Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Tyler Childers' "In Your Love" video breaks stereotypes and captures the complexities of LGBTQ relationships in Appalachia

Tyler Childers is an American country singer-songwriter. On September 8th, he released his sixth studio album, Rustin' In the Rain. The album's hit song, co-written with Geno Seale, is called "In Your Love." 

When I first saw the "In Your Love" music video, written by Silas House, the only word that came to mind was "powerful." The video portrays the first-ever gay romance and gay kiss in a country music video released by a major label. 

Beyond telling a love story of two Appalachian coal miners, the video depicts the struggles coal miners have faced for centuries and how rural communities are often not accepting of LGBTQ relationships. 

In the video, the gay miner's coworkers beat him up after seeing him engage in a same-sex kiss; at the end, the miner dies from the black lung disease in his partner's arms. 

While most critics have praised the video, some of Childers's fans have complained that the artist has “gone woke.” In response to the video, fans burned him T-shirts and concert tickets, posted comments full of bigotry, and accused Childers of being gay himself (even though he is married and often sings about his wife). 

While these reactions were disheartening, they are unfortunately not surprising. According to the Trevor project, LGBTQ youth from small towns or rural areas are more likely to hear anti-LGBTQ remarks and experience discrimination than those from urban and suburban areas. You can read more about LGBTQ hatred and intolerance in rural communities herehere, and here

Regardless, Childers said the majority of the video's response has been “overwhelmingly more positive than negative.” Some fans thanked him for telling more than one type of love story in the region. Others felt emboldened to come out after watching it. 

Writer, Kentucky-native, and poet laureate Silas House explained why LGBT representation in rural places is so important in a Rolling Stones article
It’s very rare to see LGBT people portrayed in a rural place. The idea is that most LGBT people escape or have to go to the city. And that is true for a lot of people: We have historically sought the safety of cities. There’s strength in numbers. But there are also lots and lots of LGBTQ people who live in rural places.

In a recent NPR article, House elaborated on why the mining aspect of the video was essential: 

Both of us [him and Childers] come from families who have worked in the mining industry. [...] To see yourself in art is a really important thing, especially when you're from an "other" place. You rarely see LGBT people in rural settings in a positive way. You often see them getting murdered there, or escaping from there, but that's it. That's why this [video] matters, especially for country music.

Childers is from Lawrence County, Kentucky, an Appalachian county which shares a border with West Virginia. Lawrence County is a metropolitan county, with a population of 16,293. Demographically,  98.93% of the county is white and 30.70% of residents live below the poverty line. 

Childers, to me, is one of Appalachia's best storytellers. The bulk of his songwriting and lyrics detail the struggles and daily life of Appalachia. In another song, "Coal," Childers sings about the struggles of poverty, gender roles, and the lack of economic opportunity present in Appalachia:
God made coal for the men who sold their lives to West Van Lear
And you keep on digging 'til you get down there
Where it's darker than your darkest fears
And that woman in the kitchen
She keeps on cookin', but she ain't had meat in years
Just live off bread, live off hope, and a pool of a million tears
Childers's lyrics reference Van Lear, a small mining town in Johnson County, Kentucky.  The town's existence was owed to Consolidated Coal Company.  In 1935, there was an explosion in a mine that killed nine people. Since the end of local mining, only a handful of businesses continue to operate in the Van Lear area. Today, the town is home to only 1600 people

In another song, "Nose on the Grindstone" Childers sings about his father's job as a coal miner, the opioid crisis, and how his father told him to get out of Appalachia to seek better employment opportunities: 
Daddy worked like a mule minin' Pike County coal
'Til he f*cked up his back and couldn't work anymore
He said one of these days, you'll get out of these hills
Keep your nose on the grindstone and out of the pills

We need more voices from rural America who support beliefs and social movements that some rural Americans do not support. In 2020, Childers publicly expressed his support for the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

Childers' storytelling through lyricism could be the solution in bridging ideas and negating biases that are distinctly held by rural and urban audiences. While he introduces the idea of LGBTQ acceptance and support for social justice movements to his rural listeners, Childers also teaches his urban listeners about the hardships Appalachians have faced.

House wrote an article for The Bitter Southerner detailing the complexities of Appalachia: 

Appalachia [...] may not have as much diversity as the rest of the country, but we are not all alike, either, and we’re certainly not all white, straight, cis, or Christian, as many people around the world might think. The same could be said for rural America, no matter where it is in the nation.

If there's one take away from the "In Your Love" video, it should be never to underestimate the storytelling power of music. 


Caitlin Durcan said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this music video and Tyler Childers in general. I definitely agree about his story-telling ability and I am so pleased to see a country music artist take a stand on political issues that could (potentially) alienate their fanbase. As a big fan of Childers myself, I was recently reading how he decided to stay and live in Appalachia instead of moving to Nashville as most country stars do. His commitment to the region he was born in and the people from there is inspiring. It's so great to see country music artists break from the mold of what is expected of the genre.

Sophie R Radford said...

This is a great post Natalie! Another country artist you should listen to is Orville Peck – he too is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and wears a mask to conceal his identity, partly in relation to his sexuality and the nature of the country music industry. My favourite song of his is ‘Dead of Night’.

Isha Sharma said...

This was a heartwarming read. I’ve always believed in the power of storytelling and media when it comes to changing views and helping people see different perspectives. Although I am not surprised to read of the backlash after the release of the song and music video, I am happy to see artists take a stance and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. It is artists like Childers who can connect with rural populations yet still slowly help listeners inch toward change. I hope this inspires other artists in country music to take a stance as well.