Little Big Town
Written by Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, and Liz Rose
Beyond their lush four-part harmonies and their incorporation of Fleetwood Mac’s influence into the country idiom, perhaps Little Big Town’s greatest talent is choosing singles that completely sabotage their momentum at radio. They’ve followed up a top 10 hit with another top 10 exactly twice in thirteen years, and it’s almost unfathomable that “Girl Crush,” the second single from Pain Killer, will receive a warm reception in the current radio climate.
That’s a shame, really, since it’s one of the band’s strongest efforts.
Driven almost entirely by a lightly-picked guitar figure and some hushed percussion, “Girl Crush” is seductive in its minimalism: In structure and tone, it sounds like the ballad on the B-side of a vintage Stax Records soul single. The arrangement breathes and pulsates, and Little Big Town thoughtfully layer their harmonies for maximum emphasis on key phrases in the refrain. Though the melody is occasionally a bit too predictable and limited in its range, “Girl Crush” is as understated and lovely as anything in a catalogue that is chock full of tracks both understated and lovely.
If the sparse production isn’t enough to scare radio programmers, though, then surely the song’s subject matter will be. Karen Fairchild delivers one of her most thoughtful performances, delivering lines like, “I want to taste her kiss/Yeah, ‘cause she tastes like you,” as a confession that’s tinged with bitterness. Fairchild sings, “I want her long, blonde hair/I want her magic touch/Yeah because maybe then/You’d want me just as much,” in a near whisper, but the lines seethe with palpable envy. The song may consist primarily of details about the subject of the “Girl Crush,” but it is Fairchild’s narrator who emerges as the more fully-drawn character.
The song is a marvel of construction and of misdirection, the production is at turns sensual and coy, and the lyrics play with the notion of same-sex attraction in ways that are bound to make some people squirm. Not one of those elements makes “Girl Crush” a logical choice for a single; in fact, they’re all arguments as to why “Girl Crush” seems like the riskiest single of Little Big Town’s career. In this case, “riskiest” doesn’t necessarily translate to “best”— not for an act with “Boondocks,” “Little White Church,” and “Sober” to their credit— but credit Little Big Town with releasing what stands to be one of 2015’s most fascinating singles.