Country Music in the Media Crossfire

Misinformation Seems to Be Coming From Everywhere

(Straight From Nashville is a weekly column written by CMT.com managing editor Calvin Gilbert.)

In a matter of just a few days, America witnessed an MSNBC guest equating country music with violence against Muslims and the national media pumping up a non-existent controversy surrounding Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush.”

Country music, as the saying goes, is three chords and the truth. And more than ever, it really seems like the truth can be found in great country songs.

In attempting to process those two ideological extremes involving country music, I remembered “Where Have All the Average People Gone,” a minor hit for Roger Miller in 1969. For years, I assumed Miller wrote the song, but it was actually composed by the late Dennis Linde, whose other credits include the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl,” Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” and Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green,” among others.

In the song, Linde writes that those living in the city say he’s country while his friends in the country call him citified. He also notes that some people call him a coward because he doesn’t push anybody around, yet others call him a troublemaker because he always stands his ground.

“Funny I don’t fit,” the song’s hook goes. “Where have all the average people gone?”

I’m convinced there are still more average people around than politicians and news organizations may lead us to believe. It’s just that average people have seemingly become a modern-day silent majority. The vast majority of Americans, especially country music fans, probably gravitate toward the center of most subjects while being conservative on certain issues and taking a more liberal attitude toward other topics.

But liberal or conservative, how could you not cringe when Jamilah Lemieux chimed in on presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s musical tastes? In a segment on MSNBC’s Now With Alex Wagner, the discussion turned to Cruz saying he became a country music fan after being disappointed with rock music’s response to the 9/11 attacks.

Lemieux’s reaction?

“Nothing says ‘Let’s go kill some Muslims’ like country music,” she proclaimed.

On her official website, Lemieux is described as a “writer, editor, feminist, mom, troublemaker, provocateur and proud millennial game-changer.” Well, OK, then. In watching the video, it appeared as though she came up with the sound bite before the interview began and was only too anxious to deliver it to a national audience.

Guest host Ari Melber hardly helped matters when he interjected, “Well, but I mean, there’s plenty of country music that doesn’t have that message.”

There’s plenty of country music that doesn’t have that message? Can anybody point to a single country song that advocates killing Muslims?

Granted, Toby Keith wanted to put a boot in somebody’s ass in “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” his response following the attacks of 9/11, but he certainly wasn’t advocating wholesale violence against an entire religious group.

To his credit, Melber later told MSNBC viewers, “We have a programming note. A few minutes ago on this program, a guest made a comment about country music that was not appropriate, and we want to be clear this network does not condone it.”

I’m glad they don’t condone it. I don’t either.

As for the flap about Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” it’s almost comical now that the single has been out for 23 weeks. CMT.com contributor Alison Bonaguro first wrote about the song in October.

Almost six months later, a handful of radio listeners saw the title and either never listened to the song or at least didn’t understand the lyrics before jumping to the staggering conclusion it was about lesbianism. (In case you haven’t heard the song, it’s essentially about a woman being envious that her former significant other — a male — is now with another woman.)

Armed to the hilt with misinformation, they started contacting radio stations to make sure “Girl Crush” never found the airwaves again. While we wait for those confused listeners to conclude that Brad Paisley’s latest single, “Crushin’ It,” deals with the same subject matter — the titles are somewhat similar, after all — the ploy hasn’t worked to ban Little Big Town’s single.

On the latest Billboard country airplay chart, “Girl Crush” climbed from No. 32 to No. 26. According to Mediabase 24/7 reports cited by Country Aircheck, the single is continuing to show additional growth this week, too.

The biggest winner in the controversy is Little Big Town. Their appearance last week on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was probably booked well in advance of the publicity surrounding their single, but the timing couldn’t have been better to get the song heard by an even wider audience.

Sales of their latest album, Painkiller, increased by a whopping 113 percent last week, and sales of “Girl Crush” have increased 137 percent to place it at the top of Billboard’s digital country chart.

Whether we’re considering Jamilah Lemieux or the opponents of Little Big Town’s single, nobody wants to take away anyone’s First Amendment right to free speech. In the meantime, maybe we should all take comfort in knowing we still live in a nation where each and every one of us is entitled to our own stupid opinions.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.