The Dixie Chicks cover Allure: ‘The politics of this band is inseparable from the music’

Dame Helen Mirren poses at HONORARY GOLDEN BEAR Photocall during the 70th Berlin International Film Festival ( Berlinale ) on Thursday 27 February 2020

I’m sure some of the “kids” who read this blog don’t have strong memories of what went down with the Dixie Chicks in 2003. Lord, that was 17 years ago, such craziness. What happened was a very, very BIG deal and it is still something that, even now, is one of the first things Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer are asked about in interviews. What happened was that in 2003, just days before we officially “went to war” in Iraq, the Dixie Chicks were performing in London, at a small venue called Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Natalie, the lead singer, went to the microphone and told the crowd: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

The reaction was immediate. People broke and burned their CDs. Radio stations around the country – especially country music stations – completely banned their music. They were banned from attending and performing at most country-music awards shows. They lost thousands of fans and became a cultural/political hot potato. They’ve done interviews since then obviously, and Beyonce even brought them on the CMA stage to perform “Daddy Lessons.” It seemed like there has been some minor softening here and there. Now they’ve got a new album, new music and… they’re still the same people. You can read the full Allure cover story here. Of course they all talk about What Happened and the aftermath of it and all of that.

Why Natalie said that in 2003: “I wanted the audience to know who we were and what we were about. I do not like when artists get on their soapbox — it’s not what people are there for. They’re there to listen to your music.” At the same time: “The politics of this band is inseparable from the music.”

Strayer on their new album, Gaslighter: “I’m so proud of this album. No matter what happens with it. It might be a slow burn; it might be a quick burn. I don’t know, but it will find its way to our fans. No matter what happens with all the radio or outlets or whatever, it’ll make its way.” Maines jumps in: “I felt the most pride in our last album — maybe it was worth the controversy. It was so personal and so honest; this album even more so. Our manager was like, ‘Do you not care about a number one?’ When you have achieved all your dreams, everything else is sprinkled on top. I prefer my kids like me than having a number one record. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be grateful when it happens.”

If they knew then what they know now, would Natalie still have said that? “Oh, that’s an interesting question. I have no regrets, but the responsible part of me doesn’t want to put people through sh-t.” She looks at Strayer and Maguire. “I feel like you might’ve said something smarter or different,” says Strayer. “Well, I always wish I had said something smarter!” Maines replies. “But when I think back, it’s like that movie Sliding Doors, right? Where would we be today if I hadn’t said that? That’s interesting. I really don’t know if I would take it back.”

Whether Emily & Martie were mad: “For five seconds in the elevator,” Strayer says. “Really? You were mad?” Maines looks shocked. “It was that next day,” Strayer says. “I said something. You don’t remember that conversation?” “I don’t remember you being mad.” “Mad is not the right word, but I remember being in the elevator, and I was like, ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me.’ It was more like scared-mad.” “It was a bad situation,” says Maines.

Emily on how different music is these days: “At the Grammys, how many performances were with women playing instruments? Is it still surprising that a female can play an instrument proficiently?” Maines agrees: “I don’t know about you guys, but when I see a girl rip a guitar solo, I’m blown away. It’s still very rare.”

[From Allure]

It’s weird to think “would you do it knowing what you know now?” And Natalie doesn’t really know. I think she probably would have said something similar, but maybe more well-thought out? I don’t know. I never understood why the crash was so immediate – obviously, country music was then (and is still now) closer to the GOP than the Democratic Party. And the “eve of war” bothered a lot of people too. But… it was done and Natalie was honest about how she felt then, and people massively overreacted. It’s so weird to think that just two years later, Kanye West did the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” thing at the Katrina telethon. Seriously, JUST TWO YEARS LATER.

Photos courtesy of Allure.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

36 Responses to “The Dixie Chicks cover Allure: ‘The politics of this band is inseparable from the music’”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. McMom says:

    It was a very big deal. I remember having a debate about it at a cocktail party. The person I was talking to was particularly upset because it was said in London and she thought we, as Americans, should present a united front overseas. The controversy seems so quaint now, given what a mess we are in with the current administration.

    I live in TX and listen to country music periodically. Although there are of course notable female country artists, the Dixie Chicks felt groundbreaking and fresh in a way their peers did not. I practically wore out my copy of “Wide Open Spaces.” Glad they are producing music again.

  2. Erinn says:

    I find it surprising given the current political climate that she’s not sure if she would do it over, or if she’d take it back. I would have thought she’d be even more sure of her choice at this point.

    • smcollins says:

      I understand what you mean but it was a very different time. I think if she made those comments today about Trump the backlash wouldn’t be near what it was back then. But, then again, we’re also now in the era of social media and the SJW’s for the GOP would probably be demanding an apology and calling for them to be “canceled.” I think her being unsure is more about the consequences they suffered, not her actually speaking out?

      • Erinn says:

        Yeah, I could see her also considering the effect it had on the band overall, and not just herself. I remember how huge the backlash was, so it’d make sense that she’d at least question it. But I think knowing all we know and looking at it with 2020 eyes, she should feel pretty good with her decision.

      • Jennifer says:

        This. It was such a strange time. We were all still shell shocked from 9/11 and there was this pervasive patriotism that I don’t remember experiencing at any other time.

      • Viv says:

        Agree it wouldn’t be. At the time if you said anything against the president or against the war, no matter how accurate or reasonable, you were “Anti-American” and hated the troops. The media went into a frenzy with this statement. Now the internet is more coordinated I guess I’l lcall it. At the time there wasn’t really anywhere for the other side of the conversation to be heard outside of maybe a fan club message board.

        I’m excited to hear their new album! I still listen to their old ones all the time.

    • Becks1 says:

      I got the vibe she regrets the specific wording, not the sentiment. I think if she hadn’t added that line about being ashamed the president was from Texas, the backlash wouldn’t have been AS big.

  3. pineapple says:

    I am so glad they have a new album out. I will purchase the whole thing. Just to support them.

    It is so crazy to me that 16 or 17 years later female country artists are STILL fighting to get air time on country stations. So, so unfair. With the plethora of female country artists out there, at this point, it is just desperate white dudes trying to hang onto the past.

    • Betsy says:

      That’s one of the reasons I don’t listen to country music radio. What gets played on the conglomerate country stations is just dreck, almost worse than the most insipid bubble pop.

      I’m only sad the song says “ass” so much – it means I can’t play it around my kids, which as a SAHP, is most of the time. I’ll still def buy it, though!

  4. Becks1 says:

    I remember when that happened. I was studying abroad in Spain, and while the Spanish government supported the war, the Spanish people that I knew did not (I remember walking in an anti-war march in Seville.) So when she made that comment, it was like, “of course we’re against the war, who’s not?” Well my parents came to visit me and my mother was like “I’m never going to make a comment against the war while our soldiers are over there.” (in my mind, there is a big difference between supporting a war and supporting the soldiers.)

    I think it was bc for many people, like my parents, being against the war brought back Vietnam memories, and how poorly those soldiers were treated by anti-war protestors, and also Saddam Hussein had been used as such a boogey-man in the US for so long that people really didn’t question the need for the war.

    Fast forward to today, when people trip over themselves trying to explain why they really weren’t in support of the war or flat out lie about their support (i.e. Trump) etc and the backlash seems ridiculous. But at the time, it was a really big deal.
    (and my mother now refuses to believe that she ever supported the war, LOL.)

    It surprised me to realize they only put out three albums before that happened, because they were such monster stars. I love their early work but Taking the Long Way is one of my favorite albums.

    All that to say – I love them and cant wait for this new album.

  5. Annie says:

    The country music crowd seems like such a crazy, MAGA hat wearing bunch of bigots. That might just be my impression looking from the outside, but the country music scene does seem to have an image problem. Bands like Dixie Chicks who represent a different political view are just what country music needs to become relevant for new listeners outside of the hardcore fanbase.

    • McMom says:

      Not necessarily. I live in Houston and while not everyone is a diehard country music fan, it’s certainly common enough that people from all sorts of backgrounds listen to it. Living in TX, a certain degree of country music is just “music.” Willie knows no political boundaries.

  6. Aims says:

    I had always been on Natalie’s side on this, even back then. I was a strong supporter of anyone against W and the war. It never felt right too me and I remember feeling like I was unamerican because I protested. When it was the exact opposite. I love our military so much that I didn’t and still don’t want to put them in a situation that isn’t winnable and dangerous. I felt and still do feel that we have the right to ask questions. So, yeah they got a raw deal.

  7. TIFFANY says:

    Of course people are still talking about it because a woman was accurate in their statement.

    Sexism is what happened to the Dixie Chicks, plain and simple.

    After she said it I went out and bought their albums in solidarity.

  8. sa says:

    I didn’t love what she said about being ashamed the President was from Texas to a London audience. Not protest or boycott them level dislike, just I didn’t like it and then I moved on. For me, a big part of the issue was that it was to a London audience, so it was’t productive. If it had been in the U.S., maybe they sway some people and influence our national politics, but to say it to a crowd in London serves no purpose other than to bash the President. So I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. I definitely thought that the level of backlash was absurd, and if I were a country fan, there are probably a bunch of country artists I would have started boycotting (boycott of one) because many responses were less about protesting the statement (which is their right) and more about full-on and personal attacks of Natalie Maines and the Dixie Chicks, which was gross.

    Even though I didn’t love what she said, the first Dixie Chicks song I ever bought was Not Ready to Make Nice, because that is an awesome song.

    • Aims says:

      What she was saying was, yes he’s from my state, however we don’t support his policies. I agree with her. Everyone has the right and the freedom to express themselves, even if you don’t agree with it. And by the way, she was right. I have been in Canada during these horrific 4 years and have apologized to strangers about Trump. Does that make me less of an American?

      • TIFFANY says:

        And wasn’t W born and raised in New England, Connecticut I think.

        Yeah, that dude played everyone but certain people been knew about him

      • sa says:

        She didn’t say she didn’t support W’s policies, she said she was ashamed he was from Texas. That’s different.

        Of course she has the right to express herself, I would never suggest otherwise. That doesn’t mean that everyone has to like how she expresses herself. And even though it wasn’t something that I would have protested, those who protested and boycotted the Dixie Chicks also had the right to express themselves (but not to make threats).

      • Lillian says:

        Yeah. For an artist clarifying her values to her audience in a conversational way, it was almost a mild statement. Its scary she got so much crap for pointing out she disagrees with “the man in power”. And we expect people to speak out now, so i thank her for her example. And i personally like the texas comment- shes proud of her place and its strength, and thats a solidly acknowledged “country value”. I swear, a lot of folks in the demographic fetishize strong women then punish you for being one.

      • Elizabeth says:

        SA, it’s not equivalent, and you can’t choose to separate out the death threats from the systemic oppression. She certainly couldn’t.

        She was one musician who made one relatively mild and casual comment of her viewpoint who received a completely over the top inordinate backlash that was terrifyingly stupid. Death threats, to the mother of small children. Smashing their albums with machines. Do not “both sides” this.

        You can’t take this event completely out of the cultural context of violence against women. We all know and many have personally experienced the ways in which violence against women are excused and ignored all day long in this country.

        Do not erase that as if these people were just expressing opinions they had a right to express. I know you excluded the threats but you can’t. She got death threats. It’s factual. And all the unwarranted aggression at every level toward her for not toeing the party line and shutting up and singing like a good little girl helped fuel those death threats. This is gendered all the way down and it comes from authoritarianism.

  9. Jess says:

    I have always loved the Dixie Chicks and was living in Texas when they said this and totally agreed with them. The backlash was awful but the same people who said you can’t criticize the president then spent eight years attacking Obama. This was class conservative hypocrisy, combined with the sexism rife in the country music industry (I’m still mad about tomatogate), that combined to try to “cancel” the Dixie Chicks. I’m so impressed by their strength and love Gaslighter!

  10. FilmTurtle says:

    I remember all of it. It was such a mild statement that the massive, crazy overreaction, death threats, career vanished overnight, all felt manipulated. Honestly. Like what happened with Kathy Griffin. It was a massive dose of sexism and seizing on something trivial and blowing it up into a Full Blown Thing to hype people for war and to give them something to root against.

  11. Cee says:

    It was such a big deal. I loved the Dixie Chicks but after that “incident” they really disappeared from some international markets, such as Argentina.
    I’m glad they’re back in the sense that people are now realising where they were coming from and how stupid and malicious that war was. You can support your troops without the need to blindly accept that the cause for war is valid or necessary.

  12. Mika says:

    I remember when this happened. I was 15, from the nicest neighbourhood in Toronto, and attending a very stuffy, very polite, very British all-girls private school and I loved debating and model UN and politics done “civilly” . When Iraq went down felt so betrayed by all the adults in the world, and I didn’t want to be polite. Then the world turned on Natalie Masters and I became a MASSIVE Dixie Chicks fan. She was right, but more importantly, the injustice of what happened to her was an injustice I could understand (unlike the injustice suffered by Iraqis, which I could not fathom, and which ) and respond to (I felt, and still do feel, impotent about the world of politics). Even now, with Trump and BoJo and Bolsonaro and Modi and Xi and Doug Ford breaking every rule of decency and ruining every institution I beloved in and the world burning… at least I can still sing “I’m not ready to make nice” at karaoke. Thanks for that Dixie Chicks.

  13. Abby says:

    I love them and always have. I am soooo ready for this album! Natalie’s ex husband Adrian Pasdar is awful and since I’m going through a nasty divorce myself with someone who has a diagnosed personality disorder, the song Gaslighter is a perfectly timed anthem.

    There is a wonderful documentary called Shut Up & Sing that follows them through that whole journey 17 years ago, including the night and morning after it was said, and into their next album. So good.

    My only disappointment about that cover is Natalie’s eyeliner…..just, why. It distracts from them and their message because it’s so bizarre looking.

  14. MC2 says:

    And then the country music machine supported Toby F-ing Keith. This, plus how Beyonce was treated when she performed at the CMAs, has me side eyeing country forever.
    I bought Gaslighter & listen to the song loud, on repeat, on the daily. It’s an amazing song & I can’t wait for the full album!

    • SharonA says:

      YES!!!! there were some that were really upset at Bey performing on the CMAs and I felt like her bringing DC with her was an even bigger F-U!

      • Lillian says:

        I watched that at my grandmothers. It was bad@ss country as f!ck. It scared em 🙂 something about women holding their ground….

  15. Texas says:

    Strong woman expressing an opinion? Of course they were canceled. I love them and I hated the way they were treated.

  16. Charfromdarock says:

    Love them, always have, already pre-ordered the new album.

    The reaction to them was ridiculously sexist bullish!t. I seem to remember the country pilsbury dough boy Toby Keith leading the hate against them.

  17. Mrs. Smith says:

    I remember this incident so clearly b/c my (at the time) new husband and I argued about it. He was pro-Bush, thought the war was a good idea and bought everything the administration said. It was infuriating. Fast forward to today (still happily married!) and my man is a Trump hating son of a gun. He credits me with fighting him on his pro-Bush/Republican thinking and we are going hand-in-hand to vote blue no matter who this November. I guess what I’m saying is Thank You Dixie Chicks for helping me make my case back then. Now, I’m gonna get us some concert tickets as soon as they are available!!

  18. Lillian says:

    I thought, at the time, the countryboys were p$ssed off a shorthaired girl with brassy ones out-countried them all by standing up to defend the honor of texas, under the circumstances.