Dixie Chicks Bush-Whacked?

Dixie Chicks Taking The Long Way Album Cover Jonathan Adler cites recent reports that the Dixie Chicks’ new CD has debuted at #1 on the album charts as evidence of political acceptance: “Although some country stations refuse to play their music, the Dixie Chicks seem are doing okay. Their new album hit number one in sales on the Billboard charts this week, and also topped the country album charts. Either their fans don’t care about the trio’s politics — or they do care, and the Chicks are more popular than President Bush.”

Yet, as a recent Reuters report notes, this is far from clear. All emphases added:

Country trio the Dixie Chicks, the darlings of Nashville until their singer criticized President Bush three years ago, opened at No. 1 on the U.S. charts on Wednesday with their first studio album since then, but sales were sharply lower. “Taking The Long Way,” their third chart-topper, sold 525,000 copies in the week ended May 28, according to tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan. The figure ranks as one of the biggest openings of the year, and exceeds industry expectations by more than 100,000 copies. But it paled against the 780,000 copies that their last studio release, “Home,” sold during its first week in August 2002. It spent three weeks at No. 1, and has sold 5.8 million copies to date. In April another country trio, Rascal Flatts, opened at No. 1 with 722,000 copies of its new album.

The lower sales for the new Dixie Chicks album were not unexpected given that country radio is largely ignoring the Texans. The first single, the defiant “Not Ready To Make Nice,” stalled at No. 36 on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Songs chart.

On the other hand, the trio has garnered plenty of attention in the mainstream media, with a Time magazine cover story, and a segment on CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes.”

All the attention — or lack thereof — stems from a throwaway comment made by singer Natalie Maines during a London concert in March 2003. She told the crowd that the band was embarrassed to come from the same state as Bush. If one critic had not mentioned it in his review, she might have gotten away with it, but it quickly escalated into a major incident.

Radio stations stopped playing their songs and organized public destructions of their discs, sales slumped, death threats ensued, and country stars like Toby Keith bashed them. The women have largely laid low in the past few years to focus on their expanding families, and recording the new album in Los Angeles with rock producer Rick Rubin.

At this stage, it’s possible the Dixie Chicks are abandoning their country music base, rather than the other way around. Rubin is best known for his work with funk-rock band the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who had ruled the charts for the previous two weeks, and with deceased Nashville renegade Johnny Cash.

“I’d rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith,” Dixie Chick Martie Maguire told Time. We don’t want those kinds of fans.”

So, while the Chicks are still quite successful by any measure, they’ve become alienated from a large part of their “base” and are now crossing over into pop with the help of tremendous media exposure. That’s fine–and I applaud them standing by their views, even ones I find insipid, rather than caving to pressure–but hardly evidence that their former fans admire their politics.

That they are more popular than President Bush, though, is quite likely. Then again, who isn’t?

Meanwhile, Chris Lawrence observes, “Things are clearly topsy-turvy when Michelle Branch has gone country while the Dixie Chicks have gone rock-and-roll. Not that the two genres are all that distinct these days, mind you (or, for that matter, historically).”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ugh says:

    And people wonder why Michael Jordan never took a stand on political issues.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Yep. It’s a no-win situation in terms of the fan base.

  3. Gawaine says:

    Of course, there couldn’t be any issues unrelated to Bush pulling their sales down. For example, the fact that their previous songs were all written by professional songwriters, while these are all songs they’ve written, including one rant about how hard life has been for them since the Bush situation.

  4. Doug says:

    I try not to get my political opinions from blonds and musicians. Both of which wouldn’t know main stream American thought any better than a Frenchman would know french fries. Who needs to listen to someone’s political ranting if they truly offer nothing to argue. Natalie Maines’ position that she is ashamed to be from the same state as Bush offers no true political position and demonstrates her ignorance. OK with me if she has a position but spell it out in something other than childish rantings from a spoiled little rich chick with nothing better to do with her 15 minutes of fame than knock “her” president. It’s like a Canadian making a whole album on whats wrong with America. It’ll never happen.

    Now I don’t claim to like country music. I’m a fan of The Police, Kiss,The Doobie Brothers and a few other classic rock groups. But i more apt to spend my American money on positive political influence than people who want to run someone over with their tour buses.

    The line of anti-Bush people in music makes you wanna be a Bush supporter anyway. Who cares what Linda Ronstadt or Don Henley think. Their music isn’t in my 5 disc CD changer either. Give me Alice Cooper or Ted Nugent any day!!!