Coming from an occasional but not avid country music listener, Tim McGraw’s latest “Highway Don’t Care” exemplifies some of the best parts of country music: heartfelt lyrics, masterful guitar, and storytelling arcs perfect for music videos. And boy is this video a tearjerker.
The video begins with a young girl crying and getting into her car. Cut to a thoughtful and cowboy hatted McGraw in a suspiciously tight shirt singing about the highway, and also him being a handsome unknown gentleman getting a late night phone call. Then there’s Taylor Swift singing the “song” that the song references about love, while also appearing in a very 90s fashion in the rear view mirror.
There’s some more of the crying girl, some Keith Urban guitar riffs, a phone that slips onto the floor, and then a large crash.
Tim McGraw ends up being a doctor and helping to save the girl’s life, while her relieved parents embrace each other and the assumed boyfriend that the girl was fighting with feels guilty standing alone in the hallway.
What the video does, other than employ cheesy music video tropes and remind us of things we usually forget like A) Taylor Swift is a country artist, B) Mr. Nicole Kidman is actually a pretty good guitarist and C) Tim McGraw is in surprisingly good shape, and has a “Faith” tattoo on his upper arm, is that it dramatically shows the ravages of texting while driving.
Bloody images of car wrecks can work for some. Haunting images of half written text messages and brain damaged kids with their whole lives ahead of them now haunted by the tragedy of one bad mistake can work for others. Cue the AT&T campaign.
But inroads into many people’s behaviors can be changed best not by commercials or documentaries or lectures but voluntarily consumed popular culture.
That’s why politicians have noted that their views on marriage equality have evolved based on popular culture — Joe Biden even said his views changed after watching Will & Grace. That’s why President Barack Obama’s campaign hit sectors not reached by traditional means when will.i.am pushed his messaged via a star-studded music video.
As much as it’s good to have powerful public service announcements pushing forward messages that work in the best interest of society, sometimes it’s OK to play into the collective obsession with celebrity and have it work in favor of something good rather than something shallow and vapid.