Everyone makes fun of Taylor Swift for desperately dating a new man every week, but what they might not realize is that continuous domestic tragedy is an honored tradition in country music.
Sure, we might wish it to happen in her songs rather than in real life, but sometimes those two arenas are hard to distinguish from each other, especially when you openly write songs about real people.
I’m not sure if Tammy Wynette and her songwriters wrote songs about real people–if they did they were certainly less obvious about it–but her songs were certainly about real situations. One of the first things you notice about Wynette is the absolute brutality of her subject matter. Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, possibly her most well known song, tells the story of a woman desperately hiding her divorce from her four-year-old by spelling out the incriminating words in arguments. The trick makes him think it’s his birthday instead. Yeah. Even “Stand By Your Man”, often interpreted as a virtuous song about marital fidelity, is really about staying with your husband even when you know he’s cheating on you. Weeping steel guitars and strings back up Tammy on nearly every track, while she sounds like she’s constantly on the edge of tears.
One would be tempted to see these songs as a negative portrayal of feminine weakness, portraying a dutiful acceptance of a downtrodden place in life. Not so. The most revealing song on Tammy’s Greatest Hits is “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad”. The singer sees her significant other in pursuit of floozies and decides that “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” It’s not a capitulation, it’s a threat. With enough time, one realizes that all of Wynette’s songs are as righteously passive aggressive as this. Considering the fact that they were recorded in the American South of the 1960’s, being passive aggressive might have been all that she could muster. Luckily she was good at it.