Bro-Country's 30 Biggest Bangers - Rolling Stone
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Baby You a Song: Bro-Country’s 30 Biggest Bangers

From dirt roads and day drinking to tan legs and tailgates, we run down the best of country’s most awkward decade

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Do you even listen, bro? Without question, the dominant country music sound of the 2010s was that tatted-up, Monster Energy-fueled party barge of good times, tailgates, and hot chicks — the much-maligned bro-country. Sprouting in the early portion of the decade with Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, and others who rocked baseball hats, sleeveless Ts, and wallet chains with reckless abandon, it ended up dying a painful, but glacially slow death at the hands of Chris Stapleton and other new traditionalists.

People hated bro country. But even more people — the ones who actually buy records — loved it. Artists brokered collaborations with rappers and others working outside country to make their hits even bigger (see Nelly’s cameo on FGL’s “Cruise”). Radio played the subgenre to the point of excluding almost everything else. Like hair metal before, bro-country was all party and no consequence: No one puked in their mom’s closet or rushed off to Walgreen’s to buy a morning-after pill. It was modern country’s most awkward phase.

Still, the recordings had their charms. Nashville’s songwriters worked some serious voodoo to graft this narrow bunch of themes (girls, booze, and trucks) onto their airtight hooks, but when it worked, it really worked. There were even subtle variations in sound and approach that gave bro-country an illusion of depth. Yet it was also overwhelmingly white, male, and hetero-normative, and it got to manspread and make itself comfortable way longer than anyone would have preferred.

As we bid farewell to this very strange decade in country music, we decided to embrace our inner bro and compile this ranked list of the 30 biggest bro-country bangers. They’re ridiculous and they’re great. They sound incredible blasting out of jacked-up trucks and arena speaker systems alike. Yes, we’ve got bigger problems to address and more important conversations that need to be had in country music, but sometimes you just need to roll the windows down and, well, cruise.

Brantley Gilbert

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15

“Bottoms Up,” Brantley Gilbert

Contrary to its title, Brantley Gilbert’s “Bottoms Up” does not appear to be a song about sex. But whatever the case may be, the Georgia native behind Jason Aldean’s smashes “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem” put a brooding, nihilistic spin on the bro-country party trope with this 2013 single, mixing a murky drum loop with a watery electric guitar riff that could have been lifted straight out of some lost Tonic song. “Tonight it’s bottoms up, up/Throw it on down/Rock this quiet little country town, get up/Drop a tailgate on ya truck,” Gilbert snarls in each chorus, which daringly rhymes “cup” and “up.” The usual weekend hedonism of bro-country anthems has a dark side that peeks through here: we aren’t partying because it’s actually fun; we’re partying because we don’t know what else to do and, anyway, what’s the point of doing anything else in this barren wasteland. Absolutely mesmerizing. J.F.

Chris Janson

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14

“Buy Me a Boat,” Chris Janson

Before Luke Combs’ “Hurricane” broke through to the country charts without a label, there was Chris Janson, who put “Buy Me Boat” on the radio independently until Warner Nashville was smart enough to catch on and sign him. Janson’s a unique dude — country music’s “most open redneck,” if you will, the kind of guy who likes hunting and gemstone therapy — and “Buy Me a Boat” is redneck as hell, if your breed of redneck is an eagle n’ flag shirt purchased from the local truckstop. Janson’s got the energy to pull off a song like this and enough twangy quirk (namedropping Warren Buffett, as you do) to make it mindless fun. Bonus points for the unique angle of positioning a boat as the object of his aspirational affection, and not another girl in cutoffs. M.M.

Sam Hunt

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13

“House Party,” Sam Hunt

“House Party,” off Sam Hunt’s 2014 debut album Montevallo, is less about the titular bash than a hook-laden ode to late-night hook-ups. “Whatever you got on, girl, stay in it/You don’t have to leave the house to have a good time,” the Alabama speak-singer promised. An ebullient jam, it cemented Hunt’s place as one of bro-country’s foremost hitmakers — albeit reluctantly. “I haven’t endorsed that term for my music at all,” he told Rolling Stone in 2014, “and I don’t consider myself a bro.” Indeed, the “House Party” sound was more cerebral, favoring lilting strums and a dance beat over Cro-Magnon power chords and bashing drums. It was also impossible to resist and foreshadowed the playlist pop of Hunt’s recent hits like new single “Kinfolks” and the juggernaut “Body Like a Back Road.” B.M.

 

 

Kip Moore

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12

“Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck,” Kip Moore

On title alone, “Somethin’ Bout a Truck” could be a bro-country song made up by The Onion (“Trucks! Girls! More trucks! Plus, cornfields!), and in the hands of anyone else, it might turn out to be as basic hitch as it sounds. But Kip Moore’s far smarter than that, using all the country clichés and all the depth of his raspy drawl to write a tune that’s not really about a truck at all (OK, it’s just a little bit about a truck). Moore’s career has never comfortably fit into the mainstream boxes — in his soul he’s far more emo singer-songwriter than bro. “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck” is Moore’s “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em — and then do whatever the hell you want” moment. M.M.

Frankie Ballard

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11

“Sunshine & Whiskey,” Frankie Ballard

Frankie Ballard, with his bluesy guitar chops and Elvis hair swoosh, always seemed just a few notches cooler than any of the run-of-the-mill, conveyor-belt dudes who wouldn’t be caught dead with anything but a trucker hat on their head, let alone that much pomade. That’s the charm of “Sunshine & Whiskey,” a track that’s so darn cutesy it feels like it’s being sung through the cupid’s arrow Instagram filter, something that could only exist in the era before Trump’s America: “don’t wanna get DWK, driving while kissing, they’ll put you away!” Aw! The fact that “driving while kissing” would mostly just land you into a telephone pole, not jail, aside, “Sunshine & Whiskey” is like the song version of two kids doing “homework” upstairs: mom can think it’s innocent…but mom’s wrong. M.M.

Little Big Town

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10

“Pontoon,” Little Big Town

The fact that Little Big Town eventually went on to release some of country music’s finest and most profound songs of the decade — “Girl Crush” and “The Daughters” among them — makes this infectious ode to floatin,’ drinkin’ and doin’ it all the more enjoyable. You need a pool noodle just to stay afloat in the sexual innuendos alone — there’s “motorboatin,'” of course, but what exactly do they really mean by “wood panelin’ with a water slide”? It’s the tongue-in-cheek swamp-chic vibes of “Pontoon” that keep things from sinking into mud, though. And pondering how country radio let Little Big Town purr “mmmmotorboatin‘” on the airwaves? A joy in and of itself. M.M.

Tim McGraw

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9

“Truck Yeah,” Tim McGraw

In the summer of 2012, there was perhaps no more prescient sign of what was to come than Tim McGraw half-rapping the lines “I got Lil Wayne bumpin’ on my iPod/Thumpin’ on the subs in the back of my crew cab.” Released in between the tail end of 2010-2012’s sexless truck song mania and the eroticized truck-party posturing that was soon to come, today “Truck Yeah” sounds like a deranged caricature of both. Recited over a sludgy hair-metal riff, McGraw’s laundry list of truck-bro signifiers (cold brews, mud slinging, redneck DNA) would earn him his highest-ever solo chart debut. Four years later, the song’s co-writer Chris Janson took “Truck Yeah” to unimaginably dystopian places when he performed it as “Trump Yeah” at the 2016 RNC. But back in 2012, it sounded like a brash truck track so over-the-top that it almost, just almost, felt like it was in on the joke. J.B.

Luke Bryan (C) and Florida Georgia Line

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8

“This Is How We Roll,” Florida Georgia Line feat. Luke Bryan

It was the understatement of the decade: “The mix in our drink’s a little stronger than you think,” Tyler Hubbard sang in this peak-bro soliloquy. A few lines later, he proves his point during the four-fireball-shots-deep chorus, where FGL wrap words like “roll” and “radio” in a rollercoaster melody so slurred that just singing them feels like consuming a fifth of the duo’s Old Camp whiskey. On “This Is How We Roll,” the Faulkner and Fitzgerald of bro-country join forces on this “little Hank, little Drake” ode to binge drinking and 37-inch Nitto tires (Luke Bryan chimed in for the bridge.) When FGL released their tragically forgotten Jason Derulo remix during the song’s summer 2014 high point, they let the R&B star sing the quiet part loud: “Accent’s got a little twang, little thing,” he crooned. “Always makes the ladies scream/ My name louder/reverse cowgirl.” J.B.

Jason Aldean

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7

“My Kinda Party,” Jason Aldean

“Tan-legged Juliet” meets “redneck Romeo” in Jason Aldean’s backwoods party courtship. Brantley Gilbert wrote and recorded “My Kinda Party” in 2009, delivering it as a bare-bones, mostly acoustic number that’s in stark contrast to his highly produced later hits  (see this list’s slick “Bottoms Up”). Aldean’s version goes right for the jugular, with producer Michael Knox adding muscular drums and crunchy stacked guitars. “[It has] the aggressive rock sounding stuff that I love,” Aldean told Rolling Stone in 2016. And the singer sold all the buzzwords, from “bonfire” and “moonshine” to “tailgates” and “Georgia clay” — both Gilbert and Aldean are Peach State boys. The end result is irresistible, and served as the no-brainer title track to Aldean’s equally magnetic 2010 album, still his best LP yet. J.H.

Jake Owen

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6

“Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” Jake Owen

A full year before “Cruise,” this bro-country urtext gave the then-30-year-old Florida beach bum his first Number One. The song’s compressed banjo and floor-tom drum samples would become production staples of the era, and the song’s caricatured portrayal of Southern femininity (“her ruby red lips were sipping on sweet tea”) and Peter Pan frat-party refrain (“never gonna grow up/never gonna slow down”) would end up being rewritten many dozens of times over the next several years. But before the imitators had infiltrated the airwaves, Owen sold his beer-by-the-river fantasy more convincingly (and pleasantly) than most anyone else: “When I heard [it], I was like, ‘Man, that’s pretty much me,’” Owen said in 2011. “I mean…the only reason I’ve got shoes on is because they make me.” J.B.

Blake Shelton Pistol Annies

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5

“Boys ‘Round Here,” Blake Shelton feat. Pistol Annies & Friends

How do you make a bro-country song better? Add the Pistol Annies! While country radio would disagree, Blake Shelton’s Annies-assisted “Boys ‘Round Here” is bona fide proof that female voices can turn a boring song into something complex and memorable. On the 2013 Based on a True Story cut, Shelton opens by offering a laundry list of country bro clichés, like honky-tonks, stomping boots, ice cold beer, and trucks. While the song could still benefit from more of the Annies (they’re mostly relegated to harmony vocals), the sonic interplay between their voices and Shelton’s gives the song much-needed sonic depth and even lends a little credence to the idea that the “girls ‘round here” really might “like that y’all and Southern drawl.” B.M.

Luke Bryan

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4

“That’s My Kind of Night,” Luke Bryan

If “Cruise” opened up the bro-country floodgates, then Luke Bryan summed up the trend’s philosophy and ethos most succinctly when, one year later, he shouted: “Girl hand me another beer, yeah!” Bryan’s Flint River fairytale, “That’s My Kind of Night” solidified the genre as the oppressive force it was quickly becoming by the fall of 2013, prompting Zac Brown to call it “the worst song I’ve ever heard.” But what’s most remarkable about the Double Platinum behemoth is just how strange it was: the descending hard-rock riff, the strangest country come-on in years (“catch us up a little catfish dinner”), and Bryan’s supremely specific “I listen to country and also to rap” shout-out: “A little Conway, a little T-Pain.” “Was it a rocket science piece of music? No,” Bryan told Rolling Stone in 2015. “Was it, ‘I like it. I love it. I want some more of it?’ Yeah.” J.B.

Maddie & Tae

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3

“Girl in a Country Song,” Maddie & Tae

There’s so much to love about “Girl in a Country Song,” Maddie & Tae’s introductory single wherein they owned the bros: from the music video that flipped the narrative and put dudes in cutoff shorts, to priceless one-liners like “sure I’ll slide on over, but you’re gonna get slapped.” The best part, though? In an era when the Luke Bryans and the FGLs of the world were drifting further and further away from sounds that felt distinctly country, here’s Maddie & Tae skewering the trend while bringing mandolins and fiddles to the party. They’re girls alright, and in an actual country-ass song. M.M.

Dierks Bentley

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2

“Drunk on a Plane,” Dierks Bentley

For its title alone, Dierks Bentley’s 2014 Riser hit “Drunk on a Plane” deserves a spot in the Bro-Country Hall of Fame. Who hasn’t, after all, gotten a little tipsy at cruising altitude? While the song trades in many familiar tropes — for example, the country Everygirl is swapped out for a sexy stewardess — the conceit is a novel one; at the very least, it’s refreshing to leave the trucks on the back road in favor of a high-flying 737. Bentley manages to inject a bit of self-deprecating humor into the tune, too, when he admits to being “passed out in the baggage claim,” making for a song that grounds a bit of reality into a bro’d-out fantasy. B.M.

Florida Georgia Line

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1

“Cruise,” Florida Georgia Line

If there is a Platonic ideal of a bro-country song, it is Florida Georgia Line’s breakout hit “Cruise.” It is, after all, the song that led critic Jody Rosen to coin the term “bro country” in a 2013 story for New York Magazine, inadvertently — and to Rosen’s chagrin — cementing the term into future popular discourse around commercial country music. So, what is it about “Cruise” and its Nelly-featuring remix that so epitomizes the bro-country ethos? For starters, the lyrics cover all the bro bases: driving in jacked-up trucks with the windows rolled down; nameless, faceless, long-legged ladies in bikini tops; back roads and farm towns; and, of course, plenty of alcohol. Then there’s the melody, which is infectious enough to have even the staunchest of country purists humming along, if reluctantly. “Cruise” is the song that launched a thousand ships with lift-kits to country radio. Better to hop onboard and sing along than get caught in its frothy wake. B.M.

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