After 14 years of music hiatus, the Dixie Chicks released a new single on March 4th. “Gaslighter” makes up for every minute of lost time. Like many other breakup anthems, this new single jabs at a former partner with clever insults. Unlike many other breakup anthems, “Gaslighter” is much more witty and original with its remarks. The title itself sparks images of explosive flames and destruction. This theme persists throughout the song, as the Dixie Chicks belt fiery lyrics aimed at lead singer Natalie Maines’s ex-husband.
The opening chords of “Gaslighter” recall the aura of country music from an earlier decade. Even self-proclaimed “anything but country” music listeners cannot deny the vocal strength and lyrical genius of this all-female band. The legendary Dixie Chicks harmony set the standard for many other female country artists in the early 2000’s.
The return of Natalie Maines with bandmates Emily Robison and Martie Maguire is nothing less than a miracle. The Dixie Chicks once reigned as queens of country music. With the release of their debut album “Wide Open Spaces” in 1998, the Dixie Chicks quickly climbed to the top of country and pop charts. Their next album – “Fly,” released in 1999 – sold over 10 million copies, debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 charts. Their commercial success is studded with trophies from the Grammy’s, Country Music Association Awards, Billboard Music Awards, the Academy of Country Music Awards. Many talented artists and musicians strive to achieve just one of these awards within their lifetime. Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks have received 57 wins throughout their career.
Almost 14 years later, they’re still “ready to run.” Some of these honors are a reflection of phenomenal vocals and unequivocal musical talent. Others show that the Dixie Chicks are so much more than a popular band. The band received the Defenders of Democracy Award in 2003 from the People for the American Way Foundation. The American Civil Liberties Union later awarded the Bill of Rights Award to the Dixie Chicks in 2006. For as much energy the Dixie Chicks have poured into their music, they have never been too shy to promote their own social and political views.
Over the years, the Dixie Chicks have become notorious for their comments aimed at the United States government. Natalie Maines has been particularly critical of former president George W. Bush’s administration and the American military presence in Iraq. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” Maines famously announced while performing their cover of “Travelin’ Soldier” in protest of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
This performance earned significant attention from the media, quick to criticize Maines. Their 2006 documentary entitled The Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing offered a behind the scenes perspective of the “incident” and how it affected the next three years of their career and personal lives. Despite an eventual apology from Maines (which she retracted a few years later), the country music industry and much of their audience shunned the Dixie Chicks. The newest singles from their 2006 album Taking the Long Way were largely ignored by country radio and concert ticket sales rapidly declined. Following the release of this album and their documentary, the Dixie Chicks went on a hiatus, opting to spend time with their families and pursue some solo music endeavors.
The Dixie Chicks are just one example of an ongoing free speech debate which transcends the lines separating genres of music. Famous artists are often advised to avoid controversial social and political opinions, for fear that their words will turn the spotlight away. In the case of the Dixie Chicks, this is true. The public backlash against this band reflects the unwillingness of the American audience to see artists as authentic individuals with contentious beliefs. Rather, audiences expect that musicians will not cause problems or break the mold. The artists who are able to endure today are those who reinforce the conditions of an apathetic and disconnected male-dominated industry.
The Dixie Chicks certainly do not fit the mold – but they refuse to be silenced. The country music industry has been dominated for years by men. Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson – these are all male country stars who set the standard for country music within the last 50 years. Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of “100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time” male country artists outnumber female musicians to a significant degree. Female country artists like Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lyn, Tammy Wynette, Shania Twain, Reba McIntire, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Kacey Musgraves are responsible for outstanding female representation in the industry.
The Dixie Chicks, ranking at number 45 on Rolling Stone’s list, are included as pioneers of women’s country music. Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire are influential musicians who show that it is possible to pursue any dream while raising a family. Perhaps more importantly, the Dixie Chicks single handedly prove the importance of standing firmly behind any belief.
“Gaslighter” prioritizes self-worth above the “liars” and “deniers” and “big-timers” of the world. As Dixie Chicks fans and critics alike anticipate the release of their newest album on May 1st, one can expect that these themes of feminism and activism will continue in the rest of the songs. Maines, Robison and Maguire are ready to discuss some of their most personal issues, and reclaim their thrones in the court of country music. With “Gaslighter,” the Dixie Chicks have ended their 14 years of silence with the grandest entrance possible.