“You can bet you make this ol’ boy’s day, hey pretty girl, won’t you look my way,” Kip Moore croons out of my headphones, singing about the “long and winding ride” of life with his “pretty girl.” Moore advises us in his chorus that during this ride, you “better have the right one by your side” because “time moves faster than you think.”
Over the course of the song, Moore spots a “pretty girl” at a bar somewhere and flashes forward through their entire life together, right from the first dance to the day he dies (yes, this moment in the song is just as morbid as you’re imagining it to be). This “long and winding road” is full of defining moments: bringing the “pretty girl” home to meet his momma, buying a house, having a baby, etc. The only thing that remains stable in the life that Moore constructs for him and the girl is her prettiness—over the course of three and a half minutes, Moore sings the phrase “pretty girl” fourteen times.
The song might be titled “Hey Pretty Girl,” but there’s something else going on here that deserves to be noticed: yes, pretty girl, you guessed it—sexism!
There’s no denying that Moore employs the phrase “hey pretty girl” to appeal to all women. After all, had he chosen to sing, “Hey Amanda, won’t you look my way?” only women named Amanda could imagine “build[ing] some dreams” with Kip Moore. The vagueness allows Moore to pursue individual connections with each of his listeners, and you might even find yourself thinking, “Yeah, cool, I could be that pretty girl. I like apple trees.
You don’t want to be that girl. Here’s why:
“Pretty” is pretty much the only characteristic that Moore attributes to this woman. This woman, apparently, who does nothing on her own except to give birth to their baby, for which Moore gives her his highest praise: “Hey pretty girl, you did so good.” That woman just gave birth to your child, Kip! Might you want to try being a little less patronizing? Not even in the moment of childbirth is Moore’s love referred to as a “woman.”
The only time the woman is referred to as anything other than a “pretty girl” is during the last stanza—the moment of death that I mentioned earlier. “Hey pretty girl, when I see the light, and it’s my time to go, I’ll thank the Lord for a real good life, a pretty little girl and a beautiful wife.” In the culmination of this song, the “pretty girl” goes from being a “pretty girl” to “a beautiful wife.” What a move!
The woman in this song is presented only as two things: a girl and a wife. There is nothing wrong with the life choices presented in this song, and there is certainly no reason to say that this woman is unaccomplished because there’s no mention of a career. The problem is that this woman is presented as so one-dimensional that she has no interests or talents other than being pretty, falling in love with Kip Moore, and having his baby. Come on, Kip, give your fictional wife some credit. She must have hobbies.
Moore’s not the only country artist to invoke seriously problematic gender stereotypes in his songs. People often complain about rap music’s objectification of women, but I see an equally disturbing image of womanhood presented in country music.
Here’s a quick catalog of my favorite sexist lyrics in my favorite country songs:
- “Back down a country road, the girls are always hot and the beer is ice cold.” I see what you did there, Jake Owen. Clever juxtaposition of temperatures between girls and alcoholic beverages. Women love nothing more than to be compared to inanimate objects.
- “Crazy girl, don’t you know that I love you?… Silly woman, come here, let me hold you. Have I told you lately? I love you like crazy, girl.” I’m not sure, Eli Young Band, why she doesn’t know that you love her. Maybe it’s because you repeatedly call her crazy and silly? Let me know how that works out for you. Don’t even get me started about how this music video exploits the very serious issue of mental illness.
- “All them other boys wanna wind you up and take you downtown, but you look like the kind that likes to take it way out, out where the corn rows grow, row, row my boat.” Aside from the fact that “row, row my boat” is a terrible euphemism for who-knows-what, I really like the part when Luke Bryan disses all those other guys for having no idea what this girl wants, only to make his own assumptions about what she desires based on not talking to her even a little bit. The whole song is actually a clever exercise in Luke Bryan convincing the girl that she wants what he wants. Bravo, friend!
- “Hey girl, what’s your name girl, I’ve been lookin’ at you, and every guy here’s doin’ the same girl…I know you don’t know me but I can’t leave here lonely.” Hey, Billy Currington, next time you try to pick up a girl at a bar, you might want to start by not insinuating that you’re not taking no for an answer when you ask her to go home with you. She does have to say “yes,” you know.
- “And all the angels up in Heaven started singing, ‘All it’s missing is a pretty thing,’… let there be cowgirls for every cowboy.” Obviously Chris Cagle and I have different interpretations of the Old Testament, but the suggestion here that women’s sole reason for existence is so that every cowboy can have a cowgirl is blatantly offensive. Kip Moore’s over here like, “At least I referred to her as a ‘girl’ and not a ‘thing’!”
It’s an old joke that you get a lot of things back when you play a country music song backwards: according to Rascal Flatts, “Ya get your house back, ya get your dog back, ya get your best friend Jack back…” and so on. I’m beginning to think that we should add “female agency” to that list, since it seems to keep disappearing in a lot of these songs.
Of course, all generalizations have plenty of exceptions. There are country music artists, both men and women, whose songs don’t fall into a misogynistic trap of what women are supposed to look like or how they are supposed to act. My fear is that there’s a perception that country music as a genre is somehow more “wholesome” or “nicer” than other types of music, when that’s not always the case.