Maren Morris smiles as she sings and plays a guitar at a micrphone. She's wearing a sleeveless black dress.
AP Photo/John Locher

Country Music Women Keep Raising Hell

Outspoken performers like Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves continue a long tradition of female Western artists who aren’t afraid to rock the boat.

by

Come this Wednesday, a lot of cowboy hat-wearing playas and big-haired playettes will be at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena where the 56th Annual Country Music Association Awards will be taking place. But not everyone feels equally welcome at the annual shindig.

Yes, titans and titanesses of contemporary country music will be there to pick up awards—many of them with roots right here in Texas. Longview’s Miranda Lambert (the most decorated artist in ACM Awards history, with 37 trophies) is nominated for entertainer of the year and female artist of the year, while the new male artist of the year category has two Lone Star sons: Parker McCollum from Conroe and Cody Johnson from Sebastopol. As far as bands go, we got Midland from Dripping Springs nominated for best group, and Maddie & Tae, featuring Sugar Land-born Maddie Font, with a best duo nomination. 

Petite country-pop princess Maren Morris, originally hailing from Arlington, is also nominated. Her latest album Humble Quest got an album of the year nod. But even though Morris has been a big winner at past CMAs, don’t expect her to show up this year. “Honestly, I haven’t decided if I’m gonna go,” she told the Los Angeles Times. I’m very honored that my record is nominated. But I don’t know if I feel [at] home there right now.”

“It’s so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human?”

Why would a country superstar like Morris feel like she wouldn’t be welcome on country music’s biggest night? Well, for one, she might be afraid she’ll run into Jason Aldean’s wife.

Back in August, Brittany Aldean, the country singer’s beauty-blogging significant other, posted a makeup video on Instagram with the caption, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life.” Her husband posted a comment, saying, “Lmao!! I’m glad they didn’t too, cause you and I wouldn’t have worked out.”

Many people didn’t like Mrs. Aldean’s problematic comments, including Morris. When pop/country singer Cassadee Pope tweeted about it, Morris responded with, “It’s so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human? Sell your clip-ins and zip it, Insurrection Barbie.”

Tell us how you really feel, Maren!

It appears this has started a bit of a feud between both parties—Mr. Aldean gave Morris a boo-inciting shout-out during his shows, while Morris has created “Lunatic Country Music Person” T-shirts after Tucker Carlson called her that on his Fox News show. (So far, the shirts have raised $150,000 for organizations supporting transgender youth.) But standing up for the LGBTQ+ crowd is something Morris said she’s been doing ever since she grew up in Arlington as a theater kid, hanging with LGBTQ+ folk and living in a family where a relative died from AIDS. “It was just always very normal,” she said in a YouTube interview with GLAAD. “I didn’t realize how important it actually was until I got into my 20s and kind of solidified my adulthood and started working in country music.”

Country music past and present has had many LGBTQ+ artists: masked troubadour Orville Peck, singer-turned-producer Shane McAnally, the two Brandies—Brandi Carlile and Brandy Clark. Ty Herndon and Chely Wright both came out in People magazine. And let’s not forget the early country-punk of k.d. lang. But the genre, as well its conservative, heteronormative fanbase, has been known to get a bit petty whenever unconventional performers show up and get toes a-tapping. Remember when the flamboyant Lil Nas X had a hit on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “Old Town Road,” only for it to be disqualified by the magazine for not being country enough? (Since Nas hadn’t come out yet at this time, I feel that had more to do with dude being a Black country rapper than a gay one.)

It is quite comforting to know that Morris is a country performer from these highly conservative parts who isn’t afraid to be woke around Bud-guzzling shitkickers. And she’s not the only Texas-born voice making her views known. Kacey Musgraves, the golden girl (from Golden, Texas!) who has long been an LGBTQ+ ally, took a dig at U.S. Senator Ted Cruz when she performed at the Austin City Limits Festival last month. During another night at the fest, she showed how down she is with Beto O’Rourke when the Democratic gubernatorial candidate walked onstage and handed her a beer. At the same fest, Dallas’s The Chicks (formerly The Dixie Chicks), who notoriously received backlash when lead vocalist Natalie Maines declared her disgust for then-President George W. Bush, also threw their support behind O’Rourke during their first-weekend set. “If there is a female in your life that you care about, vote Beto,” said Maines, rocking a t-shirt bearing the face of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Houston bar owner/DJ Lindsay Rae Burleson is a fan of all these performers, and she finds that female country artists who aren’t afraid to get political receive more criticism than male artists. She recalled not hearing a peep from people when Tyler Childers released Long Violent History, a 2020 album whose title track addressed racial injustice. (Childers has gotten support from outlaw countrymen Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, both of whom have gotten flak for their left-leaning beliefs.) “We’ve seen in the past that it affects women a lot more than it affects men, and that’s just a huge issue in country altogether,” Burleson said. 

“We’ve seen in the past that it affects women a lot more than it affects men, and that’s just a huge issue in country altogether.”

Old-school fans may want these ladies to get off their soapboxes so they can “shut up and sing,” to quote an obnoxious Laura Ingraham book title aimed at The Chicks. But Morris, Musgraves, The Chicks, and even Lambert (who recently started a Las Vegas residency and recently gave a Vulture interview where she states she’s so over kowtowing to country radio) are playing for audiences who are both devoted and open-minded.

Quinn Bishop, owner of Houston-based record store Cactus Music, says these artists still have fans ready to buy their albums.

“Obviously, The Chicks have cooled considerably since their anti-Bush rant, but they have their fans and probably always will,” Bishop said. “Maren has a significantly younger fanbase and is probably the lightest seller of the three for us. She’s remarkably talented and her fans really seem to identify with her, which will ensure her longevity in her career. Kacey is one of the biggest sellers at our store and has been since her first album. While she has locked in the contemporary country market, she also has great appeal for fans of classic country who love Loretta [Lynn], Tammy [Wynette], and Dolly [Parton]. Her turn towards pop music has worked well for her and only expanded her fanbase.”

As Burleson will remind you, it’s classic country legends like Lynn (who passed away last month), Wynette and that beloved gay icon Parton who made it possible for Morris, Musgraves, and the Chicks to speak their minds— whether they have a guitar in their hands or not. Burleson added, “Loretta Lynn had ‘The Pill.’ Tammy Wynette had ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E.’ Even in the ’50s, ’60s, up into the ’70s, there were heavy-hitter female country musicians that were writing about things that were taboo.”

Burleson is glad these Lone Star lasses are continuing the fiery, feminist tradition those female artists of yesteryear started. “It’s an amazing thing having artists like Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and the Chicks that are willing to speak up and are not afraid of how it’s going to affect their careers,” she said. “I think people that have a platform should be advocates for things they believe in.”

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