Kid Rock’s got a new album coming out this week, and I’m feeling nervous about it.
He’s long been one of my favorite artists, right up there with the Indigo Girls and Brandi Carlile. (I laugh as I write that and expect the same of readers.) Kid’s not like these others. He doesn’t sing to my soul. And his lyrics don’t necessarily resonate with my core values. Far from it, in some cases.
Still, I dig his tunes. And he’s probably the famous person I’d most like to grab a drink (or a joint) and hang with for an evening. I’m pretty sure he’d be all kinds of fun.
I think of Kid as a southern country rocker, probably because that’s the vibe of his I like the most. He got my attention in the mid-to-late 2000s with his Rock n Roll Jesus and Born Free albums. (I’d heard “Picture,” his earlier duet with Cheryl Crow, and I think of it in the same vein as the 2007 and 2010 releases.) Songs from these records reflect the musical influences of country legends like Hank Williams and his junior and Johnny Cash (he sings about both the latter on his 2015 First Kiss record). Earlier albums were grittier, featuring songs that situate Kid in the genre of hip hop and so-called “rock-rap.”
I love southern country rocker Kid. But I also like his hip hop and rock-rap self. Jamming to the title track of his 2001 Cocky album (which is admittedly one of my favorite Kid tunes) is classic stress release for me: “You say I’m cocky, and I say ‘What!? It ain’t braggin’ mother f*&%*r if you back it up!’” He swears, sometimes a lot. And I’m not mad at it. He’s also been accused of misogyny because of his lyrics and representation of women. That’s the piece I struggle with.
I consider myself a feminist, and this question has long rattled around in my head: Can I be a feminist and a Kid Rock fan or does one necessarily rule out the other? More accurately, perhaps, does one disqualify me from the other? Does my feminist membership card get revoked when I get caught singing along to lyrics like “Skinny models you can keep those / I like big corn-fed Midwestern hoes?”
In her book and subsequent TED Talk, Roxane Gay confesses, “I am failing as a woman. I am failing as a feminist… I am a mess of contradictions.” She goes on to admit that she believes in “man work” – bug-killing, trash removal, lawn work, and other jobs she “wants no part of.” She loves the color pink and reads fashion magazines and supports women taking men’s last names when that’s what they choose. She also cops to listening to…[gasp]…“thuggish rap” in her car.
For these reasons and others, she believes herself to be a “bad feminist.”
Roxanne (I can’t bring myself to call her “Gay”) sums up a lot of what I think and feel. In college, I wanted nothing to do with feminists. I thought subscribing to their line of thinking meant I had to buy my own dinner on dates and give up hopes of being a wife and stay-at-home mom. I actually spoke out against feminism in a speech competition my junior year.
My 37-year old self looks back at that time and my thinking and winces. I didn’t understand what feminism was. And I also didn’t know what it wasn’t. That said, Roxanne admits to a similar youthful misunderstanding of “the f-word” and speaks to its sometimes ineffectual representation and alienating role in modern culture.
It’s difficult for me to go back in time and see something through the lens of my youth, but I suspect that the idea of feminism scared my college self. It seemed…militant (Roxanne uses this same word to describe some of its subscribers), like it would require me to give up things I valued – at that time, chivalry and an admittedly fairy tale-inspired conception of love and life.
Years and lots of life experience later, I almost fully claim the moniker of feminist. Almost. Like Roxanne says, it’s difficult to really commit to being a feminist, to fully own that label, when there exists a looming sense that something you do or say or like or feel might call into question your commitment to the values and mission of the movement. When I asked a newish friend to take an early look at this post, her response was “First of all, I’ve gotta give you sh*& for liking Kid Rock. Really? Kid Rock??” Yeah yeah, I know, I’ve fallen off the pedestal. Just like that.
I really struggle with my love of Kid Rock (I’ve long called him my “guilty pleasure”). More specifically, I struggle with the stuff he represents. Or might represent. Does he really hate women (the textbook definition of misogyny)? I don’t think that’s the case… But he certainly objectifies them (us). Is it all just part of the show – his persona – or is it a genuine reflection of his character? And does it really matter? Lots of folks would say it doesn’t, that I’m supporting all of what he promotes by listening to his music, buying his albums, and going to his shows. And that’s the crux of it. Maybe it really does make me a bad feminist – or at least a duplicitous one.
When I told a musician friend recently about my “dilemma,” he said of Kid’s treatment of women “That’s just rock ’n roll.” I didn’t know if that should make me feel better or worse. Someone else asked me this: “Doesn’t feminism give you permission to like whatever you want to like?” I’ve held onto those words, though I’m not sure I necessarily agree with them…
I keep thinking Kid, now 46, will move beyond the grittiness of his youth and stop objectifying women in music and video. That’s definitely not all of who he is, nor do I think it’s the majority of what he represents. His Born Free album came out without the usual “Explicit Lyrics” warning on its cover, and I was hopeful there would be more albums like that…but there haven’t been. With a silhouette of a topless woman and that warning label intact on the cover of Sweet Southern Rock, I fear this latest album might keep Kid squarely on the wrong side of my hopes.
So what does that mean for me? Roxanne says “It’s hard to make the right choice and so easy to justify a lesser one…” and that’s what I fear I’m doing by holding onto this guilty pleasure, however tenuously. I’m far from the typical Kid fan, and I’m sure he wouldn’t even notice if I stopped turning up at his shows. Still, I guess I’m not ready to commit to that. While I hold out hope he’ll move away from the practices that offend my sensibilities, I also hold tight to the final words of Roxanne’s book and TED Talk: I’d rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.