Catfish - maybe this has something to do with the bro-country fascination with bodies of water
  • Tailgating - pop singers sing about clubs but the bro-guys sing about "tailgate buzz just sipping on suds / ain’t never too early"
  • A pick-up truck - this is crucial. No cars allowed
  • The rap bridge - yes, rap has crossed over into country music

Samples of Good Country Music

These are a couple of great songs by two amazing young country artists. Check out their albums.

Lydia Loveless gives Kesha's electro song Blind a country makeover

Kacey Musgraves - Silver Lining

No Room for the Ladies

So, you can see why the girls are being left out even if they're often making better music. They're still singing about love, heartache, loneliness, family, reminiscences and the working classes. Their songs don't and can't fit the very male formula of today's popular country music. Kacey Musgraves is very highly respected for her songwriting skills but her songs don't fit what country radio wants to play right now. As an example, her song Blowing Smoke is about the struggles of waitresses:

Well Janie got divorced again
Her ex-husband's in the pen
From two to five, five to ten and longer
Brenda's traded smokes for cake
Still hadn't lost that baby weight
And that baby's about to graduate
From college

Her fantastic and humorous be yourself anthem Follow Your Arrow doesn't fit either:

If you don't go to church, you'll go to hell.
If you're the first one on the front row, you're a self-righteous son-of-a--
Can't win for losing, you'll just disappoint 'em,
Just cause you can't beat 'em, don't mean you should join 'em.

Female singers have been struggling to get airplay. A whopping 44 out of the top 50 songs on the country radio chart as I write this are by men. That's stunning to think about when so many women were prominent in country music in previous decades: Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, Martina McBride, The Dixie Chicks, etc.

Kacey Musgraves is happy that female country artists are making quality music even if it's not getting them to the top of the charts:

Music has always been a male-dominated game. I feel like it’s that way in every business scenario. But this is 2013 and we’re moving forward. There’s a lot of guys on the charts, but there are a lot of girls that aren’t on the charts that haven’t been heard yet that are making great music. I think it’s a really good time for girls...For a while, I think it was popular to be pretty and have a great voice and not have much substance. But I think it’s cool that it’s coming back around where you’re expected to have something a little more hefty to say.

Will Bro-Country Last?

The rise of bro-country reminds me of the approximately 2008-2011 time period when dance and electro music completely took over pop radio. Thankfully by 2012 pop radio started to diversify and now has a good mix of upbeat songs, mid-tempos and ballads. You'll hear dance, R&B, folk pop, pop rock and electro-rock. Pop audiences got tired of a constant barrage of electronic songs about having a good time and wanted more lyrical depth and actual instruments. Bro-country is likely destined to suffer the same fate as electro and dance. People will tire of the same formula and demand something new. And the talented female artists who are struggling now will have their time to shine.

Now, I like songs about partying and going crazy in moderation. I don't like to party but I need some upbeat, fun and happy music in my life. For me personally, I'd prefer to listen to these themes in club, dance and pop music. Although I couldn't stomach a full album of party and club music (sorry Pitbull and Flo Rida). So, bro-country dudes, I'll stick to traditional country. You're a lot of fun to read about but it's a good thing I don't own a gun because I wanted to shoot myself after listening to five of your songs in a row.

Startling Facts About Women and Country Music

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Comments 11 comments

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

I only like the old country music, precisely for the reasons you have mentioned. I can't stand that twangy, formulaic bro crap that all sounds the same and requires no imagination. The Dixie Chicks tried to rock the boat a little and maybe that is why the record companies are scared of female artists. Great hub!


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Mel,

I actually don't think I've heard a style of music that's as formulaic and same-sounding as bro-country.


Jean 2 years ago

There are some great young female artists around now. I'd say the best in many years. It's a pity they're being pushed off radio at a time when they're so darn good.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Jean,

It's always unfortunate when a radio format becomes too narrow in terms of what it will play because it means a lot of great music goes unnoticed.


erorantes profile image

erorantes 2 years ago from Miami Florida

I love country music. I hear the music on the radio. Country music is fun and popular. I like your article Mr. Learthingsweb. It looks like there are more man than women in this country music industry. Both men and women have good voices in their songs. Thank you for your good opinion hub.


Jerry 2 years ago

A lot of the bro country audience aren't traditional country fans. They're young men who had no interest in country before. That's why Nashville is going out of their way to cater to them. It's a trend that needs to die for the sake of artistry.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Jerry,

That's true. Country music in general, bro and other types, has expanded beyond traditional country audiences in the last few years.


Jeffrey 2 years ago

I like my share of "meaningless" music too. But it just sounds odd with country because that was never it's purpose. Even rock started off as a dance genre in the 50's. But country always seems to have been about people's troubles and day-to-day experiences, so the whole brocountry formula seems out of place.


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Jeffrey,

That's the only type of country that I've ever heard as well. That's why bro-country caught me off guard when I first heard about it.


Mike 2 years ago

This blog just seems to be about Luke Bryan witch I happen to like along with Kenny chesney and Jason Aldean however I also listen to Alan Jackson George strait hank all three and Johnny cash if you want to know my opinion this is just like all music it helps you get through the week and is good to party with and when your down and need something to relate to the oldies are great


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California Author

Mike,

I agree escapist music is important. Maybe bro-country is way too formulaic for my liking. I think these singers could expand more on their themes and still deliver happy, escapist music. But it's also unfortunate it's pushing other themes off the radio.

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