The big news about the Dixie Chicks this week was that they were still around.
I was mildly amazed, too; it’s been 20 years since the pop-country trio’s heyday and roughly 10 since they became an ongoing sociopolitical concern instead of a musical one.
Props to them for showing up in my news feed again, I guess, although I felt a bit like I ought to have been receiving news about them via MySpace.
Secondary to this was the fact that the Dixie Chicks were dropping the word “Dixie” from their name due to its associations with the Bad Old Days in the American South. More’s the pity.
The official line is that this move was made because of the current cultural climate, although one can’t help but notice the felicitous timing of the minor controversy and the upcoming, deeply unanticipated release of their first studio album since 2006’s “Taking the Long Way” in just a few weeks.
“We want to meet this moment,” the Dix… erm, The Chicks said on their website Thursday.
And lo and behold, as The Washington Post reported, the decision to drop the word “Dixie” from their name just happened to coincide with the release of a single from their upcoming album, an anti-conservative anthem called “March, March,” along with a music video showing various protest marches. When it came to cryptic subtlety, the Chicks never were quite Bob Dylan or Radiohead.
“Print yourself a weapon and take it to the gun range / Ah, cut the s—, you ain’t goin’ to the gun range / Standin’ with Emma and our sons and daughters / Watchin’ our youth have to solve our problems,” quoth the Chicks in a reference to March for our Lives co-founder and anti-gun activist Emma Gonzalez. “Tell the ol’ boys in the white bread lobby / What they can and can’t do with their bodies / Temperatures are risin’, cities are sinkin’ / Ah, cut the s—, you know your city is sinkin’.”
Genius stuff. Oh, yeah, and there’s a bit of anti-Trump conspiracy theorizing in there: “Everybody’s talkin’, who’s gonna listen? / What the hell happened in Helsinki?” they sing, referencing the president’s 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital.
Anyhow, they’ve officially met the moment and gotten back on the Twitter feed of the music website that’s all things white, indie and 40-something, Pitchfork:
Dixie Chicks are changing their name: The trio is now called The Chicks. https://t.co/sTAI98Fenj
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) June 25, 2020
However, as one person pointed out, there were other issues with the name of the rechristened Dixie Chicks, too:
I find the term “Chicks” to be offensive.
— Dobro (@Dobro167) June 25, 2020
Hmm. It’s almost like a) this wasn’t properly thought through or b) this wasn’t about the word “Dixie” at all.
Keep in mind, in this political environment — the same political environment that led them to just say no to Dixie — the term “chick” for a female is also pejorative.
You could say they’re reclaiming it — but then, they could also reclaim “Dixie” at the same time, too. There’s no mutual exclusivity, after all.
And don’t believe me. Believe this 2016 opinion piece from Hattie Garlick in the U.K. Guardian: “Being called a bird is infantilising. Such terms hold women back.”
“But — oh, come on now, love — what does it really matter? They’re just words, after all — harmless terms of affection, in fact. The chosen names aren’t even insults or sexist slurs,” Garlick wrote. “Who doesn’t love a fluffy chick? Where’s the harm in being compared to one? So stop flapping about it. Don’t brood over it. All this nagging is just henpecking.
“A single word, you see, can hatch and breed until you have a whole flock of related words, each different but all related. All pecking slowly away at women’s self confidence, shaping the way women are seen in the workplace and having consequences every bit as real as the damage done by sticks and stones.”
I didn’t just pick this because Garlick knows how to stretch that bird metaphor into two paragraphs worth of puns. (Good job on that, by the way!) It’s because The Guardian is intimately associated with The Chicks, having essentially launched the band into the political spotlight with a review of a March 2003 London show during which formerly-Dixie-still-Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines told the audience: “We’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
During the opening days of the Iraq War, this was red meat for blue states and an affront to the trio’s country fanbase. Of course, now that George W. Bush is the good kind of Republican again in the eyes of the media, we don’t think about this much, but back then it was big deal, and The Chicks continued in this vein, bemoaning the fact that country fans and conservatives weren’t on board with the artist formerly associated with Dixie while continually saying more provocative things about them.
“The entire country may disagree with me, but I don’t understand the necessity for patriotism,” Maines said in 2006.
“Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country … I don’t see why people care about patriotism.”
And about country music artists being patriotic during the Iraq War: “A lot of pandering started going on, and you’d see soldiers and the American flag in every video. It became a sickening display of ultra-patriotism.”
Now we’ve come full circle, with Maines and Co. pandering through an ostentatious display of wokedom.
So what are the other possibilities? Well, you can’t really name a band “The,” and “The The” is already taken (by a significantly better artist, I might add). Meanwhile, “The Yankee Women” sounds like a show on a Maine PBS affiliate or a circa-2008 New York baseball blog.
Or perhaps we can just admit this was never about the word “Dixie” in the first place.
Very few people were demanding the Dixie Chicks change their name. (In fact, few were even demanding anything from the Dixie Chicks, period, but that’s a different story entirely.)
The cancel culture mob has indeed been trying to erase any reference to the South’s history. (Anything even tangentially linked to slavery must go, even if it’s so tangential as to be basically nonexistent.) It was this mob who The Chicks were trying to appeal to — yet the mob hadn’t even come for them.
Consider that when Lady Antebellum made a similar change earlier this month, no one asked, “Whither the Dixie Chicks?”
Discounting that “Antebellum” specifically refers to the pre-war South whereas “Dixie” just refers to the South, nobody really knew the politics of the members of Lady Antebellum (or Lady A, as per their new name).
That was half the problem. We all knew the Dixie Chicks were liberal — and before now, no one on the left really had a problem with “Dixie” or “chicks.”
And — wouldn’t you know it? — they still don’t seem to have a problem with “chicks.” I’m stunned.
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