Birdcloud: The Most Dangerous Group In Country Music

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Country music and satire have always been bizarre bedfellows. Ranging from the doomsday predictions of George Strait & Alan Jackson's “Murder On Music Row” to the Dixie Chicks' playful, upbeat “Goodbye Earl,” there’s no shortage of country artists tackling tough topics in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. But there hasn’t ever really been an act that does it in quite the way that Birdcloud, a raunchy duo of Nashville women, is doing.

Earlier this summer, the duo hit Houston as they toured alongside Wheeler Walker Jr. With songs like “Warshin’ My Big Ol’ Pussy” and “Saving Myself For Jesus,” the two acts seem like a pretty solid match if you’re judging them on sheer volume of profanity and genital references. The fundamental difference, though, is that (unlike Wheeler) Birdcloud is actually doing a pretty damn remarkable job of skewering Southern stereotypes.

On “Indianer,” the two present a common refrain in the South, especially in Texas: boasting about one’s Native American heritage. Considering that folks whose closest connection to Native culture is a pair of once-fashionable beaded moccasins are frequently happy to connect their heritage to various Native American tribes, this song is goddamn brilliant.  A similar thread is found in “Black Guys,” a song about that girl we all knew in high school who dated people of color to piss off their racist parents.

The latter example recently landed Birdcloud in some hot water in Knoxville, where a local musician and “hater” attempted to launch a nationwide boycott of the band based on perceived racism in “Black Guys.” If the objective was to prove Birdcloud’s point, their detractors really couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate song to be pissed off about.

There is racism in these tracks, to be sure, but it isn’t coming from Birdcloud. It — the fetishization of black men by white women, appropriating Native American culture — comes from a broader culture of white supremacy that is blissfully happy in stealing up everything from music to slang from people of color without bothering to consider the oppression they face. It’s a trend that emerges every time your 13-year-old cousin named Kyle calls his friends the n-word in “jest,” or less insidiously, when Florida-Georgia Line adds appeal to their shitty lyrics with a hip-hop beat.

As milky white and uptight as country music is, it’s impossible to deny that the sacred cows that Birdcloud skewers actually exist. There are young women all across this country that firmly believe they are worthless unless they are virgins until they are married, and there are others that know that the fastest way to piss off their racist Republican fathers is to start dating someone with brown skin. There are people who claim a non-existent “Indian” heritage, and even more who talk about “spirit animals” and wear fake Navajo prints.

More than that, these are ideals that occupy a pretty damn big pedestal in these parts — unexamined racism and the obsession with female purity are as Southern as sweet tea. If Birdcloud isn’t around to poke fun at the sheer absurdity of it all, who’s going to do it? It’s not going to be those guys on the radio, or the brooding artistic types. They’re out there criticizing the state of country music, sure, but they aren’t tackling its deeper cultural issues. Nope, it’s two equally goofy and fearless young women from Tennessee who have finally (and blessedly) come along to deliver us all from how bleak it’s been to be a country fan over the past few years.

The rub occurs when people listen to Birdcloud sing about liking “other-color skin men” and take it at face value. There are plenty of people in this world who fundamentally misunderstand how satire works, the folks who thought that Stephen Colbert was serious. They’re the ones who focused on giggling at “Rick James, bitch!” instead of paying attention to the searing political criticisms dished out by Dave Chappelle every week on Chappelle's Show. Hell, there are people who believe that The Onion publishes real news — I’d wager you’ve got a few trolling around in your Facebook feed.

What makes Birdcloud such a crucial voice for country music is a guy like Wheeler Walker Jr., who has a great deal of respect for his tourmates but perhaps fails to realize that they are fundamentally different. Whereas Walker offers basic-ass breakup songs peppered with ugly words and a whole lot of solid production, Birdcloud skewers sacred cows in a remarkably incisive way. There ain’t nothing revolutionary about “fuck you bitch,” but a couple of innocent-looking country girls warbling about stinky pussy are decidedly breaking new ground.

This isn’t to say that Birdcloud couldn’t — or hasn’t — ventured into problematic territory. But you sure can’t say that they’re not doing it right. You’d probably never get a serious word out of either one of them about their writing process, but it’s clear that they’re carefully crafting these lyrics to deliver blows that punch up every single time.

It’s obvious that Birdcloud isn’t for everyone. This isn’t music you want to share with your mama, unless she works at a truck stop or has done a little time in the pen. You might not want to listen to these always raunchy, often uncomfortable songs in your regular rotation, but there’s no denying the crucial place that they (and songs like them) have in this genre. And honestly, if dirty words and girls singing raunchy-like about sex is offensive to you, that doesn’t have anything to do with Birdcloud. That’s on you.

Note: an earlier version of this article listed Birdcloud's hometown as Knoxville. They are in fact native Nashvillians.

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