Teenage singer/songwriters Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye were in a songwriting session in Nashville this spring when they started talking about the latest hits on country radio. As any listener knows, the stations are currently filled with songs about manly men in trucks and the lucky ladies who get to ride in the passenger seat. The women in question are generally wearing strategically ripped cut-off jeans, and maybe a bikini. Either way, they better have their tanned bare feet up on the dashboard.
“Oh, my gosh,” Maddie mused. “It would suck to be the girl in these songs.”
A lightbulb went off. Fast forward four months and “Girl in a Country Song” — a deliciously snarky tune that takes down party bro country music cliches — hits iTunes on Tuesday. Even though it’s not officially released to radio until next week, the lyrics are already spreading like wildfire. And buzz is steadily growing for the singers, known as the duo Maddie & Tae, who are now the first act signed to Big Machine Label Group’s Dot Records imprint.
The song, written by the duo with co-writer Aaron Scherz, asks a simple question in the catchy chorus: “Being the girl in a country song, how in the world did it go so wrong?” They check off the tropes, one by one: “Well I wish I had some shoes on my two bare feet/And it’s getting kinda cold in these painted-on cut-off jeans/I hate the way this bikini top chafes/Do I really have to wear it all day?”
Then, they tie it all together with a shot aimed at singers including Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Blake Shelton, Chris Young, Thomas Rhett and any other bro singing about the wonders of beer and a girl in his truck. “We used to get a little respect, now we’re lucky if we even get/To climb up in the truck, keep our mouth shut, and ride along/And be the girl in the country song.”
Gauntlet thrown down! As the first artists to very publicly call out country bro cliches, Maddie, 19, and Tae, 18, find themselves in the spotlight with a potentially risky move as a brand new act. After all, isn’t Nashville one big happy family? Both singers insist the song is all in good fun — and say they’re big fans of all the songs and artists they mention. They just want to reiterate that women in country music are much more than just tan-legged Juliets, as Jason Aldean might say.
Either way, Big Machine is clearly banking on the song to be a giant hit. In the duo’s intro video, chief Scott Borchetta notes that “There is a gaping hole for a female act to come and re-engage teenage girls in the format. It really hasn’t happened since Taylor.” No last name necessary for that obvious comparison.
We talked to Maddie and Tae by phone as they rode a tour bus from Minneapolis to Green Bay; they’re currently on their very first national radio tour, a time-honored tradition for new country music artists. The singers (Maddie is from Sugarland, Texas, while Tae hails from Ada, Oklahoma; they met through a vocal coach while still in high school) talked about the idea behind tune; what their male co-writer thought of the whole process; and if they’ve heard from any of their targets in the song.
(This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and length.)
Who initially come up with the idea for the song?
Tae: Well, Maddie and I were in a songwriting session one day and we had just been listening to the radio. And Maddie was like, “Oh my gosh, it would suck to be the girl in these songs.” So what we did was make a checklist [of themes in the songs]: Tan legs, girls, tailgates, trucks. And we just ran with it.
Maddie: We actually just wrote it on St. Patrick’s Day, so that shows how quickly this has gone. And you know, it’s so fun because we love all the artists that we’re poking fun at. We love modern-day country. But you never get to hear what the girl has to say and how she feels about shaking her moneymaker. It’s like, “We cannot live up to those expectations.” So we wanted to write a song from a different perspective to say, “Hey, boys, it’s hard being the girl in these songs.”
So many of your lyrics reference specific songs, like a “tan legged Juliet” (Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party”) and “shaking that moneymaker” (Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some of That.”) Did you also have a checklist of songs you wanted to call out?
Tae: No, there weren’t really specific songs. Like, for the “driving us red red red red red red redneck crazy” part [a nod to Blake Shelton's "Boys Round Here" and Tyler Farr's "Redneck Crazy"] — a lot of the things that we referenced are from some of our favorite songs on country radio. We respect all the guys we’re poking fun at, we’re just giving the woman a voice in these songs.
The song is obviously all in good fun, but it also seems like there’s a genuine sense of frustration. As in, “Thanks guys, but we’re more than just bikinis and cut-offs.”
Maddie: It was definitely written in good fun, we had a blast writing it. It’s more supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, fun type of song. But you’re right, you know, we want these guys to know that we have more to offer than just looking good. We have more to put on the table.
How long did it take to write this one?
Tae: Surprisingly, it was quick. It was a topic that we had kind of been discussing on a Friday, so we had the weekend to think about it. And we came in on Monday and were like, “We are doing this. We are doing it unapologetically, and we are doing it all the way.” And that’s definitely what we did.
What was your co-writer Aaron Scherz’s reaction to the whole thing?
Maddie: Aaron loved the idea. Because he’s got a four-year-old daughter and he was saying, “I don’t want my four-year-old thinking she’s gotta wear cut-off jeans and have tan legs.”
What kind of response did you get when you played the song live for the first time?
Tae: I will tell you the first time we played it out live, we were playing it for Scott Borchetta and Chris Stacey, our label heads. And we were so nervous. So, so nervous. Before we went on stage we were like, “What’s going to happen? Are they going to be mad? Are they going to laugh?” We said, “Well, you know, if they start laughing, we’ll know we did good.” So we started singing it and they were both laughing, so we both said, “Okay, I think we’re good!” And that moment was when Scott decided to sign us.
Have you heard from any of the artists you called out? [Besides singer Chase Rice, who apparently somewhat missed the point when he tweeted, "I love this new @MaddieandTae song. Somethin sexy bout a little [expletive] talkin. Keep it up girls.”]
Maddie: We haven’t heard from anybody else yet, but we’re hoping that everyone totally digs the song and has fun. We’re hoping they take it lightheartedly.
People are already calling this a “gutsy” move for a debut song. Did you think it was particularly brave when you wrote it?
Tae: We definitely had that thought, but one of the things about us is that we always want to keep it real. That’s what we do. We write songs, we name drop, we write about experiences that make us feel better. Writing makes you feel better, to get it all out. We definitely knew it was a brave subject; but it needed to be said and we knew we were going to go about it a real way.
Maddie: You know, while we were writing it, we weren’t even sure if this was ever going to ever see the light of day. You never know which one is going to hit. So while writing, we had no idea that we were about to go out guns blazing. It’s definitely a bold statement we’re making, but we’re hoping everyone knows that it was all in good fun. We’re just coming at this topic with a woman’s perspective at the end of the day.
Some people say that these “bro” themes in country music — women, trucks, tailgates — have always been around. But in the song you ask, “How in the world did it go so wrong?” Do you think the attitude toward women has changed in country music?
Maddie: I think that it has changed a little bit. Because Tae and I grew up on ’90s country, and on “Good morning beautiful, how was your night?” And [women are] spoken to a little differently now. And so that’s another reason why we wanted to write this.
After this single, what kind of songs would you ideally want to release?
Maddie: We’ve got songs that cover the whole spectrum. We’ve got a song about one of my friend’s dad who passed away, and we wanted to help her heal and help others heal. We’ve got heartbreak songs. We’ve actually got a song about this boy I went to high school with, which is pretty interesting. We definitely have two sides to our music. There’s definitely some depth there, but also we’re funny! We don’t take ourselves that seriously, so it’s kind of the best of both words.
Besides debuting with this very strong statement, what’s the most important thing you want people to know about your music?
Tae: Maddie and I both really want to people to know this is genuine.
Maddie: We put our heart into all of our songs that we write, and it comes from a very honest place. So we’re hoping people can connect with that. Sometimes too honest, but that’s why I hope they can connect with it.