Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Maren Morris says she’s leaving the country music genre that made her a star due to its problematic ways, which became rife during the Trump years. Morris is not only one of the top female country music stars, she is also outspoken about her progressive beliefs.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “The Bones” singer expressed her negative feelings about the toxic state of country music today. “I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” Morris said. “But it’s burning itself down without my help.” She added, “After the Trump years, people’s biases were on full display. It just revealed who people really were and that they were proud to be misogynistic and racist and homophobic and transphobic. All these things were being celebrated, and it was weirdly dovetailing with this hyper-masculine branch of country music. I call it butt rock.”
Morris moved from Arlington, Texas, to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012, starting out as a songwriter for such country stars as Tim McGraw. As a solo artist, she has won five Academy of Country Music Awards, another five Country Music Association Awards—including Female Artist/Vocalist of the Year from both groups in 2020—as well as a Grammy for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017 for “My Church.”
The interview published last Friday coincided with the release of the 33-year-old Morris’ new EP “The Bridge,” with a duo of songs and music videos—“The Tree and “Get the Hell Out of Here”—that allude to her crossing over from the world of country music to chart a new course for herself.
On “The Tree,” Morris sings: “I'm done fillin' a cup with a hole in the bottom/I’m takin’ an axe to the tree/ The rot at the roots is the root of the problem/But you wanna blame it on me/ I hung around longer than anyone should.”
And then she hears “the sound of a new wind blowin’” and declares “I’ll never stop growin’, wherever I’m goin’/ Hope I’m not the only one.”
And this is the chorus to “Get the Hell Out Of Here”: “I do the best I can/But the more I hang around here the less I give a damn/So to all the doubts and demons that I held so dear/Go on, get the hell out of here.”
Both videos are set in a fake small town that is in an obvious state of decay with signs reading ”Go Woke Go Broke” and “Don’t Tread On Me.” There’s also a billboard with an American flag that reads, “Welcome to Our Perfect Small Town from Sunrise to Sundown.”
That’s an apparent reference to Jason Aldean’s controversial song “Try That in a Small Town,” which has been described as a “modern lynching song.” Aldean’s video was shot in front of the Maury County Courthouse in Columbia, Tennessee, which was the site of the 1927 lynching of a Black man named Henry Choate. The song hit the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Morris told the Los Angeles Times that she considered Aldean’s song to be “a last bastion”:
“People are streaming these songs out of spite. It’s not out of true joy or love of the music. It’s to own the libs. And that’s so not what music is intended for. Music is supposed to be the voice of the oppressed — the actual oppressed. And now it’s being used as this really toxic weapon in culture wars.”
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Even before the “Try That in a Small Town” video was released this summer, Morris was engaged in a public dispute with Aldean and his wife, Brittany, in 2022 over transphobic comments Brittany made on Instagram about young people receiving gender-affirming care.
Brittany Aldean wrote, “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life.” That prompted this response from Morris: “It’s so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human? Sell your clip-ins and zip it, Insurrection Barbie.”
And when former Fox News host Tucker Carlson referred to her as “Lunatic Country Music Person,” Morris shot back by launching a T-shirt line with that moniker that raised more than $150,000 for transgender youth support groups. It included the telephone number for a crisis hotline for trans youth.
She has also openly pushed back against anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Tennessee. There are currently federal court cases challenging the state’s recently enacted ban on gender-affirming youth care—including such treatments as puberty blockers and hormone therapies—and another law aimed at curbing drag performances in front of children.
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In March, Morris was one of the headliners at the “Love Rising” all-star benefit concert for LGBTQ+ causes in Nashville. Before the show, Morris and her husband, singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, took their 3-year-old son to meet some of the drag queens getting ready for the performance.
Morris defiantly said, “Yes, I introduced my son to some drag queens today, so Tennessee, f-cking arrest me.”
She also appeared in January as a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in which she apologized for country music’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, according to Entertainment Weekly.
"Coming from country music and its relationship with LGBTQ+ members, I just want to say I'm sorry," Morris said. "I love you guys for making me feel like a brave voice in country music. So I just thank you guys so much for inspiring me."
These were all signs pointing to Morris’ decision this month to transition away from country music toward another genre. The two new songs are likely to appear on a new LP she is working on with pop producer Jack Antonoff, who is known for his work with Taylor Swift. She recorded “Get the Hell Out of Here” with Antonoff, the Los Angeles Times reported. The release of “The Bridge” coincides with Morris’ move to Columbia Records from the label’s Nashville division.
This summer Morris appeared as a surprise guest to sing duets with Swift at several stops on her Eras Tour.
Morris told the Los Angeles Times that Swift, a good friend, has been an inspiration for her as she tries to make the transition from one style to another. She said she’s “never felt so safe at a live show” as when she performed with Swift in front of a huge supportive crowd. “No one’s hammered or puking in the aisles or getting into a fight or anything. It’s just so joyful. And the way she makes that huge stadium setting feel intimate is astounding to me.”
Back in 2014, Swift famously made the transition from country to pop with her album “1989,” although she never completely severed her ties with her roots as a Nashville singer-songwriter. But back then in the pre-Trump era the scene was much less polarized.
Morris told the Los Angeles Times:
“These songs are obviously the result of that—the aftermath of walking away from something that was really important to you and the betrayal that you felt very righteously. But also knowing there’s a thread of hope as you get to the other side. I hope it comes across that way because I truly was in a space of hope when I wrote the two songs, even though “Get the Hell Out of Here” is really heavy. It’s about disarming that trauma and saying, ‘I can’t bail water out of this sinking ship anymore. It’s so futile. I choose happiness.’”
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