Maren Morris is leaving country music: it’s being used as a toxic weapon

I’ve liked Maren Morris ever since her debut album Hero came out in 2016. I liked her sharp, clever songwriting. But the other thing I appreciate about Maren is that she has been calling out the toxic conservatism and racism in Nashville for years. It seemed to me like it was only a matter of time before she would outgrow the ‘country’ label because her music sits in that crossover pop territory, similar to Kacey Musgraves. And now she is formally leaving country behind, switching to Columbia Records from their “country” division on her latest EP The Bridge. (Which I think could be a reference to Dolly Parton’s song of the same name.) Both songs on the EP are about Maren leaving Nashville behind. She told the LA Times about why she is leaving country: the industry won’t acknowledge its racist, misogynist history… or present, for that matter.  “I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” she says about country music. “But it’s burning itself down without my help.” She also hilariously refers to the corporate bro country music as “butt rock.”

This change has been in the back of her mind for a long time:  The way I grew up was so wrapped in country music, and the way I write songs is very lyrically structured in the Nashville way of doing things. But I think I needed to purposely focus on just making good music and not so much on how we’ll market it. The last few records, that’s always been in the back of my mind: Will this work in the country music universe?

Whether she considers herself a “political” artist: I’ve always been an asker of questions and a status quo challenger just by being a woman. So it wasn’t really even a choice. I didn’t think of myself as a political artist. I just wrote songs about real life through a lens of deep respect for my country heroes. But the further you get into the country music business, that’s when you start to see the cracks. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it. So you start doing everything you can with the little power you have to make things better.

The Trump years made people in country music become open about their bigotry: After the Trump years, people’s biases were on full display. It just revealed who people really were and that they were proud to be misogynistic and racist and homophobic and transphobic. All these things were being celebrated, and it was weirdly dovetailing with this hyper-masculine branch of country music. I call it butt rock.

She thinks “Try That In A Small Town” is only popular because of the culture wars: …I think it’s a last bastion. People are streaming these songs out of spite. It’s not out of true joy or love of the music. It’s to own the libs. And that’s so not what music is intended for. Music is supposed to be the voice of the oppressed — the actual oppressed. And now it’s being used as this really toxic weapon in culture wars.

[From The LA Times]

Maren is dead-on about the “butt rock” stuff. I am a Dolly Parton fanatic but I also like a lot of other old school country artists like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, and Jimmie Rodgers. I’m not an expert about the history of the industry, but I know a little. It seems to me like country music has always had these problems with racism and with sexism. There has always been a bias in country radio against playing female artists that persists to this day, and radio is still a huge deal in country. It’s also hard for BIPOC artists to get major label contracts, let alone radio play. Country music has become all about appealing to just one demographic. The songs that get the most radio play are about small towns and trucks and guns and canned beers and pretty blonde girls in cutoffs who only exist as vague sexual concepts, not real people. It’s like Ken’s fantasy of the patriarchy in the Barbie movie. Jason Aldean’s heinous song is the darkest version of this trend. But country music itself was originally the combination of traditions and sounds from many different cultures, and it’s supposed to be about storytelling. Now it’s about alienating anyone who isn’t a rural white guy named Brett. That’s why Maren (and other women country artists like Kacey Musgraves and Rhiannon Giddens) stands out and why she’s gained such a following. But I don’t blame her for getting the hell out of dodge. I cannot imagine how toxic things are behind the scenes in Nashville. She’ll find her way, she’s super talented, and she doesn’t need those jokers.

Photos credit: Xavier Collin / Image Press Agency / Avalon and via Instagram

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21 Responses to “Maren Morris is leaving country music: it’s being used as a toxic weapon”

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  1. Nlopez says:

    Love Maren! Her first album is one of my all time favorites. Good for her👏🏽

  2. It Really Is You, Not Me says:

    She is a heroine who put her money where her mouth is.

  3. Yaya says:

    I just saw Maren in concert in my home town, she was opening for The Chicks, and she is wonderful, I am not a country fan because most of them have terrible politics, but Maren and The Chicks were wonderful, and I am downloading her stuff today!

    • MadMangoMal says:

      Me too! A friend and I just saw then in Ottawa not even a week ago. My friend had never heard of Maren and cried during her set, her and her husband just weathered a family drama storm and she had never heard The Bones before so it hit her in the feels. Needless to say she is a fan now and we had to listen to Maren on the way home after I told her about Maren’s “Insurrection Barbie” crack talking about the dumb wife of the what’s his racist face douche bro.

  4. HelloDolly! says:

    Yes, there’s only so much critiquing you can do until you realize that the industry isn’t changing, and allies are not materializing for you. I am sure she has made enemies and/or is shunned by some, as well, which would be so infuriating, particularly considering she is asking for basic equity.

  5. Brassy Rebel says:

    Good for her for acting on her principles. I hope she does well in mainstream pop. When country music started, it was literally about the oppression of poor white people in the rural south. But since those people were white and male, the turn toward racism and misogyny may have been inevitable. Country artists don’t speak truth to power anymore since they are the power.

  6. Bettyrose says:

    The New Yorker had a recent article explaining the rules about female artists on country stations. Something like no more than 20% of the rotation can be women, never play two female artists consecutively, and something about all female artists being held accountable for what the former Dixie Chicks said 20 years ago. Like, that’s what happens when women get too uppity so keep them in line. And it goes without saying there’s only room for white artists. I think it was in a July issue. Everyone should look for it.

  7. Elsa says:

    I am a huge fan of some country music. I love Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker and a lot of others. I am not a fan of butt country. Jason Aldean is a prime example of why.

    Country has roots in all races and cultures. I hate what it has become.

  8. Twin Falls says:

    She’s right and I’ll go download some of her songs now. Butt country is vile. Those are the people hosting “book burning” events using flame throwers and cheering.

  9. Sass says:

    I grew up in the south and lived in a “small town” for two years. The only radio stations out there were gospel channels and two country stations. The town was still segregated, even if unofficially. My grandparents lived out there and were the only people not from there. I lived with them while attending school (an hour drive but they gave me a free room and food and a car when nobody else would) and worked at the golf course in town.

    This is the kind of small town Aldean sings about. I did not have a positive experience living there. My boss was inappropriate with me and I made zero friends. Most of the young people had left. The town was dying. No theater, bowling alley, etc. Not even a Walmart. It was a truck stop town. And the “big city” we were from and where I commuted to daily was Charleston, SC. 🤣 I remember an ex of a friend of mine had family there and he got offended when I said I hated living there. “You weren’t wanted there” and I replied “why the fuck do you think I left”. Who wants to be wanted in a town that has a white funeral home and a black one, a white gas station and a black one, a white private school and a public school where the black kids go. Where the whole town shuts down to go on vacation together three different weeks per year bc they’re all related. Where women shoot their husbands for cheating, where buddies shoot each other over college football, where white men shoot themselves when a black woman tells him they’re cousins. This all happened out there. And country music does perpetuate it. The reason I like nearly zero country music is because of the messages it sends. It’s unoriginal, whiny, racist and sexist. I have my exceptions but they are few and anyone who tells me they spend days at country music festivals listening to crap like Florida Georgia Line gets major side eye from me.

    PS Maren Morris is a member of the Highwomen which is a big fuckin deal. Mad respect.

    • Haus of Cats says:

      The Highwomen are awesome! I’m a huge fan of Amanda Shires. Those women are badasses.

    • Brassy Rebel says:

      Gosh, Sass, that sounds like such a charming place. What would anyone leave?

      • Sass says:

        @brassy rebel I am not kidding, my grandparents literally moved out there bc they couldn’t afford to live in the city or its suburbs any longer, but they still drove into the city 6 days a week and twice on Sundays 🤣 I lived out there from 2005-2007 to give you a better idea of how recent this shit was.

        My former boss at the pro shop was also the private school PE coach and was caught with one of his students, so he actually got run out of town – turns out he had been molesting quite a few of them. Those poor girls. Tbh I’m shocked they let him leave alive and intact. He ran off to Columbia. His poor wife and kids too; if I recall correctly she was from the town and he wasn’t.

  10. HoofRat says:

    I live near a major sports/concert venue, and enjoy people-watching from my balcony as the crowds gather. Earlier this year I watched in disbelief as a parade of clones yee-hawed their way into a male-artist country music concert. Almost every man wore a trucker cap and plaid shirt (loved the ones with the arms ripped out, so klassy), and the vast majority of the women were hobbling along in Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots. In two hours, I did not see one person of colour.

    I listened to some country music in the early 90s when there seemed to be a lot of great women artists in rotation, but I can’t with the ugly little cult it’s become. I do not blame Maren Morris one iota, and I’m off to download a ton of her music.

  11. Concern Fae says:

    I remember when the rightwing took over talk radio. When asked why all the shows were conservative, the reply was that conservative listeners would change the dial and never come back if they heard anything to the left of Rush Limbaugh. So most of the country ended up with nothing else to listen to. Thank you to Ronald Reagan for doing away with the Fairness Doctrine.

    US automakers really want to do away with having terrestrial radios in cars. It would be a bad idea for many reasons and Congress probably won’t allow it. But when I read articles like this, I’d be sorely tempted to do away with it.

  12. Country music has become a dog whistle for racists and misogynists. Country music, ostentatious displays of the flag, guns, and Jesus.

  13. Macky says:

    You can tell country is too concentrated. How many songs have this or a version ” sitting drinking my whiskey””poured a whiskey” “cried in my whiskey””whiskey”. It’s very hard to listen to. It’s something those bigoted artist ARE trying to go pop or rap. That’s why they are rhyming Whiskey. They think they are better than pop while stealing from pop.
    Anyway, good luck Maren. You could tell she wanted to be more inclusive.

  14. Nat says:

    Bo Burnham does a great parody of country songs: