You may know her as one of the lovely lyrcists behind Miranda Lambert’s Mama’s Broken Heart, which was nominated for Best Country Song at the 2014 Grammy Awards and also happens to be the most fun line-dancing song ever written, but Brandy Clark is a rising star herself. While her words are already playing on country stations all over the place, with songs like Stripes and Love in the First Degree and a tour with Eric Church this fall, Clark’s voice surely will be as well soon enough.
This past weekend, though, it was Clark’s flair for writing that was honored at a special ceremony hosted by the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, where her song made the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) list of “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written,” an honor shared by some wonderful songs this year such as Blake Shelton’s Boys ‘Round Here and Mine Would Be You, Miranda Lambert’s All Kinds of Kinds, and Luke Bryan’s Drink a Beer.
In an industry that has long been seen as conservative, misogynistic, and reluctant to embrace diversity, it’s truly a mark of changing times that an out lesbian like Brandy Clark has the room to make waves and influence country music, not just by writing and singing beautifully, but by writing on topics that don’t always get talked about in country music.
For example, the song that made the list this year is Follow Your Arrow recorded by Kacey Musgraves. This is amazing to me, because the lyrics to this song are relatively liberal, embrace the idea of doing whatever you want to do, and seem to be directed at women. This is hugely empowering in an industry which still plays so many more songs recorded by men than women, and releases songs like Raelynn’s God Made Girls from earlier this year, which describes God’s decision to make girls because boys needed someone to “wear a pretty skirt,” “let him drive,” and “drag his butt to church.” A song like Follow Your Arrow seems to be in direct response to songs like this.
The song is about the limitations placed on all people (though the specific examples are often female-specific) and the way in which they’re designed to make you the bad guy regardless of your decision. For example: “If you save yourself for marriage/You’re a bore/If you don’t save yourself for marriage/You’re a horrible person/If you won’t have a drink/Then you’re a prude/But they’ll call you a drunk/As soon as you down the first one” In conclusion, the song encourages women to forget about the double standards and do what they want. “When the straight and narrow/Gets a little too straight/Roll up a joint, or don’t/Just follow your arrow.”
But the references to premarital sex and marijuana are not the only controversial topics in the song. Clark perhaps sneaked a little of her personal life into her song when she wrote the lyrics encouraging women to “Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that’s something you’re into.”
It’s amazing to me that a lesbian woman and a song with overt references to lesbianism, marijuana, premarital sex, and other “taboo” topics was so praised by the NSAI. Hopefully this is good news for the country music industry. Though we do love our Luke Bryans and Tim McGraws, it might be nice to hear more out of country stations than almost exclusively the songs of straight white men.