Miranda Lambert Sold Herself Out to Bro Country on New Album, Platinum
Sony Music Nashville
It's been a pretty terrible past few years for country music. The rise of "bro country," music made for and by red-blooded, America-loving, beer-drinking white guys like Luke Bryan and Eric Church, has turned the country music airwaves largely into a cesspool. There is one glaring exception, though: reigning queen of country music and four-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year, Miranda Lambert.
Lambert, a North Texas native, has been a refreshing voice in country music since the release of her first album, Kerosene, in 2005. On Tuesday, the Pink Pistol released her fifth album, Platinum, a slicked-up record full of excellent vocals, so-so songwriting, and evidence that even she hasn't been spared from the influence of bro-tastic country music and all its hallmarks.
Bro country has a specific set of characteristics that differentiate it from the braggadocio and beer drinking of country music past. There's a lot of speak-singing and markedly more Southern stereotypes, like an increased focus on farm equipment and back roads. There is also plenty of country boy hip-hop influence, like Blake Shelton's pseudo-rapping on "Boys 'Round Here" and Jason Aldean's on "Dirt Road Anthem." It almost seems as if it's written into these artists contracts that there must some kind of rapping or "urban" influence on a country record for it to be released.
"Little Red Wagon," arguably the worst track on Platinum, is where this assumed requirement rears its ugly, appropriative head. "You can't step to this backyard swagga," speak-sings Lambert over a frantic and messy Southern rock track. Compared to the rest of the songs on this album, "Little Red Wagon" feels more compulsory than cohesive.
Platinum also plays to other bro-country stereotypes that speak to people living a simple country life, like drinking beer out in the country, flirting with boys' and "watching sun tea in the window." It's clear from previous records that this life is authentic for Lambert, but for the first time in her recording career, it feels exaggerated and strained. Like she just stuffed as many Southern stereotypes as she could into this 16 track album, much like her bro-country contemporaries.
Platinum lacks the lyrical substance of Lambert's previous releases, but has plenty of shine to obscure that fact. As Jody Rosen wrote at Vulture, "Bro-country doesn't bother with politics; it's less thoughtful and conscientious than Paisley but more modern, dragging pop's most hidebound genre into the Obama era without batting an eye." Lambert seems to be doing the same here with Platinum, simplifying her message of southern girl empowerment for the masses.
The title track is an anthem to the power of blonde in a bottle. And yet a line like, "What doesn't kill you only makes you blonder" is the female country vocalist's equivalent of Luke Bryan's "big black jacked-up truck." There also seems to be a lot of country girl "rapping" on this track on top of a heavily hip-hop influenced beat. Substitute a few of the feminine stereotypes like "small town girl" and "Marilyns with curls and curves" for country boy tropes and this song could be as easily performed by Luke Bryan or any of Lambert's other bro-country contemporaries. It sounds no different.