By Will Groff, Staff Writer
If you’re on a certain side of TikTok, you’ve almost certainly heard “Blueneck”. The song is Chris Housman’s ode to being as he puts it: a “liberal redneck”. The song subverts rural stereotypes — “I’m a good ole boy with a bleeding heart,” Housman sings in the chorus — and casts the so-called heartland as a site of progressive ideals.
Housman self-released the song in April after an early demo attracted interest on TikTok. The song racked up millions of views on the app, hit number one on the iTunes country charts, and landed Housman features in “Good Morning America” and “Billboard.” Though “Blueneck” seems unlikely to receive any radio attention, its success on TikTok and in digital sales and streams, speaks to a shift in the notoriously conservative country music industry. It’s something that is not lost on him.
“It used to feel like you had to have a label deal or at least a really involved publishing deal to have these opportunities and get in front of people,” Housman told me over Zoom. “With TikTok, it’s more of a level playing field.”
Housman grew up on a farm in southwest Kansas, outside of a town that he described as “About as small and as conservative as it gets.” He said that “Blueneck” is pretty much autobiographical, apart from the line about driving a hybrid car. (He’s working on it!) He’s been releasing music independently since 2019 but “Blueneck” feels like a breakthrough.
In the grand tradition of entrepreneurial drag queens and reality TV stars, he has capitalized on the song’s virality with a line of “Blueneck”-themed hats, tees, and tanks. Incidentally, the phrase has started to crop up all over the country music world, including in a Pride message from the CMAs’ temporarily rainbow-adorned Twitter account. But Housman is leery of what he calls “performative support” from country’s power players.
“It really is awesome to see [the support], and I’m not trying to negate that, but what’s this going to look like come July?” he said when we spoke at the end of June. “Are they still going to be supporting these queer artists and artists of color?”
Housman admits that he was concerned that people might see “Blueneck” as pandering in some way, the same kind of woke performance that he finds frustrating. In another context, hearing a white country singer namecheck Black Lives Matter over a programmed beat might feel dubious, but Housman is remarkably fluent in the language of representation and consistent in his messaging. He has used his Instagram account, which he calls a “country music safe space,” to amplify the voices of Black activists and challenge other white people whose actions fall short of what he calls “genuine support.”
In this way, Housman represents a new kind of country singer, whose progressive politics are part of his appeal. Though many left-leaning artists have found homes in Americana, Housman has his eye squarely on the mainstream. His influences include the Chicks and Kacey Musgraves, both of whom have fraught relationships with the country music establishment (to put it lightly). Like his idols, Housman is interested in telling an authentic story, “three chords and my truth,” as he sings, albeit with a radio-friendly sound.
It’s easy to see Musgraves’ influence in particular on Housman’s work — the instantly iconic line “George Strait or George Gay, it makes no difference” wouldn’t feel out of place on Musgraves’ love-is-love anthem “Follow Your Arrow.” Housman described hearing the song — co-written by Musgraves with Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark both of whom are gay — as something of a personal turning point.
“There was definitely a time where I thought, ‘I can’t continue doing country music and be gay,’ because I had never seen that before,” Housman admitted.
He described moving to Nashville to attend Belmont University shortly after coming out as gay and spending several years trying to square his identity with his aspirations. In reviewing his work, I noticed that none of the songs Housman has released on Spotify features male pronouns or is otherwise explicitly queer.
“I think that was me trying to blend in and say, ‘Hey, I’m gay, but I sound like a country singer,’” he said of his first few singles. “But I have so much more to say.”
Not that the earlier songs lack personality. His cover of “Cattle Call”, in particular — written by Tex Owens in 1934 and most famously covered by Eddy Arnold in 1955 — is iconoclastic fun. Housman’s version ups the tempo, substitutes the song’s iconic yodels for a whistled refrain (Housman is a world-class whistler, after all) and adds a skittering beat. On Instagram, he described it as a “song about cows you can twerk to.”
His online presence overflows with the same offbeat sense of humor; watch him slow dance with a skeleton in the DIY music video for “Tomorrow, Tonight” or orchestrate a squirrel-on-finger-puppet love affair on his TikTok channel. But in our interview he was more reserved, and seemed less comfortable monologuing than in moments when we engaged in a back-and-forth.
He identifies strongly as an Enneagram Type Nine — the self-effacing, “peacekeeper” type — and recalled being concerned with making others feel included even dating back to his time in elementary school. I told him I was recently diagnosed as a Type Four: moody, dramatic, prone to self-absorption. A true Nine, he said he understood why it might feel “like a read”, but assured me that “So many of my favorite people are Fours.”
When we spoke, Housman was gearing up for Ty Herndon’s Concert for Love and Acceptance, which aired on CMT on June 30 and also included performances by the Brothers Osborne and Brooke Eden. Over email, he described the experience as “an actual bucket list item being checked off.” He is currently working on a six-song Blueneck EP, which he hopes to release in the fall.