“I ain’t trying to start no fight, but I’ll finish one every time”—so crows the country star Blake Shelton in the song that won the first-ever prize for Best Web Video at the CMT Music Awards, broadcast from Nashville this Wednesday evening. Shelton is a coward, and I’m saying that not to pick a fight with him, but to defend country music fans from his award-winning song’s assault on their freedom of individual expression.
The title is “Kiss My Country Ass,” and it’s less a song than litany of cynically baiting Red State tropes and cliches. The opening lines:
Tearin’ down a dirt road, rebel flag flyin’, coon dog in the back
Truck bed loaded down with beer and a cold one in my lap
Each stanza presents more of the same kind of thing, listed like the ingredients on one of those beer cans, and the items on the song’s list—Wrangler jeans, Marlboro Reds, a gun, a flag, a daddy who fought in Vietnam—are as interesting as barley, hops, and water. Though Shelton is credited with the video hit of the song, it was originally released by the singer Rhett Akins and written by Akins with Nashville song-mill writers Dallas Davidson and Jon Stone.
For all its rebel posturing, “Kiss My Country Ass” is a play-show act of defense from a straw attack and, worse, an insult to the ideals of individual freedom that it pretends to defend. In its pandering obviousness, the song is cowardly, and the facts of its main composer’s life suggests that it might be at least a tad dishonest. Akins was a business student at the University of Georgia and worked for a while in his family’s oil distribution company before joining a theme-park show called “Music, Country Music” at a vacation spot called Fiesta Texas. The experience may have helped prepare Akins to produce diversions such as “Kiss My Country Ass,” a mechanical illusion as true to human experience a theme-park ride.
Of course, I am writing this as a member of multiple elites. I’m a staff critic for TNR and a tenured professor at an Ivy League university. Still, my daddy fought in World War II, and I worked alongside him in a steel mill to earn money for college. My daddy loves Picasso. My late sister was married to a big-rig driver, and he smoked Marlboro Reds, owned a gun, and also played the cello. My brother was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and, during his service, drove a VW with daisies painted on the doors. Real lives, even in the Red States, are more deliciously complicated than the artificial contents of songs like “Kiss My Country Ass.” I suspect that Arkins and Shelton, both savvy operators, know this, and all they’re doing in their music is kissing their CD buyers in the spot they know best.
David Hadju is The New Republic’s music critic.
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