Today's New York Times features a story on the Dixie Chicks' big wins at the Grammys on Sunday. It discusses the rift between "Nashville" and the national artistic community.
Well, that got me to thinking about what I was thinking about last night when I accidentally stumbled upon The O'Reilly Factor, where a discussion of the Chicks' win was taking place (Bill actually seemed to back them—well, at least he said he understood their victory more than that of Ludacris). What seems to be lost in the whole "was their victory political" debate, is the fact that the political context of the music was what made it so moving, effective, inspiring, etc. Without the politics, this music doesn't exist. I am not a country music fan, but "Not Ready To Make Nice," the Chicks' defiant lead single, breezed its way onto my Top Ten Songs of 2006 list. Everytime I hear it, I am reminded about the—excuse the unabashed cheesiness—power of pop music. And, as a woman, I find them, quite simply, inspirational. This year's Village Voice Pazz & Jop Poll contained a wonderful write-up on the subject by country music writer (and Scene freelancer) Chris Neal. Check it out, after the jump...
The Dixie Chicks' decision to release "Not Ready to Make Nice" as the first single from their Taking the Long Way album was the music world's single finest piece of performance art in 2006. Lead singer Natalie Maines's mild Bush-bashing at the outset of the Iraq war had gotten the group booted from country radio in March 2003, but the ensuing three years had proven that she (and her fellow Chicks, who shared her views) was simply well ahead of the curve: The war had become an unmitigated disaster, and Bush's approval rating had plunged. March 2006 was the perfect time for country radio to quietly welcome the Chicks back into the fold, and most of Taking the Long Way offered just the kind of earthy, melodic mainstream country that would really hit the spot between regular toxic exposures to Rascal Flatts.
Instead, the Chicks chose to hand country radio the one song on the album that programmers absolutely could not have inserted into their playlists without admitting their jackassery of three years prior. "Not Ready to Make Nice" was a pointed diatribe aimed at those who denounced and even threatened the trio in 2003, a period vividly documented in the recent documentary Shut Up & Sing. The promo copies of "Not Ready" may as well have been labeled "Stick This Up Your Ass."
Hearing "Not Ready" for the first time (especially in the context of its Crucible-inspired video, which addressed the latent misogyny beneath much of the backlash) offered a transgressive thrill that no other piece of music could in 2006: the spectacle of three young women announcing that they have no intention of conveniently forgetting just who steamrolled their CDs and dropped their songs from the air in order to curry corporate favor with a government that wished to see them silenced. It was a great big, beautiful fuck-you.