Since their bluegrass start in 1989 the girl band The Chicks have harbored controversy after controversy. From criticizing presidents to speaking out on how the country music industry treats women, The Chicks have always spoken their minds. While country music has historically been tied to certain outdated ideas and norms, the landscape and views of country artists have been changing dramatically in recent years. While these changes are new, there is no doubt that the industry in the 1990s and 80s represented a very different set of ideals. However, when country music first began evolving in the mid-90s it was because of three girls from Texas who called themselves The Dixie Chicks.
The Dixie Chicks first formed in 1989 at the time they had four members including three current members Martie Maguire, Emily Strayer, and Robin Lynn Macy. After a few changes, the band welcomed current lead singer Natalie Maines in 1995. If the band had been outspoken or controversial before, it wasn’t obvious until the arrival of Maines, who became not only the lead vocalist but the band’s spokeswoman. In 2003, a few years after their dominating rise to fame in country music, The Chicks ran into their first major controversy. During a concert in London, Maines revealed her opinions on President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
“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.”
After news of this got to American media it became a major headline. Americans from New York to Los Angeles were calling for The Chicks to be completely taken off of their most important platform at the time, the radio. This led to radio stations perpetuating this anti-Chicks sentiment through the push to boycott not only their concerts but their new album entirely.
Even other country stars began to turn on The Chicks including Toby Keith, who has had a long and complicated relationship with the band. After Maines’ comments about Bush in 2003, Keith performed in front of a backdrop of The Chicks singer next to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. However, the Keith-Maines feud began a year earlier when Maines criticized one of Keith’s most famous songs Courtesy of the red white and blue.
“It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant”
Between Keith and Bush, The Chicks became the faces of a country music witch hunt. There is no denying that The Chicks had some unfavorable opinions, but so did most country artists, especially Toby Keith. However, Keith never faced backlash for his comments, never had to stop performing due to death threats, and never had to defend his right to free speech. But The Chicks did, why?
The most obvious answer is that they are women in a male-dominated industry. Country music during the early 2000s still held a lot of the same old values it had before, and The Chicks represented the complete opposite of that. They were outspoken and fierce. While older female artists like Dolly Parton are most definitely responsible for a more socially aware country music industry, she is still Dolly Parton. Parton is America’s sweetheart and even though she has made some controversial moves, she is always going to be the blonde beauty that no one can touch. While The Chicks are the modern representation of women, they have short colorful hair, songs about killing their husbands, and wear scandalous outfits. Country music didn’t like them because they began to represent something the country music industry couldn’t understand; a woman’s place in society can be criticizing the government.
Additionally, they spoke out against the president, which was unusual for musicians at the time. There is no doubt that The Chicks were ahead of their time. In recent years it has become standard for musicians to criticize American leaders, in fact, the risk of being canceled as a musician is far greater if they don’t speak out. However, in the early 2000s, the world wanted musicians to be just that, musicians.
Before outspoken musicians like Taylor Swift and Billie Ellish, we had The Chicks. They showed the world that being a woman and a musician shouldn’t put you in a box but should help you break out of it.