While Maren Morris Is Apologizing for Things, Here’s a Few More

In a recent behind-the-scenes clip as part of this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Maren Morris felt then needed to apologize to the drag queens competing on this season’s show on behalf of country music.

“Coming from country music and its relationship with LGBTQ+ members, I just want to say I’m sorry,” Maren Morris said. “And I love you guys for making me feel like a brave voice in country music. So I just thank you guys so much for inspiring me. I’m gonna cry.”

Maren Morris is a RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judge this season.

You’ve gotta love how Maren Morris figured out how to make her apology into a self-affirming compliment at the same time, while also using “country music” as a refraction point for her own virtue signaling. Not only is “country music” not a monolith that is regularly and unfairly stereotyped, it’s unclear exactly what “country music” has done to drag queens specifically, or even the LGBT community generally.

Dolly Parton has been one of the biggest drag queen inspirations in history, if not the biggest. Kacey Musgraves and Shania Twain have both worked as a judges on RuPal’s Drag Race previously, and when Drag Race contestant Trixie Mattel released a folk-inspired country album a few years back, it was embraced by independent country listeners, including Saving Country Music.

I guess Maren Morris is once again talking about the content of Jason Aldean’s wife’s Instagram account, which she’s used to siphon attention to herself in a culture war spat? But the Instagram account of some artist’s wife doesn’t represent “country music.” That would be like saying since Kanye West is an anti-Semite, all of hip-hop is. Or even worse, if the wife of Kanye West posted some anti-Semitic stuff on her Instagram account, then that would make all of hip-hop anti-Semitic.

Does “country music” have a glowing history with the LGBT community? Of course not. But neither does any genre of music, and many have much worse histories (hip-hop, for example).

But while Maren Morris is apologizing for stuff, here’s a few things she’s in arrears for on a personal level, including to the LGBT community.

Maren Morris is part of the country supergroup The Highwomen with Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, and Natalie Hemby. On the band’s self-titled album from 2019, there is a song called “If She Ever Leaves Me” written by Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Chris Tompkins. The group presented it as the first ever gay country song to the press and in promotional copy.

“Me and Amanda were in Jackson Hole, and I was on the elliptical and I thought about this project and went, ‘What if Brandi sang it?’” Jason Isbell said in a 2019 feature on the supergroup for Rolling Stone“And I started going, ‘Gay country song! Gay country song!’ I called Amanda [Shires] and went ‘Gay country song! Gay country song!’”

Despite the decades-long lineage of gay country songs and artists in country music—and the participation of Brandi Carlile in the project (who is gay herself and should know better, along with the other members)—Rolling Stone, the writer of the feature Marissa R. Moss, and the media at large allowed The Highwomen to market this song as the first gay country song, enacting the erasure of other gay artists and their contributions to the country genre over the years.

Despite Saving Country Music and other outlets challenging this notion of The Highwomen’s “If She Ever Leaves Me” being the first gay country song, Maren Morris nor any other member of The Highwomen have ever taken responsibility for or even acknowledged the issue, let alone apologized to the gay country community for making such an offensive assertion.

In fact, when Saving Country Music brings this up, the whole issue is laughed off as a fabrication. But the video below of Brandi Carlile introducing the song a few years ago with a cardboard cutout of Maren Morris behind her dispels those notions.

“We’re gonna sing you guys another Highwomen song. This is a really special song, because this is the world’s first gay country song.”

In fairness, Maren Morris did not write the song, but she materially participated in it, and in The Highwomen. This issue by The Highwomen is arguably the biggest offense toward the LGBT community in country music in the last five years. If Maren Morris wants to right the wrongs that “country music” has done to the LGBT community, apologizing and setting the record straight about “If She Ever Leaves Me” publicly would be a great place to start.

What are some other instances of “country music” being offensive or exclusionary toward the LGBT community in recent times? The most obvious one is the case of Kristen Hall and the country group Sugarland. A few years the senior of fellow Sugarland members Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, Kristen Hall was the established artist in Atlanta who helped open doors for the group. According to Kristen Hall, she also financed Sugarland’s first record on credit cards, was the individual most responsible for starting the band, and gave the band the name “Sugarland.”

But just as Sugarland was starting to take off, it was announced that Kristen Hall was leaving the group. The official reason given by Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush at the time was, “Kristen has decided that she wants to stay home and write songs, and we support her in that decision.” However, the reason cited by many industry insiders and what was later claimed in court was that Kristen Hall was forced out, and possibly paid-off to leave the band because of “image reasons.” Kristen Hall happens to be a lesbian.

Kristen Hall officially left Sugarland in December of 2005. In July of 2008, she filed a lawsuit against the duo for $14 million in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta for excluding her from sharing profits as had been agreed upon after she left, and for Sugarland excluding her from other benefits of the band’s success, despite her name still residing on the band’s trademark. The lawsuit was settled out of court for an undisclosed figure in November of 2010, and all documents in the case were sealed, leaving the details of the settlement undisclosed.

Strangely, despite this rather egregious act of allegedly forcing out the only openly gay artist signed to a country music major label at that time, Jennifer Nettles became the inaugural recipient of CMT’s “Equal Play Award” in 2020, essentially for the performative act of showing up to the 2019 CMA Awards red carpet in a white pant suit with a large pink sarong which unfurled to reveal written on the interior, “Play our F*@#in Records” and “Please & Thank You.”

To read more on the Kristen Hall vs. Sugarland issue, CLICK HERE.

Often popular music artists will use performative moments like Maren Morris’s “apology” for country music to cover for their own questionable behavior over the years. But it’s not just Maren’s involvement in The Highwomen “first gay country song” falsehood that has stirred controversy.

In the wake of the George Floyd murder in 2020 and the impending riots and protests, country artist Mickey Guyton became a focal point of media coverage as one of the few black women in the mainstream of country. She was subsequently asked to write an op/ed for Billboard about her experiences in country music, and how the country music community could improve to help artists of color. In the column, the most shocking revelation was not some systemic racism she had experienced in the country genre at some point. It was how she had been excluded and snubbed by her fellow women in the genre.

I left my ailing husband, who almost died from sepsis, in California just four days after his life-saving surgery because I had been invited to be a part of a female empowerment music video full of these same women. I arrived at the airport exhausted but excited. I checked my itinerary only to find that the entry had been deleted; I had been disinvited. The song was about supporting women in country, yet they disinvited the only charting African American woman in country music. Do they know? Don’t they see that I support them? Do they care? Do they want to see me? The answer is no. Let that sink in.

Though Mickey Guyton didn’t name The Highwomen or the video shoot for the group’s song “Redesigning Women” as the offending party at the time, it soon became evident this was the case. No public explanation from The Highwomen or anyone else was ever made as to why Mickey Guyton was disinvited, or what specifically happened to where she didn’t feel welcome to attend a video shoot she had flown across the country to be a part of. And if Mickey Guyton wasn’t there, why no women of color were involved in the video shoot at all.

To the credit of Maren Morris, she did address the situation indirectly on Twitter as a response to a fan, and confirmed that Guyton was supposed to be part of the video shoot, but with little detail about what happened. However, neither Maren Morris nor The Highwomen collectively have ever addressed the issue publicly, or directly, and no apology has ever been given.

To read more about the Mickey Guyton disinvitation, CLICK HERE.

Even more recently, in July of 2022, 21-year-old up-and-coming songwriter Paige Davis had her opening set on the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion’s “Hazy Little Stage” cancelled by the Maren Morris team that cited a “no local openers” clause and a “brand activation” as reasons to not let the performance go forward. “Due to Maren Morris’ request for “no local* openers,” we are sad to share that we will no longer be playing the show at Bank of NH Pavilion on July 9th,” Davis said.

Morgan Wallen, Kane Brown, Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt, and Luke Bryan all allowed local openers at their shows at the venue. Maren Morris was one of the few if only artists to not allow the opportunity to a local artist. No apology or acknowledgement of the issue was ever given by Maren Morris.

To read more about the “no local openers” issue, CLICK HERE.

This is not to assert that Maren Morris is not a conscientious person, or that she doesn’t mean well with her words. But her actions speak differently. It’s not even that she is directly responsible for some of the above offenses. But they are definitely within her orbit, and things she could and should address directly as opposed to apologizing for phantom offenses by “country music” toward drag queens or the LGBT community.

Of course country music could be more welcoming to all kinds of people, including the LGBT community. But it’s also important to not mischaracterize that the country music community is openly hostile to LGBT individuals, which could have a chilling effect on their participation just as much as any actual offenses towards them.

It’s also important to make sure the contributions of LGBT members in country music are put in the proper context. The recent death of songwriter, performer, and HIV/AIDS survivor Jimbeau Hinson who wrote songs for some of country music’s most conservative acts like The Oak Ridge Boys, Porter Wagoner, and Ricky Skaggs back in the ’70s underscores how country music has always been more welcoming than what certain elements of the media and others want to lead on.

If Maren Morris wants to set the world right with country music and the LGBT community, start with The Highwomen’s “If She Ever Leaves Me,” and go from there. Don’t just throw “country music” under the bus to make for a self-serving soundbite.

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