During a concert in downtown Washington this fall, Tim McGraw performed “Humble and Kind,” the quiet Grammy-winning ballad that urges people to “hold the door, say please, say thank you; don’t steal, don’t cheat and don’t lie.”
“Hope they’re listening down the street,” he cracked at the end of the song.
McGraw didn’t elaborate on his feelings about the government, but the fact that he even vaguely referenced politics was significant. The past year, country music singers have stayed mostly quiet about their political beliefs, for fear of alienating any audience members in these sharply divisive times.
Yet McGraw and his wife, Faith Hill, are different. As the power couple release their first duet album on Friday, titled “The Rest of Our Life,” they have taken on the role of elder statesman and woman of country music, paving their own path and still remaining a dominant force.
McGraw has seen a career resurgence in recent years; and while Hill hasn’t released a solo album in more than a decade, they embarked on the Soul2Soul world tour together this year, performing their combined hits to thousands in arenas. This spring, they released a duet called “Speak to a Girl” (“She just wants you to say what you mean and to mean everything that you’re saying/Cause that’s how you talk to a woman, that’s how you speak to a girl”), which urged respectful treatment of women months before Keith Urban’s “Female.”
“Pay attention to the lyrics of that song,” McGraw ordered the “young men” in the Washington crowd. “And young women, expect it. Every single time.”
“All women should be respected,” Hill added. “Yeah. Expect it.”
McGraw and Hill were also two of the most prominent Nashville artists to speak out after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. After President Trump doubled down on his remarks about how there were some “very fine people” in the group that included neo-Nazis, McGraw posted a Facebook photo of Abraham Lincoln with the quote, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Hill tweeted, “WE MUST STOP THIS HATE. It is our responsibility to leave this world a better place period. Stand for what is right. Equality for all.”
Even though some fans thought the superstars might get hate for implying anything critical about the president (especially since the country fan base leans conservative), McGraw and Hill definitely did not seem fazed. After decades of smash songs and earning goodwill in Music City, they’re powerful enough to do whatever they want. And, despite what fans might think, they don’t hesitate to talk about how they really feel.
Their outspokenness culminated last week in a Billboard cover story. After most country stars stayed silent about gun rights after the Las Vegas massacre at a country music festival last month — when a gunman shot and killed 58 people and injured hundreds more — McGraw and Hill gave a very straightforward answer when asked about the topic.
“Look, I’m a bird hunter,” McGraw told the magazine. “However, there is some common sense that’s necessary when it comes to gun control. They want to make it about the Second Amendment every time it’s brought up. It’s not about the Second Amendment.”
“In reference to the tragedy in Las Vegas, we knew a lot of people there. The doctors that [treated] the wounded, they saw wounds like you’d see in war,” Hill said. “That’s not right. Military weapons should not be in the hands of civilians. It’s everyone’s responsibility, including the government and the National Rifle Association, to tell the truth. We all want a safe country.”
Those quotes obviously made headlines, though their comments shouldn’t have been surprising. Not only has McGraw been vocal about the need for “common sense” gun safety in the past, but talking about controversial issues — especially ones avoided by most country singers — has become a part of the couple’s brand.
“Slick but straight-talking, worldly yet down-home, McGraw and Hill communicate credibly to a diverse audience that spans different class levels and politics; to some they embody Nashville’s progressive bent, while others think of them as guardians of tradition,” Mikael Wood, the Los Angeles Times pop music critic, recently wrote. “The achievement of their balancing act, especially at a moment of widespread cultural distrust, is that they avoid coming off as phony in the eyes of either side.”