Mark Runyon | ConcertTour.org
Carrie is from a different neck of the woods than her Country associates, having her career’s genesis rooted in American Idol her political opinions are predictably a tad more ‘showbiz’ and ‘twenty-first century’ when sized up next to her more conservative colleagues like Toby Keith and George Strait. But the fact that her big break wasn’t delivered by Nashville’s finest, but in the hands of Simon Cowell and co., doesn’t completely explain her open acceptance of gay marriage—something she believes is in complete compliance with her Christian faith.
Carrie Underwood is the undisputed Queen of contemporary Country. Remarkably, she is the only solo Country artist of the 2000s to have a number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first and only Country artist to ever debut at number one on the Hot 100 too. She’s the female country artist with the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, having twelve number one singles and breaking her own Guinness Book record of ten. This makes her by far the genre’s biggest asset in American popular culture, and her fortune reflects this with her recent net worth exceeding one hundred million dollars. Without her, many of fans say female pop would be left to the morally dubious realm of artists like Rihanna, Katy Perry and Beyonce, where sex is sold to millions of children, disguised through slick music videos, raunchy live shows and lyrics that are less than squeaky clean. If Country music has maintained one thing over the decades, its imbuing things like modesty and moral traditionalism with an almost sacred quality—in this respect Carrie Underwood is no different.
A quick flash at any Carrie Underwood track-listing is enough to confirm this. “Jesus Take The Wheel,” “All-American Girl,” “Good Girl,” “Mama’s Song,” “Home Sweet Home”—all songs that fit nicely into the small town, big voice persona that fuels her appeal.
While she might be the simple farmer’s daughter, staunchly Christian and absolutely American—her passionate acceptance of gay marriage was a step too far for many. For the sake of context, she stated in an interview with the British newspaper The Independent, “As a married person myself, I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t marry somebody I love and want to marry. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love.”
In a cultural climate that seems openly hostile to the conservative values Country holds dear, her critics see her as a sympathizer to those bleeding-heart liberals whose aim it is to wipe off the face of the earth an entire social and political aspect of American life. Just check out how the comments section exploded on Taste of Country when the news was first released. Country music and its companion culture has far too often found itself as the dead leg of the American psyche, dragging behind its counterparts reluctantly—but eventually—in the same direction. For Carrie’s remarkable success within the genre, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d be appreciative for her work as their movement’s musical ambassador in the pop landscape, keeping the Country sound alive for an entire generation. Not quite.
For her critics, Carrie has compromised not only the genre’s raw sound but now has tarnished its moral and religious dogma. One Country music historian, Chet Flippo, put it simply by describing the music’s following as “largely conservative and patriotic—as is well known”. Sure, hers is still Country music—but not the type you’d hear blasting out of pickup trucks or played heartily at NRA meets. It’s chart-friendly pop. One of these crimes on their own might’ve been forgivable, but taking the axe to a uniquely American sound and also advocating a “broken understanding of what the Bible is saying” (according to one Pastor) is tantamount to Country heresy.
But her open acceptance of the next big moral revolution in American politics is perhaps the healthiest thing to come out of Country in a long time. Now had Carrie come out against the recent legislation in states like Hawaii, California, Washington and much of the liberal North East, it would be safe to say that Country had nailed shut its own coffin from the inside. We’d all be rolling our eyes with the knowledge that any other pop star of her age and profile would overwhelmingly come out in favor of such laws. Her home state of Oklahoma (as well as much of country’s Southern heartland) have already banned same-sex marriages, despite them not even being legal in the first place. A poignant reminder of just how extremely controversial this topic is.
The 31-year-old starlet’s brazen approval of something that turns the stomachs of her much older fan base is evidence that there is potential for change: that old-school Southern sounds don’t necessarily mean plaid shirts, rednecks and casual racism.
Let’s face it, Country has an image problem. If Carrie Underwood is the first superstar from the pack to embrace the moral liberalism that has already consumed the majority of the country (59% of Americans currently approve of same-sex marriage), perhaps this can go some way to alleviate the curse of irrelevance that has plagued the culture for so long. Carrie was the prime suspect to embrace such change, and she’s come out resoundingly in favor. For young Country fans (and the stars of tomorrow), this is an important precedent which has laid the groundwork for making the expression of similar contrarian views much easier for future Country artists. Consider this, for all intents and purposes, a first trip to the Doctor to sort out that dead leg. Perhaps in future Country might walk in step with the rest of the nation, for that though, we’ll have to wait and see.