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Queer Eye for the Country Guy 

Cowboy crooners are putting some metro-sex into their rural images

A few years ago, many people were shocked when Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford came out of the closet. They shouldn't have been -- after all, Halford had long been roaring onstage on a motorcycle, looking like the biker guy in the Village People or one of the leather-clad macho men from a Tom of Finland painting.

But then, you couldn't blame people for being surprised -- in the world of heavy metal, the fact that Halford was openly flaunting a gay stereotype flew right under the radar, and in an ironic way, the hypermacho image Halford was peddling jibed as well with metal as it did in bars like the Loading Zone. Hell, some people were even surprised to learn that Freddie Mercury was gay, despite his image and the fact that his band was named Queen.

This article's not about rock or metal, though. It's about another macho genre -- namely, country music. Neither is it about outing people. We don't know if any of the people featured here are gay, and we're not making any allegations about their sexual preference -- as far as we know, k.d. lang is the only gay musician with a country connection, though Ty Herndon was caught in a compromising, George Michael-like situation in a Texas men's room a few years back. We're just examining images here, and lately it seems as if many of today's top country artists have been spending quality time with the Fab Five.

Let's start with Pat Green. A few years ago, he looked quite the man's man, and not in that way, if you catch our drift. The "before" photo presents us with the kind of guy who would chug-a-lug a can of Old Milwaukee and then belch and crush the empty against his head, the kind of guy who would unrepentantly walk around with a five-alarm chili stain on his T-shirt. Then Pat signed with Republic, a New York-based subsidiary of Universal, and it shows in the "after" photo. Gone are the taco'd hat and the flannel shirt, replaced by a mop of feathery highlighted hair, puka shells and the sort of shades sported by the hairdressers to the ladies who lunch in Ladue. He doesn't quite look gay, but he sure as hell is pushing the metrosexual envelope. "He looks like one of Bon Jovi's band members," a colleague told us upon seeing Pat's latest publicity shot. And we can just see some New York image consultant telling Pat, "That Texas thing won't play in Peoria. We'll have you looking like Richie Sambora in no time."

Moving along, we come to Tim McGraw. Circa 1993, McGraw's image was kind of redneck-dweeb -- an aw-shucks wallflower at the hat-act dance. He looks pensive, insecure -- as if he's thinking, "One day I'll be as cool as that doggone Garth Brooks. Dadgummit, I'll show 'em. He sure as shootin' won't kick sand in my face again." Fast-forward a decade. McGraw enrolls in a Charles Atlas program or something like that, and presto! To take Keith Jackson about as far out of context as he's ever been taken, whoa, Nelly! You can leave your hat on, Tim. Suddenly he's buff and looks like a guy whose wall calendars move lots of units across the sexual preference spectrum. "Who doesn't like Tim McGraw?" enthused one Amazon. com calendar buyer. "He is a handsome hunk to look at twelve months of the year. The photos could be better, this is not his best. A gay fan." (Another disclaimer: Just because McGraw has gay fans doesn't mean he's gay, so don't trip.)

Next we have the strange case of Kenny Chesney. Capricorn gave him his major-label break in 1994 and tried to package him as the Dwight Yoakam clone in the "before" photo. After switching labels to BNA a year later, he was peddled as a Garthlike hat act for a time (not pictured), before he entered the Ralph-Lauren-at-the-Santa-Fe-spread phase captured in the "after" photo. Like McGraw, Chesney seems to have spent some quality time at the YMCA, and thus we have the recent shot -- which always puts us in mind of the Electric Six for some reason ("I've got something to put in you -- at the gay bar, gay bar!"). This shot seems to be sending some sort of message. What's Kenny thinking there? Something like, "Hey, cowboy, wanna wrestle?" And then there's the fact that on Sharp Dressed Men, the 2002 country tribute to ZZ Top, of all the songs in the trio's body of work, Chesney chose to sing "Tush." Lord take him downtown indeed.

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More by John Nova Lomax

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