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.
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.
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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