Controversy over Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’ may have actually helped it on radio

Little Big Town features two Georgia natives and has had 7 top 40 country hits, including its current "Girl Crush." left to right: Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet. (Courtesy Matthew Welch/Sandbox Entertainment)

Little Big Town features two Georgia natives and has had 7 top 40 country hits, including its current “Girl Crush.” left to right: Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet. (Courtesy Matthew Welch/Sandbox Entertainment)

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Friday, May 1, 2015

A month ago, a minor media firestorm erupted over Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” because some listeners had misconstrued its lyrics as having some sort of gay intentions. The story that began the tempest in a teapot was in the Washington Post March 25, citing radio sources at stations in Waco, Texas and Boise, Idaho who had heard complaints. The Los Angeles Times and Huffington Post followed up with similar stories.

The pretty ballad is about an ex girlfriend who finds out her ex boyfriend is dating a new woman and her jealousy is construed as a “Girl Crush.” Here’s the chorus:

“I want to taste her lips, yeah cause they taste like you / I want to drown myself in a bottle of her perfume. I want her long blond hair, I want her magic touch / Yeah cause maybe then, you’d want me just as much. . . I got a girl crush.”

Taken literally, yes, this could be construed as some sort of lesbian affair. But it’s really just colorful lyrical imagery and not literal.

So any comparison to the Dixie Chicks 12 years ago after Natalie Maines’ incendiary comments in London at the dawn of the Iraq War that blew up their country career is well overblown.

“Girl Crush,” which was at No. 33 on March 25 when the Post story came out, has doubled its airplay nationally since then and is now at No. 18 on Mediabase 24/7’s country airplay chart with steady weekly increases. Out of 152 country stations that reports to Mediabase, 149 have the song on its playlist – even the one in Boise.

Both 94.9/The Bull and Kicks 101.5 in Atlanta are spinning “Girl Crush,” with the song on light rotation (nine spins the past week) on the Bull and middle-heavy rotation on Kicks (35 spins the past week, its 12th most popular song).

Greg Frey, program director at Kicks, said he has heard zero complaints from any Kicks listeners about the song. “I got the metaphor,” he said. “It’s a great vocal performance, great harmonies. It’s one of those songs that kind of sticks out on the radio in a good way.”

Brian Michel, senior vice president for programming at IHeartMedia, said, “If there is a controversy, it seems to be fabricated by some journalism outlets in other parts of the country. Sure, the song is polarizing because what is perceived by the face value of the lyrics until digesting the entire song. I would agree that the fodder has certainly  generated more interest and sales for the song. We have seen comments both supporting the song and a few who don’t like it – but that’s just like any other song. Some like it… some don’t.”

UPDATE on July 13, 2015: The song is now at No. 4 in airplay and No. 1 for 11 consecutive weeks on Billboard country charts, which include sales. That’s the longest run for any group (three or more) in country chart history going back 56 years. Plus, the song is now the best-selling download for a country act this year.

This week, the song is now in high rotation at Kicks (52 spins) and mid-rotation on the Bull (26 spins). It has even crossed over to Hot AC and Star 94 aired the song 42 times last week, more than the Bull! It’s ranked No. 22 on the Hot AC chart.

“Girl Crush,” which Little Big Town performed at the ACM Awards last month, has been the No. 1 most downloaded county song the past three weeks, according to Billboard. Last week, it sold 110,000 copies.

The band was naturally befuddled but grateful that the song is being received largely the way they had expected.

“It was hard at first,” Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman told Billboard magazine of the song’s perceived controversy. “It has given huge life to the song, but when it was happening, it was disheartening. We heard all these angles and negative news stories about the song. But, what was so incredible was that the people who heard it and believed in it rallied around it. Then, people started buying it like hotcakes. So it’s good that more people have heard it.”

Little Big Town has released six studio albums going back to 2002, with 14 top 40 country songs in its pocket including “Boondocks,” “Day Drinking,” “Tornado” and its No. 1 song from 2012 “Pontoon.” Two of its members – Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman – are from Georgia.

Here’s what the band had to say about the song last year before the so-called controversy.


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