Even country music is singing a pro-LGBT tune

Luke Bryan performs at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh Aug. 19, 2017.
Luke Bryan performs at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek in Raleigh Aug. 19, 2017. ssharpe@newsobserver.com

One of the most popular songs on country radio in 2018 has been Luke Bryan’s “Most People Are Good.” The song faithfully serves up genre-typical lyrics like “I believe most mommas oughta qualify for sainthood” and “most Friday nights look better under neon or stadium lights” – but the chorus also contains a clear pro-LGBT declaration: “I believe you love who you love/ Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of.” And in case fans were tempted to interpret this lyric in other ways, Bryan’s music video features gay couples and same-gender parent family configurations among a diverse montage of “good” people.

Bryan didn’t write the song – the title itself was born out of the country songwriter Josh Kear’s struggle to process the divisive 2016 presidential elections, and the song was ultimately a collaborative effort with David Frasier and Ed Hill – but he said he knew he wanted to record the song the first time he heard it. As he put it: “I think it’s a song that the songwriters wrote perfectly from A to Z; not one wasted lyric in that thing. Anytime you can find a song that does that, I think it’s something special.”

Rather than generating protests or public outcry, this song has dominated country music radio since its debut in late 2017. It broke into the Top 10 in February, and it has remained at the top of the air wave charts, occupying the No. 1 slot for three weeks. It’s also notable that Bryan is no progressive crusader out to make a political statement. A Georgia native, he is as mainstream as it gets, with previous hits that include lyrics that would make many liberals cringe, such as “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” on his album “Tailgates & Tanlines.” When asked about “Most People Are Good,” Bryan has simply replied, “It just seems like it’s the right song for people to hear with everything going on in our world today.” For Bryan, and for many country fans today, pro-LGBT lyrics exist comfortably within a new country worldview.

Part of the story is the growth and increasing crossover appeal of country music – approximately four in 10 Americans today are country music consumers. The popularity of country music has seen strong growth among millennials between the ages of 18 and 24, with listenership up 54% since 2005. Country music is as popular among millennials as it is among baby boomers, a fact not lost on the leadership of the Country Music Association.

A recent large national survey of over 40,000 interviews conducted by PRRI, where I serve as chief executive, provides a stereotype-busting portrait of where likely young country music fans are on LGBT rights. Among young white, non-Hispanic adults (ages 18 to 29) in the South and Midwest, fully three-quarters (75%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, and a similar percentage favor laws that would protect LGBT. people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.

On a key question currently before the Supreme Court – whether a small-business owner can refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people on religious grounds – young white adults in the South and Midwest oppose such religious liberty claims by two to one (64% oppose, 32% favor). Even if we narrow the lens to young whites in the four states with the highest concentrations of country music fans – Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky – the numbers are virtually identical.

By my lights, this revolution on the unlikely terrain of country music is the sturdier evidence of just how much the nation has changed its tune on LGBT rights.

Robert P. Jones is the chief executive of PRRI and the author of “The End of White Christian America.”