While I applaud Tim McGraw and Faith Hill for taking a stand against misogyny, I can’t help but feel like their message is about three years too late for country music.
The country genre has always had a problem with both a lack of female representation and a tendency to objectify female characters in songs, but this problem hit a new low during the Bro-Country era, as women were often depicted as nothing more than hip-shaking hotties whose existed only for the pleasure of their male counterparts. While McGraw hasn’t exactly been an innocent bystander during all this (Exhibits A & B: “Looking’ For That Girl” and “Southern Girl”), he’s now decided to educate his contemporaries on proper social etiquette by pairing with wife and fellow country superstar Faith Hill (who hasn’t headlined a charting single since 2012) for “Speak To A Girl,” the leadoff single for the pair’s upcoming joint album. It’s an ambitious and well-intentioned project, but it doesn’t feel like it reaches its full potential.
Production-wise, the song is framed as an old-school R&B power ballad, as if it was brought here by a time traveler from the 1970s. The mix is sparse and restrained, driven mostly by what sounds like an organ, with some guitars and real drums sprinkled in the background. The song sets a slow-groove tempo early, but unlike most power ballads it remains unusually quiet as the song progresses, never rising to match the intensity of the vocals (and thus placing the responsibility of building up and releasing energy solely on the singers). While the mix is easy on the ears, I would have liked to hear the sound rise up and match the intensity of the vocals, and not leave McGraw and Hill to do the heavy lifting by themselves.
Vocally, McGraw and Hill seem to be trying to adapt their style to the R&B vibe of the song, and as a result they sound very different on “Speak To A Girl” than they do on their other material. Hill, whose trademark sound is her big, powerful voice, adopts a quieter, breathy tone on her verses, and the song restricts to the lower range of her voice. On the flip side, McGraw attempts to take on the role of a soulful crooner, venturing into his higher range (and nearly pulling out his falsetto a time or two) than he normally does. The results aren’t terrible, but it does feel like both artists stray a bit too far from their comfort zone, and that their vocals lack the power and authority that they normally have. It makes me wonder if the song’s key should have been adjusted to put the singers in more comfortable positions.
Lyrically, this song attempts to explain how men should actually treat a woman, in contrast to the methods and language seen in music and pop culture today. It’s a worthy topic that deserves addressing, but the lyrics fall short here in two key areas.
- The songwriting here feels pretty lazy, with repetitive phrases like “say what you mean and mean everything that you’re saying” and “That’s how you talk to a woman, that’s how you speak to a girl.” Some of the phrases also seem dated or out of place: The line about respecting your momma doesn’t really fit with the rest of the song’s premise, and saying someone “wants Aretha [Franklin]” doesn’t mean anything if the listener doesn’t have the required background knowledge (Franklin had a huge hit in 1967 with the song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”).
- More concerning is the lack of actual direction the song gives about how to speak to a woman, instead offering vague statements about treating her right, being her friend, and letting her see the real you. All of these are true statements, of course, but if you’re targeting people who were raised on Bro-Country language and attitudes, you’re going to have to spell things out a bit clearer (just like Aretha Franklin did!) and offer some more specific recommendations.
Overall, “Speak To A Girl” is an okay song that makes some important (and long-overdue) points, but it has some major issues that keep it from making the impact it wants to. McGraw and Hill get some points here for trying (and to be fair, they’re not really the source of the song’s problems), but given the potential of a song like this, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the end result.
Rating: 6/10. It’s worth a few spins, but don’t expect anything earth-shattering here.