She drinks, she smokes, she talks shit, and she’s setting a great example for our daughters.
Country singer Miranda Lambert is a feisty little booze-drinking, cigarette-smoking, ass-kicking dynamo who refuses to put up with your bullshit. In other words, she’s a great role model for my 13-year-old daughter.
I’m not a huge supporter of celebrities as role models, because, let’s face it: there aren’t a lot of public figures worth emulating. But young people do look to others for clues about how to behave, what’s accepted, and what’s cool. Sometimes they take these cues from friends and family. Other times, the words and actions of a famous person they’ve never met carry more weight than countless discussions, lectures, or reminders from mom and dad ever could.
So, if my daughter is going to seek guidance or learn life’s lessons from a stranger in the public eye, I’d rather it be Lambert, whose traditional country songs deal with real issues like love, loss, violence, revenge, and yes, drinking, but maybe not in the way that you’d expect. Listening to songs like “Kerosene,” “White Liar,” or “Hell on Heels,” on which she sings with her group Pistol Annies, Lambert may be done wrong, but she refuses to play the victim. In fact, in many cases—like in “Gunpowder and Lead” (“His fist is big but my gun’s bigger/He’ll find out when I pull the trigger”)—she’s the one who ultimately gets the last word.
Domestic violence may be mature subject matter for a teenager, and the song is fraught with cultural touchstones, but that doesn’t mean we should shy away from it. When we listen to songs like this together, we talk about their deeper meanings and what positive messages she can take away from them. Can a song that teaches a teen to stand up for herself, no matter what the cost, be a bad thing? Is there such a thing as learning how to be strong too early? I don’t think so.
Lambert herself grew up in a small Texas town where her father, a private investigator, would use the family home as a shelter for mothers and daughters fleeing from domestic abuse. That background clearly shows up in her lyrics.
“My parents didn’t let kids stop their lifestyle. They just brought us along wherever they were going, whether it was parties, or to do surveillance, or whatever,” Lambert recently told NPR. “I’m glad because we weren’t sheltered from that—I mean we were, in a way, because we were going to church every Sunday and in this safe, awesome Texas home—but we got to hear about how bad it can be.”
The same goes with references to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Lambert’s songs are laced with these—and she’s often the one partaking. But not in the “Whoo hoo, look at me; I’m partying!!” kind of way that you find in pop music. Instead, Lambert uses these vices to show her own weaknesses. In the autobiographical “Heart Like Mine,” Lambert sings “Even though I hate to admit it/Sometimes I smoke cigarettes/The Christian folks say I should quit it/And I just smile and say ‘God bless.’” Here, tobacco use isn’t tempting or made to look cool. The subtext is that no matter how wrong you’ve been led to believe that the vice is, it can be addicting and so hard to stop that the best course is not to start. Anyone who’s ever tried to stop drinking or smoking knows this feeling intimately.
“Heart Like Mine” also reveals a bit about Lambert’s take on religion. “Basically, it’s just about my interpretation of how God would be, how heaven would be,” Lambert said in the intro to this video. “I think Jesus would like to hang out with our band. I think he would think we were pretty cool. And we think he’s pretty cool.” The fact that Lambert thinks Jesus and her could hang out, despite her imperfections, speaks volumes. Her vision of heaven (and life) is one of inclusion, rather than exclusion. Of acceptance, rather than condemnation.
Strong women are certainly not new to country music, nor are “revenge songs,” but in her first three albums and “Baggage Claim,” the first single of her newly released fourth, Lambert has done less to build a brand than to reveal who she truly is, even if that results in a portrait of a woman that is, at times, less than flattering.
But as imperfect as Lambert may be, she’s not a hypocrite. She’s religious, but not intolerant. She’s empathetic, but unwilling to be walked upon. And perhaps most importantly, in an age where one’s image is something to be nurtured and crafted until it’s unrecognizable from the original source, Miranda Lambert appears to be 100% authentic.
I’d be happy to say the same about my own daughter.
—Photo kentucky.com (Matt Sayles/AP)