Counterpoint: Artists, Stand Up and Shout!
“Shut up and sing!” Roll around in that concept for a moment. We’re literally asking someone to bury an impulse to make use of a first amendment right because, “That’s not what I paid for.”
It’s a concept that’s boorish, oppressive and backwards. Where does it end?
“Shut up and cook.”
“Shut up and fix my car.”
“Shut up and teach.”
Imagine where we’d be had someone told Jesus Christ to, “Shut up and make a table!”
This idea that we can control someone’s voice or actions because we paid for them is — to say the least — old-fashioned. Sure, you may not like it when your favorite artist gets political, but does that mean you can’t like the artist’s music?
Maybe what the 'Shut up and sing' crowd is really saying is 'Shut up and sing, woman!'
Few in country music are more political than Charlie Daniels; he seems to wake up angry. Yet “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” remains one of the most universally loved songs in music. This fall he'll be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Go ahead, you tell ol' Charlie to, “Shut up and play the fiddle.”
Um, Mr. Daniels sir … I was thinking that maybe, if you wanted to you know, er … could you perhaps …
Justin Moore stood up for Donald Trump. Ronnie Dunn espoused more politics on his Facebook page this summer than he did country music. There are a few that have stood up to either, asking them to remain focused on their paid professions. It's done with far less vitriol than they did the Dixie Chicks in 2003. The reaction to Natalie Maines' comments about then President Bush was so extreme, they would later release a documentary called Shut Up and Sing.
(Maybe what the "Shut up and sing" crowd is really saying is "Shut up and sing, woman!" Nah, not in country music.)
A well-justified fear to speak up has watered down country music over the last 30 years, but there's a more important social reason why we need artists to stand up and speak. As a rule, this is a hardworking group of people who have encountered all types of people nationwide. Every day they’re put in difficult situations where someone is critical of their message, and they’re forced to decide if the criticism is warranted, or just pure noise. They best stand behind their values, despite the adversity. They fight for their constituency. Isn’t that what we want of our politicians? Doesn’t courage make a strong spokesperson?
Let’s go further. Making music in Nashville involves tremendous amounts of teamwork and compromise. It also relies on tremendous amounts of creativity and — despite what you may have heard — fresh ideas. Outsiders win — like Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Brantley Gilbert. All three brought a fresh perspective to the Nashville sound, and we're better for it.
A musician standing up for human rights, woman’s rights, gun rights or animal rights isn’t spouting off, he or she is sharing a well thought-out opinion to a friendly crowd. When Moore spoke up for Trump, he explained himself sensibly. When Carrie Underwood shared her thoughts on gay marriage and the Tennessee bill known as the Ag Gag Bill, she proved her opinion was grounded in fact and research. This isn't your cousin Eddy sharing his bigoted, ignorant thoughts on Facebook. An artist who speaks out knows he or she will need to be prepared to hold a conversation.
The art community has been giving birth to new ideas for centuries. It’s part of what artists do. At first these concepts seem strange and awkward, but over time they can become normalized. Civil rights, gay rights, women's rights ... all had strong support from the artistic community, a community that is more closely tied to the average American citizen than the upper-crust in Washington D.C. American politics needs more outsiders, nearly everyone agrees about that. But the less level-headed of us are quick to bash an outsider when he appears, as if he’s the one with the club and the man on stage is a puppet in a giant game of Whack-a-Mole. It’s high hypocrisy to ask someone to “Shut up and (fill in the blank)” and then vote for Donald Trump. This presidential election, he's the outsider.
Imagine where we’d be had someone told Jesus Christ to, 'Shut up and make a table!'
“Shut up and fire someone!”
Whether or not sounding off on politics is good for an artist’s career is quite a different matter. Historically, few have benefited commercially becoming the face or voice of a social or politics issue. It literally killed the Dixie Chicks' commercial career in 2003. But ask them if they regret it?
In the end, there are things more important than a No. 1 single on the radio.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back in October for another installment.
Country Stars Speak Up About the 2016 Election