“If you like Andy Warhol and say that you don’t like pop country, you’re kidding yourself.” An odd statement, I realize, but a touch of context: my friend Jonathan was espousing his respect for modern pop country music as slavish devotees to the perfect pop song. “Verse, a sweet chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and maybe the chorus again if it’s really good.” And thus his comparison to Warhol – pop über alles.
“I won’t argue with you,” I said, “but I can name one particular way in which pop country songwriters can go wrong every time: trying to pull in cultural references from other parts of the mainstream and shoehorn it into a country song.” Before I could even say it, the words were out of his mouth: “Oh, like ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.‘”
The first time I ever heard Trace Adkin’s ode to country derrière, I audibly guffawed. It seemed like such a forced piece of cultural hijacking that I sneered at what, to me, appeared to be its clumsy attempt at crossover appeal. The chorus seemed especially odious: from its use of the titular phrase to indicating that the narrator’s ogled object had it “going on like Donkey Kong.” I’m still a bit unclear as to what that means, unless she was throwing barrels at Italian plumbers, or (more likely) it was just a nonsensical piece of internal rhyme. Either way, it just seemed like a dud of a song. Of course, Billboard says otherwise as the song would eventually hit #2 on the Country singles chart and as high as #30 on the Hot 100.
Twenty years earlier though, Mel McDaniel, another pop country craftsman, had created his own celebration of posterior in the form of “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On.” While it doesn’t rely on a clichéd phrase to get its point across, it does center on a particular cultural fixture: blue jeans. “Everybody’s looking as she goes by,” McDaniel sings, noting that the crowd turns their heads and watches her “until she’s gone.” Certainly not a far cry from “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”‘s line about how people “hate to see her go, but love to watch her leave.” Similarly paired are lines like “she can’t help it if she’s made that way” from McDaniel’s song and “you can’t blame her for what her mama gave her” from Adkins’.
Now, admittedly, I’m a sucker for McDaniel’s song, but certainly not for Adkins’. But why? They’re the same exact song in so many ways that it’s hard to rouse a defense for my feelings. I’ve always had an aversion to songs that make references that are dated the moment they’re used, but almost anything in our culture can have that happen. It’s mere coincidence that blue jeans are a staple of clothing, and “badonkadonk” is a phrase that has even now slowly slipped from its at-one-time more common cultural usage. Both songs take an equally objectifying view of the woman in question, but that’s not uncommon in pop music either. It might just come down to the fact that McDaniels was on the radio when I was young and my parents were listening to country radio, and Adkins was around when I’d grown old enough to be jaded and cynical about pop matters.
Thanks, Mel McDaniel. Way to undermine my high horse. words/ j neas
MP3: Mel McDaniel :: Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On