Maren Morris on Why Coming Up in Country Music Is “Like Indoctrination” and Feeling “Safe” Performing Live With Taylor Swift

Maren Morris says somewhat reluctantly leaving country music as she grapples with how the industry she grew up in can not only feel “like indoctrination” but has evolved following Donald Trump’s presidency.

Morris’ last year has seen her calling out conservative elements of the country music genre, garnering her a few headlines amid high-profile clashes. That includes her criticisms of singer Jason Aldean and his wife Brittany Kerr, whose position on gender-affirming care Morris addressed onstage and on social media (which was then covered by former Fox News host Tucker Carlson).

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Morris’ latest video for “The Tree” seemingly addresses Aldean’s video for “Try That in a Small Town” — praised by some as pro-Trump and condemned by others as an anti-Black, pro-lynching anthem that glorifies gun violence — through her own references to things like sundown towns and conservative refrains like “Go woke, go broke.”

In a new interview with the Los Angeles Times, Morris is talking about trying “to step outside” of the genre’s drama with an evolving sound. While discussing the release of her two-track EP, “The Bridge,” the singer explains whether that clash with the Aldeans impacted her decision to change her approach to making music, which she explained is now not about whether this will “work in the country music universe” and is instead focused on “just making good music.”

“I’ve always been an asker of questions and a status quo challenger just by being a woman. So it wasn’t really even a choice,” Morris said while discussing composing music outside the country form. “I didn’t think of myself as a political artist. I just wrote songs about real life through a lens of deep respect for my country heroes. But the further you get into the country music business, that’s when you start to see the cracks. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it.”

Morris said that as a result of one’s eyes being opened, you start to use what little power you have “to make things better,” even if that “doesn’t make you popular.” As for the backlash to her efforts supporting communities like LGBTQ Americans, the award-winning singer-songwriter went on to add that she doesn’t buy into the “fear-mongering about getting Dixie Chick-ed and whatnot” in country.

“Country music is a business, but it gets sold, particularly to young writers and artists who come up within it, as almost a god. It kind of feels like indoctrination. If you truly love this type of music, and you start to see problems arise, it needs to be criticized. Anything this popular should be scrutinized if we want to see progress,” Morris concluded.

As for what may have really prompted the change in her relationship to the genre — which Morris said she doesn’t “want to have an adversarial relationship” with — the “Get the Hell Out of Here” singer admitted something happened in the years around the Trump presidency. The result of that time has been songs like Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town,” which Morris said people aren’t even streaming “out of true joy or love of the music” about “the actual oppressed,” but as this “really toxic weapon in culture wars” in an effort “to own the libs.”

“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 hypermasculine branch of country music,” she told the L.A. Times.

For Morris, her new music is a response to stepping back and away from all of that. “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,” she said. “I always thought I’d have to do middle fingers in the air jumping out of an airplane, but I’m trying to mature here and realize I can just walk away from the parts of this that no longer make me happy.”

“I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” she added at another point in the interview. “But it’s burning itself down without my help.”

That planned expansion of her sound may not only create distance from the drama but also lead to a different kind of performance experience, as Morris details how singing with another artist who started in country and moved beyond it — Taylor Swift at the Chicago stop of her Eras Tour — made her feel “safe.”

“It’s such a supportive crowd: 90 percent women and 10 percent gays and dads. I’ve never felt so safe at a live show before,” the artist explained. “No one’s hammered or puking in the aisles or getting into a fight or anything. It’s just so joyful.”

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