Carrie Underwood is a big star and she exploded as one of the winners of American Idol.
I find Ms. Underwood to be rather boring and without an invigorating personality, but the fact that her debut country album sold over 6 million copies says something about my taste in music or what country music fans find valuable in the promotional package that is Ms. Underwood’s carefully crafted good-girl facade made of peaches-and-cream and lots of virtuosity in the name of God and His only son.


The first big hit for Ms. Underwood was a soppy song called “Jesus Take
the Wheel” where a young mother, “with her baby in a back seat” hits a
patch of black ice, loses control of the minivan and lets go of the
steering wheel so Jesus can steer them both out of danger.
Here’s the chorus from the song:

Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
‘Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
Save me from this road I’m on
Jesus take the wheel

There
is no doubt the invocation of God and religion into that hit song hit a
powerful resonance in the hearts of Ms. Underwood’s country music fans
— and Jesus did step in and save the day and the baby and the minivan
— but it is Ms. Underwood’s current hit, “Before He Cheats,” that
confuses one and fuzzes the line between individual morality and
opportunity and the consumerism of religion and retribution.

Here’s the chorus from her cheater song:

I might’ve saved a little trouble for the next girl,

Cause the next time that he cheats…


Oh, you know it won’t be on me!


No… not on me

‘Cause I dug my key into the side of

His pretty little souped up 4-wheel drive,

Carved my name into his leather seats…

I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,

Slashed a hole in all 4 tires…


Maybe next time he’ll think before he cheats.

Ms.
Underwood has undergone a transformation from a Jesus Invoker to
Vigilante all in the span of the life of a three minute song and here
are some video stills to prove it:

What
do you make of this duplicitous split in Ms. Underwood’s character,
career, and performance?
How can one claim to be of God in one breath — and wish for His
interference in your life for your benefit — and in the next gasp turn
away from His lessons and teachings and shoulder a baseball bat to play
God and teach a selfish lesson to the wanton sinner with the tip of a
knife?

Is there this verifiable personality split in Ms. Underwood’s character?

Or
is Ms. Underwood winking at us for her pleasure and profit and playing
to the lowest common denominator of the country music fan where Jesus
and Revenge walk hand-in-hand down the street holding prayer meetings
and baseball bats while demolishing all that dare stand in the way of
their definition of Belief in a Higher Being and our Faith in each
other?

9 Comments

  1. Carrie is absolutely attractive. And talented. And she can sang.
    You may be right this is all a marketing ploy, arin, to exploit all the angles of the Southern experience. That, to me anyway, seems awfully surface and phony and it encourages duplicity in a lifetime: Pray to Jesus when you’re in danger, take the law into your own hands when someone cheats on you. It’s a bad lesson and a rotten example.

  2. There is the danger of the bad example, arin, and that’s what bothers me so much about the halved sides of the human experience she is sharpening with the millions who touch her music.
    There are few people who are able to effectively differentiate dramatic performance from persona and the end result of that mistake is a bad imitation and a “she did, so I did, too” defense when called on the criminal behavior.

  3. Hi David,
    Maybe she’s a believer in the same way that Tony Soprano was a believer. Or, could Paulie Walnuts be a better example. He once told a priest on the Sopranos that he was paying him to keep him protected from the evil spirits.
    Carrie Underwood didn’t write either of those songs, so I wonder if the lyrics are just a reflection of a committee within a boardroom at Arista seeking to maximize shareholder profits, rather than anything reflecting Carrie Underwood’s current state of mind?

  4. Hi Chris!
    When an artist sings a song — does that song reflect the values and the persona of the singer? Especially when we are trapped in the age of videos where images are tied to the sound of music.
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2006/04/05/raised-on-radio/
    Ms. Underwood didn’t have to sing that song or wield that bat for the video. She is creating and sending a strong and confusing semiotic to her fans and all entertainers who earn their living from public adoration need to realize their power and influence over the imitators.
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2007/02/05/the-definition-of-a-prostitot/

  5. Hi David,
    I wonder if most musical artists think about the messages they are sending? I suspect a lot of them feel that they shouldn’t be regarded as role models. They are artists instead. It’s just entertainment after all.
    I suspect there is no worry in Carrie’s mind about the split message she is sending with her songs “Jesus” and “Before He Cheats.” In fact, “Before He Cheats” tweaks her public image to make her more appealing to a broader audience and keeps her being labeled as just a sweet little woman.

    The pretty and seemingly quiet girl showed us her attitude and let us know that she could do more than just ballads.

    http://www.idolz.net/7/before-he-cheats-video/
    We saw the same thing happen with Christina Aguilera and her “Dirty” album.
    Blender’s Ann Powers said of the effort:

    Self-respect, physical independence and emotional confidence rank high in this collection of hip-hop throw-downs and Celine Dion–style torchers. Most admirable is Aguilera’s embrace of sexual pleasure. It’s a message girls need to hear: They can enjoy their bodies without destroying themselves. Similarly, the musical peaks are shows of strength, setting Aguilera’s supercharged wail in Technicolor arrangements.

    http://www.blender.com/guide/reviews.aspx?id=20
    Wait and see. I bet we’ll see some sort of effort to “dirty-up” Carrie Underwood one of these days to show her sexy and independent side, if it hasn’t already happened with her “Before” song.

  6. Chris —
    The first site you quote is just silly. It plays up the stereotype of a vengeful and scorned woman and certainly supports the idea of vigilantism as a way of dealing with someone who cheats.
    I’m arguing in my article there is a better way and that Ms. Underwood cannot have it both ways — believe in Jesus and smash up a guy’s truck — without coming off as phony and duplicitous in her persona and entertainer’s mask.
    Here’s the first sentence of the Blender review you quote:

    Concerned parents and teen boys with their tongues hanging out have their skank meters trained on Christina Aguilera. The girl’s got a long reputation, based on her short skirts and the sleaziness of her video for the Rockwilder-produced, Redman-flavored single “Dirrty.”

    In 2002 Ms. Aguilera was in “skank” mode and since then she’s cleaned up her act and gone straight after learning an unspoken lesson when her image tainted her talent:

    Desperate to liberate herself from her squeaky-clean pop persona, Ms. Aguilera began acting out. She got tattoos and piercings — nine in total — started calling herself Xtina, and discussed how she broke dishes to relieve stress. Her hemlines rose, her necklines plunged, and her lyrics grew racier. “Dirrty,” the first single from the 2002 album “Stripped,” successfully torpedoed her girl-next-door image. But soon her raunchy image was overshadowing her considerable talent. In the “Dirrty” video, a sweat-drenched disaster, she cavorts around in chaps and little else. Ms. Perry remembered seeing it for the first time: “I just looked at Christina and said: ‘Are you high? This is annoying. Why are you doing this?’ ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/30/arts/30ogun.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5088&en=88e53aecfcf6450b&ex=1311912000&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
    She may still claim she’s proud and non-apologetic for her “skank” period, but actions are better monitors of the truth than words and she’s certainly clean, sober, and righteous again.