Searching for a place within country and Americana music
Though frequently ignored by the music mainstream, queer and transgender country and Americana artists have made essential contributions as musicians, performers, songwriters, and producers. Queer Country blends ethnographic research with analysis and history to provide the first in-depth study of these artists and their work. Shana Goldin-Perschbacher delves into the careers of well-known lesbian artists like k.d. lang and Amy Ray and examines the unlikely success of singer-songwriter Patrick Haggerty, who found fame forty years after releasing the first out gay country album. She also focuses on later figures like nonbinary transgender musician Rae Spoon and renowned drag queen country artist Trixie Mattel; and on recent breakthrough artists like Orville Peck, Amythyst Kiah, and chart-topping Grammy-winning phenomenon Lil Nas X. Many of these musicians place gender and sexuality front and center even as it complicates their careers. But their ongoing efforts have widened the circle of country/Americana by cultivating new audiences eager to connect with the artists’ expansive music and personal identities.
Detailed and one-of-a-kind, Queer Country reinterprets country and Americana music through the lives and work of artists forced to the margins of the genre's history.
Shana Goldin-Perschbacher is an assistant professor of music studies in the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University.
"At this unprecedented moment when queer artists dominate the Americana Awards nominations, Shana Goldin-Perschbacher's Queer Country arrives offering a timely, necessary, and radically fresh perspective on roots music--as a space for expression of sincerity by queer and trans artists."--Nadine Hubbs, author of Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 20 members
I really enjoyed this book. It’s short and sweet and packed with information. I learned about a bunch of new country artists and songs to add into my playlist (I’ve been listening to Fancy by Bobbie Gentry on repeat since I finished the book).
I was so obsessed with this book that when the person I was with put on a movie I wasn’t enjoying, I straight up pulled my book out and read it until the movie was over. Let me tell you, it was much better than the movie.
Queer country artists are dominating the Americana Awards and the people’s favor for the first time ever, with Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road at the forefront of the public’s knowledge of queer country music. Joy Oladokun is releasing new music every time I turn around.
Anyone who enjoys history, music, and queer stories will enjoy this book. I can’t recommend it enough.
Thank you to Netgalley and the author for the opportunity to read and review this book. I loved, loved, loved this book and here’s why.
As someone who grew up queer in the Deep South and who now lives elsewhere, I have always chaffed at the way many of my peers treat country music and their wholesale rejection of it. The number of times I’ve heard, “I’ll listen to anything but country,” is innumerable. Because so many of the major country stars are republicans, the genre is quite frequently ignored and criticized by white, liberal, coastal elites who, quite frankly, don’t know what they’re talking about..
As I said, I grew up queer in the Deep South but not only that, I grew up in a household which listened to “Old Country,” as my father used to call it. Old Country is flush with extremely talented, anti-establishment, leftist, working class, and diverse singers that often get drowned out in the contemporary music industry which prioritizes wealthy, white, cishet performers.
So when I saw this book on Netgalley, I knew I had to read it. And I was not disappointed! This book is a triumph and an testament to the diversity and inclusivity of the country music genre. A quote attributed to Orville Peck sums up my feelings quite well, “…oh this music is for well-adjusted, straight white men of whatever. And I actually disagree. I think that it’s meant for people who feel like freaks,” (pg. 184).
Peck is absolutely correct, and the author does an amazing job of illustrating the history of and reasons why country music originated in marginalized communities and has continued to be so important to them. This book was wonderfully inclusive and provided in depth explanations and analyses of queer and trans country singers and their music.
One concern I had going into this book was that the author might fail to acknowledge the role Black people had and continue to have in the creation and continuation of the genre. So often, Black artists are intentionally ignored in narratives about country music. Thankfully that was not at all the case in this book. The author centers the role of Black artists and spends a lot of time discussing Black and Black Queer country artists. Chapter 4 explores appropriation and (mis)representation in the genre which is something too frequently ignored in country music scholarship.
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 5, which discusses three country artists: Trixie Mattel, Orville Peck, and Lil Nas X. I am a huge fan of the later two and so I quite enjoyed reading a more academic analysis of their work. And it definitely convinced me to listen to Mattel’s.
Other things I loved:
-The discussion of not only lesbian, gay and bisexual artists but also trans and non binary artists!
-How well researched this obviously was, there were pages of citations at the end and many quotes/scholars/artists mentioned throughout the text.
In summary, this was wonderful and I can’t wait to have a physical copy in my hands! I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially fellow Queer listeners of country music!
This is an excellent contribution to the academic literature on queerness and music. Goldin-Perschbacher interrogates how and why country music is labeled as it is, how queerness and otherness work in the context of queer music, and, especially, how queer women are driving country music to a progressive place. There's a good bit of repetition, but since most of the material appeared in articles prior to being included in the book, that's not really unexpected. Highly recommended.
To set the mood for this book, I set up a playlist of artists mentioned in it to listen to while reading. Even though I've heard of k.d. lang, I've never put on her music until now. And then something odd happened. Almost every song sounded familiar. Especially Constant Craving sounded like I'd heard it thousands of times and I experienced a strange auditory déjà vu. I relayed this to my parents to which they replied: "Oh yeah, we used to listen to k.d. lang all the time when you were a baby!" It's a great song so I'm glad it hung out in the recesses of my brain for 30 years but still, what an odd feeling! But I digress.
Queer Country is about exactly that - the history and reception and current state of country music as performed by queer artists. Beware, though, this is an academic piece of writing. Shana Goldin-Perschbacher meticulously researched this topic and laid it out in no simple terms. Having said that, if you're in any way, shape or form interested in music, musical history, country music, or you're a queer person who just likes music, I can heartily recommend this book.
Starting with the now-iconic Lavender Country in the 70s, SGP explores how and why country music has appealed to queer people. Because country has always been a vessel for telling the stories of ordinary people and outsiders - the working class, cowboys, sassy women, alcoholics or outlaws - it only made sense for the group of people who are gender- and sexually-nonnormative to seek refuge in this genre of music as well.
By playing "three chords and the truth", musicians like Lavender Country, Indigo Girls, Brandi Carlile and k.d. lang were given the opportunity to sing about their lives and experiences as queer people through a blend of humour and sincerity and a pinch of rebellion. Unfortunately, this also meant unfair treatment by the industry and, for some, even obscurity.
SGP also argues that queer country can be less seen as a subgenre of music and more as a socioaesthetic phenomenon. It's no wonder then that some of these musicians experienced what was named genre trouble. This term is the musical take on Judith Butler's term gender trouble which suggests that gender is just a performance. For queer country musicians, it has been virtually impossible to *make it* in country and crossing the boundaries of genre was necessary for the sake of success, growth, financial gain, but also personal safety. This is why many of these musicians aren't considered strictly country - they play folk or Southern Gothic or even pop versions of country music.
While much of the book talks about the obstacles that queer country musicians have had to face for the past 50 years, the book ends on a somewhat positive note. Country is not dead, and queer country is possibly going through a Renaissance, led by musicians like the openly-gay masked cowboy Orville Peck, drag queen Trixie Mattel, and young black musician Lil Nas X who made a viral song while completely skirting the arduous process of actually getting signed to a label and having a promotional team.
Although country is not dead, it still has a ways to go before its status as the genre of bigotry changes. But thanks to queer artists and to new generations of people who are less and less accepting of the arbitrary societal rules of heteronormativity, things may change sooner rather than later.
Queer Country comes out on March 22. Huge thank you to NetGalley, University of Illinois Press and Shana Goldin-Perschbacher for the advanced reader copy.
A must read for queers who love Country. I am so thankful this book exists. Historically Country music can be commonly associated with more leftist viewpoints and heterosexuality. "I'm surprised more gay people don't feel connected to country music...The thing I connected with Country music when I was a kid is it's about isolation, heartbreak, and disappointment. That's the gay experience for everyone at some point." It is so important that there is queer representation in Country music and this book exemplifies that. I was so excited to see some of my favourite queer country artists included in this book. Orville Peck, Trixie Mattel, Lil Nas X. I'm a big Peck fan so the cover photo definitely drew me in. This book is a well rounded and inclusive study on the history of queerness within Country music. The text can read a bit dense but overall I think it was a really insightful read.
I grew up a farm kid in a very rural part of North Carolina. While my parents listened to some music outside of country music, the majority of what we had on the radio at any given time was country music. Country music has always held a place in my heart, but as I grew into my identity as a queer person, finding music in the genre that helped me feel seen and connected deeply with me became more and more difficult.
This book reconnected me with the genre as a whole. It is a thorough, well-researched, loving exploration of queerness within country music. While the book is very academic in its language and presentation, I found it had a lot of charm. And a whole lot of references to some DAMN good music.
Thanks to #NetGalley for the ARC. As a queer identified fan of mainstream country music, I was excited to delve into this book by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher. As she notes in the introduction and elsewhere, the appeal of country music broadly is the storytelling, addressing issues and everyday concerns of working class and middle class people. Because the industry markets the music to a more conservative base population, it can be surprising to hear that queer listeners consume, enjoy, and seek out country music, much less write and perform it. Despite being both queer and trans (a distinction the author hammers on repeatedly in the book though I didn’t grasp it even after she explained), country music remains the music I most often have on in the car, most closely identify with emotionally, and most often purchase whether through downloads or concert tickets. It’s the music that connects me to my father and the places I grew up and it grounds me here in the bay area where there is so much wealth that even my solidly middle class salary feels like the precipice of poverty. The country music connection is emotional and I looked forward to reading about other fans in the LGBTQI+ world who felt a similar connection to country music. That's not quite what I found.
Goldin-Perschbacher delivered Queer Country with a scholarly voice. This initially disappointed because I soon realized that that warm connection to other queer country music afficionados was not going to be my reading experience. While she expresses her personal appreciation of the music, and indeed seemed to find more connection to it the longer she engaged with her subjects, Queer Country never escapes the formality of a scholarly structure: clear thesis with an abundance of research and literature referenced to support the author's assertions. The tone is always unbiased and always unemotional. While I am sure Goldin-Perschbacher is a warm person, and indeed clearly gained the confidence of the handful of queer and trans musicians actively performing and producing country music – many of whom appeared to provide several interviews – no “personality” came through the scholar’s voice. Instead there was a persistent feeling of author as observer and queer country musicians as the observed, the studied. However well intentioned, it was disconcerting that the primary feeling I came away with as a queer person and a trans person was that of being studied.
The best part of the book was the introduction to some music and musicians I was not familiar with. My playlist grew as I read further in the book, particularly with musicians slotted into Roots and Americana genres which I haven’t typically been as drawn to. The challenges of breaking into mainstream country are enormous for any artist and this book did well articulating the higher hurdles faced by queer musicians. It was particularly interesting to hear that barriers are mostly enforced by the industry suits and not so much by (straight, cis-gendered) country artists. Sadly, these artists are beholden to the suits for their own opportunities, especially at the start of their career. The industry reinforces its exclusivity in this manner, ensuring that it maintains its appeal to a politically conservative, white fan base by excluding artists of color, queer musicians and limiting female voices.
A good read and an interesting read but some work to deliver this in less of a scholarly voice would have been welcome by this reader.
Really engaging history on lgbtq musicians in country history. It is a academic text, and I will admit to being comfortable with reading that style of literature, but I do think that the author did a good job on making sure that the text was written in as much as an accessible language as possible.
In the book Goldin-Perschbacher states that
Queer Country shares that capacity for creating a radical shared space amid continued misunderstanding and exclusion, summoning useful, inspiring elements of a long history of music while creatively changing or omitting others, navigating the inner tensions between authenticity and invention with both the urgent need to be understood as human and share humour with kin, engaging its central themes to tell their own stories of self and belonging
This is something the text achieves writing a strong analysis of the queer country and surrounding genres, told with love, care, and respect. This is something that Goldin-Perschbacher has clearly highly researched and intimately studied. It would be impossible for her to write about every queer country artist but she covers a wide scope and has consulted with many of them in writing this book. A book for country lovers who want to learn something more about their history. (Also I need to make a playlist for the acts covered in this I need to hear their songs !)
When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, listening to country was my own rebellion. It's funny, of course, now that I live in a rural area where everyone listened to country growing up because they roll their eyes over it. But anyway... this book was INCREDIBLE and VALIDATING as a queer millennial.
Queer County is a fantastic book. It is incredibly validating for rural queer people who love country and is a great primer to share with those looking to explore queerness, country, and the history that has lead to the popularization of acts like Trixie Mattel, Orville Peck, and Lil Nas X. It is striking in its sincerity and very well researched - a culmination of passion and dedication leading to a book that is academically sound and personally fulfilling.
Absolutely worth a read regardless of your opinion on country music. I will be purchasing a copy this week (now that the book is officially available) so I can so I can continue to reread and revisit my favorite sections. Thank you so much Dr. Shana Goldin-Perschbacher for your continuing dedication to queer andf trans identities in folk and country (and many other genre) spaces! I look forward to everything you write.
Thanks to #NetGalley for the ARC.
Going into this I wasn’t sure how academic Queer Country would be, but it was a very smooth read than was academic in a way that I understood. The inclusion of photos was a nice touch that helped me get a bit more familiar with the artists. I really appreciated the focus on trans identified artists and not just the LGB artists.
A good overview of the topic! The writing was very accessible and while the writer did often focus on what was happening within the last few years in country music, there was also attention paid to far earlier days of country as well as artists in the 80s and 90s. I'd recommend this one to anyone looking to expand their knowledge about queer music, country music, or just music in general as this particular topic has not been extensively covered.
Thanks to NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for the free e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Queer Country by Shana Goldin-Perschbacher covers the history of LGBTQ+ country artists. An academic review of these artists and their work, I found myself learning a lot about acts I'd never heard of before. While I knew some, especially modern artists like Orville Peck and Brandi Carlile, finding out about Lavender Country and previously blacklisted artists was super interesting.
As soon as I'd finished this book, I started looking up the artists mentioned. I'm very grateful this book exists to teach readers about the history of queer country.