Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Blake Shelton – Honey Bee

I feel a little bit like being West Virginia myself, sometimes.


Pete Baran: There is no denying Blake’s 100% country voice, but its the delivery and humour that delivers for him each time. As a breakthrough artist, he is a little too obsessed with both defending and exploiting the tropes of country, and here he goes on a trip though an extended metaphor which ends up with him sticking his dick into her delicate petals. It is all done with so much good humour though that the journey to the entendre is thoroughly enjoyable.

Anthony Easton: I like Shelton’s voice, and I think I like Shelton being naughty more than I like him being sincere; he has a snarl that enthusiasm just shoves down. That said, I mean this is clichéd in places, and silly in others, and the Conway-Loretta reference makes me remember he once covered Twitty to great effect, and so I want him to do a little more of that…and so there are reasons to really not like this, but for some reason, I am seduced by his voice, and so the score reflects a lack of critical rigour on my part.

Alfred Soto: Responsible for “Who Are You When I’m Not Lookin’,” the year’s tenderest ballad, Blake Shelton owes me nothing more; instead, he performs a rocker with the right kind of crunchy guitar sound. The rote metaphors strengthen Shelton’s charm — a regular guy with regular looks who’s humble about a helluva voice.

Michaela Drapes: Granted, some of the parings mentioned in this song run from abjectly sexist (soft and sweet/strong and steady) to well, just kind of odd (Louisiana/Mississippi), but, you know, his heart’s in the right place, more or less. After all, Blake’s thing is songs with off-kilter lyrics; just wish he was crooning some deeper stuff with those killer pipes, that’s all.

Katherine St Asaph: Songwriter Rhett Akins claims he was inspired by Mike Huckabee’s name having all those pungent consonants and vowels, but that “shot of whiskey” line is totally about Miranda Lambert, and I refuse to listen to it any other way. Half the time when you write a song with this structure, though, it ends up with the evil shapeshifter murdering you. And the melody isn’t so much “a little country” as a little “Teardrops on My Guitar,” emphasis on little.

Martin Skidmore: Most of the country I like is trad balladeering, but I think Shelton’s strong voice is most effective when performing something more like rock ‘n’ roll. This has the now routine dreadfully old-fashioned rock guitar in places, but mostly it’s medium paced soft rock, with oddly unmacho lyrics (“I’ll be your honey bee”). Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t quite catch me.

Josh Langhoff: I’d say he misunderstands the particulars of honeysuckle fertilization, but he backs off: “That came out a little Country / But every word was right on the money.” Of course, that contradiction flies in the face of the recent Corbin-Paisley hypothesis that Country Must Always Speak Truth About True Things. My sensible and, it turns out, eight-months-pregnant wife is now explaining to me about poetic license. Herself no stranger to lies about bees, she once suffered a debilitating sting WHILE HOLDING STILL.

Brad Shoup: First I thought this song was about a merger, then I figured it was about teabagging, and now I’ve got no idea. Dude is married to Miranda Lambert, spends three hours a week sharing a set with Cee-Lo, and nothing rubs off?

Ian Mathers: “This might come out a little crazy, a little sideways, maybe.” Well, you sappy douche, leaving aside for a second that following up your perfectly normal metaphors with “yeah, that came out a little country” makes you the worst kind of dogwhistle douche (them cityfolk, they don’t compare their loved ones to flowers or sunsets or even a good stiff drink, nossir), what came out during the chorus wasn’t sideways or crazy so much as incredibly boring. Must try harder.

Jonathan Bradley: Shelton pours on the sugar for a big, goopy love song that brims with the same unabashed enthusiasm as Martina McBride’s “I Love You” or Liz Phair’s “Why Can’t I.” “That came out a little country,” he grins after the first chorus, but it’s all the better for that lack of irony or detachment. For the many, many approaches pop has taken in its treatment of the ups and downs of romance, effectively capturing the irrepressible joy derived from being around someone special is an art trickier than might be suspected. It requires, perhaps, bright major chords and corny promises to be someone’s Mississippi if only they’ll be your Louisiana. (I probably bumped up my score slightly just because I enjoy geographical metaphors that much. I even like the parochialism inherent in him choosing two states from the deep South, like, no way in hell would he be the New Hampshire to some woman’s Vermont!)

42 Responses to “Blake Shelton – Honey Bee”

  1. What Ian said, actually.

  2. Blah, that last sentence should have been “Blake’s thing is songs with off-kilter lyrics … ” — didn’t mean to imply he’d written this one when he hadn’t.

  3. You people and your “dog whistles.”

  4. @Jonathan – I think the Louisiana/Mississippi metaphor refers to “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” more than to the actual states, which is why Conway and Loretta get a shoutout in the next line. Anyway, Alabama/Mississippi would make more sense, as they’re mirror images of each other, or maybe Tennessee/North Carolina because they’re holding hands (aww).

    I didn’t get my blurb in on time, but one of the things I liked about the song is that the analogies aren’t all straightforward: some clash (wine/whiskey), some cancel out each other (sunny day/shade tree) and some are redundant (sugar/sweet tea).

  5. @Sally Ah… that makes sense. I don’t know the Conway Twitty catalogue as well I might, and the reference to that specific song went over my head. (Though, shucks, I still love the idea of a couple being symbolized as a pair of neighboring states.) I’d been wondering if the line was dirtier than I initially supposed, and the Mississippi in question was the river, which, y’know, *enters* Louisiana… and then, thankfully, I decided I was overthinking things.

  6. Brad–

    The fascinating thing about the voice is that Shelton has rubbed off on Cee-lo, esp. in how Cee Lo worked through questions of geography and (sexual) pleasure, the first few episodes were a trade off of quips and quotes about how to live in the south, and esp. how to fuck in the south.

    As for Lambert–Shelton has been around longer than Lambert, and has only really worked up to the middle. One of the reasons why he has gotten more successful in the last few years, is his rship with Lambert. The interesting thing (and maybe one of the interesting things about the song) is that both of them have a complex set of narratives and reactions–Lambert can be sweet, and can be angry and can be sexy and can be none of those things; just as Shelton works on several levels. Their relationship as singers works like the song works, Johnathon Bradley is right about the reinforcements and cancellations that work through the track.

    Also, Shelton has done some really brilliant stuff, and he seems just on the cusp of breaking through and doing something genuinely game changing, but I have thought that for almost a decade, and it hasn’t quite worked out yet–maybe because of his ecclecticsm (as the nyt argues) or maybe because the way Nashville is running right now, it’s not really ready for one great album.

    (I feel the same way about Josh Turner, in fact–though I think Turner’s great work will be about Jesus, and Shelton cares much less about Jesus then other singers right now.)

  7. ““That came out a little country,” he grins after the first chorus, but it’s all the better for that lack of irony or detachment.”

    All due respect to Jonathan, but this is EXACTLY what pisses me off about this song. This song isn’t lacking in irony or detachment, which it at least sounds like we’re attributing to it being “a little country,” at all! That kind of phrasing is functioning in pop right now the way people going “aww, it was just a joke” does, and it similarly ranges from harmless-but-annoying to genuine attempts to mask all sort of awful things. Just because this particular example is nearer the former end of the scale doesn’t give it a pass.

    And Alfred, dogwhistles or no dogwhistles, there is no way this was getting a [7] from me. His voice is annoying and the song is, at best, turgid.

  8. For me, Shelton has not yet equaled his debut single, which, of course still receives regular radio play. I’ll have more to say when I get off this phone and to a computer.

  9. Huh, I don’t remember Blake rubbing off on Cee Lo on The Voice. As far as I remember, Cee Lo was off in his own world for the entirety of the show, leaving Blake to be successively creepier and creepier and creepier until by the end of the show he was some horrific cross between a Svengali and your uncle Phil who shows up to family functions making inappropriate comments and being slightly homophobic but not enough to call him out. Not that the coaches weren’t all creepy at one point or another, but somehow most of the commentary centered on Christina (unsurprisingly; she’s female and she’s not had the best year) and passed over Blake entirely.

    As far as Shelton caring/not caring about Jesus, his next single is a Christian contemporary cover, so either he cares more about Jesus than you think or he’s being really shameless.

  10. But I’m not sure what sorts of awful things Shelton’s phrasing masks!

    My comment about dog whistles concerned how quickly we want to read red state narratives into country songs. “Dog whistle” as a metaphor is in danger of overuse; let’s use it sparingly.

  11. For the record, I didn’t hear “that came out a little country” as a dog-whistle at all, and I’m oversensitive to this kind of thing.

  12. Why do we assume intertextual intervention is always irony

  13. Ugh, I’m just embarrassed that I missed the “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” reference. Duh.

  14. No disrespect taken, Ian (of course), but I’m not sure what irony or detachment you’re hearing here. Shelton is playing a character, but that character is being fairly plainspoken; you wouldn’t confuse him with Stephen Malkmus or James Murphy or Terius Nash. I think it’s quite reasonable to suppose that some of Shelton’s audience is intimately familiar with the politics of resentment, but it would be a mistake to suppose that everyone speaking to that audience is intentionally trying to activate those politics. I think Shelton’s self-deprecatingly positioning himself as a bit of a rube: gently acknowledging stereotypes of working class Southerners as a bit dim (or what Aaron Fox, author of Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture, referred to as “talkative excessiveness”). No doubt some people deploy that stereotype to marginalize other people or points of view, and as I said, there’s a parochialism about what he’s doing here, but I think it’s a stretch to see it as malicious.

  15. Also: Anthony – I thought Shelton’s best work was BS, and since then he’s been moving away from that template to greater success and lesser musical worth.

  16. Bradley…

    you know, that’s the cannon, but I found BS a little too dependent on a personae to be really interesting, and i find this working on being unmoored a bit more interesting


  17. I promise everyone that the second I learn what intertextual intervention is, I will not mistake it for irony.

  18. It boils down to the fact that I listened to “Honey Bee” 20 times, and I can’t remember it.

    Beyond that, I find the song’s presentation in list format to be particularly lazy. For a song presented as a conversation, it’s remarkably static. One man’s “cancellations and reinforcements” may be another’s unfortunate series of undeveloped metaphors, with an (admittedly cute) songwriter’s wink at Country Music Past, and a few summery signifiers.

    One of the country stations in town has an evening show called The Roundhouse; it plays the rougher stuff. Last year I heard a single, “Every Girl” by the Turnpike Troubadours, that just throttles “Honey Bee”‘s approach. Sorry to go all LJ on everyone:

    “Well, she was born in the morning, late October San Antone
    Aw, she’s every girl I’ve ever known

    Well, she was born in the morning late October San Antone
    Aw, she’s every girl I’ve ever known
    She don’t talk about religion she talks about the Stones
    Oh, she’s every girl I’ve ever known

    And her tongue is like the devil when she tries to concentrate
    She says she don’t want marriage but she still believes in fate
    And she stands her ground defiantly but cries when she’s alone
    Oh, she’s every girl I’ve ever known

    Now her voice it is a melody that sings just like a bird
    Oh, she’s every song I’ve ever heard
    And her heartbeat is a rhythm that commands her every word
    Aw, she’s every song I’ve ever heard

    She reflects the world in happiness and echoes all the pain
    She smiles the world of sunrise and cries to make it rain
    And she hides the truth discreetly, but you’d have to take her word
    Aw, she’s every song I’ve ever heard

    She’s a sober Sunday kitchen conversation with my dad
    Aw, she’s every friend I’ve ever had
    Who never failed to cut a trail whenever times were bad
    Oh, she’s every friend I’ve ever had

    She’s a flighty good time buddy in the corner of the bar
    But she’d fight the devil for ya just for being who you are
    And she’s the last to cast a stone though she’d love to leave you mad
    Aw, she’s every friend I’ve ever had

    Well, she was born in the morning, late October San Antone…”

    Again, sorry for posting the whole thing, but I’ve listened to that this a few hundred times in the few months. If radio can get me a great country love song, I’m ready to sign. Everything from John Michael Montgomery’s “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” to Josh Turner’s “Why Don’t We Just Dance” to Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” to Gary Allan’s entire oeuvre to Blake Shelton’s debut “Austin”. I’m staunchly with Ian on this point; all I hear with this song is some smirking country point-scoring and a dippy rock treatment.

    Clearly I haven’t been paying attention to Shelton’s career beyond the singles. And it wasn’t fair of me to mention Cee-Lo (or even Miranda), but Blake’s song just… exists. Have you heard Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)”? Dang. That’s how you put signifiers to work.

  19. “I think Shelton’s self-deprecatingly positioning himself as a bit of a rube”

    That positioning isn’t just self-deprecating, it’s disingenuously false, which is part of what bugs me! As I said pretty clearly, Jonathan, I don’t think he’s being malicious here. He is, however, being annoying as hell.

  20. Sorry, i have spent the week in a high theory disability studies conference:

    Here is what I think (and thank you for having this debate)

    a) the list song is usually lazy, Sondhiem anad Merritt both talk about how even the master of the list song is not doing the real work of song writing in constructing lists. This seems to be less of a lazy list song than it could be, because of how it matches the pairs, sometimes the pairs work oppositionally, sometime they are used to mark boundaries, personally and culturally, sometimes they fit into each other as closely as two spoons…and they fit in a kind of being not sure, a start and stop where narrative descriptions of the erotic subject are inadequacy.
    b) i live in a major market that has no country music station, and so I miss the radio. I will look into the song, but i find the consistency to be actually slightly more lazy then the bubble bee buzz of Shelton’s song–which isn’t perfect either.
    c) Sold is a beautiful work of formal song writing, it is creepy as hell. Josh Turner has a sexual politic that i cannot quite figure out, but seems to be half in favour of pleasure, but a pleasure coded with a baptist monogomy, Faith Hill has a problematic gendering, but Blake Shelton (and early Gretchen Wilson), is lupine–what’s interesting about this lupine tendency is that this is the low keeping, keeping teeth sheathed, loping text, has the potential for consuming…

    inter-textual intervention i meant the quoting or hinting at other genres, or other use ages, reminding the listener of history within the text being analysed.

  21. a) He cares less about Jesus than almost any other major country singer. Country really really loves Jesus. Caring about Jesus less does not mean that he does not care about him at all. He and his handlers have also gone out of the way to push him up from 2nd tier to first tier. So both?
    b) I only watched the first half, will watch the second half soon, but the first half they seemed to be pushing themselves onto a bit of pleasure seeking.


    This is not quite a rube, it is a continual effort to make suburban men appear more country then they are.

  23. you’re blowing me mind, Anthony

    Turner’s clearly in the Randy Travis school, not just due to the eerie vocal similarities, but also the primitive-Baptist vibe. I don’t tend to think of country musicians in terms of religion (living in Austin, I really do hear whistles to an anxious suburbia), but Travis’ most popular song, of course, would either be “Three Wooden Crosses” or the transcendent love song “Forever and Ever Amen”. Turner’s “Long Black Train” really struck me as a throwback , dropping threats of destruction associated with an earlier time.

    “Why Don’t We Just Dance” I don’t think of in terms of religious demographics, but in social ones: it’s a conservative song to the core, aimed at the young (the dancing twenty-somethings in the video, the fact that Turner and his partner can’t yet afford a larger house) who happen to be old in political outlook (what young person complains about too many channels, or too much bad news?). It’s also a fine successor to Gary Allan’s rough-edged “Nothing On But the Radio”. Sometimes a song doesn’t have time to sketch out the sex, or just doesn’t bother to, and I thought “Why Don’t” was phenomenal as it was.

    It’s fun to think of Blake Shelton as a secret sufferer of hypertrichosis. Obviously I’m not approaching this as rigorously as you, and I thoroughly enjoy this higher perspective.

  24. I would also mention that Garth Brooks, as the consummate ingratiator/entertainer, doesn’t seem to care a whit about Jesus, and I miss him tremendously.

  25. @Brad S. – We reviewed “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)”! It wasn’t nearly as well-received as “Honey Bee,” though I rated it a 7 and would have given this a 5.

  26. Thanks. I should have checked.

  27. I am assuming the kind words are sincere, and thank you.

    The frustrating thing about Turner’s conservative nature, is that it means he never takes his shirt off.

  28. 1) Totally sincere. And 2) God yes.

  29. Is “Three Wooden Crosses” really one of Randy’s most popular songs, or does it just seem that way because it’s so recent? I wasn’t listening to country in 2002 so I don’t know how ubiquitous it was, but looking at Wikipedia, its distinction seems to be that it was his lone #1 in a sea of low-charters in the 2000s. But from 86-89 he had ten #1s, including seven in a row. Including “Deeper Than the Holler,” one of my favorites, which is an incredible song that is both 1) a list and 2) one big red state dog-whistle. Maybe it’s my personal bias, but I always thought it was considered one of his biggest songs.

    Anyway list songs are great, haters.

  30. The single disc Travis comp released not too long ago is essential, although he doesn’t mind being boring often either.

  31. I’m still hearing “Three Wooden Crosses” on the radio. Could be that his 80s and 90s tunes had their half-life pass. I just remember “Crosses” being massive. Same thing for “Deeper Than the Holler,” and I’m kicking myself for forgetting it. Another tune I’d take over this one, tho’ it’s the same basic “aw shucks here’s a love song even though I’m straight” concept. I have some soul-searching to do.

  32. Brad:

    a) three wooden crosses is conserative in political and musical form.
    b) it reminds me of Whiskey Lullaby, which makes me think there was a revival of these moralist story songs, in the Spade Cooley, Red Sovgine kind of tradition, but I cannot think of more than a couple
    c) are you making a claim about Travis’s sexuality?
    d) The Voice is really interesting about issues of sexuality, esp. in how it relates to this song: 1) it is a love song that a boy sings to a girl, about the girls abundance of sexual desire. 2) it is a love song that blake shelton, who has a rep for outrageousness, is singing to miranda lambert, who has a few public personaes, none of which have been decided. 3) it is done after the voice, a television show that was intended as part of the project to make Blake Shelton more popular, both in and outside of Nashville. 4) Blake has a butchicsmo attitude that would suggest minor homophobia, but minor homophobia that was compliacted by his mentoring, and feeling genuinely upset at losing two gay male contenstants. 5) all of this has to be placed in context about the complete erasure of queer voices w/i Nashville and w/i the texts produced by Nashville

    So the song is fantastic, but their is a bit of some heavy baggage…

  33. I guess that’s what I’m saying re: “Three Wooden Crosses”. I hear the religious content as an expression of political content. My own misgivings about of rich people singing popular music, I guess. I’m saying that the form Turner’s conservatism takes reminds me of Travis, although I’m probably the millionth person to compare the two.

    c) I’m making a claim about the squeamishness that jumps out. The “strong and steady” archetype, the tension between the conceit of personal address and an entertainer’s display. I’ve heard the rumors about Randy (might’ve read them in ‘Nashville Babylon’), but that wasn’t what I was trying to convey.

    b) The Gillian Welch is kind of an anthology along those lines, although the moralism has been stripped. I’m also drawing a blank, but I just pulled up the Possum doing “If Drinking Don’t Kill Me”. I guess “The Grand Tour” could be a first-person story-song.

  34. I may never get back to work. This is beyond fun.

  35. To be fair, the Voice coaches–all four of them–strenuously avoided being genuinely critical about anyone’s performance, departure or anything. This is a show where the coaches were asked to split 100 points between two contestants to advance one of them on, and three out of four of them either went 50-50 or basically went 50-50 (Cee Lo’s 51-49, which was a fucking cop-out.)

  36. More Randy Travis Jukebox discussion in the comments section of this Reba song from a couple years ago, if y’all need yet more reasons to procrastinate:

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t like this Blake song much the couple times I’ve heard it (maybe in the 4.0 – 5.0 range), but I’ve got nothing interesting to say about it. Haven’t had much use for him since Pure B.S.; still figure Barn & Grill is probably his best. Seemed like a nice guy, the one time I interviewed him. Never loved “Austin,” even though I live here, too. Listen to country radio way, way less than I did a year or two ago. Think the “Texas country” played on Central Texas stations like KTEX (which I always think of as KOTEX) has been just as dull at the kind out of Nashville lately. Have yet to see a single episode of “The Voice.” Think Gogol Bordello could be fairly terrific, at least as far as ’00s indie-label rock bands go.

  37. Brad:

    about political content and social content, Three Wooden Crosses is so nostalgic that the recursive nature of the chronology becomes weirdly repressive. It isn’t about anything, like Whiskey Lullaby is about (forgetting soilders, the nature of addiction, heart break, a coded reference to criticizing the iraq war, a discursive notion of the male gaze, etc)–though it might have something to do with gender and melodrama, like the Tim McGraw or John Anderson songs about the same time re: dead babies.

    Turner is deeper than Travis, in terms of his voice, and I think his music is more interesting. Though I wouldn’t read it as a squemish, i would read it as a kind of southern gallant silence about private narratives–though Turner is a little more public (even in songs like Your Man, he talks about locking the door) The straight narrative, refusal to play with the lyrics, not really being jokey, the laconic taciturn is what separates Turner from Shelton, who is incapable of that kind of stalwart masculinity. His earliest hits are big, shaggy dog stories of excessive narrative, the kind of excessive narrative that Bradley quotes and Fox is right about.


    Where do you think that lack of criticism comes from

    Is Country less interesting this year, or is that just me?

    There is a great essay to be written about Travis yet

  38. From “The Voice” being set up as the nicer American Idol, free of catty comments about people’s looks and just a fount of positivity all around.

  39. they did try to get them to improve though?

  40. Is Country less interesting this year, or is that just me?

    I’d say this has easily been the dullest country year of the millennium so far — most boring since the mid ’90s, probably. And maybe if I knew mid ’90s country better, I’d go back even further. That said, the new album I’ve listened to most this year is still a country album (by Randy Montana.) And it’s likely I’ve missed some good stuff — I’m putting less energy into keeping up than I have in ages. But no, it’s not just you.

  41. In theory, but it was so scattershot and gimmick-laden and completely absent after the performances that of the top 4, the only two with signs of growth were Dia, who grew into what she was doing already with Meg and Dia (a group the show never mentioned even once, opting instead for a “look, she’s SHY!’ storyline that Dia said afterward was overwrought), and Vicci, whose growth was both tempered by Cee Lo-assisted spectacle and almost completely ignored by everyone. Beverly and Javier did zero growing whatsoever. Most of the “coaching” was effectively cheerleading.

  42. This is such a great comment section, my own curmudgeonly contributions notwithstanding (and anthony’s “a continual effort to make suburban men appear more country then they are” sums up my problem PERFECTLY). Josh Turner tends to annoy me too, but I gave “Why Don’t We Just Dance” a [7], so…