Last summer, Maddie & Tae experienced the sort of instantaneous breakthrough that label executives dream of. The new country duo of singer-songwriters Madison Marlow and Taylor Dye arrived with "Girl in a Country Song," a hick-hop single expressing sweetly smart-assed exasperation at the trend -- famously referred to as "bro country" by music critics -- of guys like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean scoring hits with good-time jams whose lyrics consistently cast young women in pliant, ornamental roles. Even though Marlow and Dye's song pushed back at the male fantasies populating country radio playlists -- quoting specific songs and deliberately echoing their beat-driven production -- normally cautious programmers quickly tossed it into rotation. By Christmas, "Girl" had reached the top of the Country Airplay chart, a feat all the more remarkable given that no female country act had made that strong of a debut showing since the mid-2000s.
One might have expected the pair to capitalize on the momentum with an album's worth of sass. Instead, its first full-length, Start Here, has a decidedly reflective bent with effervescent acoustic textures. Its second single, the gentle, inspirational ballad "Fly," has been making its plodding climb up the country charts for the better part of 2015. It's as though, after pointing out how vexing it is for women to be presented with limited options in hit songs' storylines, Maddie & Tae's next priority was to actually place young, female protagonists at the center of their own narratives.