18 Years Ago: Natalie Maines Makes Controversial Comments About President George W. Bush
Today's an anniversary that perhaps the Chicks would rather forget. It was on this date (March 10) in 2003 that lead singer Natalie Maines made a comment, quickly heard around the world, that brought their skyrocketing career to a screeching halt.
The Texas-based trio -- which also includes sisters Emily Robison (now Emily Strayer) and Martie Maguire (now Martie Erwin) and was then known as the Dixie Chicks, prior to a name change in 2020 -- were performing at the Shepherd's Bush Empire theater in London, England, as the kickoff to their international Top of the World Tour, in support of 2002's multi-platinum selling album Home. News was buzzing all over the globe about the United States' impending invasion of Iraq, under the leadership of then-President George W. Bush.
As Maines was introducing the Chicks' then-latest single, "Travelin' Soldier," she 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 that the President of the United States is from Texas."
Even though the trio was performing on foreign soil at the time, the comment quickly circulated in the United States, and many country radio stations immediately stopped playing their music. Several country artists, including Reba McEntire and Toby Keith, also spoke out against the threesome, with Keith and Maines publicly bashing each other, both in their music and in the media, as a result.
While the Chicks formed a united front in the wake of the controversy, finishing their tour and putting out one more album, 2006's Taking the Long Way, the backlash over that comment ultimately ended their career as superstars. While Taking the Long Way soared to No. 1, their only Top 40 single from the record was "Not Ready to Make Nice," which they wrote about their banishment from the industry following the comment.
"The stakes were definitely higher on that song," Robison says of the track. "We knew it was special because it was so autobiographical, and we had to get it right. And once we had that song done, it freed us up to do the rest of the album without that burden."
Also in 2006, the Chicks released a documentary, Shut Up and Sing, which followed the three women as they dealt with the public and media scrutiny following the incident, including threats of physical harm and death wishes. They then went on an indefinite hiatus, with Maines releasing a solo album, and Robison and Maguire forming a duo, Court Yard Hounds.
The Chicks toured Canada and Europe in 2013 and 2014, and in the U.S. in 2016, but Maines admits that their return to being a mainstream country act is unlikely: “I feel like we are tainted,” she concedes. “I don’t know if we put a tour up, if people would come.”
However, the band released a new album, Gaslighter, in 2020 that topped the Billboard Country Albums chart, though they did not promote the project to country radio. Around the album's release, the Chicks admitted that they'd given up caring about receiving airplay from country stations.
“It’s like going back to your abuser. Or doing something a second time and hoping for a different outcome or result," Maines said at the time, noting that they're not "mad" or holding a grudge, just over trying to curry favor. "It’s just called learning from your life," she added.
Maines, for her part, isn't afraid to poke a little fun at her infamous comments, while also standing firm in her beliefs: Leading up to the 2016 presidential election, she riffed on her 2003 remarks to criticize presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and she was been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump.
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