Mainstream country music gets an unfair rap as being universally over-polished and formulaic, a notion that artists like Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church obliterate every time they strap on their guitars. But there's a granule of truth to the stereotype, and a particularly damaging sub-genre – known as “bro-country” – is lending it far too much credibility right now.
Booze, chicks, jacked-up pickups, extreme redneck sports, spring break – artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and even Blake Shelton are leaning way too heavily on such themes in their music these days, and the entire trope can be summed up in one word: douchey. Yet bro-country isn't the only brand of 'baggery currently afflicting Nashville. No, douchebags are a diverse lot, and here are the 10 biggest 'bags currently cranking out (s)hits in Music City today:
10. Toby Keith
Drinking has long been fertile fodder for country songs. But for Keith, who's devoted entire concept albums to the topic, it's too often the only fodder. His lyrical over-reliance on the bottle is at least partially responsible for spawning bro-country, and Keith also bears a heavy burden for souring the Dixie Chicks on country radio (and vice versa), a setback from which Nashville's female insurgency is only now recovering.
9. Charles Kelley
He seems like a sweet, goofy guy, but sounds like supremo-'bag Michael Bolton, and is in a trio with “Lady” in its name. There's no place for the sort of soft-rock sheen Kelley brings to twang's table; it's high time Hillary Scott ditched the dudes and made Lady Antebellum all about the Lady.
8. Dan + Shay
This douchey duo is managed by Belieber-in-Chief Scooter Braun. That's the only argument we need.
7. Garth Brooks
Brooks admirably took a decade off in his prime to focus on his family, but we still can't get the Chris Gaines debacle out of our head, nor can we entirely dismiss it as the reason for Brooks' “retirement” in the first place.
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6. Jerrod Niemann
Niemann has never really done anything offensive, other than letting the awful rapper Pitbull remix his hit single “Drink to That All Night.” Yet that lone act is so utterly douche-picable that it lands him squarely at number six.
5. Taylor Swift
If any guy sang about their exes as maliciously and monotonously as Taylor does, they'd be sternly slapped with the “DB” brand. Infectious as her melodies are, everything about Swift seems contrived, and palling around with former Disney stars isn't helping her credibility.
4. Kenny Chesney
Hairless and Napoleonic, with a big voice and hat to match, K-Chez has a seemingly limitless supply of muscle-t's and songs about sand. The list of his 'baggy attributes is long, but they're niftily distilled in the video for “Come Over,” where this Jimmy Buffett wannabe cements his status as the Puffy Combs of country.
3. Florida Georgia Line
Their first song, “Cruise,” was a sublime summer jam. But then they went and recruited Nelly for the remix, copped Chesney's sleeveless look, and enlisted Luke Bryan for the year's most insufferable single, “This Is How We Roll.” Country plus rap typically equals crap, and these guys prove it.
2. Luke Bryan
The pretty-faced, nasal-voiced standard-bearer for bro-country, Bryan puts out a spring break-themed EP every year and dutifully plays a free annual show for blacked-out throngs of Florida revelers who are unlikely to remember a single verse. While he's only a collaborator on Florida Georgia Line's “This Is How We Roll,” Bryan's own “That's My Kind of Night” was accurately lambasted by Zac Brown as the worst song ever – although Bryan's breakout 2011 hit, “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” gives it a run for its money. Also, he recently fell off the stage while covering a Macklemore song in concert. Nice one, bro. Not the fall, the fact that he was covering Macklemore in the first place.
1. Rascal Flatts
This aging boy band pours gas on the fire for critics of country radio every time they open their manscaped mouths. Gary LeVox's Mariah-like runs bear no resemblance to how a country artist is supposed to sing, and you've never seen a musician eye-fuck a camera until you've seen guitarist Joe Don Rooney optically jizz into the frame.
In case you're wondering, Hunter Hayes and Keith Urban are spared the guillotine because they can really shred on guitar.
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Follow the writer, who writes frequently about good country music for No Depression, on Twitter @mdseely.