Any person semi–familiar with mainstream country music knows whiskey, beer, and dirt roads like the back of their hand. These often cliché motifs limn radio—friendly portraits of small town bliss. Their inescapable presence in the genre has been a particular point of criticism, due to the lack of originality and performative “southern working class culture” they perpetuate. But, few lyrical landmarks are better traveled in the genre than the pickup truck. HARDY’s “TRUCK BED” bemoans his actions that led his girlfriend to break up with him, as he woke up on the “wrong side of the truck bed this morning.” Morgan Wallen sings about battling alcoholism on “Born With A Beer In My Hand” and mentions that he “put some scars on some trucks, [him]self as well.” But perhaps even more dominant are trucks’ presence in female country artists’ discographies, love songs and all.
Even non–country fans can recall countless songs that once decorated radio stations and music charts. In “Picture to Burn,” the once loyal country girl Taylor Swift laments an ex–boyfriend’s “stupid, old pickup truck” he “never let [her] drive.” At the start of the fiery, teenage–rage–filled music video, Taylor and her friend spy on the boy and his new girl sitting together, kissing in the front of said truck. On her Grammy Album of the Year winning Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves speaks to a lover with whom she can see the spark fading. “Go on, ride away in your Silverado,” she tells him on “Space Cowboy,” a song laced with distance and sadness. On “Suds in the Bucket,” Sara Evans sings an upbeat twangy treatise to the eloping teen couple, about an 18 year old girl who runs off with “her prince” who “pull[s] up in a white pickup truck.”
The newer stars out of Nashville are no exception. In Hailey Whitters’ 2023 track “I’m in Love,” she sings fondly of a boy she is enamored with over a bright country rhythm. “He’s in a Chevy, and I’m in love,” she declares cheerily. Mackenzie Porter’s “Pickup” obsesses over an ex–boyfriend who has moved on, as she does a double–take at a ‘95 F150 she glances at while stopped at a red light, a vehicle she believes looks a lot like her ex–man’s. “Who’s that pickup picking up now?” she asks herself. On the other hand, Alana Springsteen sings a song rife with truck–related metaphors to show how “over” her ex–boyfriend she is. “Go ahead take a spin with your new girlfriend,” she offers in a detached chorus. While he’s cuddling with his new girl in the back of the vehicle, she’ll be at the club with her girlfriends “giving zero trucks.” This censored play on words in the aptly named “Zero Trucks” is a nod not only to the genre’s love story with the metaphor but is also perhaps also a reminder of country music’s PG–13, radio–friendly obligations.
What greater theme or emotion could a truck possibly harness? The music philosopher can begin to ponder a series of possibilities. For one, it may be that country artists are sorely uncreative. As mentioned, mainstream country artists have been known to rely on a few literary devices that they wash and reuse regularly. Perhaps, the truck is one such tried and true theme. They traverse the aforementioned backroad and the beloved small town, making the pickup truck favorable lyrical filler.
While this certainly can be true, there is a possibility for the pickup truck to be emblematic of much more. In country, the common man is king. Blue collar jobs and working–class America are all but appropriated by mainstream country stars with manufactured accents and Nashville label contracts. The pickup trucks christened role as the the modus operandi of the working man’s way of picking up first dates, going to work, and stopping at Walmart, makes it a special tool.
Morgan Wallen’s “Silverado for Sale” paints this picture. A young man sells his prized possession, the pickup truck he saved up to buy so that he can get his girlfriend a wedding ring. Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line presents a similar common man love song on “5 foot 9,” singing “ain’t no way me and this truck made her fall in love.” And, on “Redneck Tendencies,” HARDY, Trace Atkins, and Joe Diffie stamp the pickup truck with hillbilly approval. “I got autozone amenities on both of my trucks,” HARDY proudly admits.
Pickup trucks are also deeply American. For one, the vehicles are mass-produced by Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, and GMC and are American–made. Country music, known for its conservative, traditional, and deeply patriotic flare, is no stranger to prioritizing the American while turning up its nose to the cosmopolitan and global. The truck is a testament to the better olden days and American legacy. Indeed, radio country is not the only victim of these themes. On Zach Bryan & Kacey Musgraves’ slow, neotraditional country ballad “I Remember Everything,” Zach Bryan asks his counterpart,” [d]o I remind you of your daddy in his ‘88 Ford?” There is a classic-ness, an Americanness, and a respectability in the truck, even when sung from the perspective of a lover who has done everything wrong.
Lyrical trends and devices are often indicative of a culture, and it would be shortsighted to write off country music’s habits as nothing but mainstream country fodder. Instead, they show the deepening values of a genre, geography, and listener that isn’t going anywhere. For country, trucks are integral, weaving the tapestry of love, light, and honor.