How A Joke TikTok About Country Music Stereotypes Hit The Radio

Aug 13, 2021
Originally published on August 19, 2021 2:07 am
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"Could be a hit," country artist George Birge says with a shrug and a smile at the end of a TikTok video from last year. He was stitching a video posted by fellow TikToker Erynn Chambers, in which she satirizes the difference in subject matter that men and women in mainstream country music typically sing about. Birge added a melody and a few more lyrics, and a coy tagline: "if this blows up ill [sic] finish the song and release it."

Birge was right on both accounts: His TikTok did blow up, and the full version of the song, which he released in June, is currently a minor hit. It was one of the top 10 most added new singles for country radio on the day it was sent to stations last week.

"Beer Beer, Truck Truck" is not the first song to spring from TikTok to the radio, but here's how it all came together over the last 10 months.

"Girls in tight jeans" vs. "I destroyed everything he loved — and then I killed him"

In "Boys 'Round Here," Blake Shelton sings about how he and his friends aren't like your normal guys who listen to The Beatles or do the Dougie. Blake and his boys keep it country by drinking ice cold beers while "runnin' them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust."

In "Before He Cheats," Carrie Underwood laments her partner's infidelity using her writer's pen, a set of keys and a Louisville Slugger in a passionate fit of property damage.

Meanwhile, in "Body Like a Backroad," Sam Hunt sings about how his partner has "hips like honey" and about the "way she fit in them blue jeans."

And again in "No Body, No Crime," Taylor Swift and HAIM tell the tale of a woman avenging her best friend's murder at the hands of an unfaithful husband — and then destroying all the evidence.

"A lot of men's country is 'the beers' and 'the trucks' and that kind of thing," Erynn Chambers says. "And then women's country is like revenge songs on their cheating husbands."

Chambers, a music teacher with a popular TikTok account where she posts educational and social justice related content, decided to poke fun at this stereotype. In October 2020, she posted a video of herself depicting a male country artist, singing the lyrics "beer beer, truck truck, girls in tight jeans," with the caption "men in country music," above her head. As for her female country artist? Yeah, she killed her cheating husband.

The video went viral; it currently has 1.8 million likes, over 67,000 shares, and 27,000-plus comments — many of which were polarized, either praising Chambers for her humor and cultural insight or criticizing her for what they thought was an unfair reduction of the genre.

A self-issued songwriting challenge

When country artist George Birge, one of the 5.6 million viewers, first saw the video, he was at a crossroads in his career. Until February of this year, Birge was one half of the country duo Waterloo Revival, but was unsatisfied with its level of success; at that point, he was having more luck writing for other artists and was considering ending his singing career altogether.

It was at a writing session with fellow country artist Clay Walker, one of his idols, when Birge first learned about TikTok as a tool to grow his platform.

"We had finished writing for the day and he was like, 'Dude, you just need to get on Tiktok and put your songs on there,' which was like the last thing I expected," Birge says — but he ended up taking the advice.

"As musicians, we go grind it out and play to 100 or 1,000 or a couple of thousand people a night," he says. "But if you do something that catches fire on TikTok, you can get in front of a million people instantly, and so that kind of piqued my interest."

Birge found Chambers' video in the country music hashtag, one of the first places he went after he made his account.

"My first reaction was like, 'Yeah, she makes a really good point,' " he says. "But my second reaction was kind of like, 'OK, it'd be fun to take this as a challenge and see if I can write a legitimate song using her hook up at the top.' "

To Birge, Chambers' TikTok parody poking fun at the genre his life revolves around had all the ingredients for a bonafide country hit.

"We always say that the best country songs are the ones that get stuck in your head, that are easy to remember, that you can sing back after one [listen]," he says. "And even though she is kind of doing it in jest — that 'beer beer, truck truck' hook she did off the top — I feel like that could be something that could burn in your brain and be a big country hook, so I kind of took it and ran with it."

That same day, Birge wrote a melody for the chorus and added a few more lines. He posted a stitch of him singing the new version in December 2020, and it quickly took off. People made it clear they wanted to hear a full song.

TikTok has not, in fact, killed the radio star

In early January, Birge called his friend and producer, Ash Bowers, and asked him to come over and help him record the song.

"So we got on his computer and recorded a demo in like three hours," Birge says. He posted another TikTok of himself playing the full version from his car speakers — that got 2.6 million views — and that's when "almost every record label in Nashville started calling me, asking to take meetings," he says. Birge signed with RECORDS Nashville and had a studio version recorded by February.

Courtesy of the artist

What emerged was "Beer Beer, Truck Truck," in which Birge takes Chambers' jesting chorus and turns it into a genuinely sweet ballad. With new lyrics about driving down dirt roads and spending summer nights staring at the stars, the song's narrator tries to convince his lost love — who gave up her life in the country for the big city filled with bright lights and endless opportunity — that country life isn't all beers and trucks.

When he posted the initial TikTok, Birge says he had six followers. Now, he has just over 160,000. Likewise, Chambers' account has ballooned to over 700,000 followers, with just over 70 million likes.

"I certainly didn't think I was going to grow a big audience with it," she says. As someone who grew up loving country music and just wanted to make a fun parody, she says her TikTok's success "was never a thing that I was thinking was going to happen." She never imagined that she'd have writing credits on a song in radio rotation and with over 4 million streams, either.

"It's really an honor and a privilege and a shock to see something that I came up with on the fly really connect with people and go out there like that," she says.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Now, mainstream country music lyrics have taken their fair share of knocks for sounding all, you know, kind of the same. Like...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERYNN CHAMBERS: (Singing) Beer, beer, truck, truck, girls in tight jeans, beer, truck, beer, truck, America, America, ooh.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, that's from a TikTok video made by Erynn Chambers in October of last year. By day, she teaches music to elementary schoolers in Charlotte, N.C. But Chambers has also amassed over 700,000 followers on TikTok. She's known for social justice content, but that's not all she posts about.

CHAMBERS: So it was talking about how, like, a lot of men's country is, you know, the beers and the trucks and that kind of thing. And then women's country is, like, revenge songs on their cheating husbands. And I tend to prefer the women's songs, to be quite honest. I don't know what that says about me.

CHANG: I prefer them, too. Enter George Birge. Last winter, he was thinking about giving up on trying to be a country singer.

GEORGE BIRGE: I had an artist career that was almost there but hadn't quite taken off yet, and I had started getting traction writing songs for other artists and had kind of considered giving up live music myself and just focusing on songwriting.

CHANG: And his colleague told him he could use TikTok to get his songs out there. So he downloaded the app, and he went to the country music hashtag - you know, as one does - and found the video from Chambers.

BIRGE: My first reaction was, like, yeah, she makes a really good point. But my second reaction was kind of like, OK. It'd be fun to take this as a challenge and see if I can write a legitimate song using her hook off the top.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEER BEER, TRUCK TRUCK")

BIRGE: (Singing) It ain't all beer, beer, truck, truck, girls in them tight jeans, small town riding around. Girl, I hope you miss me.

CORNISH: George Birge never meant to complete his little exercise, but then his TikTok blew up. So he finished the song. Then his phone blew up with offers from record labels. And you know the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEER BEER, TRUCK TRUCK")

BIRGE: (Singing) I know you think I'm crazy out here just living slow. No, I can't blame you, baby - just thought you should know it ain't all beer, beer, truck, truck.

CHANG: The final song takes that hook - beer, beer, truck, truck - and spins it into a tale of a girl who moved to the city and the guy she left behind in the country. And, yes, Erynn Chambers does get a songwriting credit.

CHAMBERS: I mean, it's really an honor and a privilege and a shock to see something that I came up with on the fly, like, really connect with people and really, really go out there like that.

BIRGE: I stumbled across Erynn's video, and it changed my life. And I feel like we've got a hit song on our hands now. So life comes at you funny.

CORNISH: "Beer Beer, Truck Truck" was one of the top 10 most added songs to country radio this week, to which we can lift a can and lower a tailgate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEER BEER, TRUCK TRUCK")

BIRGE: (Singing) If you ever get to thinking, thinking about coming on back, girl, you know where I'm at. It ain't all beer, beer, truck, truck, girls in them tight jeans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.