“Dicked Down in Dallas” is a terrible way to end country music’s year

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The album art for “Dicked Down in Dallas.” Photo: Genuis.com

When I first heard there was a country song called “Dicked Down in Dallas,” I guffawed. As a lifelong fan of country music, I am accustomed to some zany titles. In a genre that gave us such unforgettable diddies as “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” “Goin’ Through the Big D,” and “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” cheeky innuendo is nothing new. But “Dicked Down in Dallas?” That sounds more OnlyFans than Grand Ole Opry.

Yet, the song has become a viral sensation, spreading across the internet faster than Covid at a White House party. Rolling Stone has reported on its success, while industry blog Taste of Country did a flattering profile on its singer, Trey Lewis. Most impressively, the song has racked up sales and streams, topping the iTunes chart and entering the top 20 of the Billboard Hot Country Songs.

Written by Lewis and fellow songwriters Drew Trosclair and Matt McKinney, “Dicked Down” has amazing guitar rifts. Lewis’ rich, twangy vocals are a perfect fit for country radio. The lyrics, on the other hand, are perhaps too explicit to allow for airplay. Still, the fact that people love it isn’t so surprising. At its heart, “Dicked Down” is a breakup song, and country music is defined by songs about heartache.

“He Stopped Loving Her Today” this ain’t though.

The singer’s girlfriend has left him, and her heartbroken ex-boyfriend spends three minutes and twenty-one seconds imagining all the ways she is having sex with other men. “She’s getting dicked down in Dallas/railed out in Raleigh/tag-teamed up in Tennessee” he laments, going on to whine that “now I’m the one on my knees/praying she’ll come back and give me that sweet ass.”

These are, to be blunt, the raciest lyrics I have ever heard in a country song. So, as you have probably imagined, it has engendered some controversy. What might surprise you, though, is that it isn’t coming from the more conservative circles one often associates with country music. Instead, “Dicked Down in Dallas” has become part of a wider conversation about gender equality and play equity which has dominated the country music industry this year

As female artists begin to push back against years of being side-lined and ignored, and women in the industry begin to speak out about inequalities in and out of Nashville, “Dicked Down in Dallas” feels like an awkward and in many ways regressive way to end 2020. “I could appreciate the over the top crudeness of “Dicked Down in Dallas” if it wasn’t all about shaming a woman who left and saying “I wonder what her daddy would say/maybe he’s the one to blame,” tweeted country music journalist Lorie Lieberg.

Lieberg might be one of the few prominent figures in country music to have openly expressed her dislike of the song, but her sentiment is certainly in keeping with an industry-wide dialogue years in the making. To understand the context into which “Dicked Down” was released, one needs to have a basic understanding of the past 30 years of country music.

While country music has traditionally lopsidedly favoured male artists (look only to the CMA and ACM Entertainer of the Year award recipients should you need proof), things were beginning to look up in the 1990s. That decade was, if not dominated by, certainly good to women in the genre. Artists like Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and more produced chart-topping hits, becoming staples of country radio.

Fast forward twenty-five years, though, and things have gotten bleak for women in country. A study released by CMT early this year found that in 2019, women accounted for only 10% of country airplay. Between 2010 and 2019, the top male artist — Jason Aldean — received nearly twice as many spins on country radio as the top female artist, Carrie Underwood. Last year, Maren Morris was the only woman to score a number one on Billboard’s Top Country Airplay charts, and this year Morris became the first woman since 2012 to top the Billboard Country Charts for two consecutive weeks.

To say the last decade has been dominated by male artists is accurate, but it isn’t the entire picture. Rather, it has been dominated by male artists singing about women and trucks and booze in a subgenre dubbed “bro country.”

“Bro country” can probably best be described as the soundtrack to a fraternity party. It’s often about tan women in short shorts riding shotgun in a truck, or the singer chillin’ with his friends while popping open a cold Bud Lite. To be sure, lyrics like these have always existed in country music, and singing about the simple pleasures of life is part of what makes the genre so unique and special. But never has the industry been dominated almost exclusively by the same derivative songs.

Formulaic and reductive, bro country represented an ebbing of artistry within the genre. To underscore just how homogenous country radio had gotten by 2014, YouTuber Sir Mashalot mashed up several “bro country” songs. The mash-up went viral, but not because Sir Mashalot brought diverse voices together to create something new. There was no way he could do that with what country radio was playing, because the songs, and even the vocalists, are nearly indistinguishable.

A lack of originality was not the only criticism levelled at bro country. Artists from Jennifer Nettles to Brad Paisley have complained about the lack of women’s voices being heard during the subgenre’s decade-long reign, as well as how women were presented in bro country lyrics. “There’s a lot of stuff on the radio about, you know, put your tan legs on the dashboard and we’ll roll around in the truck and go party,” Paisley told People Magazine in 2014. “It’s like, ‘Guys, come on!’ — and specifically, yes, guys, cause there are no girls! We can something too.”

From the Sir Mashalot mashup to Paisley’s comments, 2014 seemed like it might be the year things finally came to a head. That year, duo Maddie & Tae released “Girl in a Country Song.” A rousing rebuke of bro country and a demand for respect, the song went to number one. Tellingly, Maddie & Tae were afraid to play the song for record executives because it called out so many top artists, and cheekily included a disclaimer at the beginning of the video that “no country music was harmed in the making of this song.”

Male artists need not have worried. Disappointingly, “Girl in a Country Song” proved to be a rare exception rather than a new rule, and the dominance of bro country continued throughout the latter half of the 2010s. While artists like Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini found commercial success, they were among the only women who reached country superstardom in the decade. To drive home just how stark the play inequity was, even after Kacey Musgraves’ won Album of the Year at the Grammys, she found it difficult to get her songs played on country radio.

By 2019, the frustration had reached a boiling point. Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies in the 90s” was an ode to the female artists she had grown up listening to. In the song she wishes she could “turn the dial and find me some ‘Strawberry Wine’” — a reference to Deana Carter’s classic 90s’ hit and a sad incitement of the dearth of women on country radio today. In March of 2020, Mickey Guyton — who just made history as the first Black female solo artist nominated for a country music Grammy — released a powerful rebuke to patriarchy generally, but also to an industry which had marginalised women’s voices for years with her song “What’re You Gonna Tell Her?” “All this time you built her up just so the world could let her down,” Guyton sings, the pain in her voice obvious to anyone except those most determined not to hear it.

When Guyton performed it at the Ryman Auditorium — the “mother church of country music” — in February, she received a standing ovation. This is made even more impressive because Guyton wasn’t performing for the public, but for an industry event called the Country Radio Seminar. Her performance quickly went viral among industry insiders and country fans, with many hoping that it would be the watershed moment for women in country generally and specifically women of colour, who have traditionally had an even more challenging time breaking into the genre. This is despite a plethora of Black female talent, including Rissi Palmer and Rhiannon Giddens, who have been creating original, poignant music for years but have yet to find mainstream success within the country music industry.

In many ways, Guyton’s song and her subsequent release “Black Like Me” — for which she is Grammy-nominated for Best Female Country Vocal Performance — become just that. Buoyed by wider cultural conversations about Black Lives Matter and the MeToo movement, the conversation within country music this year has shifted to one of diversity and inclusion, with Guyton, Morris, Ballerini, and other female artists leading the charge for equal play and a broadening of who is considered “mainstream” and “marketable” in country music.

The industry is finally listening, too. Earlier this year, CMT pledged play parity between women and men in its music video programming, highlighting findings of its study which shows that country music fans are eager to hear women’s voices. Cody Alan, a popular country radio host who also works for CMT, likewise pledged to play an equal number women and men. And all five Grammy nominees for Best Country Album are women or bands fronted by women. The women of country music, it seems, might finally be getting their due.

Which is what makes “Dicked Down in Dallas” feel so tone deaf. In a year that has been dominated by conversations about women in the genre, we end with a song in which the singer projects his insecurities onto the woman who left him, imagining her promiscuity (he never says this is happening, rather it is what he pictures) and lamenting the fact that she is sleeping with everyone but him. It isn’t even her as a person he misses, at least not in the lyrics, it’s her body and the sex she isn’t having with him. Essentially, it’s everything Maddie & Tae were complaining about six years ago, except X-rated.

It remains to be seen whether “Dicked Down in Dallas” is the last gasp of bro country or a rallying cry in the face of mounting pressure to treat women as more than girls in Daisy Dukes riding shotgun in pickup trucks. I’m sure the songwriters didn’t intend it to be either. They probably just wrote a song they thought was clever and funny, and fair dos. I don’t begrudge any hardworking artists their success.

But “Dicked Down in Dallas” does not exist in a vacuum, and it emerges in a context which makes it feel painfully out of step with the times. We started the year with Guyton’s heartfelt vocals and impassioned plea for gender equality, and we end it with a song about an insecure man slut-shaming his ex-girlfriend. Only one of them has even charted, and it wasn’t the beautifully painful ballad about growing up in a misogynistic world.

Of course, I say that as the song continues to sell like hotcakes. The success of “Dicked Down in Dallas” shows that, regardless of whether this is the beginning of the end of bro country or simply an escalation in the objectification of women by male country artists, we have a long way to go before the genre catches up with the women who are leading it into the future. Indeed, it’s the lack of those women’s voices in mainstream country music which makes “Dicked Down in Dallas” stick out like a sore thumb.

One can argue whether the song’s lyrics are misogynistic or simply lewd male chauvinism, but either way the problem is amplified by the dearth of female voices providing, if not a counterpoint, at least an alternative. Watching artists like Guyton, Giddens, and Musgraves struggle to get their music in front of mainstream audiences while “Dicked Down in Dallas” takes the genre by storm is deeply frustrating to anyone concerned with promoting female artists. Is also raises questions about the artistic direction and integrity of the genre. Do we really need another song about bitter ex-boyfriends or girls in pickup trucks, or is it time to see if country music can’t be something more?

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics and culture for more than a decade. His work has appeared at The Independent, Salon, and elsewhere

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