Time was, just the mention of mattress dancin’ ignited weeks of controversy in the world of country music. Then came Toby Keith, singing the praises of one-night stands and extramarital affairs. When he topped the charts for six weeks with “As Good as I Once Was,” a bawdy number that begins with an invitation to a ménage-a-trois with twin sisters, it was a sure sign times had changed.
Keith’s crass braggadocio has long made him a favorite with a younger, broader fan base, so it was only a matter of time before the imitators emerged. The male party-hardy crowd is now nearly as coveted as those soccer moms the Conway-style crooners are charming. In recent weeks, country radio has sometimes sounded like a frat party free-for-all, full of dirty jokes and raunchy innuendos.
Keith Anderson, one of 2005’s breakthrough artists, has employed double entendre in his first two singles, establishing himself as a kind of low-brow lothario. His debut single, “Pickin’ Wildflowers,” proposes an earthy rendezvous, and is littered with not-so-subtle suggestions like, “Take a trail ride, if you know what I mean.” He followed that Top 10 with “XXL,” a celebration of a huskier male, er, physique: “I’m a lean mean love machine that likes to be held,” he sings with barely concealed glee. His shtick is hardly sophisticated, but it seems to be working.
The fact that “size matters” is possibly the most overplayed joke in pop culture didn’t deter Joe Nichols from following the sly “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” with his latest single, “Size Matters (Someday).” The subject of the song is a woman who dreams of a big house and a big diamond (because what woman doesn’t?) but will settle for a man with a big heart, big kisses, a big smile and whatever else listeners might extrapolate.
But if country continues down this path, you can blame it partly on the badonkadonk. Trace Adkins’ ode to the female form is his fastest-rising single to date, quickly reaching No. 2 and accelerating the album on which it appears to platinum status. A stroke of marketing genius, the risqué subject matter and hip-hop influences (and the accompanying video) of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” are calculated to attract younger listeners, and it’s succeeded, selling more than 305,000 units in digital downloads alone.
The success of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and its ilk proves that country is increasingly comfortable with sexuality, particularly when it’s presented in a playful way. It’s a shift that’s not unwelcome, after a post-9/11 obsession with tragedy sometimes made for a solemn radio playlist. But fun doesn’t have to be quite so crude, and let’s not forget those soccer moms could probably do with a little less objectification. If there’s room for Conway-style panty removers and bawdy boys-will-be-boys anthems, hopefully we’ll soon see some honest exploration of adult romance.