While country music expands its popularity on the coasts and some of the format’s young stars are outspoken about voting for Democrats, the stereotypical “country music listener” is still seen as a conservative from the South. So even though the Chicks (Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire) are famous for being ostracized from the Nashville machine after criticizing George W. Bush, their mere presence at the convention is notable.
And in coincidental timing, the same week the Chicks are taking the Democratic convention stage, two other superstar country acts (one who is a legend, the other who launched her career in the genre before pivoting to pop) made forceful public statements aligning themselves with social activism and liberal views — which, despite evidence to the contrary, many people still don’t associate with country music.
Last Thursday, Billboard published an extensive profile of Dolly Parton, but one passage made plenty of headlines: The magazine reported that she was “unequivocal in her support of protesters and the Black Lives Matter movement,” noting she had not personally attended any recent marches against systemic racism and police brutality.
“I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen. And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!” Parton said.
The quotes immediately went viral, and some were shocked. Not because Parton supported a social justice movement — she has it made clear that she supports LGBTQ rights — but she is famously apolitical and almost never talks about current events.
Parton has ranked among the Top 10 celebrities in the world, according to Q Score studies that measure celebrity public appeal. One reason she remains universally beloved is because she seemingly hasn’t been caught in the political crosshairs over the course of her 55-year career.
Billboard commented on this appeal: “Just because she wants to be for everyone doesn’t mean she doesn’t stand for anything.”
“First of all, I’m not a judgmental person. I do believe we all have a right to be exactly who we are, and it is not my place to judge,” Parton told the magazine. “All these good Christian people that are supposed to be such good Christian people, the last thing we’re supposed to do is to judge one another. God is the judge, not us. I just try to be myself. I try to let everybody else be themselves.”
One artist was so moved by the singer’s words that she added the quotes to a Parton mural she created in Nashville.
Two days later, Taylor Swift, who used to go the apolitical Parton route, weighed in on the U.S. Postal Service, whose recent changes could mean widespread delays in service before the November election.
“Trump’s calculated dismantling of USPS proves one thing clearly: He is WELL AWARE that we do not want him as our president. He’s chosen to blatantly cheat and put millions of Americans’ lives at risk in an effort to hold on to power,” she tweeted to her nearly 87 million followers. “Donald Trump’s ineffective leadership gravely worsened the crisis that we are in and he is now taking advantage of it to subvert and destroy our right to vote and vote safely. Request a ballot early. Vote early.”
This is still relatively new behavior for Swift, who continues to have plenty of fans from her country days. When Swift was starting her career as a country singer, she heard the usual advice from Nashville executives and publicists: Never talk about politics, because you’ll alienate your fans. And like many young singers, Swift was heavily influenced by what happened to the Chicks.
“I watched country music snuff that candle out. The most amazing group we had, just because they talked about politics,” Swift told the Guardian last year, referring to the Chicks. “They were made such an example that basically every country artist that came after that, every label tells you, ‘Just do not get involved, no matter what.’ ”
For years, Swift refused to talk about anything political or topical. Then, after a sexual assault trial in 2017 (where a country radio DJ sued her, claiming she got him fired when she said he groped her in a meet-and-greet-line), she realized she no longer wanted to stay silent. In a move that was shocking at the time, ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, she posted a scathing Instagram post about Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and why she was voting Democratic in Tennessee.
Ever since, Swift has made clear her disdain of President Trump and his policies. In May, as Trump tweeted “when the looting starts the shooting starts” in reference to the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, Swift called him out for “stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency.” “We will vote you out in November,” she tweeted.
While one might think Swift doesn’t have to worry about alienating country music listeners at this point, she has never made a total exit from Nashville. Her label recently released “Betty,” a single from her new album “Folklore,” to country radio. It was added to 58 country stations, the most of any song last week.