The country group formerly known as the Dixie Chicks stumbled into politics in earnest, voicing their disappointment in the rush to go to war with Iraq at a show overseas in 2003. Up till then, they’d enjoyed five hard-won years of success as country-pop crossover artists thanks to strides they made on their fourth album, 1998’s Wide Open Spaces, and a string of achingly beautiful chart toppers like “There’s Your Trouble” and “You Were Mine.” In a flash, the hit streak dried up. Chart traction on their gorgeous cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” collapsed. Country stations banned their music. Outraged former fans picketed outside throughout the North American leg of their spring Top of the World Tour. Industry peers like Toby Keith painted them as traitors. In those days, criticizing a sitting president was bad for business when your business was country music. There’s a little more room to be outspoken now.
History ultimately absolved singer Natalie Maines; the “weapons of mass destruction” George W. Bush tossed Iraq to uncover did not exist. Still, the group got something of a frosty reception. Their 2006 album Taking the Long Way sold over 2 million copies but the singles bricked on country radio. In 2016, when they appeared at the Country Music Association Awards alongside Beyoncé to play a stunning blend of Lemonade’s “Daddy Lessons” and Home’s “Long Time Gone,” it was hard to see critics’ complaints about the performance outside of the prism of the industry’s historical disdain for the group. But what was clear that night is that the trio was ready to reclaim their legacy and maybe even a little excited about ruffling more feathers.
Today, during a period of nationwide reflection on the many ways this country’s violent past still colors its present — in monuments to war heroes who fought to uphold slavery and in corporate branding rooted in 1800s minstrelsy — the Dixie Chicks have decided to follow the lead of Lady A (né Lady Antebellum) in formally dropping the “Dixie” from their name. Their new single “March March,” from the group’s imminent comeback album Gaslighter, mirrors the lead of the title track in the way it makes the personal political. On a surface level, you can see the song as a statement of independence for Maines, who filed for divorce from Marvel animated and live-action series regular Adrian Pasdar in 2017 and finalized in 2019. “March March” also arrives at a time where Americans are literally taking to the streets to express their displeasure with the political present. Once again, the Chicks find themselves on the pulse of the times.
Production from Jack Antonoff gives the Chicks’ country foundations a subtle, modern pop-rap flair. It’s Gaslighter’s brashest stroke, a song that’ll speak to both longtime fans and casual onlookers. The video for “March March” ought to push it further. It’s a simple, powerful collage of footage from protests throughout American history that reinforces the message in the lyrics that change starts within, that one person can make a difference, and that after a while, those ones add up. It’s a timely, encouraging word. It’ll make somebody somewhere mad to see the Texas legends leave Dixie behind. Let ‘em stay mad.