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How the Chicks went from being silenced to finding their voices again

The Chicks are back with their new album, ‘Gaslighter.’ Here’s a quick primer on their path from blacklisted to outspoken advocates for social and political justice.

How the Chicks went from being silenced to finding their voices again
[Photo: Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty Images]
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Over the course of their 30-year career, the Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) have enjoyed the highest successes any artist can imagine—and the lowest of lows.

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The group, consisting of Natalie Maines and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, has won 13 Grammy Awards and sold 33 million albums. They also weathered death threats and being blacklisted after speaking out against President George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq back in 2003. Their comments made them a lightning rod of controversy but also positioned them as rare progressive voices within the country music industry.

The Chicks pushed past the backlash with their defiant 2006 album, Taking the Long Way.

Now, after a 14-year hiatus, they’re back with their new album, Gaslighter, a new name—and their same fierce stance on social and political issues.

Gaslighter by the Chicks

Here’s a quick primer on how the Chicks went from being silenced to finding their voices again.

Taking a stand . . . and suffering the fall

On March 10, 2003, the Chicks were performing at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London while on tour promoting Home, their sixth album.

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At the time, the United States was only nine days away from invading Iraq under the command of then-president George W. Bush. During the Chicks’ set, Natalie Maines said, “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

A music critic from The Guardian included Maines’s comment in her review of the show, which was quickly picked up by other outlets, sparking intense backlash against the group.

Radio stations boycotted their music. People destroyed their CDs. The band members received death threats. The Chicks were effectively blacklisted within the country music industry.

In an interview with Diane Sawyer a month later, Maines partially backtracked on her comments, saying, “At that moment, on the eve of war, I had a lot of questions that I felt were unanswered. I think the way I said it was disrespectful. The wording I used, the way I said it, that was disrespectful. I feel regret for, you know, the choice of words. Am I sorry that I asked questions and that I don’t just follow? No.”

Sorry, not sorry

Three years after Maines’s comment, the Chicks released their next album, Taking the Long Way, which had a resoundingly defiant tone against their critics, most notably in their lead single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” which included the lyrics:

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I’m through with doubt
There’s nothin’ left for me to figure out
I’ve paid a price
And I’ll keep payin’

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and I don’t have time
To go ’round and ’round and ’round
It’s too late to make it right
I probably wouldn’t if I could
‘Cause I’m mad as hell, can’t bring myself

In the run-up to the album’s release, Maines also rescinded her apology to Bush, telling Time magazine, “I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever.”

In the same interview, Maguire said, “I’d rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don’t want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do.”

In September 2006, the documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing was released, detailing the backlash against the group.

At the 49th Annual Grammy Awards the following year, the Chicks won all five categories they were nominated in, including Record of the Year for “Not Ready to Make Nice” and Album of the Year.

Introducing the Chicks

After a 14-year hiatus, the Chicks announced in June 2019 that they were releasing a new album in 2020, with Maines stating, “Our last album was the most personal and autobiographical we’d ever been, and then this one is, like, 10 times that.”

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Gaslighter was set to be released May 1 but was postponed to July due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 4, the Chicks released the video for the lead single and title track:

On June 25, the group announced they were dropping “Dixie” from their name in light of the global protests against racial inequality, stating on their website, “We want to meet this moment.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Maguire called it a “stupid name” that they picked when they were teens. Maines added, “We wanted to change it years and years and years ago. I just wanted to separate myself from people [who] wave that Dixie flag.”

With the announcement of their new name, the Chicks also released a protest song called “March March.”

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The song addresses such issues as gun control, climate change, abortion, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The video displays footage and pictures from protests across history, with one part rapidly displaying the long list of Black men and women who have died at the hands of police brutality or in racially motivated attacks.

In something of a full-circle moment, the video for “March March” includes the line “If your voice held no power, they wouldn’t try to silence you,” which harkens back to Maines’s 2003 comments.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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