The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carrie Underwood’s account clicked like on an anti-mask tweet. The outraged reaction shows what happens when country stars are silent on politics.

Carrie Underwood performs during the 2021 CMA Summer Jam at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville. (Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Carrie Underwood, one of country music’s most popular superstars, generally does not generate controversy. That changed this week with the click of a button.

On Tuesday, a screenshot started making its way around Twitter that showed Underwood’s account “liked” a Twitter video posted by conservative commentator Matt Walsh. The video showed Walsh speaking at a recent contentious school board meeting over a mask mandate for Metro Nashville Public Schools, likening mask requirements for kids to child abuse and saying that more children have died of the flu than covid-19. He argued that the mask mandate was politically motivated and students’ masks are a “symbolic security blanket.”

On Instagram, Underwood’s account also “liked” a post from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee about his new executive order that allows parents to opt their kids out of school mask mandates. The singer’s husband, former hockey player Mike Fisher, commented “thank you!!” alongside two hand-clapping emoji. (The couple has two sons, ages 6 and 2.)

Within hours, Underwood was a trending topic on Twitter. Many were critical of the country star for denouncing masks at schools during a surge of the highly contagious delta variant, with a “continuing substantial increase” of children testing positive for coronavirus, according to American Academy of Pediatrics.

And as Tennessee is setting daily records for infections among kids, the Tennessean reported that Metro Nashville Public Schools, which has about 80,000 students, resumed classes last week; after only four days of school, more than 1,000 students and staff members had to quarantine from covid exposure, and 207 students and 52 teachers tested positive.

Underwood’s publicists and her record label did not respond to multiple requests for comment and to clarify or expand on the singer’s thoughts on the topic, or if Underwood herself or a member of her team “liked” the video.

Regardless of Underwood’s silence, hundreds of furious tweets poured in, which shows exactly what happens when a country singer who typically says nothing about current events weighs in with even the smallest social media actions. Underwood, like most Nashville stars, does not talk about politics — or public health crises that have turned political. The majority of contemporary country artists have been told over the years that if they don’t want to alienate fans, they should just stay out of it.

“I try to stay far out of politics if possible, at least in public, because nobody wins,” Underwood told “Good Morning America” in 2019. “It’s crazy. Everybody tries to sum everything up and put a bow on it, like it’s black and white. And it’s not like that.”

She had the same thoughts in 2018 when she released a song called “The Bullet” about victims of gun violence, but was quick to emphasize that it wasn’t a political message.

“Immediately people said ‘Oh you have a song about gun control!’ ” she said in an interview with the Guardian. “It was more about the lives that were changed by something terrible happening. And it does kind of bug me when people take a song, or take something I said and try to pigeonhole or force me to pick a side or something.”

That’s just not how today’s very divisive culture operates — particularly if you’re part of the most conservative-leaning music genre. When a country star is fairly silent on their beliefs, observers jump to their own conclusions, sometimes by combing through a star’s social media (or their family’s social media) for clues on how they really feel about important topics.

“Liking” a Twitter video or a short comment might seem small, but can take on a lot of meaning with the lack of any other substantive comment. For example: Underwood and Fisher didn’t reveal who they voted for in the 2020 election, but fans immediately noticed when Fisher commented on former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler’s Instagram post that questioned the legitimacy of President Biden’s victory.

A similar dynamic held true last week for Nashville star Jason Aldean — incidentally, who just released a duet with Underwood — when he made headlines for praising the lack of masks in his concert crowds. “I’m looking out, seeing all you guys, and I don’t see one … mask. I’ve had just about enough of that,” he told a New York audience.

Aldean’s comments also made the social media rounds, with many criticizing his words as covid cases soar. While Aldean posted a meme questioning the election results and his wife, Brittany Aldean, was clear in her support for Donald Trump, this was the most direct the singer has been about his opinion.

When asked if Aldean wanted to elaborate on his stance on masks, his publicist did not respond to a request for comment.

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