This week HitFix is revisiting some of the key turning points in recent entertainment history and considering what would have happened if history had turned a bit differently. What if...?
In 2003, The Dixie Chicks were on top of the country world, garnering airplay and selling out venues around the world for their tight, strong melodies, lead by Natalie Maines’ strikingly strong, compelling vocals. They were a new breed of country star: completely contemporary and modern. They appreciated the past, but had no desire to revisit it.
Then, while on tour in London in March 2003, as the U.S. was preparing to invade Iraq, under President George W. Bush’s command, Maines looked out at the audience and said, “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.”
Quicker than you can say “weapons of mass destruction,” country radio retaliated, dropping the Chicks’ music and angry Americans burned their albums.
Two days later, Maines followed up by saying that she felt that President Bush was ignoring the opinion of many Americans. Four days after the initial comment, she issued a half-hearted apology, saying, “As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful.” She went on to say that she wanted to see every viable option explored before the U.S. went to war, but the apology was too little too late.
What if Natalie Maines had never dissed President Bush from the London stage?
Three things that might not have happened:
1. Country music wouldn’t be drowning in tired, hackneyed tropes about pick-up trucks, girls in short skirts and cowboy boots, and tractors. The Dixie Chicks brought a certain sophistication to country music. Their music was awash in country instrumentation—fiddles, mandolins, banjos —but their lyrical approach was fresh and innovative, adding a spunky twist to topics such as domestic abuse (“Goodbye Earl”) escaping a bad marriage (“Sin Wagon”), or just the need to break away from home (“Wide Open Spaces”).
2. The Dixie Chicks wouldn’t have appeared nude on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. As part of their publicity campaign to explain their political position, Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison posed nude for the cover of the magazine with words such as “Traitor,” “Hero,” “Brave” and “Free Speech” on their bodies.
3. The Dixie Chicks wouldn’t have swept the 2007 Grammys. Yes, the trio’s “Taking The Long Way” was a strong effort, but the five trophies, including album of the year, and record of the year for “Not Ready To Make Nice,” were as much a statement of solidarity by the music community as it was an acknowledgement of creative achievement.
Three things we predict might have happened:
1. They would have continued to make great records. In many ways, it felt like the Chicks were just hitting their stride and finding their voice. Instead, after the 2006 “Taking the Long Way” album and “Shut Up and Sing” documentary, they retreated to lick their wounds and have only occasionally played gigs.
2. Both Maines and her band mates, siblings Maguire and Robison would have also had solo careers run parallel to the Chicks. We probably still would have gotten the two excellent Courtyard Hounds sets, as well as Maines’ rock album, “Mother.”
3. Country music would have embraced more outspoken female artists. To an extent that has happened with Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, but way too many country females still tend to play it safe, content to not stir the pot.
Did history work out for the best?
No. In terms of their commercial career, the Dixie Chicks plunged off a cliff. As “Shut Up & Sing,” the documentary about their fall, chronicles, they received death threats and the public has been very slow to forgive her words, even though other artists have made far more incendiary comments. While they seem to be touring more —the trio just announced a slate of Canadian dates for late summer and early fall— they are a voice that is severely missed.