2003.03.10 The Dixie Chicks

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While on foreign soil (during a London concert), the Texas Country Band's lead singer (Natalie Maines), decided to insult the President (George Bush), "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas", 9 days before the beginning of the Iraq War. Wrong place, wrong message, wrong timing: a boycott of their brand (magnified by repeated comments) caused them to lose much of their country audience, and many sponsors to avoid them as too hot. They were able to genre jump and still be successful, but their career was seriously damaged by their repeated unwillingness to think before speaking.


Too little, too late:

  • On March 12th, Maines tried to clarify by saying, "I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many in the U.S. and alienating the rest of the world." The statement failed to appease her critics.
  • On March 14th, Maines issued an apology: "As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers' lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American". The statement failed to appease her critics as well.
  • Bruce Springsteen and Madonna both felt compelled to come out in support of the right of the band to express their opinions freely, which was never in doubt. Americans feel you are free to express your opinions, you're just not free from the consequences of expressing them.
    • After witnessing the backlash against the DC's, Madonna wisely postponed and altered an April 1 release of her "American Life" video... where she threw a hand grenade toward a Bush look-alike.
  • In April, Bush responded to the controversy with, "The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say ... they shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy their records when they speak out ... Freedom is a two-way street... I don't really care what the Dixie Chicks said. I want to do what I think is right for the American people, and if some singers or Hollywood stars feel like speaking out, that's fine."
  • In May they appeared naked (but covered their naughty bits) on the cover of Entertainment Weekly with both sides slogans painted on their bodies.
  • Later in May, at the Academy of Country Music awards ceremony, there were boos at the band's nomination for Entertainer of the Year, which they didn't win.
  • Merle Haggard also later defended the DC's later in July, calling the reaction a verbal witch-hunt and lynching.
  • In September, Maguire told the German magazine Der Spiegel, "We don't feel a part of the country scene any longer, it can't be our home anymore."
  • In 2004 they performing in concerts organized by MoveOn.org in swing states.
  • In 2006 they came out with their next album, Accidents & Accusations, with a lot of pieces referring to the incident, and their album debuted as #1 on the charts... but was a little snubbed by Country radio. Then under the category of now knowing when to shut up, Maines took back her apology to Bush, "I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President, but I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever." I think most people didn't think she was sincere in her original apology anyways. And the other band members whined about all the other Country Performers patriotism and flag waiving (as if that's a bad thing)... and many of their concert shows were canceled or relocated to smaller venues due to poor sales. Houston tickets never even went on sale when local radio stations refused to accept advertising for the event. It became a mostly Canadian and later European tour. When then revisited the same UK stadium where "the incident" had happened, Maines repeated the same comment that started the mess (just to prove she can't learn from her mistakes).

Conclusion

The Dixie Chicks were handed a life lesson: people don't pay entertainers for their ignorant opinions, they pay them to entertain and for escapism. They shot their careers in the face by not knowing when to just "shut up and sing". Which is fine, they're entitled to their beliefs and causes -- but they were practically ruined in the Country Genre, they were just barely famous enough to jump genres/categories enough to not flame out completely. But they went from mega-stars and climbing, to stars able to find a new audience but their trajectory and sponsorship was permanently altered.

Whether you agree with Maines, or have a triple digit IQ, business-wise it was a moronic move. Yet, I have no problem with people living and dying by their convictions -- so I'd certainly defend their right to be stupid. But there were lessons offered to others by their example: that there are consequences for being an obnoxious know-nothing twats using your microphone unwisely. Pick your battles wisely.

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