The conflict between Maren Morris and Brittany Aldean probably wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago
As a result, a fractured and divided view of gender emerges: from within, traditionalists hold power. For everyone else, happy and inclusive country music has become the norm. Country music has become more diverse, more queer, less white, less masculine than ever, and there’s so much to celebrate. Shania Twain wants you to know that “man! I feel like a woman” is for “Everybody.”
I don’t want to overstate the incipient and growing change in country music. It was so disappointing to see the CMA nominations come out this week, only to find that only one black artist, Breland, has a nomination while powerhouses like Mickey Guyton and Brittney Spencer have been overlooked. Meanwhile, Morgan Wallen, who was caught on video drunkenly shouting the n-word in 2021, appears to have been reinstated to his position at the pinnacle of the genre, nominated for the prestigious Entertainer of the Year award. CMA nominations are decided by people in the country music industry, many of whom are indebted to country radio and its power, and this ecosystem won’t change overnight. Kacey Musgraves has sold millions of records and won the Grammy for Album of the Year without much support from country radio, but for now she remains the exception.
So it’s no surprise that Brittany Aldean nodded when Tucker Carlson suggested that Maren Morris get kicked off country radio. Outside the country, it seems an almost retrograde call to action. In the context of the country, this is effectively asking the country’s establishment to harshly punish Morris, who has had three No. 1s and is one of the few women to be on the radio regularly.
But the big difference is that we no longer have to treat country radio as the sole arbiter of what matters. It has been encouraging to see the growth of country music media spaces run by people other than straight white men, including Apple Music Country’s Proud Radio hosted by Hunter Kelly and Record Bin Radio hosted by Kelly McCartney. The Black Opry organization has has made it its mission to support Black Artists and Audiences in Country and American Music. The Country Queer music blog has extensively covered LGBTQ artists nationwide for years. Meanwhile, Marissa Moss painstakingly chronicled how women fought for their place in gender in her new book His country.
It’s easy to take the old country music story at face value. It’s also the lazy thing to do. Respected and well-known artists like Maren Morris push back against anti-trans sentiments, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath, a shift is underway to wrest country music from the hands of toxic traditionalists. Yes, the guards always have the microphone. But some of us left the room, because we also want to hear each other. ●