Critic’s Notebook: Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ rankles puritanical country radio

From left: Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild, and Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town perform during the 46th annual CMA Awards in 2012.
(Jason Kempin / Getty Images)

Before reading the following paragraphs about Little Big Town’s “controversial” country song “Girl Crush,” it’d probably be a good idea to read the lyrics while listening to it. It will help to understand the ridiculousness of the news that some commercial country music stations have withdrawn it from playlists after outrage from conservative listeners who interpreted the song as an ode to homosexual passion.

First of all, it’s likely not. It’s about jealousy, about heart-wrenching adoration for a lover who’s having an affair. It’s about obsession, about lying awake at night staring at the ceiling and wondering, playing out every scenario, imagining a lover’s betrayal with a kind of sensual rage. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild explores the rush of emotion that arrives when an imagined tryst so consumes the brain that nothing else matters: “I don’t get no sleep / I don’t get no peace / Thinking about her / Under your bed sheets.”

“I got a girl crush, hate to admit it,” she sings. “Want everything she has -- that smile and that midnight laugh she’s giving you now.”


A crawling, perfectly structured ballad written by Nashville songwriters Liz Rose, Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey, the band offers just enough backing, rich with a brand of silence in which the tic toc of a faraway clock can consume a moonlit room. Nothing else matters.

So overtaken is the spurned narrator that she wants to teleport herself in order to understand: “I want to taste her lips, yeah, ‘cause they taste like you/ I want to drown myself in a bottle of her perfume.”

What a couplet! It’s a tingle-inducing line, and since nothing upsets the repressed like sexually confused loin tingle, misguided outrage was virtually guaranteed. The song goes further, imagining the physicality: “The way that she’s whispering / The way that she’s pulling you in / Lord knows I’ve tried / I can’t get her off my mind.”

Second of all, who cares? A close reading reveals layers of nuance. Though it’s a misreading to think this song is about lesbian sex, it’s also a mistake to assume that this isn’t about a same-sex triangle, considering there’s not a single male pronoun in the song. For all we know, the female narrator is obsessing over her ex-wife and her wife’s new girlfriend. Horror of horrors!

Still, assuming the song features two women and a man, the notion that commercial country radio stations would pull the song because of listener complaints is the lamest form of cowardice. Instead of defending or explaining what to these ears is a brilliantly composed and performed work, programmers seem to be bowing to the outrage generated by its dimmest, least informed listenership.

The takeaway? “Girl Crush” is hardly an advertisement for the so-called “gay agenda.” It’s more like an ad for Xanax. Which is to say: relax.

Looking for music tips? Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit