Taelyn Elizabeth (left) and Maddie Marlow (right) of the country duo Maddie and Tae.

Taelyn Elizabeth (left) and Maddie Marlow (right) of the country duo Maddie and Tae.
Credit Still from "Meet Maddie and Tae."

Since its release in August, 2012, the song "Cruise," by the pop-country duo Florida Georgia Line, has become the best-selling digital country song of all time—with well over six million downloads—and has remained a dominant anthem of the male-fantasy endless summer. The song crossed over to the pop charts on its own, and a remixed version, featuring the hip-hop artist Nelly, went all the way to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. For two years, it has been the biggest and most influential song in country music—a genre that itself remains big and influential, thanks in large part to the fact that its audience continues to do the seemingly unthinkable, which is to buy music.

Musically, "Cruise" is forward-thinking, combining traditional country harmonies and a banjo backing with rock and roll stadium-show guitars and drums. It has the hint of a dance-music drop in there, too. Lyrically, it's ass-backwards. The chorus goes like this:

Baby you a song
You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise
Down a back road blowin' stop signs through the middle
Every little farm town with you
In this brand new Chevy with a lift kit
Would look a hell of a lot better with you up in it

The song's unnamed woman arrives on the scene drinking Southern Comfort, wearing a bikini top, showing off "them long tanned legs," before jumping into the narrator's truck and proclaiming, like some backwoods Lauren Bacall, "Fire it up, let's go get this thing stuck." (She means, of course, to get the truck stuck in the mud, right?)

So far, so good: woman located and obtained. They drive off to the woods, where the singer turns soulful: "I put it in park and / grabbed my guitar / And strummed a couple chords / And sang from the heart." Good family fun after all. By this point, you might imagine the woman looking on a bit skeptically as her date croons at the stars. Big talk for just a little strumming. Anyway, the song's sexual implications are a bit muddled, becoming perhaps accidentally progressive. In the video, the guys ride in the truck together.

"Cruise" represents a new subgenre that's been named "bro country," sung by beefy men who, with their carefully distressed looks, bear not even a passing resemblance to either George Jones or George Strait. Among the general party atmosphere of their songs is a very specific scene: girl (never woman, often "baby"), car, and booze. Cole Swindell's "Just Chillin' It": "I got my shades on, top back / Rollin' with the music jacked / One on the wheel, one around you baby." Chase Rice's "Ready Set Roll": "Damn pretty girl, you went done it again / You've gone and turned your sexy all the way up to ten / I've never seen a side-ride seat looking so hot." (Ah yes, the dream of every young girl: to one day become a hot "side-ride seat.") Jason Aldean's "Night Train" hits all the bases: "What you say I pick you up after work? / Slide over, we'll slip out to the outskirts of town / Got a blanket and a fifth of Comfort, a little something to knock off the edge." Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night" may be studied at some later date as the sad apotheosis of the genre:

I got that real good feel good stuff
Up under the seat of my big black jacked up truck.
Rollin' on 35s
Pretty girl by my side

The trifecta of drinking, objectifying women, and driving is not exactly breaking the mold in terms of pop- or country-music tropes. Ever since the first manufacture of the automobile, young men have been trying to convince young women to take rides with them. And, according to pop music, at least, it's a pretty easy sell. Jan and Dean managed, without explanation, to insure a ratio of "two girls for every boy" on their way to Surf City. Springsteen had little trouble getting young women to run across their daddies' porches and into the passenger seats of his beat-up cars. The country hero Hank Williams, in 1951, put one of the original offers on the table, in "Hey Good Lookin' ": "I got a hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill." Dating, in this mode, becomes a little sinister, like entrapment or abduction.

Many of the modern country singers in the bro mode name-drop old country legends, namely Conway Twitty, whose 1980 hit "I'd Love to Lay You Down" has, unfortunately, become something of a sacred script. But while that song is not going to win any accolades for displaying modern sensibilities, it is nonetheless about mature and mutual love; Twitty, after all, admires his wife's hair in curlers, which is surely no one's idea of adolescent sexual fantasy. Regardless, a few things have changed since 1980 or 1951, or since the days when the first model-T rolled off the lines, whether Nashville's songwriters have noticed or not. A woman may not be enticed by mere evidence of transportation and a few small bills. (Imagine the OK Cupid self-summary: "Have beer and truck with really big wheels.") This woman may have a name. She may be wearing something other than a bathing-suit top. And she may already have plans that night, sadly making a spontaneous late-night ride to the woods out of the question. She may, more simply, prefer not to be enticed at all.

Country music has plenty of powerful, talented, and savvy female performers, but it has fallen to a pair of eighteen-year-old rookies to offer the first riposte to the bromancers. In the new single "Girl in a Country Song," Maddie and Tae, a duo consisting of Maddie Marlow, from Texas, and Taelyn Elizabeth, from Oklahoma, lament the anonymity and limited utility of the babe muses in some of Nashville's biggest hits: "We used to get a little respect / Now we're lucky if we even get / to climb up in your truck, keep our mouths shut and ride along." They don't quite call for a truck of one's own—but the implication is clear and, because of the two women's youth, the rebuke is especially pointed: guys, they seem to say, the kids think you're creepy.

The song, co-written with Aaron Scherz, is in some ways a novelty: it earns most of its laughs by knowingly messing around with bro-country stereotypes, and it alludes directly to several hits currently on the radio, including Blake Shelton's "Boys 'Round Here." But it is also designed for mass commercial appeal: it sounds a lot like the songs that it is critiquing, and it serves as a reminder of why those songs are popular in the first place. Without context it would sound like just another pop-country song from 2014. Maddie and Tae are an assembled act—they were introduced to each other by a vocal coach—and they don't even have an album out yet. The head of their label, Scott Borchetta, the man credited with discovering Taylor Swift, has talked about "activating" the pair, which is industry jargon, but also sounds as if he is talking about extremely lifelike robots. Becoming the faces of country's bro backlash could be very good for business. But not necessarily. The spectre of the Dixie Chicks, and their swift ouster, in 2003, from the ranks of country royalty after Natalie Maines, the lead singer, made disparaging comments about George W. Bush, hangs over any subsequent act that might be judged as incendiary, aggressive, or political.

Country music has always positioned itself as a big, mostly happy family, with the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, serving as the ancestral estate. It encourages familial identification between fans and their favorite artists, and provides the useful illusion that the industry is less about money than about blood. Because of this, internecine squabbling is discouraged in public. The subject of bro country, however, is a subject that's been openly discussed, often critically, by many of the biggest names in the genre, including stalwarts like Alan Jackson and Vince Gill, and younger artists like Zac Brown. But, save for Kacey Musgraves—the twenty-five-year-old singer-songwriter who is critically lauded, widely respected, but criminally underplayed on the radio—the people doing the talking have been mostly established acts, and mostly men. "Girl in a Country Song" sounds awfully cheery for a protest song, but it is possible to be savvy and brave at the same time.

The song has hit the country airplay charts, spending its first week ranked in the mid-fifties. It has gotten some fairly direct competition from a new song called "Girl in Your Truck Song," by Maggie Rose. The names and titles sound similar enough to create confusion, but the meaning of the two songs couldn't be more different. Rose's is a love letter to bro country, even building the song titles of the hits into the chorus, and a peppy request for the most basic kind of inclusion: "Tonight I wanna be the girl in your truck song / The one that makes you sing along / Makes you wanna cruise, drink a little Moonshine down, leave a couple tattoos on this town." Last week, the bros themselves weighed in: Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, and Jason Aldean tweeted links to Maggie Rose's song to their millions of followers. Pop music isn't a horse race, but for the good of all things let's root for Maddie and Tae.