We all remember the headlines. We all read the quotes. We all heard the songs and watched the videos where Maren Morris said that “country music” was rotten at its roots and the she was leaving the genre and burning the bridge behind her to never return again because of how terrible her experience was.
Now here a couple of months later, she’s singing an entirely different tune, and trying to act like none of that ever happened.
Along with her two-song EP called The Bridge released on September 15th, a viral feature-length spread in The Los Angeles Times titled, “Maren Morris Is Getting The Hell Out of Country Music” was completely unambiguous about what was going on here. In fact, Maren Morris didn’t just communicate in no uncertain terms why she was leaving country music, she explained why country music was irredeemable and she wanted to destroy the genre as she walked out the door.
“I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over. But it’s burning itself down without my help,” was the lead quote from the L.A. Times.
But on a recent appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon the night before the CMA Awards, Maren Morris said we were all just imagining things.
“I wrote these two songs ‘The Bridge’ and ‘Get The Hell Out of Here,” and I felt like I was just leaving some things in country music behind that didn’t really serve me anymore,” Morris said. “And so, it felt like calling it ‘The Bridge’ felt like the step to the next thing, whatever that is.”
Jimmy Fallon then says, “What was the headline about by the way if you don’t mind talking about it? Some headline’s like ‘Maren Morris is leaving country music.’ And I go, ‘No.'”
Maren Morris responds laughing, “Yeah. I don’t think it’s something you can really leave because it’s a music that’s in me. It’s what I grew up doing. It’s the music I write, even if I’ve been sort of genre fluid my whole career. You can’t scrub the country music out. It was very hyperbolic. You know, headlines are different than the things you say.”
But it wasn’t just the title of the Los Angeles Times article that said Maren Morris was leaving country. It was the things she said, and did. It was the content of the EP’s two songs, and the videos that show a small town that symbolically portrays “country music” being buried in ash, along with a tree symbolizing the roots and branches of country music burning down. She also switched her label imprint home from Nashville to New York, and from country to pop.
Even if Maren Morris is now taking issue with the characterization of the headline the LA Times used for their feature, why is it taking two months for Morris to clarify her intentions? Sure, sometimes the media wants a big flashy headline and things get hyperbolic. But something as significant as falsely claiming she wants to “get the hell out of country music” would be a misnomer you would rush to social media to clarify, and apply pressure to the LA Times to correct, which never happened.
Jimmy Fallon then asks Maren, “So you’re not leaving country music?”
Morris responds, “No, no. I’m taking the good parts with me. All are welcome. There was just some facets of it that I didn’t jive with anymore.”
These late night interviews are never spontaneous. It’s decided before the guest ever comes out what the discussion will be about, and it’s the guest that chooses the subject. Jimmy Fallon is not intimate with the doing of country music and Maren’s career. Morris and her handlers decided to use this moment to attempt to rewrite what we all saw, heard, and read about the Maren Morris departure from country music back in September.
Ironically, since this happened the day before the CMA Awards, it didn’t become the talk of country music, it was mostly buried. Barely anyone watches these late night talk shows anymore either.
Then on the Wednesday night (11-15) episode of Watch What Happens Live, Maren Morris doubled down, saying, “I will sort of just clarify: I have not left country music; that was just the headline. I like what I said was that I was just leaving behind the kind of toxic parts of it – and that’s in any part of the music industry. But just like the things that I am in control of. Yeah – I want to take the good parts with me … So yeah, that was just a headline, clickbait that got blown up. I just make music.”
Why is Maren Morris suddenly singing a different tune? It’s probably because she is realizing that all of a sudden she is a small fish in a big sea, and by abandoning all of the infrastructure she used to rise to fame as a music performer, she runs the risk of cutting the legs out from under her career entirely.
As Dale Watson likes to say, “You can’t grow when you rip your roots out of the ground.” This is what Maren Morris did, and intentionally, hoping the momentum of her announcement would be enough to carry her to pop stardom. So far, that has not happened.
As some traditionalists love to point out, Maren Morris really never was country. But that’s almost beside the point. The tracks of Maren’s The Bridge EP seem to be doing okay. But she’s an unknown quantity in pop, and she can no longer tap the resources in country for support. Spotify listeners and others criticized streaming formats for putting the two new Maren songs on country playlists when she was clearly saying she didn’t want to be a part of country music anymore.
This whole thing is taking on a very similar aspect to the implosion of The Band Perry. After officially declaring they were pop, they then tried to migrate back to country, before declaring they were pop once again until they had contradicted themselves so many times, their fan base had abandoned them in its entirety, and they were struggling to fill club show dates.
As Billy Dukes of the often favorably-minded site Taste of Country even points out, “Musically, it’s not important that she chooses a genre, but being genre-less presents a marketing problem … Ambiguity will get an artist forgotten, and it will certainly complicate relationships with country music programmers, should Morris decide to chase airplay, playlists or awards in country music categories. Cam found this out, as radio ignored her two singles from ‘The Otherside’ album (2020).”
Maren Morris and her marketing team wanted to make a big splash and stir drama when she announced her exit from country music coinciding with her 2-song EP. Clearly now there has been some sort of re-calibration. Yet by trying to pawn off Maren’s exit from country as some sort of misinformation from the media when the words and images of her two new songs and videos are still out there arguably makes the situation worse. She now appears weak and disingenuous.
You can just leave the “bad parts” of country music behind, and keep the ones you want to use to gain attention for your music. You can’t earn brownie points and a bunch of press for leaving the genre, and then still utilize country’s radio play, playlists, awards, and other infrastructure. It seems that Maren Morris and her team are realizing this in real time. But even if she wanted to reverse course, she’s sown so much ill will in the country community, she will never be embraced back.
It was hubris for Maren Morris to believe she could burn country “to the ground” as she said she wanted to do in the LA Times. But she definitely burned The Bridge. Now there is no going back, even if she wants to.