Words & Deeds

Deeds: Misinterpreted ‘lesbian’ song wins big for country group Little Big Town

Little Big Town, from left: Kimberly Schapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet.
Little Big Town, from left: Kimberly Schapman, Jimi Westbrook, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet.

Kimberly Schlapman gasped the first time she heard the lyrics to “Girl Crush” unfold.

She and Little Big Town bandmate Karen Fairchild were bouncing around ideas at the home of Liz Rosen, a member of female songwriting trio the Love Junkies. “What have you been writing lately?” she and Fairchild asked the songwriters. “Well, there’s this song,” the Junkies responded. “You’ll never cut it, but you’ve got to hear it.”

The radio backlash that followed was impossible to predict for Little Big Town, the country-pop vocal quartet that will headline Taco Bell Arena on Friday, Nov. 13 (8 p.m., Ticketmaster).

“Girl Crush,” the second single from Little Big Town’s sixth album, “Pain Killer,” was no ordinary hit. A segment of comprehension-challenged country fans mistook it as a pro-lesbian song. A Washington Post article even highlighted negative listener feedback at Boise radio station Wow 104.3 FM. The morning-show’s co-host claimed she hadn’t heard so much outrage since “The Dixie Chicks’ President Bush comments.”

Phoning from Nashville, Schlapman, 46, admits that digesting those first few lines of “Girl Crush” initially made her curious where the song was headed. The yearning, provocative ballad is delivered from the perspective of a woman who confesses, “I want to taste her lips.”

It wasn’t until the song’s blindsiding turn that Schlapman realized “Girl Crush” is about heartbreak and envy — a forlorn woman who is jealous of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. “It was utterly brilliant,” Schlapman says.

“It took my breath. At that moment, we were like, ‘Oh, yes, we will cut it! Please don’t play it for anyone else!”

Yet as the song climbed the charts early in 2015, some radio programmers reportedly backpedaled. Was “Girl Crush” too clever for its own good?

Schlapman, who grew up in Cornelia, Ga., still sounds surprised by the uproar. “My mother is the most conservative person I know,” she declares in her Southern country-girl accent, “and it’s her favorite song on the record.”

Either way, Little Big Town is getting the last laugh. “Girl Crush” has crushed. It’s sold more than 1.8 million copies. Last week, the group — which also includes Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet — performed the song at the 49th annual Country Music Association Awards. “Girl Crush” won Single of the Year and Song of the Year. Little Big Town was crowned Vocal Group of the Year.

Take that, world. Does Schlapman feel vindicated?

She chuckles. “There you go again!” she says, having pegged her interviewer as a skilled cynic. “You know what? I feel so grateful for the ladies who wrote this song that their song was heard on such a large platform.”

“Girl Crush” always had the makings of a hit. But without the media fuss, it probably wouldn’t have been so popular. “I think that the controversy was a friend to the song and caused it to just explode,” Schlapman says.

As for the confused naysayers?

“I think it was a few people who were really speaking their mind rather boisterously,” Schlapman says, putting a neat little bow on the rumpus.

An insensitive guy might describe those folks as “idiots.” I’ll refrain out of respect for Schlapman. She’s just so dang nice.

Heck, Schlapman won’t even wince about having to show up at Cracker Barrel restaurants and wear a perma-smile in every city that Little Big Town visits. She’ll meet fans and sign autographs at the Cracker Barrel at 1733 S. Cole Road in Boise from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Nov. 13.

“I’m from a small town,” she says. “I know Boise’s not a small town. But I’m from a small town, and when you can go out and meet and mingle with the people, and maybe make a difference in their day, it makes a difference in your day.”

There’s another reason for her enthusiasm. It’s called “Oh Gussie!,” a new line of home goods and kitchenware that she co-designed and is selling with Cracker Barrel. Schlapman is hoping that fans will “get some chicken and dumplings and maybe some dishes, and then I’ll see them at the show later.”

Should be fascinating. (Honest! No cynic!) Just not quite as fascinating as the “Girl Crush” brouhaha of 2015.

What a crazy ride, right?

“It was fascinating,” Schlapman admits with another friendly laugh. “Trust me, it was.”

Michael Deeds: 208-377-6407, @michaeldeeds

Little Big Town

8 p.m. Nov. 13, Taco Bell Arena, 1401 Bronco Lane, Boise. $25, $35 and $45. Ticketmaster.

Kimberly Schlapman appearance

11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., Cracker Barrel, 1733 S. Cole Road, Boise. She will celebrate the launch of her exclusive Cracker Barrel line, Oh Gussie!, meet fans, speak with diners and sign product.