With the rise of “Bro Country,” levels of heteronormativity in music have skyrocketed; it’s hard to turn on the radio without having to digest it from every station, in every genus of music. It’s gotten worse, though. (Didn’t think it could? Me either.) While I recognize that there is some awesome, legit pop-country out there, misogynistic artists that focus on subject matter such as wooing women, drinking beer, wooing women, doing manly things, and wooing women dominate the day. Little Big Town, who otherwise make pretty dynamic pop-country music, made some form of a hit recently entitled “Girl Crush.”
Sounds awesome, right? Progressive, even? Yeah, no. Not even close. The song “Girl Crush” itself probably shouldn’t be defined as queer-baiting exactly, but close enough to queer-baiting to add insult to injury.
“Girl Crush” begins with the lines “I’ve got a girl crush/hate to admit it, but . . .” Enough to get my eyes to roll while still intriguing me. Slightly. However, pipe dreams of subversion of all the usual suspects in a medium as popular as music were thwarted once again by the monolith that is heteronormativity. Heteronormativity, buttressed by the pervasive myth of “performance bisexuality.” The gross assumption that either everybody is really bisexual, or nobody is really bisexual; that bisexuality is a passing phase. The entirety of “Girl Crush” hinges on the notion of “performance bisexuality.”
The plot is frustratingly simple in addition to the other annoying aspects I’ve already mentioned. Girl no.1 had a boyfriend. Boyfriend broke up with Girl no.1. Boy gets a new girlfriend. Girl no.1 develops a “crush” on boy’s new girlfriend, Girl no.2, out of jealousy and spite. Of course, Girl no.1 wants to “taste her lips,” but the reason for that is purely “because they taste like you,” not for reasons, like, you know, legitimate Queerness or actual attraction. That’d be silly . . . and gay. The fact that Girl no.1 “wants to drown [herself] / in a bottle of her perfume” mocks levels of depression LGBTQIA+ youth are at risk for, the suicidal thoughts and actions that plagued many of us, and still plague many of us—the pain often felt when questioning sexual and romantic orientation, being assured from all directions that we are abnormal, strange, wrong, confused, or broken. It makes trivial the huge impact being barraged from all directions with anti-Queer messages has. It makes trivial queer romances that are very real and–in a society that also hinges on heteronormativity, sex-shaming, myths about LGBTQIA+ people and communities–sometimes very difficult.
That is, Girl no.1’s desire is mired in jealousy and her wish to spark jealousy in Boy, to perform spiteful bisexuality for Boy in order to manipulate Boy into wanting her. Perpetuating more false-accusations directed at polysexual individuals about being deceitful, unfaithful, ‘wanting to have it all/both ways’, greedy, etc. Girl no.1 will presumably leave Girl no.2 after Girl no.2’s usefulness in Girl no.1’s manipulative ploy runs dry. Of course, the song doesn’t go into that, it would sound much less sappy-genuine if it did.
Up until this point, it sounds like the above mentioned are the only myths surrounding bisexuals and the act of bisexuality perpetuated by Little Big Town’s borderline queer-baiting smash hit. I thought the same. I was wrong. Girl no.1 specifically thinks of the object of her pseudo-desire when she is “thinkin’ about her / under [his] bedsheets.” Thus, another myth is reinforced: that of bisexual individuals’ inherent hypersexuality. Heteronormativity upholds this false rhetoric, and this false rhetoric reinforces heteronormativity. False rhetoric about LGBTQIA+ individuals can exist without heteronormativity, and vice versa, but part of the reason revolution is a Sisyphusian task is because the two exist intricately and irretrievably woven together to form an oppression with more strength than each otherwise would possess on its own, a far tighter hold on dominant culture and the group-think phenomenon of society en mass, a more complex hegemony overall.
I’m not saying that the situation portrayed in “Girl Crush” isn’t real; I’m not saying the portrayal of “performance bisexuality” cannot be a valid lead-in to actual bisexuality; discovery comes from all sorts of situations. However, my skepticism stems from the fact that nothing occurs in a vacuum, and Little Big Town’s music is still classified under the genera of pop-country and the now famous spin-off of pop-country, “Bro Country.” “Girl Crush” is still anchored strongly in the dominant culture’s hegemonic discourse.
Music is one of the biggest, most accessible, farthest-reaching media platforms, and subsequently, the medium that is arguably best at getting messages across and getting masses to retain those messages, internalize and contribute to them. Music has the ability to shape ideas sub-consciously as well as ostensibly.
Music has also been a huge, wide-spread medium for revolutionary thoughts, ideas, and actions. The two—mainstream and underground—run parallel to each other, both possessing an immutable strength, both extremely effective at reaching a target audience. Each are able to ‘call in’ the desired audience, whomever that audience is or whatever demographics it may consist of. In the past few years, Pop-Country has grown into its current gargantuan popularity. It continues to gain speed, to accumulate a larger and larger fan base. Dominant discourse shifting into more progressive rhetoric in music, then, would be a huge assist to breaking down cultural walls set up to maintain Queer oppression.