Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was — the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period — with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
Luke Bryan’s career was on the rise ahead of the release of “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” in March 2011. With two consecutive No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart the previous year with “Rain Is a Good Thing” and “Someone Else Calling You Baby,” Bryan switched things into high gear with the sexy party anthem “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” which peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.
At the time, Bryan was playing club shows and noticed that when his set wrapped, fans would stick around and listen to hip hop music the DJ was spinning. The party continued and the dance floor filled up as country fans who just watched his show would start dancing. When Bryan got into the writing room with frequent collaborator Dallas Davidson (“That’s My Kind of Night,” “Play It Again”), he had the idea to come up with a fun dance song that would cater to this crowd of fans.
“We embarked on writing [a song where] everybody could come to the table,” Bryan tells Billboard. “I was really, really hesitant. I was scared. Every time I would sing the chorus I would be like, ‘Dallas, are you sure?’ He was really important in making me stay the course.”
“Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” was a new approach for Bryan and country music itself. Bryan’s bold and sexualized statement on the chorus was uncharted territory in the genre, and the singer admits he was hesitant to “open Pandora’s box.” Once Bryan became more comfortable performing the song, he recorded it and was ready for the world to hear it. “It just felt like something that would set me apart because of how different it was and how fun it was,” he says. “That song put me in a whole other spectrum of relevance. It changed the game and it made me a headliner.”
“County Girl” also opened the genre’s influences and steered country music in a new lyrical and musical direction by including aspects of urban and pop production, as demonstrated by Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt’s dominance of the scene several years later. Bryan admits to receiving some negative press from the feel-good track: In a 2013 article for Vulture dubbing Bryan “The King of Bro Country,” author Jody Rosen wrote that he “stands for bro-country’s gentrifying impulse, shifting the scene of the party from the honky-tonk to the frat house.”
“It was a different song, no question,” Charlie Cook, Cumulus Media vp of country programming, says. Cook admits that the lyrics were “a little goofy,” but the song was an “electric jolt to [Bryan’s] career” and one that completely stood out on radio. “That was the song that got country fans up out of their seats and engaged with the artists to a level they hadn’t been before. “He was saying to the girls, ‘Hey, let’s have some fun. Let’s not sit in your seat. Let’s get up and show people that you love country music and that you’re not afraid to show it.’”
“Country Girl” had a huge impact on the genre’s musical direction. While the song wasn’t intended to be misogynistic, as it was embraced by men and women alike, it did usher in something of a new era in country storytelling, in which men ruled the charts, while women were too rarely allowed to be more than an accessory. Throughout the ’10s men dominated country radio, leading to a glaring gender imbalance that still persists today.
As the genre expanded over the course of the decade — ultimately transforming to include elements of rap, pop and EDM — so did Bryan’s entertainer status. A song that survives the test of time, “Country Girl” and its blend of country and hip-hop influences remains a highlight in Bryan’s live show, and a mainstay on radio.
“When I moved to Nashville, I wanted to entertain. I wanted to be diverse and I wanted to do new stuff that hadn’t been done before, and certainly ‘Country Girl’ checks all of those boxes,” Bryan says. “It’s a fun song to have in your show because you know it’s going to put people in a good mood and make people have fun.”