By Will Groff, Staff Writer
First, let me say this: I am a huge Miranda Lambert fan. I think she’s one of the most consistently brilliant songwriters working in any genre, and several of her albums rank among the best of the last fifteen-plus years. That said, I have some issues with her new video.
Last Tuesday, Lambert released “Tequila Does (Telemitry Remix),” a tropical-flavored reimagining of the Wildcard and Marfa Tapes cut, along with a music video that the Advocate described as “super gay.” The video serves a candy-coated fantasy that bears striking resemblance to Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” video, turning Lambert’s backyard into a gay-friendly RV park. Like the widely ridiculed Swift visual, Lambert’s video contains lots of Pride-themed accoutrements: vibrant prints, multi-colored cowboy hats and even a couple of rainbow-shaped floaties.
Whereas the “You Need to Calm Down” video featured an exhausting parade of LGBTQ+ celebrities — have we forgotten that RuPaul, Laverne Cox, Ellen Degeneres and Billy Porter made appearances, along with several Drag Race contestants and the cast of Queer Eye? — Lambert’s video is a more intimate affair. She appears alongside her brother, Luke, his husband, Marc, and several of their friends. Lambert’s husband, Brendan McLoughlin, the former NYPD officer who went semi-viral as the “hot cop” who line-danced to “Cupid Shuffle” at Pride in 2015, is predictably front and center.
Allyship can be a tough line to walk. It’s easy to veer into tryhard, awkward, “queerbaiting” territory, but that’s not to say Lambert’s support is insincere. Pride posts and danceable remixes may be par for the course for your average pop star, but vocal support from one of the biggest names in country music is a bigger deal. The timing of the video is a little curious — does she know that Pride ended over a month ago? — but better late than never.
The problem, for me, isn’t with the queerness of these visuals, but rather with the inclusion of “Mexican”-inspired imagery in both the song and the video. In June, critic and academic Amanda Marie Martinez became the center of a minor Twitter storm when she tweeted that “Tequila Does” features “endless stereotypes about Mexican identity.” Lambert’s fans were quick to defend the song, with a gusto that I found bewildering. Is it really that hard to see why a song about a sombrero-clad “blonde señorita” chasing a “bordertown buzz” might rub some people the wrong way?
Martinez recently revisited the song in a piece about Latinx representation in country music for the Los Angeles Times, describing it as part of a “longer history that presents Latino culture as a source of white escape in country music.” Martinez offered Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man” as examples of this, to which I’ll add Waylon Jennings’ “Ain’t No God in Mexico” and the country standard “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way),” both of which were released decades before Kenny Chesney’s “Beer in Mexico” entered the picture.
If the Marfa Tapes version of “Tequila Does” doubled down on the song’s problematic implications — one of Lambert’s collaborators can be heard offering mock gritos and ad-libbed cries of “arriba” and “andalé” after the song ends — the remix video goes one step further. Lambert and her mostly white friends take swings at a tequila bottle-shaped (and tequila-filled) piñata, before performing a dance routine in which two people are dressed in sombreros and another is wearing a serape.
My point in raising these concerns isn’t that Lambert is fundamentally problematic or that she deserves to be “canceled,” but rather that she and her collaborators are playing fast and loose with another culture. The country music industry, like Lambert’s video, is glaringly white. If the only representation for Latinx people comes in the form of stereotype-filled lyrics and visuals, that’s a problem. I applaud Lambert for becoming a vocal ally of the LGBTQ+ community, but I implore her to understand that true allyship is intersectional, and queer liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of other marginalized groups.
This dovetails with a recent conversation about Dolly Parton, whose purchase of office space in Nashville’s 12 South neighborhood in 1997 was recently spun into a story about an “investment in a Black community.” As Andrea Williams among others has pointed out, there’s scant evidence that Parton’s actions have had any impact on the community in question, apart from potentially speeding along the area’s gentrification.
No one is above criticism, least of all impossibly-wealthy white women in country music. I understand being protective over one’s favorites, but there’s no need to see these celebrities as unproblematic paragons of virtue. If Parton can be scrutinized for her investments (not to mention the notorious Stampede), Lambert should be called out for her clumsy Mexican stereotyping. If we want to make country music a more inclusive space, we must continue holding these stars, and the industry at large, accountable.