From the outside looking in, you would be forgiven for believing that country music suffers from a blinkered, red-stained myopia. For decades, country was seen as the genre of conservative audiences, its lyrics steeped in the ideals that closely gravitated towards the right of the political divide. As time has gone on, though, and society has transformed and shifted, so too has country music. Today it’s not uncommon to find progressive or even country musicians who identify as Democrats, suggesting that the genre is becoming more receptive to differing political and personal standpoints. Here are a few artists who are left-leaning in country today.
One of country music’s foremost LGBT rights activist is Chely Wright, who back in 2010 publicly came out to People magazine. On coming out as a lesbian, Wright said, “Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out.” Because of her firsthand experience, the ACM award-winning singer has thrown her weight into supporting furthering LGBT causes. She was also a strong supporter of Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 and has praised Obama’s stance on gay marriage.
By now, the Dixie Chick’s and Natalie Maines’ criticism of former President George W. Bush and the Iraq War is the stuff of legend. The comments effectively torpedoed the Dixie Chicks’ career and made them pariahs in the country music world. But more than ten years on, Natalie Maines is still sticking to her guns. Back in 2013, Maines spoke to US Weekly and said that she was “right from the beginning, because it's my right as an American to speak up and question our President, have my point of view, have my opinion, question what I want to question, and say what I want to say about our government.” In that same interview, Maines went further, revealing that she doesn’t like country music or the country community in its current state. “I don't know about the country community. But the Dixie Chicks have fans that have stayed loyal and stayed with us, but just as a whole or a radio market, or a musical genre. I am very liberal. A lot of them don't like me, and what I have to say.”
Earlier this year, a magnifying glass was raised over comments of McGraw’s where the country icon stated that he supported Barack Obama. A host of conservative blogs and outlets decried the singer’s statements where he said, “It’s innate in me to be a blue-dog Democrat. I’m not saying I’m right or wrong, but that’s what I am. My wife and I and our family will do everything we can to support Obama. I like his ideas, I like his energy, and I like the statement he would make for our country to the world.” The only trouble was that it was revealed that those comments were from 2008, before Obama was even in office. While that doesn’t indicate what his political stances are in the present, with him saying that he is innately a Democrat, it’s safe to say that his political compass hasn’t moved greatly in the years since.
That Kacey Musgraves is left-leaning may not come as such a big surprise. Throughout her career, Musgraves has positioned herself as progressive, and refreshingly forward thinking. A lot of her music is punctuated with messages of acceptance of differing attitudes and lifestyles, attitudes and lifestyles that people don't traditionally associated with country music. Her hit single “Follow Your Arrow” is probably the best example of this. Besides her music, Musgraves has shown support for gay rights before. And though she hasn’t come out and stated in absolute terms whether or not she is a Democrat, her lyrics and music make her the poster girl for country music’s current shifting definition of what country music is and means.
Harris is, by now, a country and folk music legend and along with her music, she has also been deeply invested in activism and social rights for decades now. More recently, the singer has been a supporter of LGBT rights and issues, and she is a prominent and active member of PETA. Speaking about LGBT rights, Harris said, “ I just believe in equal rights for everyone. Everyone has the right to happiness — to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And, you know, it shouldn’t be different for anyone.”