The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) are an American country music band made up of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire (née Erwin), and Emily Strayer (née Erwin and formerly Robison), all of whom are sisters.
With bassist Laura Lynch and vocalist and guitarist Robin Lynn Macy, the Erwin sisters formed the band in Dallas, Texas, in 1989. They busked and toured bluegrass festival circuits and tiny venues for six years without attracting a major label, performing bluegrass and country music. Lynch took over as the lead vocalist after Macy left in 1992. The Chicks attained popularity with their albums Wide Open Spaces (1998) and Fly (2001) after signing with Monument Records Nashville in 1997 and replacing Lynch with Maines (1999). Following the closure of Monument Records in Nashville, the band signed with Columbia Records for Home (2002).
These albums sold multi-platinum in the United States, Canada, and Australia, while multiple singles charted on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts in the United States. “Wide Open Spaces,” “You Were Mine,” “Cowboy Take Me Away,” “Without You,” and a cover of Bruce Robison’s “Traveling Soldier” all charted at number one. With their song of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in 2002, the Chicks also topped the Adult Contemporary chart.
Beyoncé, the CMAs, and the Political Battle in Country Music Explained
The controversy surrounding Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks’ CMAs performance is basically a dispute about country music’s politics. It’s difficult to forget a Beyoncé concert, no matter how hard you try. The Country Music Association can attest to this.
Beyoncé’s performance with the Dixie Chicks at the CMA Awards on Wednesday was one of the greatest stories of the night, and one of the biggest stories of the year. The performance wasn’t as spectacular as Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show or her VMAs performance, but it was nevertheless thrilling since it included the world’s most famous musician performing at a music awards presentation that didn’t strictly correspond with her established genre. (She sang “Daddy Lessons,” a country song off her Lemonade album.)
Despite the fact that millions of loving admirers regard Beyoncé as a deity, a reaction erupted fast. Some viewers reacted to the performance by tweeting and publicly criticizing the artist. Some of their animosity stemmed from Beyoncé’s liberal beliefs, some from her perceived lack of country cred, and still, others were simply racist.
Grumbling reactions to musical performances at award shows are nothing new (see: the Chainsmokers at the MTV Video Music Awards this year). But what’s strange about this situation is that, in response to the outcry, the CMA removed a promotional social media post featuring Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks’ performance, leading some to believe that, despite the CMA’s claim that the footage was unapproved, the organization was caving into conservatives and racists upset with the singer’s appearance at the awards.
— Dr. Mohamed Azab (@DrMoAzab) November 7, 2016
Aside from the vile, terrible, racist sentiments, there’s something remarkable about this story that goes beyond Beyoncé. It’s a battle over how politics has influenced how we consume and analyze art, as well as how politics has come to define country music’s identity.
This Is a Larger Debate About Politics and The Identity of Country Music
On the surface, the battle appears to be straightforward: Country music is a conservative genre, while Beyoncé sings about and uses images concerning race, the Black Lives Matter movement, and police brutality in her most recent album Lemonade, which appears to contradict contemporary conservative principles.
Perhaps a more significant issue is why this is so: why is country music automatically deemed conservative? Why is the genre political in the first place?
Arts and entertainment are more politically aware now than they were a decade ago. Every week, there are national discussions about representation in comic books, how a television show portrays people of color, who gets cast in movies and who doesn’t, and whether certain songs are sexist — just as there are discussions about which artists support Black Lives Matter, which movies best depict the war, and which singers are good influences.
There’s also a propensity to combine television shows, comic books, songs, movies, or musicians’ politics with excellence. The premise is that if a work aligns with your political values, you’ll be more inclined to like it and consume it, and vice versa.