Maren Morris says she is taking a “step back” from the country music industry.
The singer said she’s “tried to avoid” the types of stories currently being told in the country music space, epitomized by the controversial track “Try That In A Small Town,” which surged to the top of mainstream charts as critics argued it promotes violence.
When asked in a recent interview with the L.A. Times if it’s “been a good year or a bad year for country music,” Morris first congratulated singers like Jason Aldean for “crossing over onto the big all-genre chart” before sharing where she stands on the current state of country music.
“I’ve tried to avoid a lot of it at all costs. I feel very, very distanced from it,” she told the newspaper.
Morris, who got her big break in country music with the 2016 album “Hero,” released two new tracks Sept. 15, “The Tree” and “Get the Hell Out of Here,” both of which address her fraught relationship with Nashville since she became outspoken about the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the genre.
The songs follow the “aftermath of walking away from something that was really important to you and the betrayal that you felt very righteously,” she said.
“I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” she said, describing the goal of the new songs. “But it’s burning itself down without my help.”
Morris’ outspoken support for gender-affirming healthcare and addressing the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in country has made waves in the genre in recent years, but she said she didn’t originally think of herself as a “political artist.”
She wrote songs “through a lens of deep respect for my country heroes,” but started to see the “cracks” within the business of country music.
“And once you see it, you can’t un-see it. So you start doing everything you can with the little power you have to make things better,” she said.
She also explained why she isn’t afraid of criticizing country music and its audience, pushing back against the fear of “getting Dixie Chick-ed,” which refers to the vitriolic backlash faced by The Chicks in 2003 after speaking out against then-President George W. Bush.
“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,” she said. “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.”
She attributes the “problems” in country music to the post-Trump era when “people’s biases were on full display,” she said.
“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,” she said.
She says the genre today is used as a “really toxic weapon in culture wars.” Now, she’s reached a point where she’s “kind of said everything I can say.”
“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,” she said.
But her new songs carry a thread of “hope” for what she’s walking toward. In 2021, she was featured on the Taylor Swift track “You All Over Me” and performed at the Chicago stop of the “Eras Tour” this summer.
She also collaborated with pop production royalty Jack Antonoff on “Get the Hell Out of Here,” and she says the experience was comparable to getting her start in music.
“It’s like, let’s write something bats— insane today, and it might suck, but this is what I used to do when I moved to Nashville 10 years ago,” she said. “The freedom to fail, you know?”