After hearing that pop icon Taylor Swift is encouraging people to vote for Democrats like Marsha Blackburn, he says he’s says he’s a little bit less of a fan now.
In the Venn diagram of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and the Dixie Chicks, a few elements overlap – Beyoncé and Swift’s shared affinity for thigh-high boots, the Dixie Chicks and Swift’s shared country-music influences, and the legendary performance of “Daddy Lessons” that Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks gifted fans in 2016.
In the middle of that Venn diagram, though, is a shared experience that’s considerably less rosy. As the midterm elections approach in a social climate that seems like it’s never been more politicized, this group of musicians and the controversies they’ve weathered show that it’s never been a convenient time to be a female musician voicing her political views, from the Dixie Chicks’ Nashville exile to #BoycottBeyoncé.
“Like another lifetime” is how Emily Strayer of the Dixie Chicks described her group’s embroilment in a 2016 New York Times interview. And yet, it’s impossible to talk about the Dixie Chicks – Strayer, Martie Maguire and Natalie Maines – without talking about the incident that temporarily turned them into pariahs, when Maines criticized President George W. Bush and the Iraq War onstage in 2003.
After Dixie Chick’s lead singer Natalie Maines made the infamous anti-Bush comment onstage, their lives and fans we were never the same.
“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all,” Maines told the crowd at a London concert, introducing the song “Travelin’ Soldier.” “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
Maines’ statement may seem more innocuous than even a standard Trump tweet today, but at the time, it was enough to effectively halt the band’s career, with Nashville shunning them, country stations banning them and angry listeners sending them death threats. Fifteen years later, it’s hard to think of such a dramatic canceling of a musical act that had been so promisingly on the rise, for a comment that seems so mild today. And, almost certainly, the fact that the Dixie Chicks were women in male-dominated Nashville didn’t help – a fact that’s still true today, with 2017 featuring the lowest percentage of female voices on country radio since 1994.
While the Dixie Chicks’ saga perhaps wouldn’t have played out so dramatically had it happened today – “Our country’s changed, we’ve changed (and) the fans definitely have,” Strayer told the Times in her interview – the fracas around Taylor Swift’s debuting of her own political opinions, in an Instagram post endorsing Democratic congressional candidates and criticizing Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, stunk of its own gendered issues. Her political posts inspired cries for Swift to “shut up and sing” as critics painted her out to be clueless and misinformed, with President Trump tweeting that he was “sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything” about Blackburn.
While the relatively-contained drama around Swift’s posts aren’t comparable to the Dixie Chicks’ perils, the knee-jerk impulse to shut women up when they’re saying something disagreeable is at the root of both controversies, raising the question whether a male star would’ve been met with the same kind of condescension, or had their opinions treated as frivolous and not worthy of expression, as Swift. Sarah Silverman raised that same question on her “I Love You, America” Hulu show in response to Swift’s statements, comparing her to Kanye West, a star whose political opinions are more controversial than Swift’s.
“Republicans’ knee-jerk reaction, of course, is to tell her to stay out of politics,” Silverman said. “You can’t give Kanye a free ticket to the White House and then tell Taylor to stay in her lane.”
Taylor Swift, Kanye West at odds again: This time on unexpected sides of political spectrum
And while Beyoncé proved to be too successful of a star to be taken down for voicing her opinions, she ignited a firestorm with her one-two punch of her evocative “Formation” music video and her Super Bowl halftime show appearance in 2016, both a protest against police brutality and a showing of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Released the night before the Super Bowl, the “Formation” video featured imagery of a young African-American boy in a hoodie, dancing before a line of police officers with the words “stop shooting us” printed on a wall.
Critics seized on the video as an anti-law enforcement travesty, and Beyoncé’s choice to outfit her halftime show dancers in Black Panther-like attire only fanned the flames. Reactions ranged from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani famously criticizing Beyoncé on Fox News the next day – “This is football, not Hollywood, and I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers,” he said – to police unions calling for boycotts of her tour stops, urging members not to volunteer to police her events.
Of course, by that point, Beyoncé was far too powerful of a figure to be brought down by a month-long #BoycottBeyoncé controversy, driven by voices that didn’t want to acquiesce any kind of cultural dominance to her, a strong black woman critiquing the oppressive systems that attempt to strip away her voice. Perhaps that’s why Taylor Swift waited until she had reached near-unimpeachable levels of pop power before breaking her silence to explicitly endorse a candidate – because if she had spoken out earlier in her career, in her Nashville days, she could’ve experienced her own Dixie Chicks-esque ousting from country music.
And yet, in a society that keeps telling women to be quiet – or telling female musicians to reserve their voices for singing, not opining – it’s the Beyoncés of the world that we need, who make themselves heard despite the inevitable backlash.
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