A few years ago, many people were shocked when Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford came out of the closet. They shouldn't have been -- after all, Halford had long been roaring onstage on a motorcycle looking like the biker in the Village People. But you couldn't blame people for being surprised -- in the world of heavy metal, that Halford was openly flaunting a gay stereotype flew right under the radar, and in an ironic way, the hypermacho image he was peddling jibed as well with metal as it did in the Castro. Hell, some people were even surprised to learn that Freddie Mercury was gay, despite his image and the fact that his band was named Queen.
This article isn't about rock or metal, though. It's about another macho genre -- namely, country music. Neither is it an article about outing people. We don't know if any of the musicians featured here are gay, nor are we making any allegations about their sexual preference -- as far as we know, k.d. lang (in the Bay Area in late July for a performance with the San Francisco Symphony) is the only gay musician with a country connection, though Ty Herndon was caught in a compromising George Michael-like situation in a Fort Worth men's room a few years back. We're just examining images here, and lately it seems as if many of today's top country artists have been spending some quality time with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy's Fab Five.
Let's start with Pat Green (pictured top). A few years ago, when he was cheerleading along the Texas Music (Bowel) Movement, he looked quite the man's man, and not in that way, if you catch our drift. The inset picture presents us with the kind of guy who would chug-a-lug a can of Pearl and then belch and crush the empty against his head, the kind of guy who would unrepentantly walk around with a five-alarm-chili stain on his T-shirt. Then Pat signed with Republic, a New York-based subsidiary of Universal, and it shows in the picture above left. Gone is the taco'd hat and the flannel shirt, replaced by a mop of feathery highlighted hair, pukka shells, and the sort of shades sported by Walnut Creek hairdressers. He doesn't quite look gay, but he sure as hell is pushing the metrosexual envelope; "He looks like one of Bon Jovi's band members," one of my co-workers remarked. And we can just see some New York image consultant telling Pat, "That Texas thing won't play in Peoria. We'll have you looking like Richie Sambora in no time."
Moving along, we come to Tim McGraw, pictured middle. Circa 1993, McGraw's image was kind of redneck dweeb -- an aw-shucks wallflower at the hat-act dance. He looks pensive, insecure, as if he's thinking, "One day I'll be as cool as that doggone Garth Brooks. Dadgummit, I'll show 'em. He sure as shootin' won't kick sand in my face again." Fast-forward a decade. McGraw enrolls in a Charles Atlas program or something like that, and presto! To take Keith Jackson about as far out of context as he's ever been taken, whoa, Nelly! You can leave your hat on, Tim. Suddenly he's in buff "professional male stripper" mode, a guy whose wall calendars move lots of units across the sexual-preference spectrum. "Who doesn't like Tim McGraw?" enthused one Amazon.com calendar buyer. "He is a handsome hunk to look at twelve months of the year. The photos could be better, this is not his best IMHO. A gay fan." (Another disclaimer -- just because McGraw has gay fans doesn't mean he's gay, so don't trip.)
Next we have the strange case of Kenny Chesney (below). Capricorn gave him his major-label break in 1994 and tried to package him as the Dwight Yoakam clone pictured at top. After switching labels to BNA a year later, he was briefly peddled as a Garth-like hat act for a time (not pictured), before he entered the Ralph-Lauren-at-the-Santa-Fe-spread phase captured here. Like McGraw, Chesney seems to have spent some quality time at the YMCA, and thus we have the recent shot immediately above -- which always puts us in mind of the Electric Six for some reason (I've got something to put in you/At the gay bar, gay bar!). This shot seems to be sending some sort of message. What's Kenny thinking there? Something like, "Hey, cowboy, wanna wrestle?" And then there's the fact that on Sharp-Dressed Men, the 2002 country tribute to ZZ Top, of all the songs in the trio's body of work, Chesney chose to sing "Tush." Lord take him downtown indeed.
As for the George Strait montage below, we've included it as sort of a control group. Ol' George hasn't changed much over the years, and he's as "Strait" as they come. His colors don't run, and pink ain't one of 'em. And just in case you might be entertaining thoughts to the contrary, he's isn't just Strait, but "Strait George Strait." If you have a problem with that, you can take it up with his giant pet screaming eagle.
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