Published by Cel Manero from Global One Media, Inc.
In September, Maren Morris appeared to be distancing herself from country music, but over the subsequent two months, she has refined her message, suggesting that it might be more of a temporary break, akin to a Ross and Rachel-esque situation from the format.
The ambiguity raises questions: Is she truly leaving, and to what extent does she have the final say?
On September 15, the Los Angeles Times featured an interview with Morris with the headline, “Maren Morris is getting the hell out of country music: ‘I’ve said everything I can say.'” It seems definitive, right? However, the article by Mikael Wood adds nuance by highlighting lyrics from her new songs released that day (“The Tree” and “Get the Hell Out of Here”), which convey sentiments of frustration and a desire for change.
Despite the seemingly definitive headline, Morris’s actual quotes in the story are less conclusive. She mentioned needing to take a step back and acknowledged the genre feeling like family, making her feel a responsibility to protect it. Yet, she also expressed the thought of burning down country music and starting anew, although she added that the genre seemed to be undergoing changes on its own.
While her recent songs align with the progressive sound she’s known for, a tangible sign of her potential departure was reported by the L.A. Times: her move from Columbia Nashville to Columbia Records. Notably, singer Cam made a similar move in 2018.
The plot thickens when Morris, in a recent appearance on the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, described headlines about her departure as “hyperbolic.” She emphasized that country music is ingrained in her and is the music she grew up doing, despite her genre-fluid career. When pressed by Fallon for a definitive answer on leaving country music, she responded with a firm “No, no,” clarifying that she is taking the aspects she values with her while leaving behind elements that no longer resonate with her.
In the L.A. Times article, Morris hints at the problematic politics within the country music genre. Wood suggests that she is departing due to “what she perceives as the country music industry’s reluctance to honestly confront its history of racism and misogyny.”
Morris explicitly states her weariness of crafting music with commercial success, particularly radio airplay, in mind.
The seeds of discontent were sown in late 2022 when she expressed discomfort attending the CMA Awards following a public disagreement with Brittany and Jason Aldean over issues related to trans-rights, children, and gender. Despite initially hesitating, Morris did attend the awards but aimed to avoid cameras as much as possible.
Following this incident, there was a noticeable period of silence from Morris, an artist who had previously invested significant time in engaging with country music outlets and radio stations. Her reemergence occurred with the publication of the “leaving country” article.
On the day of the 2023 CMA Awards, Morris shared several photos on Instagram with the caption “Bitches unite tonight.”
While Maren Morris’s musical direction isn’t crucial in itself, navigating a genre-less path poses a marketing challenge. What distinguishes her from artists like Taylor Swift is the clarity of Swift’s departure from country music in 2014, announcing her shift to pop with the “1989” album.
Ambiguity in musical direction can lead to an artist being overlooked, complicating relationships with country music programmers if Morris aims for airplay, playlists, or awards in country music categories. Cam’s experience, where radio ignored singles from “The Otherside” album (2020), illustrates this challenge.
At 33, Morris doesn’t appear overly inclined to pursue CMA or ACM Awards. However, more open-minded institutions like the Grammys and People’s Choice Awards could be appealing. Winning a Grammy is a coveted achievement for many artists.
If these considerations don’t weigh heavily on her, we might anticipate a creatively satisfying record next year. The current climate is favorable for independent artists (like Tyler Childers) or those who adopt an independent mindset (like Zach Bryan). Some of the most compelling music in the past year has come from artists who either stopped caring about conforming to industry norms or never played the game in the first place (with Jason Isbell embodying a 21st-century original in this regard).
These artists, particularly figures like Tyler Childers, have actively contributed to the progression of LGBTQ issues within the realm of country music. Notably, their musical expressions are characterized by a lack of ambiguity, delivering a clear and impactful message in support of LGBTQ inclusivity.