Single Review: Little Big Town, “Girl Crush”

Little Big Town Girl Crush

“Girl Crush”
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.

Grade: A-



  1. I guess you can’t argue with success, but I MUCH prefer their earlier works with Wayne Kirkpatrick as producer. But if you’re not being played on radio or selling music, I guess you have to make changes. And while I prefer Kimberly’s voice over Karen’s, it is the latter who has proven she can create the hits for the band.

    Bro-country may become an overused phrase, but it sure looks like LBT has jumped on the bandwagon. ‘Girl Crush’ is one of my least favorite songs on their current cd, but I always wish this band all the success in the world.

  2. How is this Bro Country? It’s not about same sex attraction at all, IMO, but it’s certainly neither sonically nor lyrically “Bro Country.”

  3. There’s a large part of me that thinks this song is pretty brilliant, but another part of me that thinks it’s only structured the way it is to capitalize on the shock value of its hook.

    Good call on Little Big Town being horrible at choosing follow-up singles, though I’m still not sure why “Kiss Goodbye” performed as bad as it did, that was a great song and also very commercially friendly.

  4. I think that it is a pop song but excellent in many ways. Fairchild has an amazing voice. And the song has a dim memory of ” Jolene”. I also think that it’s sexual theme is there to catch our ear but Fairchild treats it like a real feeling, not a gimmick. And to be honest I understand that point of viewpoint very well. I am sure that secretly a great many people will.

    And SRM I love ” Kiss Goodbye” as well.

  5. This is not controversial in the slightest. Sure, it “plays with” same sex attraction, because the lyrics are clever. But, it is abundantly clear that it is about envy — wanting what another woman has, in order to get the man, as is repeated over and over.

    The minimalism is indeed refreshing, much like Jake Owen’s “What We Ain’t Got.” The latter has been climbing the charts, but I am doubtful about “Girl Crush” — not because of the lyrics but because of its minimal production, lacking the layers of sound (wall of sound) that bombards the average radio listener.

  6. I like “Girl Crush” a lot better than “Day Drinking”.

    Since I’m not a big fan of Little Big Town, I didn’t know about the “Fleetwood Mac” influence. I was surprised to see all the online articles on this including one from Slant. It’s probably been at least 35 years since I played my FM LP’s, FM (1975) and Rumours (1977). I’ll have to give them a listen. My wife and I saw FM open for Loggins & Messina in Oct of ’75 at the Capital Centre in Landover, MD. We went to see L&M. Tixs were $6.50. I still have the stubs and they don’t even mention FM – but that was before Rumours.

  7. I’m curious why people don’t think it will be a big hit? It’s already number 13 in the iTunes country chart without any big performances and or a chance of great air play yet. I think it’s going to surprise us.

  8. Agree with caj.Im happy that they got more success. But I tend not to like a lot of their music lately. Ill take Boondocks over girl crush any day.

  9. This is the smartest, hippest crossover / country song I have heard in nearly a decade. The strong haunting vocals can’t be ignored. The first time I heard the song I was not sure if it was new or an acoustic version of country classic. I disagree with anyone that does not believe that this will be a hit single. It’s so good that even the dumbest, backwoods, whiskey drinking, pickup truck driving stereotypical country fan will appreciate its raw beauty.

  10. Just in case people have missed this article, which includes statements from multiple programming directors to account for why they’re either barely playing this single or have pulled it altogether, here we are. Like I said, a great but very risky choice for a single.

    I’m not surprised that the single has sold well. And, while I agree that country radio sucks at the moment, I also don’t think that radio playlists should always be perfectly aligned with the sales charts. But a discrepancy as substantial as this one would be an instance when I’d like to see radio recognize when something is selling to far more than just the very narrow audience they’ve chosen to cater to over the last several years.

  11. I can easily see why people who use the radio as driving music could misunderstand the lyrics. They could be switching back and forth, be in mid-conversation, etc. Heck, even when I pay full attention to some songs, I cannot make out the words in songs with all the extra sound. “This Is How We Roll” by FGL, I couldn’t tell they said though until I read the lyrics online.

    I readily disagree with the one statement by the blogger. I fail to how more blatant mentions of sex is “progressive”, it is regressive in my opinion. Sex was mentioned or hidden in clever and respectful ways, not thrown in our faces like a two year old discovering potty training. Country music used to be the safe station, now it is overrun with crass. Some progress.

    Country music has enough problems appreciating itself, the last thing we need is judgment from outsiders who don’t like that we aren’t like them.

    Some of the comments were borderline offensive or plain hate. Gotta like that “tolerance” from folks preaching tolerance. I guess country folks are acceptable targets for mockery.

  12. I completely agree that there are double standards on what people will tolerate in the name of morals or ethics. Getting drunk, getting stoned, getting laid – all these seem to acceptable as to what people want to hear on the radio. But other things, such as homosexuality, seem to cross the line. I wish we could clean it all up a little, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    For decades, people have been told ‘if you don’t like it, change the channel’. But then we hear screams of ‘intolerance’ and ‘be more accepting’ when people decide to change the channel. You can’t have it both ways.

    Yes, people are misunderstanding the meaning of the song. But when you title the song ‘Girl Crush’ and a female singer talks about wanting to taste another woman’s lips, you can’t really blame people for getting the wrong idea. And small kids are probably going to ask questions you don’t want to answer.

    But face it, they were hoping for controversy with this song. Probably hoping for more than they’re actually getting.

    On a curious side-note, I wonder if the song had been called ‘Boy Crush’ and either Jimi or Phillip had talked about tasting another man’s lips if the controversy would be more, less, or about the same with both listeners and disc jockeys.

  13. …why on earth wouldn’t you want to answer your small children’s questions about it?

    Do people in real life actually feel uncomfortable telling their kids that a man can love a man, or a woman can love a woman, just like their mother and father love each other very much?

    Or is the plan to “shield” them from the “homosexual agenda” of wanting to raise children and pay the same taxes as straight couples? Because in that case, you had better throw out your TV as well.

  14. Things like judging, lest ye be judged?

    But yeah, all the stuff in Leviticus and Paul that people use to condemn homosexuality is right next to the stuff that the same people were using to justify slavery 150 years ago.

  15. The sound of this is late 60s – early 70s pop , not country at all.

    I’d give it a B but I would expect this to be programmed alongside Katy Perry, not the Band Perry

  16. Eh, the sound of most stuff on country radio is mid-80s (pre-Guns) arena rock.

    I’ll take 60s-70s pop 11 times out of 10.

  17. Hell, I’d even argue that 60s/70s pop production is closer to the spirit of country music than 80s rock production is.

  18. Yeah, even if this isn’t traditionally country, it’s closer to “country” than a lot of songs on country radio. Honestly, though, what is country now?

    Anyway, that Washington Post article was disheartening to read. The song has been top 20 at iTunes since then, though, and picked up some airplay (even from non-country people). So, maybe the protests will actually help it!

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