Hello. Welcome back to Protest Anthems, the podcast about all things music, social justice, and protest. In this episode, Alyssa Trybus, will be discussing the Dixie Chicks’ 2006 release “Not Ready to Make Nice”. The events leading up to writing “Not Ready to Make Nice” intertwined pop culture with politics, starting a national conversation. Today, many celebrities voice their political opinions, and the Dixie Chicks paved the way for this. This song and the story behind the making of it has important political relevance and it completely redefined the expectations of what the country genre stood for.
The political climate of 2006 was one of fear and doubt in national security. The events of September 11, 2001 were still fresh, and the United States was in the middle of the destructive war against Iraq, declared in 2003. President Bush, was an easy person to blame for this time of hardship and violence.
Now this is where the Dixie Chicks come into play. Natalie Maines, the group’s lead singer, used her platform as a celebrity to speak out publicly. In the middle of a concert in London, England, Maines addressed the crowd sharing her political opinion about President Bush and the current state of the country.
“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 that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
This statement immediately became controversial and the group became a target of criticism.
President Bush responded back to the Dixie Chicks in a public announcement:
“The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they wanna say. They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt because people don’t wanna buy their records when they speak out. Freedom is a two-way street.”
This event is now referred to by The Dixie Chicks as “The Incident”, as it became a turning point for the group’s career. A 2014 article in Rolling Stone recounted “the incident” in 2003 and its aftermath. Andrew Leahey writes,
“With two quick sentences, Maines permanently separated the Dixie Chicks from the very audience that had supported them for years. One day later, The Guardian published her comments in a review of the show. The news quickly made its way across the pond, where American audiences responded by boycotting the Chicks’ shows, bulldozing their CDs, banning their songs from country radio and, in the most extreme cases, threatening to shoot Maines onstage.”
Emily Yahr from The Washington post quoted Maines’ response to the harsh reaction this statement triggered.
“We did get supporters, but as a whole, the country music industry did not support us. Award shows would laugh at our expense. It was fun to hate us.”
Radio stations began pulling The Dixie Chicks from the air, and fans felt betrayed by the group. The group went from being the number one selling female group in the world to receiving harsh criticism and even death threats by their primarily conservative audience. Director of the documentary Shut Up and Sing, Barbara Kopple, says country music radio stations picked the wrong group to mess with.
The group had been blacklisted from so many radio stations, completely banning the group’s music. This blacklisting spread like wildfire because of recent conglomeration of radio stations under monopolized owner-ship. Essentially one station banning The Chicks meant another 50.
In “The Eternal Irony of the Community”: Prophecy, Patriotism, and the Dixie Chicks.”, Claire Katz explains how “the incident” was viewed by many Americans as both a betrayal of country music and betrayal of the country. Because The Dixie Chicks are a country group made Maines’ statements much more boundary pushing. Speaking negatively about a Republican President was a betrayal of conservative country roots.
Another major point of contention was a betrayal of the country itself, as Maines not only spoke words of betrayal, she spoke them on foreign soil.
The article reads, “the point is that the Dixie Chicks, by speaking out, revealed themselves to be unpatriotic—either directly, by speaking out against the policy, the war, and the President, or indirectly, by violating the implicit values of country music.
She explains that these words by The Dixie Chicks were actually patriotic in the most extreme sense and that patriotism should not be “a blind obedience to authority.”
As some time passed, Maines said that she was apologetic for her “disrespectful tone”, but was adamant about opposing the war. Following Maines’ statement in 2003 came another in 2006, in front of a sold-out crowd once the group had finally bounced back.
“The only thing people keep asking is, ‘What are you gonna say?’” she tells the crowd. “As usual, I didn’t plan anything… but I thought I’d say something brand new and say, ‘Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.’”
This unapologetic second dig at the President was the perfect transition into the making of their next album, “Taking the Long Way” and the song “Not Ready to Make Nice” in particular.
Tracy Gershon (A & R representative for Dixie Chicks’ album ‘Taking the Long Way’ is quoted saying, “So many artists would have backed down just to please country radio,” she said. “The fact is their beliefs were more important and they paid the price. Coming full circle, it just proves great music can last through that. If it’s a man’s world, you just have to be better. I think they were the embodiment of women’s power. They stood their ground and never apologized for who they are.”
“We had to make this album,” Ms. Maines said. “We could not have gotten past any of this without making this album. Even if nobody ever heard it.”
The idea that a musician cannot make a statement about politics seems ridiculous to me, but it is very much a standard held by many. The Dixie Chicks used their fame, to get up in front of a crowd a share a message that they felt was important. They then wrote “Not Ready to Make Nice” in order to create a song that can resonates with their fans on many different levels. The song is empowering for women who are constantly being told what they can and cannot do. It is an anthem for not backing down and standing up for what you believe in, whatever that may be.
It successfully delivers the story of hardships The Dixie Chicks’ faced by voicing their truth, and encourages others not to back down if they feel that they should do the same.