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‘I’m Really Glad We’re Now Allowed to Not Just “Shut Up and Sing.”‘ The Chicks on Music, Sexism and Democracy

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When The Chicks wrote and recorded Gaslighter, their first album together in 14 years, there was no pandemic. Black Lives Matter protests had not yet roiled the country. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was still at her post. And the trio of artists—Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer—were still calling themselves the Dixie Chicks, as they had for three decades.

But by the spring of 2020, just as they were planning to release their music, things changed. The Chicks, who were named to the TIME100 list in 2006, just a few years after finding themselves in the center of controversy for an offhand political statement, changed too. First came their single “March March,” an appropriate rejoinder to current events. Then they changed their name, dropping “Dixie” entirely—explaining during a TIME100 Talk airing September 23 that it was something they’d been intending to do for years.

The band also paid homage to Justice Ginsburg during the Talks, dedicating a performance of their song “For Her” to the legal hero. As it turns out, they had been thinking of Ginsburg when they were initially recording it.

“That song, in the studio, we discussed using an excerpt of hers to start the song…Now I’m wishing we had done that!” Strayer said, adding: “We need women like her on the bench. We need that.”

The three artists also reflected on how times have changed since their 2003 experience of pop culture cancellation. “I’m really glad we’re now allowed to not just ‘shut up and sing,'” Maines said. “I’m glad [someone] like Taylor Swift is coming into her own and realizing she doesn’t have to mask who she is to her country music fans,” added Maguire, referencing the willingness of artists of all kinds to engage with contemporary politics.

That said, The Chicks spoke out about continuing concerns surrounding sexism in the country music industry. “I think it’s gotten worse, don’t y’all?” said Strayer, noting that she recalls a greater number of female voices on the radio in their earlier years.

The Chicks don’t always consider themselves specifically “country,” although they have found success in that genre. And overall they are optimistic about the diversification of ways to find audiences, and the next generation’s access to all kinds of music. “You’re not dependent on some guy smoking a cigar behind a desk to get played on the radio…now there are so many options,” Maines added.

But right now there’s another issue that’s foremost on their minds: voting. “I’m hopeful because of our daughters,” said Strayer. “The way they approach the world is open-eyed…the girls of the next generation are automatically stepping into their rights.”

“If we lose our democracy, their spirit won’t matter,” said Maines.

“Our collective message has been: just please vote,” added Maguire. “My positivity lies in feeling that what is right, and what is just, lies in the heart of the majority.”

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com