Dear Country Music Establishment / Mainstream Country Music Machine:
This piece of open and public correspondence isn’t aiming in any way, to begin (re)-examining the merits – personally perceived or objectivity concluded – of any artists or singer-songwriters within your sphere of influence. What it is intent on saying and doing, is making a declarative point about the utterly hypocritical and pathetically veiled track record of this high profile body heavily comprised of decision making executives, board members, radio programmers, popular venue bookers, etc.
The swift, decisive, and severe ejection of Morgan Wallen from nearly every facet of the public eye that you, the country establishment have control over? That was an actual, objectively good start. It was far better than the long delayed, slow to impact, or non-existent actions of times past, for adjacently terrible behaviors, by other artists also in the country space.
However, let it be shared openly here, that one set of unified actions on your collective part – in the face of an undeniably racist, completely deliberate, and socially/culturally reprehensible act – does not make this body of organizations and individuals, the paramount of progressive and positive good by any means. To pivot to such a distinction after a single moment of bold clarity would do further injustice to those people who have been mocked, dismissed even when they deserved better.
TL;DR on that last part: You don’t get the gold star of progressive achievement for executing the response right this one time. You don’t get it after two either. (Broken clocks are right twice a day after all!)
No, similar to my thoughts on Morgan Wallen himself, which include the vital path forward that he not be instantly granted space for a redemption tour if and when he chooses to attempt one. (And that includes AFTER he may publicly declare an act of visible rectification like, donating to a Black community supporting charity or non-profit.) The country music establishment has too often watered down, looked the other way, or perhaps even worse, tried to defend everything from tone-deaf social stances to downright unacceptable behavior not far from Wallen’s overt transgression. Heck, just last year, during one of the most emotionally trying and unstable times in our shared lifetimes, and even more up close, during one of the most striking reactions against racial injustice in our lifetimes, the CMAs’ official stance was “NO DRAMA.”
I realize no one large entity holds all the power of the country music machine. Truthfully, at least the Grammys attempted to put forth more diverse recognition for their portion of impact around country music, and not ignore the realities of global life. Still, that’s all the more reason that those platforms which are solely dedicated to, branded in support of, and passionately cheering for country music, need to start working on a serious, consistent, and long-running track record of Wallen-level responses, for EACH AND EVERY artist who thinks general good human conduct doesn’t apply to them.
Then in addition to that, the country establishment still needs to work on, not finding, but making, space for artists, songwriters, band players, engineers, and anyone else involved in the community who falls outside the long-treaded trench of combined caucasian, male, truck driving, cowboy hat, southern drawl, whiskey drinking, gun-touting, woman-objectifying attributes that are so incredibly ingrained into the stereotypical and even at times expected aesthetic of contemporary country, country-pop, and country-rock.
Does this sound like a lot to do and a large mountain to climb? Yes it does.
But time to suck it up and deal folks.
For every minute folks like Morgan Wallen still hold attention long past when they shouldn’t, there is valuable time and space that could instead go to others who have nothing immoral to say and who only want to share in the joy of this genre, its sounds, and the good parts of its community. Country is not a race. It is not a brand. It’s supposed to be about real, lived experiences of the everyday person, and the everyday person doesn’t just look or sound like, or enjoy just the things in my aforementioned list. Real lived experiences are had by, well, every real person who lives in this country, as well as other nations around the world.
It’s time to realize everyone means EVERYone. No more excuses. No more whining. No more thumb twiddling in the face of space being obviously wasted on people who don’t respect or appreciate they’ve been given it.
Make more, as well as keep room for folks like Mickey Guyton, TJ Osborne, Our Native Daughters, John-Allison Weiss. Willie Jones, William Prince, Jessye DeSilva, Sarah Shook. Do it for ANYONE and (again, louder for those in the back,) EVERYONE ELSE who says country music speaks to them – not just the same profile of person who has been the driving demographic to the point of being a trope (one of many) of hit-song-relatable levels in Maddie and Tae’s breakout single music video, “Girl in a Country Song.”