Has Lady Gaga made a country song, and if so, what about that?

We can debate whether or not this latest Lady Gaga flashfire is a country song or not. In fact, I had just that debate with the wife on Friday night. She contended that Lady Gaga’s “You and I” was really more of a rock ballad than a country song, and unlike me she is from western Kansas, so she probably knows.

The producer on the track is a guy named Robert “Mutt” Lange, who in addition to being of mixed pedigree has also been a producer for both Def Leppard and Shania Twain. The song samples “We Will Rock You,” by Queen, which is perhaps the least country band of all time.

In any case, the song sounds country to me. Actually, the song sounds so country that I’m pretty sure Lady Gaga is making fun of people from the Midwest. I think the song is partially satirical. How else can you explain the following line:

Muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart.

I want to take a step back here and say that I am not offended by this song. I am not complaining about this song. This is not a 500-word eff you to Lady Gaga, whose work I have come to appreciate on some level. But there are two things about that line that stand out:

1) It is nonsensical. It has no literal or metaphorical meaning.

2) But it triggers two iconic heartland images: Muscle cars and trucks.

This alone doesn’t make it a country song, but that kind of imagery is almost always used when someone is trying to appeal to country people. The following two photos are stills from the video for Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA.” (which we have covered before):

Miley doesn't sing about muscle cars and trucks, she sings on top of them.

Miley doesn't sing about muscle cars and trucks, she sings on top of them.

This is the point where a fan of “real” country music will pipe in and remind me that neither Lady Gaga nor Miley Cyrus nor Billy Ray Cyrus nor Taylor Swift has ever made a real country music song. All of this I’m talking about is just crossover country at best or pop music with a country influence at worst. These are people who like artists like George Strait and Hank Williams (Sr.). They are probably right about this in the same way my friend Rob, a native New Yorker, is right when he says Chicago-style pizza isn’t really pizza, “it’s casserole.”

I would note that one of Williams’ most famous lines is “I got a hot rod Ford and a two-dollar bill,’ but to a purist there are some really important distinctions there. To most of us, though, country music is just music that sounds a little twangy and refers to things like daddies and trucks and the Tastee Freeze and lost love. So to most of us that’s exactly what Lady Gaga has done here. First of all, the setting for this little narrative is Nebraska, and the narrative itself is about this woman who is wearing lipstick and high heels and has come back in town after some time and will not be leaving without her lost lover, who owns a little bar somewhere in Nebraska. He has experienced a lot of lonely nights in this little bar and in a town we presume is not, you know, Omaha. But there is something about this place, and something about “you and I.” That this is a grammatical error does nothing to ruin the country feel.

She then belts this non sequitur:

There’s only three men I’ma serve my whole life, it’s my daddy and Nebraska and Jesus Christ.

I, of course, don’t know what was going through her head when she wrote this song. She says it is actually about one of her own relationships, but that’s only possible in a thematic sense. Lady Gaga was born and raised in New York City. The song, however, was recorded in Nebraska (for some reason). But whether she set out to make a pop country hit or set out to make a satirical pop country hit, she made a hit out of a song that feels pretty country.

And that forces us to ask a question: If Lady Gaga can make a successful country record, does that say more about Lady Gaga or country  music?

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8 thoughts on “Has Lady Gaga made a country song, and if so, what about that?

  1. What the hell is going on here? I feel like this is the result of a vodka-fueled bet. Did she decide to produce a country single just so she could laugh her ass off when it sells a million copies? Because this sure sounds like country music to me. And I’m raised in Kansas since I was 3. I avoid country as much as I can, but living in Wichita, you get forcefully subjected to enough of it to be able to identify it. Yeah, “crossover” or whatever, but it has that twang factor that sort of makes me involuntarily twitch, gag, and look around wildly for the door, because oh god I’m having that nightmare again where I’m trapped in a country bar full of weekend cowboys and there’s no way out, just more rooms with mechanical bulls and line dancing. And that, for me, is a sure sign that I’m hearing country music.

  2. I came across this blog post after googling “Lady Gaga You and I Country Influence,” because I definitely hear country influence in this song. I like the neutral approach you took to your post – there are far too many emotionally fueled posts about Lady Gaga and other artists and genres to take many seriously. After I finished your blog post I read the lyrics to “You and I” I would like to comment on a couple of things that stood out to me. Please note this is my own interpretation of the lyrics, and I am open to friendly discussion about them.

    1) When she sings about Nebraska she is talking about a man, not the place. I am not sure whether his name is Nebraska, or if he is from there and that is what she refers to him as. This is made clear when she says: “There are only three men that I’m a serve my whole life/ My daddy, Nebraska and Jesus Christ.” Once that connection is made, there is nothing to suggest the setting is in Nebraska.

    2) The line “Muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart” is only non-sensical if you take it out of context with the rest of the verse. “It’s been two years since I let you go/ I couldn’t listen to a joke or rock n’ roll/ Muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart.” Jokes, rock n’ roll and muscle cars are all things that she relates to Nebraska (the man, not the place) and drove a truck through your heart is a slight rewording of the idiom “feel like I’ve been hit by a truck” which is commonly used to express a feeling of shock and heavy emotion following a negative life event.

    Please let me know what you think!

  3. Interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. Obviously, you’re reading into the lyrics more than I am, and you may be right to do so. My guess was that Lady Gaga got this idea to do a song “in the form of country music,” then went into the studio and recorded something that felt and sounded country, and contained some country imagery.

    I think your interpretation is plausible, though when you list jokes, muscle cars and rock & roll, you have two things that anybody would relate to any person in any place (jokes and rock & roll) and one that typically associates with the midwest or south (muscle cars). To me, those things are not the same and it would strike me as strange for her to use them as you suggested.

    I think when she wrote that line — “muscle cars drove a truck right through my heart” — she was going for a laugh, which is what she got from me. But you may be right.

  4. “If Lady Gaga can make a successful country record, does that say more about Lady Gaga or country music?”

    it simply proves that country music is to adults what making up silly songs is to little kids who feel happy or sad. doesn’t really matter what they’re singing about, just as long as it rhymes and makes them feel special. the kids, in my book, create more legitimate art because at least they haven’t wasted any money.

  5. Dude. It’s just Mutt Lange. It sounds like Shina Twain’s music. Straight up. Thought it was her, in fact. Produced, produced, produced.

    All this song does is prove that Gaga is a smart person and money puppet who can sing and play well. Good for her!

  6. I am not certain where you are getting your information, however good topic.
    I must spend some time finding out much more or understanding more.
    Thank you for wonderful information I used to be looking for
    this info for my mission.

  7. stupid crap…in the past few years ive been botherd not only by the sound but also the context in the newer country songs..its rap its rock its not country.FUCK YOU POSERS!! STAY OUT MY COUNTRY MUSIC!!!! poosies

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