Dixie Chicks Win Five Grammys

The Dixie Chicks have been known more for their politics than their music the last four years, so it should have come as no surprise that they won five Grammy awards last night.

Dixie Chicks Win Five Grammys Photo (Kevin Winter/Getty Images) The Dixie Chicks picked up five awards on Sunday, including album of the year, record of the year and song of the year.

After death threats, boycotts and a cold shoulder from the country music establishment, the Dixie Chicks gained sweet vindication Sunday night at the 49th annual Grammy Awards, capturing honors in all five of the categories in which they were nominated.

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The Dixie Chicks took home Grammys for the top three awards: record, song and album of the year. Their “Taking the Long Way” (Open Wide/Columbia) won best country album and “Not Ready to Make Nice” also captured best country performance by a duo or group with vocal. That song is an unapologetic response to the furor set off in 2003 when the band’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, made an off-the-cuff antiwar remark to London concertgoers: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

But Sunday’s awards were the Recording Academy’s rejoinder to the country music radio establishment, which ignored the album. Accepting the award for song of the year, Ms. Maines joked, “For the first time in my life, I’m speechless.” But she found her voice on later trips to the stage. “I’m very humbled and I think people were using their voice the same way this loudmouth did,” she said, self-referentially, after “Taking the Long Way” was named album of the year. The Dixie Chicks’ sweep of the major Grammy categories served as a sharp counterpoint to their shut-out at the Country Music Association awards in November. The Recording Academy consists of members across the nation who work in all genres of music. The Country Music Association’s membership is concentrated among artists, engineers and executives tied to the Nashville establishment.

The Grammys have a long tradition of giving their country category awards to artists with relatively little appeal to country fans, like k.d. lang, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Lucinda Williams. They also have a history of making political statements with their awards, most notably the bizarre award to Hillary Clinton for her narration of “It Takes a Village.”

Then again, the Grammys have a habit of finding a favorite and sticking with it, especially in the country category. Vince Gill has won the Best Male Country Vocal Performance award nine times and Johnny Cash, Ronnie Milsap, and Willie Nelson–all favorites with the critics and fans alike–have won repeatedly. Similarly, the Chicks won for “Fly” in 2000, before their political activism, and “Home” on February 23, 2003 and didn’t make their big statement in London until March 10. So, while there’s little doubt that politics played a role here, Grammy voters always liked the Chicks.

Still, as Lorie Byrd points out, their nomination and award in the “best country album” category is rather much, “since the Chicks said this was NOT a country album and it got practically no play on country stations.”

Duncan Black uploaded the video of their performance of “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” at the show to YouTube:

The Chicks still sound great but this song is hardly their “A” material, let alone “Song of the Year.”

The politics of this is all rather odd, generating wild overreaction from both sides. Dissing the president at a concert in the capital of our biggest ally is hardly tantamount to Jane Fonda’s activity in Hanoi. On the other had, we get nonsense like Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead’s remark: “I think people are paranoid. I think that if they speak out, they think they’re gonna get whacked by the government. It’s pretty oppressive now. Look at the Dixie Chicks. They got whacked.” As Betsy Newmark points out, “The government didn’t ‘whack’ the Dixie Chicks. Their fans did. Is the position of the cognoscenti now that fans can’t express their opinions of musical artists by deciding not to buy their music?”

Sean Hackbarth and Dan Riehl both think the Hollywood establishment’s open antagonism to Red State America constitutes a large reason that the music industry is in so much trouble. While I don’t doubt that there’s some minor backlash, it seems far more likely that the wide availability of digital music and the record industry’s clinging to a decades-old album packaging system is the main issue. Red Staters have been making fun of “Hollyweird” for as long as I can remember, yet they continue to go to the movies. And it’s unlikely that people will quit buying Toby Keith and Gretchen Wilson albums to teach the Grammy people a lesson.

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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. Eneils Bailey says:

    Allegorically summing up the Grammy’s love relationship with the Dixie Chicks with a country song:

    She said, “You don’t look like my type
    But I guess you’ll do”
    Third rate romance
    Low rent rendezvous
    And he said, “I’ll even tell you that I love you
    If you want me to”
    Third rate romance
    Low rent rendezvous

    Verse from “Third Rate Romance Low Rent Rendezvous.
    Written by Sammy Kershaw, Performed by the Amazing Rhythm Aces. 1975
    I am not a big Country Music fan, but I love this one, reminds me of two of my ex-wives.

  2. Fersboo says:

    Considering that allegedly there were soooo many people who bought the DC album the first week last year to boost it instantly to number 1, it would be logical that they swept the Grammys. I wonder if they can sweep them again after a Dem takes the WH; probably not.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Actually, I much prefer Lucinda Williams (with her Louisiana drawl) and Mary Chapin Carpenter to the standard country female singers. Here’s a plug to XM for turning me on to them.

  4. Jim Henley says:

    Radio country sucks, but the latest Chicks album was basically a Michelle Branch CD. I don’t hate Michelle Branch, but she ain’t exactly Judy Miller.

  5. just me says:

    I don’t listen to the Chicks, but I listen to country, and you can’t convince me that their album was the best Country album of the year or that any of the songs on it were the best.

    I can probably list 15 country albums off the top of my head that are better than the Chicks. But then I think you are right that the Grammy’s typically don’t seem to “Get” country music or what country fans like and listen to.

  6. Bandit says:

    I’m an old time country fan and I listen to all sorts of stations and I’ve never to my knowledge heard 1 of the songs from the new album.

  7. Rob w says:

    The awards given to the Dixie Chicks were one thing….sending a message.

    As you know, these awards were not given by the people. This was not the People’s Music Awards, rather less than 11,000 members of professionals in the music industry. One writer brought up the idea that the vote for the various catagories was so split, that the largest chunk of votes left were the politically active members who had the opportunity to “make a statement” with what amounts to a lackluster album and a really boring song. First of all, there’s no way a song like that would take song of the year at the Grammys unless it had help, through collusion or other means, or jury nullification, just like the O.J. trial. And for them to win 5 awards if just not only improbable, but impossible! It looks like the Grammys jumped the shark last night, allowing politics to influence the outcome of not one but 5 awards and I personally could never look at them in any kind of positive light again, though that’s been coming for a long time now.

    I’ve been a professional musician for over 35 years, a session player on albums and a touring sideman. I’m hearing nothing, and I repeat nothing, but disbelief at what happened last night. Some are asking for an investigation to see if there was indeed any wrong doing in the “winning” of these awards. And all along, Natalie and the world still actually think that they really won those awards.

    Sad. Hope they never realize what really happened. They were used!

  8. ron says:

    I haven’t heard their album or any songs from it so I can’t make the call. However, I see three possibilities:

    1. It was the best song/album etc. and they deserved the award (no slap at bush) and hopefully what happened

    2. Political statement is a category of merit for the Grammys. Only makes you wonder if a guy with a Banjo singing “I Hate Bush” over and over might have won if the Dixie Chick weren’t there. (tacky, but ok, whatever)

    3. There is not a political statement category, they didn’t have the best song and the slap at Bush is also slap in the face of a more deserving artist. I am sure the others nominated in those categories would appreciate being shafted for that ever dangerous area of speaking truth to power in America.

    With the people on stage last night indicating #3, perhaps this is another Milli Vanilli moment!

  9. David says:

    Clearly the Grammy Awards are given based on the subjective view of its members.

    What passes for country music on mainstream country radio today is far removed from country music of 50 or even 20 years ago. It would be better categorized as pop music with a twang and steel guitars.

    I believe that the Grammy’s have done a good job over the years of picking out a country album that was truly deserving. Best recent example was the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack about 4 years ago.

    Finally, the Dixie Chicks can claim not to be country and Nashville can agree, but it doesn’t change the fact when you hear it that “Taking the Long Way” is a country album.

  10. James Joyner says:

    What passes for country music on mainstream country radio today is far removed from country music of 50 or even 20 years ago.

    But that’s true of popular music–and for that matter, all art–generally. Aside from Bluegrass, which stays very close to its roots, country evolves. And there was plenty of bitching about that fact in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, too. Johnny Cash was too pop in his heyday, now he’s a country icon.

    Finally, the Dixie Chicks can claim not to be country and Nashville can agree, but it doesn’t change the fact when you hear it that “Taking the Long Way” is a country album.

    Sure. (Although, it’s pretty poppy. When I first heard it, I thought it could be Sheryl Crow.) But we’re talking about “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice.”

  11. J Sofa says:

    The Grammy’s have lost all credibility! First Milli Vanilli and now the Dixie Chicks. I am so glad that I am not the only one who is shaking their head today.

    How can they win best Country Album, when they themselves said it wasn’t country and it was never played on country radio.

    I would ask for an investigation, but I’d rather not give them anymore publicity.

    Skip the Grammy’s they aren’t worth the gold plating on the award.

    What is happening to our World, when you can insult the Office of the President of the United States and be celebrated in our own country for putting out a song that says you aren’t willing to say you were out of line.