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Now may be a good time for country artists to be a voice for their fans

Eric Church performs at the Country Music Association Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, in Nashville. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
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Aside from a tweet here and there, President Trump has been pretty low-key on Twitter since he set off on his 12-day trip to Asia.

But that didn't keep some of country music's biggest stars from taking jabs at the tweeter in chief at Wednesday's Country Music Association Awards.

Hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood appeared to make a dig in their opening monologue at the CMAs, mentioning that they were told to stay away from politics.

However, Paisley launched into a Trump-inspired parody of one of Underwood's hit singles.

Paisley: “What are we going to do then?”
Underwood: “Well, I mean, clearly, we can’t say or play anything. So, I guess, to present our first award of the night, the stars of the new movie — what are you doing, Brad?”
Paisley: “Oh, I’m definitely not doing this one. (Starts playing the tune to Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.”) 'Right now, he’s probably in his PJs watching cable news reaching for his cellphone/Right now, he’s probably asking Siri ‘How in the hell do you spell Pocahontas?’ . . . ”

The bit was a hit with the audience — but it was pretty safe. Most voters — 70 percent — agree that Trump should stop tweeting from his personal account, including 53 percent of Republicans, according to the latest Quinnipiac poll.

But the jabs landed a lot softer than those aimed at Trump in February when hip-hop artist Busta Rhymes joined fellow rappers A Tribe Called Quest on stage to attack the president's policies:

“I’m not feeling the political climate right now,” said Rhymes, a Muslim. “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States.  I want to thank President Agent Orange for your unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban. When we come together — we the people!”

It's quite a bit easier to mock Trump in Los Angeles than it is in Nashville — and there are reasons for that. The Washington Post's Emily Yahr reported that country music has a largely conservative fan base, which makes speaking ill of Republican leaders and the policies they support a bit more complicated:

“Who are these [country artists] so terrified of? Why are they so terrified of it?” said Bill Werde, the former editorial director of Billboard magazine. He added, “I am not picking on Nashville . . . but because of its relationship to the NRA, because of its sort of cultural affiliations to those that lean independent and Republican, country music has a unique position. I hope behind the scenes, they’ll own that a little bit.”

And the CMA Awards originally released media guidelines last week threatening to remove journalists who asked artists about sensitive topics such as the recent mass shooting at a popular Las Vegas country music festival, gun control or politics. It later apologized and lifted the restrictions after significant backlash.

But in the current political climate, country music artists may be able to take bigger political risks. The genre — which has had a long affiliation with the National Rifle Association — has entered into a conversation within its community after the Las Vegas carnage, the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. After 58 people were killed and nearly 550 people were injured at a Route 91 Harvest festival concert, some country music artists sponsored by the NRA are examining their own views on gun control. The CMAs opened with an all-star medley celebrating faith, unity and triumph led by Eric Church, who headlined the Route 91 Harvest festival.

And while many country music fans may support conservative politics, they also support challenging Republican politicians when necessary.

In the latest Post-ABC News poll, self-identified Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP were asked whether they believed their party leaders should speak out when they disagree with the president. The overwhelming majority — 71 percent — said they should.

Obviously, musicians aren't politicians — especially in the country music genre, where supporters have been known to blackball their own (Dixie Chicks, anyone?) for speaking out against beloved politicians. But in many ways, entertainers may be as influential — if not more so — as politicians in bringing attention to the issues that concern their fan bases. A related example of this: entertainers of Puerto Rican descent using their platforms to bring attention to the need for disaster relief on the devastated island.

But many country music artists — like hosts Paisley (a Glen Dale, W.Va., native) and Underwood (a Muskogee, Okla., native) — come from communities filled with folks who trusted Trump to represent their concerns in Washington.

When asked in the Post-ABC News poll: “Would you say Trump has accomplished a great deal during that time, a good amount, not very much or little or nothing?” 1 in 5 conservatives said “not very much” and slightly more — 22 percent — said “little or nothing.”

Perhaps the artists who resonate with these Americans can get that message to the president, who campaigned to represent them.

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