The culture of country music has always been a conservative one, with the music being rooted in Southern tradition.
Given the background associated with country music, the genre has one of the most surprising groups of artists who have spoken out against President Donald Trump. With the majority of their fan base in the South — a mostly Republican area — country music artists risk losing a significant portion of their fans for voicing views that go against the norm.
In the midst of a devastating pandemic, nationwide protests, an increased presence of white supremacist groups and ongoing police brutality against Black individuals, the 2020 presidential election has become one of the most crucial elections in history. It comes as no surprise that almost every aspect of culture has been impacted by the current divisive politics.
It seems as though every musical artist is announcing which presidential candidate they endorse. Is this a choice made so as not to tarnish their reputation? A choice made in response to the bandwagon pressure of shallow social media activism? Or are these artists genuinely endorsing a candidate because they have fans who might listen to what they say?
When observing the political involvement of an artist, one must consider what the artist’s intentions are. A good, politically active musician is one who advocates for their political views without expecting or receiving something in return. While intentions are almost impossible to determine, some actions show whether or not an artist does something that they truly believe in.
Given that country artists are faced with more to lose when they speak out against the norm, it probably isn’t self-serving, as it could alienate them from their fan base. In a time of performative activism, it is refreshing to see that their activism probably isn’t just for show, as their actions often go deeper than a shallow statement over social media.
The Chicks, formally known as The Dixie Chicks, are notoriously political. In 2003, the group spoke out against former President George W. Bush’s war against Iraq. Country fans were outraged, and the backlash from this took a heavy toll on the group’s career. In response, Bush responded with “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.” But he also added, “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.” Tim McGraw, another country artist, also has political opinions that differ from the norm. He and his wife, Faith Hill, have not only declared their Democratic beliefs but have also advocated for stricter gun control laws.
The list of country artists expressing their more liberal views doesn’t stop there. From social media posts to full-on performances at rallies, many more artists have risked their fan bases to express their attitudes. Several Nashville, Tennessee, artists — Lissie, Darrin Bradbury, Joel King of the Wild Feathers, Sarah Potenza and Brian Wright — supported Bernie Sanders at a benefit concert titled “Concert for the Revolution to Elect Bernie Sanders.” The event was held just before Super Tuesday on March 2, 2020, and all of the net proceeds from the tickets sold went to support the Sanders campaign.
Additionally, the day before the “Concert for the Revolution,” another benefit show was held for Sanders in Nashville. “BernieFest: Not Me, Not You, Us” included performances by independent country artists like Captain Midnight Band, the Hardin Draw and others. And just like the “Concert for the Revolution,” 100% of net proceeds went to the campaign.
While it is impossible to know whether or not artists endorse certain political candidates for their own personal gain, the most trustworthy words are followed by actions. Given that the values of country music typically align with conservative beliefs, what does it mean when a country artist uses their platform to promote the opposite? These artists can face a lot of backlash for this decision due to the culture of country music. Left-leaning country musicians are probably not just doing this for show as they have more to lose.
But is their risk worth the reward? Are rally performances and “artist activism” even working? Will these country artists’ decisions actually impact the choices of their fans? In such a divisive political time, even if the artists do not have a large impact, it is still important that they are trying.