On The Maren Morris Exit From Country Music

photo: Morgan Foitle

In the immortal words of Curly Bill Brocius, “Well, bye.”

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All the peoples of the Earth, no matter your creed, nationality, race, gender, or sexual orientation: Gather round, pull your young ones, elderly, sick and infirmed close, and on the collective count of three, let us all train our cumulative will into steadfastly giving Maren Morris all the attention she’s so craves, and according to her surrogates and sycophants in the craven media, that she deserves.

This clinical narcissist has finally decided that she’s had enough of country music, and has officially abdicated to the greener pastures of pop where she belonged the entire time, affirmed by her two new songs that sound exactly the same as most all of her previously released material—meaning safe, pallid, unimaginative and creative-bereft corporate pop for the passive listening masses who love to signal their conformity to society’s norms through their music choices.

Just how hubristic and self-centered is Maren Morris being in this moment? Check this lead quote from her interview about the genre switch in the Los Angeles Times. Maren Morris states about country music, “I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over. But it’s burning itself down without any help.”

Wait, what? Country music is “burning itself down?” First, country music is more popular now than at any other time in its 100-year history, certified by all chart metrics, and concluded upon with universal consensus by all the minds in entertainment media. Country music’s dominance has been the talk of the summer. The idea that it’s doing anything but succeeding resoundingly on an unprecedented scale is a farce, and a demonstrative example of what the kids these days call “cope.”

Country music is also arguably more healthy than it has been at any other point in the last 10 to 20 years, including more country-sounding songs finding success, more songs of substance doing the same, as well as greater representation from Black and Brown artists, women, LGBT artists, and independent performers.

But even more diseased and ludicrous is the idea that Maren Morris believes she could burn country music down herself if she wanted to, and has simply chosen otherwise. It shows just how self-centered and self-righteous she truly is.

Though Morris was doing pretty well in 2020 and 2021, according to Billboard, she was the 28th most popular the artist in country in 2022, behind independent artists like Zach Bryan and Tyler Childers, and mainstream newcomers like Parker McCollum, Gabby Barrett, and Warren Zeiders. Maren Morris is a middling star with a massive and disproportionate media footprint due to her allies in the press who promote her due to her political beliefs being parallel to their own.

The latest Maren Morris temper tantrum comes in the form of two new songs and videos released via an EP called The Bridge. It was serviced via Columbia Records out of New York as opposed to Maren’s previous home of Sony Records Nashville. The song “The Tree” is produced by Greg Kurstin, and “Get the Hell Out of Here” is co-produced by Jack Antonoff.

The two videos depict a small town being abandoned and eventually relegated to the dustbin of history as Maren Morris vacates it, symbolizing the community of country music. She also burns down a tree that symbolizes the roots and branches of country music.

Make absolutely no mistake about what this alludes to, and what she’s trying to say here. Maren Morris is not only abandoning the genre, she wants to burn it all down on her way out the door. But what she and her surrogates seem to fail to understand is that when you’re burning down the legacy of Jason Aldean, you’re also burning down the legacies of Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Johnny Cash—three of the greatest humanitarians, and people of peace and tolerance the world has ever seen.

When you burn down country music, you’re not only getting rid of the legacy of Morgan Wallen, you’re also getting rid of the legacy of Charley Pride. You’re erasing the legacy of Loretta Lynn and the voice she gave to so many women. You’re getting rid of Lainey Wilson and Ashley McBryde, and songwriters like Lori McKenna that are representing the women of country music today.

And even more egomaniacal, Maren Morris in the second song “Get The Hell Out of Here” believes she’s going to inspire a wholesale exodus of artists and fans from the genre, again underscoring the hubristic nature of all of this. As was said by Saving Country Music recently, “When these activists finally conclude they will be unable to use country music to do their political bidding, they will actively work to destroy it.” This is what we’re seeing from Maren Morris and these two songs.

Compare all of this to the way Taylor Swift left country music, which time continues to reveal as a classy and respectful move. Though at the time Swift was receiving similar criticisms for not being country and other issues, instead of attempting to go scorched earth on her way out the door, she dropped 4 million bucks on the desk of the Country Music Hall of Fame and said, “Thanks for the stepping stone, but I’m tired of lying to myself and the public about the style of my music, and I’m heading to pop where I’ve always belonged.”

Taylor Swift’s career has been better off for it. Many country fans respect Swift and her songs more now knowing they’re pop, and that they’re being properly represented.

Though Maren Morris is characterizing herself as a victim of country music’s maniacal machinations, the record simply just doesn’t reflect this. Maren Morris won the New Artist of the Year from the CMA in 2016, and the New Female Vocalist of the Year from the ACMs in 2017. This is what constitutes a country music coronation where the entire industry is betting its future on you.

In total, Maren Morris has been nominated for 26 CMA Awards and won five, including in the vaunted categories of Album of the Year and Female Vocalist of the Year. For the ACMs, she’s been nominated 18 times and won five, including Female Artist of the Year twice in 2020 and 2021. She also received 17 Grammy nominations, and won for her debut single “My Church.” Morris also had three #1 songs on country radio. The industry clearly supported her as a progressive woman, and any other characterization is patently false.

This all underscores how important it is that country music invest in women who will ultimately invest in country music for the long haul. Is anyone surprised that Maren Morris ran off to pop? Of course they’re not. We knew she would make a move to pop even before she knew it herself. It’s all so achingly predictable.

Country music invested incredible amounts of awards show hardware, radio play, tour and festival slots, and other opportunities in Maren Morris to develop her career, just like it did with Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves who also ultimately left the genre, just like Shania Twain and The [Dixie] Chicks before them. And when these women leave, country music has nothing to show for it, and the people complaining how there’s not enough women in country music never include this extremely critical caveat in their calculations.

Specifically, producer Jack Antonoff has been a critical part of this equation now on multiple occasions. He was part of Taylor Swift’s move to pop with her album 1989, he produced the very pop-leaning new album from The Chicks, and here he is assuaging Maren Morris that pop is where she belongs. Jack Antonoff has done more to move women away from country than any man in the country music industry.

Country music does have a problem with giving women equal representation and developing their careers compared to male counterparts. But it’s not always from a lack of trying. The industry must start investing in women who we know will stay in the genre as opposed to just using it as a stepping stone. To support women in country music, they need to be women, but they also need to be country, with country music in their hearts so you know they’re in it for the long haul.

Nobody wants to hear about how Taylor Swift, Kacey Musgraves, and Maren Morris weren’t supported enough and forced out of the genre. All three started at the very ground floor of country music, and all three left as millionaires. Somehow, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood have gotten along just fine in country, and new artists like Lainey Wilson and Megan Moroney are surging in popularity, and with songs that are actually country.

The Maren Morris characterization that country music is completely unaccommodating to women and artists with heterodox political views is very dangerous because not only is it incorrect, it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you believe that country music can’t be a place for left-leaning artists, I’ve got two words for you, “Willie Nelson.” Somehow he’s managed to get by for 70 years in the country genre.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill have been open about their politics as well with little or no problems. So has former Florida Georgia Line member Tyler Hubbard. The independent ranks of country music are filled with progressive individuals. The “In Your Love” video recently from Tyler Childers found huge success among the expected pushback. Childers just announced a full-blown solo arena tour, so don’t tell us you can’t find success in country music while espousing left-leaning causes.

What exactly is so politically toxic about country music that Maren Morris can no longer stand to be part of it? Jason Aldean’s wife’s Instagram account? That’s the deleterious offender that is so cataclysmic and irredeemable you absolutely cannot consider yourself a part of country music anymore? Or is it John Rich, who hasn’t been relevant in country music in 20 years, if he ever really was? Or is it Oliver Anthony, who excoriated the right-leaning opportunistic pundits who tried to glam onto his viral moment, and told the entire Republican Presidential field to kiss off?

Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town” would have been a middling radio hit summarily forgotten if folks hadn’t tried to cancel it, and then the right hadn’t fallen for the ploy too by raising up to support it. Over and over we’ve seen this counter-productive effort by individuals like Maren Morris at work, including with Morgan Wallen as well.

The Maren Morris feature in the LA Times starts off the first question to Maren saying, “Four country songs have topped Billboard’s Hot 100 in 2023. But each has raised complicated questions about who’s welcome in Nashville…”

Sure, maybe that’s the case for “Jason Aldean’s “Try That in a Small Town,” and maybe you can lump Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night” in there too. But Oliver Anthony has proven to be way more thoughtful and heterodox than some want to give him credit for, and “Nashville” had nothing to do with his success. The fact that some are still trying to paint the Luke Combs cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as problematic as opposed to an achievement to have a Black woman write a #1 country song shows how certain people have perverse incentives to continue to try and paint country music as regressive, even as real progress continues to be made.

And the LA Times mention of the four #1 country songs excludes Zach Bryan’s collaboration with Kacey Musgraves on “I Remember Everything.” Again, Nashville had nothing to do with Zach Bryan’s ascent, and he was able to do what the entirety of the country music industry failed to do over the last decade—get Kacey Musgraves to #1, and all genre to boot. The best Musgraves had done previously was #10 in country. These are the kinds of achievements happening at the moment in the supposed toxic environment that Maren Morris has declared completely irredeemable and worthy of utter destruction.

The issues Maren Morris raises about “country music” ultimately boil down to a feud she chose to pick with the spouse of another country star, and an obsession over the trolls in her social media mentions. This was all stimulated by the media’s unhinged and disproportionate obsession over Brittany Aldean’s social media activity, including multiple dedicated articles about it in the Washington Post, spurned by viral tweets by activists larping as country music journalists since a country artist’s wife’s activity was deemed existential to their project to realign the political persuasion of country fans through the medium of country music.

The idea that country music as an industry or a monolith ganged up on Maren Morris is once again a self-centered notion that is fed through the hero/victim behavioral pattern at the heart of all clinical narcissism. This isn’t to chastise Maren Morris for her mental health issues. But it is important to understand this is not “country music’s” doing. This is on Maren Morris. She picked the fight with the wife of a country star who is not in any way directly relevant to the country genre.

All that said, country music is leaning more right these days, but it’s in part because of people like Maren Morris and the blowback to their constant effervescent hall monitoring that is really nothing more than gaming the media for favorable coverage.

Despite the glowing press coverage, Maren’s last album Humble Quest was a flop, debuting at #21 on the country charts. And so Maren Morris muck racks on social media to satiate her extreme appetite for attention. That’s not the kind of community member country music needs. Maren Morris isn’t combating country music’s continued representation issues with her constant grousing and backbiting. She’s proven time and time again to be counter-productive to these initiatives.

Meanwhile, if Maren Morris truly cared about the progressive values and the representation of women in country music that she purports to espouse, she wouldn’t tuck her tail between her legs and retreat to pop. If she had any pluck she would stand and fight for country music instead of seceding it to people she believes are unsavory, and leaving us with one less woman in the genre. Retreating shows a lack of resolve.

Country music should be a place for everybody, no matter who they are, including Maren Morris, if she wants to make actual country music. But Maren Morris wasn’t working toward that end with her supposed activism, despite the characterizations of herself and her sycophants in the media. She was making it a toxic place for people who did not adhere to minority viewpoints about contentious topics.

Maren Morris is no victim, nor is she a hero. Kristen Hall of Sugarland, she was a victim. KD Lang, she was a victim. So were The [Dixie] Chicks. Meanwhile, a hero fights for their beliefs, stands their ground, and figures out smarter ways to reach the intended audience to pull people towards their side, often by using love as opposed to judgment like Willie Nelson has done for going on a century.

Country music won’t just be fine without Maren Morris, it will be better off. And hopefully Maren Morris will be off better off as well. Politicking and bad blood aside, it just wasn’t a good fit between Maren Morris and country music. And Maren Morris is right when she says that country music has issues to resolve when it comes to making sure everyone has an equal opportunity to make it within the genre. But the idea that country music is in a regressive pattern is just a canard sown by social media types looking to pander to their constituencies by painting an endless timeline of worst case scenarios.

The first time Saving Country Music ever mentioned Maren Morris, it was a positive review speaking on the promising nature of her career via her first single “My Church.” Her song “Loose Change” remains a standout from The Highwomen album, and one of the most country songs from that project.

You can’t blame Maren Morris for moving on if she feels like country music is not a good fit. She should have the right to follow her muse wherever it takes her as an artist. But there are big lessons country music needs to learn from the experience of investing in pop-leaning performers. And anyone talking about burning country down—roots, branches, and all—is someone’s whose ideas don’t deserve to be entertained, or even placated. Maren Morris has some personal issues to work out. And luckily, country music no longer will be intertwined with them.

© 2024 Saving Country Music