How Gretchen Wilson’s ‘Redneck Women’ Helped Redefine Country Music’s Female Archetype
Gretchen Wilson turned heads 17 years ago, in 2004, when she dropped her bombshell debut single, "Redneck Woman." The song raced to the top of the charts and camped out there for a whopping five weeks, making Wilson the first solo woman to top the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart since Martina McBride did so with "Blessed" in 2002; it also won her a Grammy Awards trophy, for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
More than the chart success and Grammys win, though, "Redneck Woman" helped redefine the image of country music's female artists. No longer was the prototypical woman a picture-perfect, sexy being; rather, she was unapologetically loud and unabashedly wild -- and she could party with the best of 'em.
Wilson and John Rich co-wrote "Redneck Woman" as a response to Faith Hill's crossover hit "Breathe." It inspired Wilson to carve out her own niche in country music: No movie-star poise and perfection; she encouraged women to embrace their gritty roots and whatever imperfections they may perceive about themselves.
She encouraged women to embrace their gritty roots and whatever imperfections they may perceive about themselves.
The year that "Redneck Woman" topped the charts, other hits by female artist told stories of imperfect lives and loves, but with a little less in-your-face attitude: Shania Twain's "She's Not Just a Pretty Face" and Martina McBride's "How Far" voiced the frustration of being underestimated and taken for granted.
But the rowdy lyrics of "Redneck Woman" pose a challenge: "Some people look down on me / But I don't give a rip / I'll stand bare-footed in my own front yard / With a baby on my hip." That titular woman isn't going to take any crap or bow to society's demands, name brands and seasonally appropriate decor be damned.
Wilson's longtime friend Rich says that the song was a turning point for Wilson, who, like most women, struggled to find her place: “She’s accepted the fact that people actually like her,” Rich told the Quad City Times in 2007. “All the years we were working together before she hit, she honestly didn’t think people liked her ... She was such a guarded, somewhat dark personality of a person.”
"Redneck Woman" paved the way for women in country music who didn't fit the fairytale narrative that had been handed down through generations of songwriting. Wilson's relatable character is keenly aware that while "you might think [she's] trashy," she still knows how to claim her place in the world and win over her man.
Gretchen Wilson and "Redneck Woman" made room in country music for the in-your-face women who would follow.
Wilson and "Redneck Woman" made room in country music for the in-your-face women who would follow: Miranda Lambert and her burn-it-down approach to heartache; Maddie & Tae, who aren't just some "Girl in a Country Song;" and Ashley McBryde, who is proudly a "Girl Goin' Nowhere." And she has continued the battle to re-define women in music with the launch of her own label, Redneck Records, for which she serves as artist, producer, engineer and more.
"I'm fighting for women in these roles." Wilson told USA Today in 2013. "A woman can be a president of a record company. A woman can produce a record. A woman can engineer a record. A woman can put the damn thing together, and a woman can sell it."
Throughout her career, but especially with "Redneck Woman," Wilson has flipped the script on apologetic emotions and brokenhearted victims, making country music a place to celebrate the wild women -- especially the redneck ones. Now let's hear a big hell yeah for that!
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