The Politics of White Guys With Guitars

Hi, nice to meet you. I recently got engaged.

Oh, that’s nice. Did I mention I’m engaged?

Somehow that statement is equally exciting and nerve-wracking every time I say it. About two weeks ago, my boyfriend of over five years proposed at a downtown park in my city. I haven’t stopped smiling since.

Between looking down at the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen about every 10 minutes and answering constant congratulatory texts and phone calls, romance has made an abrupt resurgence into my life. Quite honestly, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else when others are speaking. Feelings of love, luckiness and happiness are intoxicating as ever — albeit a little overwhelming.

I’ve always turned to music as an entity to direct my energy. Listening to music can often articulate feelings you can’t quite put a finger on and reiterate the ones you are sure of. Those first few days of my engagement, I was a squealy, weepy little mess. Where I would typically rely on music to fill the silent gaps in my day, I kept getting distracted. Bopping around to Britney Spears or Rihanna didn’t quite fit this monumental life event.

I have never been a hipster, or an indie girl for that matter. There has never been, at any point in my adolescence, a poster of a solo male artist on my bedroom wall. Fedoras have  never been a part of my wardrobe and I am more inspired by female pop stars in leotards than I am anyone else in the music industry. I didn’t even have a One Direction phase. But the genre of music that I have found myself listening to, double-tapping and hitting repeat, can only be described as White Guys with Guitars.

“Alternative” would be too forgiving of its pop-leaning success and “soft-rock” seems to strip this wildly successful meta-genre of its depth. White Guys with Guitars describes a tribe of male 20-somethings with a highly specific sound and an even more specific audience.

Amidst the club-hits and hip-hip crossovers on the Top 10 chart, there always seems to be a successful, simple acoustic-ish song dominating the radio. Music from the likes of Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes is about as infectious as chicken pox. Media can’t seem to get enough of these kind of stars– Grammy performances and appearances on top network programs. This star treatment seems like a far departure from the music itself; multi-platinum sales for simple, acoustic records.

The success of White Guys with Guitars may have little to do with the quality of their music at all. This sect of the music industry, more so than music moguls of any genre, has a highly specific and eager market: women.

Before my boyfriend proposed, my connection to White Guys with Guitars was skin-deep. Their love songs were easy on the ears, sure, but it wasn’t any of my concern. After the sudden explosion of romance and bliss in my life, however, I began to drink the Kool-Aid.

Here were these men– not even men, regular dudes, just like my guy!– pouring their hearts out, reading my mind– see, men can feel too! So raw! So real! So sweet!

Therein lies the mania. Women are collectively spoonfed the fantasy of a monogamous happily-ever-after from their earliest Disney movie. From that point forward, we are made to feel like we should pine for our Prince Charming every chance we get. Females’ experience with love is a more deeply rooted process than that of her male counterpart. The act of being in love is defining in the character of a female.

Because we are taught to yearn for the one, we buy into media that comforts this deep need. Quite literally, we buy it– women are the main demographic in White Guys with Guitars sales. Their records that speak of nothing but warm fuzzies or the ache of a broken heart resonate with women. In a media climate that encourages conflict, White Guys with Guitars supplies hope that the men we pray for actually exist.

And this is not to say Harry Styles or Niall Horan aren’t good natured individuals. But the lyricism and motivation of White Guys with Guitars is totally formulaic. With the promise of sales and streams in the multi-millions, as a young male artist, would you rather continue with optimistic, charming, lovey-dovey songwriting– or risk your career completely?

The brilliance of White Guys with Guitars is its appeal across genres. Country music sensations Thomas Rhett and Hunter Hayes have gained radio play on the Hot 100 by producing tracks that are essentially genre-less. White Guys with Guitars is acoustic enough to be folksy, but the men of the genre are cool enough to be pop-leaning. It may be safe to say the combination of an acoustic guitar, faded jeans and idyllic lyrics transcends genre and goes straight to the content market.

Considering the business of White Guys with Guitars, how, as a woman, am I supposed to consider its politics? On the one hand, feminist perspective could deny male singers the cash-cow of our fandom. We could instead begin to seek (and celebrate) female artists who hold the narrative about love and romance. White Guys with Guitars exploits the construction under which we are expected to operate.

On the other hand, White Guys with Guitars is a musical genre that is produced solely for women. Just like Nicholas Sparks novels and February-released RomComs, White Guys with Guitars have an exclusivity about them that may outweigh their exploitative values. The subject matter of “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran may be rigidly gendered and traditionalist, but the song is widely supported by females as a female anthem. Women ultimately control the success of White Guys with Guitars, therefore our enjoyment of their music is tinged with flowery, glittery empowerment.

I am willing to accept White Guys with Guitars’ inspiration as hokey– because above all else, that was the music I wept childishly to on my way to Dunkin Donuts in the days following the proposal. Love isn’t always as it is portrayed in movies, but it certainly is sometimes. Love is tragic, dramatic, exhilarating, cheesy, corny and blissful. You can always turn to White Guys with Guitars to remind you of that.

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I made a White Guys with Guitars playlist on Spotify! Check it out here: