Tom Phillips: The ballad of Nicole & Keith (& Kenny & Lyle)

A country singer husband is now a must-have for a Hollywood star actress
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The Independent Online

When Nicole Kidman marries country star Keith Urban in Australia today, she'll become the latest to get herself the current must-have accessory for attractive-but-thoughtful Hollywood actresses: a country singer husband.

Renée Zellweger married Kenny Chesney after a whirlwind (translation: "ill advised") romance. Julia Roberts was well ahead of the pack with her two-year marriage to Lyle Lovett back in the early Nineties. So how did the much-mocked musical form achieve such a remarkable turnaround in Hollywood as a mark of good taste in your man?

Musicians, of course, are a good match for actors - they understand the stresses of long periods away from home, appreciate the traumas of fame, and are if anything even more willing to join bizarre religious cults.

And then there's the desperate longing of both parties to do the other's job. Many musicians crave the credibility they believe attaches itself to the acting profession, while actors desperately want to be rock stars - shorter hours, less emoting to a piece of green cloth, more legitimate drug consumption. It doesn't take an amateur psychologist to realise that the frustrated desire to be someone often finds a useful proxy in going to bed with them instead.

As such, thespians do tend to seek out musicians for their romantic interest. But fashions come and go. For a while, every girl about town needed an indie boy to escort her. Renée Zellweger had Jack White of the White Stripes, Liv Tyler (herself a rock sprog) did well by marrying the lead singer from glam-revivalist muppets Spacehog, and, of course, Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had their ongoing experiment in creating a critical mass of blandness.

But of all musical forms, country's ability to combine a celebration of the rebel outlaw spirit with a down-home folksiness must surely suggest to the love-hungry starlet that its practitioners offer the best of both worlds. Wild and iconoclastic hedonism on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, evenings of whittlin' and good old-timey home cooking on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Bonus.

Country long ago left behind its old stereotype - that it featured either curiously upbeat songs about how your dog ate your truck and your wife had to sell her legs to pay for crazy Uncle Jimbob's gambling debts, or wildly inappropriate metaphors for faith and fidelity.

Slick production and canny marketing led to a growing audience outside its traditional heartlands. The Dixie Chicks sold a shedload of their radio-friendly country-pop - even after laying into George Bush - while more traditional styles like bluegrass enjoyed a resurgence. Suddenly, a lot of people realised they just loved country music. And a lot of actresses realised that they loved country singers.

But can it maintain its hold over Hollywood's finest? Zellweger seems to be the barometer. After splitting from Jack White, she quickly moved on to Chesney in 2005. But now their five-month marriage is over, everyone will be looking to see what musical style she goes for next. With any luck Renée will eventually end up with Mark E Smith from The Fall.

One can only hope the trend continues, and that Hollywood's leading ladies continue to explore fun new musical genres to spawn from. Next year could be an excellent year for folk musicians, as Brokeback Mountain star Anne Hathaway discovers the joys of having all 23 verses of "There Ne'er Were a Finer Pig Wrangler Than Thee" dedicated to her.

And then, perhaps, 2008 will see Lindsay Lohan hanging around the offices of Warp Records in a desperate search for an experimental ambient glitchcore collective to marry into. Frankly, good-looking young lads wanting a quick route to pre-nup riches should probably get fiddling with their laptops now.

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