“Won’t you stand up and use your voice?” implored Sugarland in “Stand Up,” a 2010 anthem about finding strength when “your hope has turned to dust.” But few country artists seem to heed that call today – at a time when it matters most. With the Trump administration committed to dismantling the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, relaxing climate-change regulations in the face of the warmest year on record and, most alarmingly, shrugging off the existence of quantifiable facts, it is imperative that country artists who oppose this frightening upside-down version of America speak up.
Unlike the liberal pop and hip-hop artists who participated in the Women’s Marches around the nation on Saturday, essentially preaching to their choir, country artists possess something unique in igniting change: a kinship with rural America, conservatives and Christians, and the ear of many of those who voted Donald Trump into the presidency. Madonna speaking in bluster and hyperbole won’t change their minds; but a concerned, familiar voice they hear on country radio may be able to relay why this is such a dangerous time and spark dialogue in fans resistant to such bluster.
If you continue to support Trump and are at peace with your decision, feel free to stop reading. But if you oppose the policies (or lack thereof) of this unqualified president and remain silent? Your apathy would make Johnny Cash roll over in his grave.
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Cash, revered as a deity and even referenced in songs by many of today’s stars, never shied away from criticizing social injustice, recording songs like “Man in Black,” “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and the Vietnam War critique “What Is Truth.” Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson have been equally outspoken, along with pioneers like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells, who fearlessly championed women’s rights. Many of those names quickly cross the lips of contemporary artists when asked to cite their influences – as do rock artists like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, two songwriters who openly call out authoritarian wrongdoing with strength, conviction and honesty.
And there’s the rub: Honesty is country’s currency. Poll any artist about what they most admire about country music and the genre’s authenticity will top the list. But to prize truth in art and not speak yours in real life presents an indefensible hypocrisy.
Thankfully some Nashville artists had the bravery to voice their support for those who marched this weekend. Cam took to Facebook to personally engage with fans who were dismayed by her endorsement of the Women’s March, while Kacey Musgraves, Brothers Osborne, Margo Price and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild all tweeted words of encouragement to the marchers. Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush also spoke out online in support of the movement. (And if ever there were a time for the socially conscious Sugarland to reunite, it’s now.)
Still, the vast majority of country artists who opposed Trump’s ideology – and we know you are out there – remain silent. But it’s no longer a reasonable excuse to say that country artists are stuck in the stranglehold of radio, or that speaking out means a guaranteed Dixie Chicks-style blacklisting. Yes, there will be fallout, but after this weekend’s parade of lies, falsehoods and “alternative facts” bullshit by the administration, it’s too dangerous not to stand up.
This isn’t about politics: it’s about being human. You either accept that lying is wrong or you do not. You accept that mocking the disabled is wrong or you do not. And you accept that sexual assault is wrong or you do not. There is no middle ground.
If you want to maintain your right to sing about what’s honest, you have to demand that same honesty from our highest levels of government. It’s integral to referring to yourself as an “artist,” and essential to carrying on the genre’s commitment to truth.
If you’re ambivalent about any of this, by all means, proceed with business as usual. But if you’re concerned about a crew member’s ability to obtain health coverage, or about the rights of the many LGBTQ members of our industry, or about discrimination against people of color, or most of all, about the future of your own kids, it’s time to speak up, Nashville. Either in song, onstage or online.
Because country music isn’t three chords and the alternative facts.
Wynonna responds to sister Ashley Judd’s recitation of ‘I Am a Nasty Woman’ poem at Women’s March.