Justin Moore – “Back That Thing Up”
Songwriters: Jeremy Stover and Randy Houser
It is a rare gift indeed when an artist can record a song that is completely centered around obvious sexual innuendo and still sound charming rather than sexist or simply obnoxious. That, however, is the feat Justin Moore has accomplished on his debut single, “Back That Thing Up,” an extremely suggestive song that nonetheless paints the Valory Music Co. (Big Machine) newcomer as an exceptionally likable personality.
To be fair, Moore owes a great deal of credit to the song’s writers, Jeremy Stover and Randy Houser, who exhibit significant artistic discipline by not over-baking a concept that would be easy to carry to an extreme. Yes, “Back That Thing Up” is blatantly sexual right from the spoken opening line (I know you’re scared of that cock-a-doodle-doo/Don’t worry, he ain’t gonna hurt you), but Stover and Houser have carefully, and smartly, separated (at least semantically), the inherent innuendo from the song’s story itself.
Literally, this song is about a young woman who goes to work on a farm. And although there is aggressive sexual allusion (Back that thing up/Throw it in reverse, let Daddy load it up), no sex or physical contact actually takes place between the singer and the subject, nor does the singer actually directly suggest sex to the subject.
That’s an important distinction, because it allows Moore to play two sides of a single coin. If the writers had allowed the song’s innuendo to morph into the actuality of sex, or even into the suggestion of sex (see: Keith Anderson’s “Pickin’ Wildflowers”–”Let’s buzz around, maybe do some pollinating“), our perception of the singer would immediately become dominated by a stereotype of his self-perceived masculinity. In Anderson’s case, “Pickin’ Wildflowers” was centered around the idea that the singer literally (and overtly) wanted to have sex with the subject, a fact which rendered both the the song and the narrator (the singer), relatively one dimensional.
“Back That Thing Up” allows Moore to avoid such a problem because although the words he sings are suggestive, his actions themselves are not. While Anderson (as narrator) knew exactly what he was referring to in that song’s sexually coded language, it’s not clear that Moore (as narrator), does. Surely we the listeners understand, but we’re left to question whether the singer himself is actually in on the joke.
We believe that he must be in on the joke, but the separation of the literal and the implied is a literary technique that affects the way our mind interprets the story, and, thus, our emotional response to it. On one side of the coin, Moore is able to play up a sexual, masculine persona by the implication rendered with innuendo–but the fact that he’s not directly (literally) talking about sex also allows him to maintain the perception of at least a limited veil of innocence.
And what further accentuates all of this is that when we arrive at the song’s bridge, any expectations we may have built up about the singer’s motivation are shattered as he essentially rejects the innuendo–when discussing the work that still needs to be done on the farm, Moore sings, “Ain’t no time to play today/No rollin’ in the hay.”
It’s really a brilliantly balanced piece of songwriting, and proof that uptempo, “fun” songs can still maintain a standard of artistic quality despite the fact that they are not particularly deep.
As intriguing as “Back That Thing Up,” may be as a lyrical study, however, it is the singer’s compelling performance that makes it work as a single.
With a twang situated somewhere between Tracy Lawrence and Chris Cagle, Moore’s voice is both very good and instantly identifiable, engaging because of the personality that shines through it; young, confidant, and most importantly, unfiltered.
Country music has witnessed a flood of so-called soul-influenced male singers in recent years, most of whom posses big, deep, sometimes raspy voices that are so full they often sound artificial. Moore, on the other hand, is a capable singer with a voice that makes him sound like he could be your cousin or your next door neighbor. And there’s a certain attraction to that element of closeness.
More than anything else, this authenticity is what sets Moore apart. He’s real–or at least has the appearance of being real–in a format that is consistency growing more and more detached from its origins.
This single is a winner, and is particularly notable for the fact that it should appeal to a sector of the audience that has been typically (and strategically) ignored in recent years–young males.
That was a group that Garth Brooks was able to strike a resonating chord with, and his ability to appeal outside of the generally female-dominated core country demographic was one of the things that helped catapult him to superstardom.
I don’t know if Moore can reach those same heights. “Back That Thing Up” isn’t as good as the material that launched Garth into the stratosphere. But the newcomer has a voice and a personality that positions him as a unique player in the current format.
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