There’s always something a little extra-cool about a country artist standing up against the right wing. There shouldn’t be—doing the decent thing shouldn’t warrant a ticker tape parade—but the fact remains: When a left-leaning country artist makes their politics public, they’re more likely to face considerable backlash from their often southern-states fanbase. Just look at the saga of the Dixie Chicks (or the Chicks, as they’ve wisely renamed themselves).
Those women simply said they were ashamed that George W. Bush is from Texas, on stage at a show in the UK, and they were effectively blacklisted by the country music crowd. They received a lot of support from the left but it was sadly inevitable that other similarly-minded country artists would be watching and taking note.
We know, for example, that Taylor Swift made a point of making no points, keeping her politics private for years. We witnessed the dilemma she faced in the Miss Americana movie, as she decides to break her silence against her label’s wishes. One could argue, though, that by that point she had moved into a more accepting pop arena and wasn’t quite so reliant on the country crowd.
Chris Stapleton is definitely not a pop artist. Not in any way, shape, or form. But in country terms, he’s a rebel, an outlaw, in the truest sense of the words. This week, the Tennessee singer, guitarist, and songwriter made it clear that he stood with Black Lives Matter.
“Do I think Black lives matter? Absolutely. I don’t know how you could think they don’t. I think we all have a lot of work to do, you know, as individuals and as a society,” he told CBS This Morning. “And if you don’t think that, I think you’re not looking.”
He went on to say that, “I think everybody should be doing more. It’s time for me to listen. And it’s time for other folks to listen,” while referring to the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder as a “broad awakening.”
And also, “You know, I thought we were living in a different country. And that’s 100% real. I feel like the country that I thought that we were living in was a myth.”
Naturally, a huge percentage of the country music community lost their collective shit. Shit was lost. And why? Because a musician had the gumption to say, “Black lives matter, of course they do.” There really shouldn’t be anything the slightest bit controversial about those words, but the right did what the right do: Stapleton said “black lives matter” and they erroneously heard “looting and arson is ok,” “white lives don’t matter” and “I don’t care about my fans.”
Of course, where there are fanatical country people, there are insane tweets. One person going by the handle The Real Corda tweeted at Stapleton to say, “I was one of your biggest fans for years now but I am replacing ALL of your music on my playlist with @ttchilders and Sturgill Simpson If you support a terrorist organization like BLM then you hate America and I will never support you again.”
It got better — Sturgill Simpson posted the tweet to his Instagram with the comment, “Oh man..gonna be sooo disappointed.”
That seemed to surprise Corda, but it shouldn’t have; in 2017, Simpson busked outside of the Country Music Awards in Nashville, telling Rolling Stone that Trump is “a fascist fucking pig and I’m not afraid to say that. Anybody who’s still supporting that guy can’t be anything in my mind but an ignorant fucking bigot. So there it is. Anybody that’s surprised to hear me say that is going to unfollow me or stop listening to my record was probably not listening that close anyway.”
But perhaps the biggest kick in the rhinestones came when the queen of country herself, the good lady Dolly Parton, came out in support of Black Lives Matter during a Billboard interview.
“I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen,” she said. “And of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!”
A fairly innocuous show of support but of course it all blew up. On the plus side, a mural displaying the quote was created in Nashville. On the other, Squidbilliesstar Stuart D. Baker, aka Unknown Hinson, posted a response to Parton on Facebook, calling her a “freak titted, old Southern bimbo,” and a “slut.” He later added, “HAVE FUN forsaking your own race, culture, and heritage.”
Jim Fortier and Dave Willis, the creators of Squidbillies, acted fast (worth remembering that their show is literally about redneck squids).
“We’re aware of the extremely offensive and derogatory social media posts made late last week by Stuart D. Baker,” they wrote via the show’s official Twitter account. “The views he expressed do not reflect our own personal values or the values of the show that we and many others have worked hard to produce over the past 15 years. For those reasons, production of Squidbillies will continue without Mr. Baker, effective immediately.”
Hinson, of course, didn’t go quietly into the night, preferring to blame the people who complained about his racism and misogyny rather than apologizing and learning from the situation. But that is so often the case in the modern era, isn’t it? The instinct to go on the defensive so often gets the better of people. Nobody knows that better than Chris Stapleton, the (formerly Dixie) Chicks, Taylor Swift, Sturgill Simpson, and Dolly Parton. It’s a guilty pleasure to watch country fans get in a tiz as they learn that many of their heroes are firmly on the left. We have to hope that at some point they’ll start listening to what those musicians are saying, and actually take it in. But don’t hold your breath.