Maren Morris is getting the hell out of country music: 'I've said everything I can say'

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Maren Morris calls her new two-track EP "The Bridge," which is just one of several metaphors she deploys in imagining a path out of the world of country music in which she became a star.

On "The Tree," the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter says she's "done filling a cup with a hole in the bottom"; "Get the Hell Out of Here" opens with the admission that she "watered the garden but forgot to fill the well."

It's not that Morris, 33, has tired of twanging guitars or neatly cornered rhymes, both of which define the tunes that came out last week, a decade after she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, from her native Texas, first to write songs for established country acts such as Tim McGraw and later to sign a major-label record deal of her own. Rather, she says she's leaving because of what she views as the country music industry's unwillingness to honestly reckon with its history of racism and misogyny and to open its gates to more women and queer people and people of color.

Thus the rootsy yet polished "The Bridge," which Morris — a six-time winner at the Country Music Association Awards with four No. 1 hits on Billboard's Country Airplay chart — describes as a deliberate transition between her Nashville success and whatever comes next.

"I thought I'd like to burn it to the ground and start over," she says of country music. "But it's burning itself down without my help."

The singer acknowledges that, as a white woman, she's benefited from the system as it is. Yet Morris, who says, "Allyship begins with waking up from something really comfortable," has been vocal in her criticisms onstage and on social media, where she tangled last year with country star Jason Aldean and his wife over young people seeking gender-affirming health care. The spat even made it to Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, where the right-wing host described Morris as a "lunatic."


"The Bridge," which marks Morris' move to Columbia Records from the label's Nashville division, arrives accompanied by a music video for "The Tree" in which she strolls through an emptied-out small town as she hears "the sound of a new wind blowing." A sign welcomes visitors to the place "from sunrise to sundown" — a reference, perhaps, to the threat of racist vigilantism many perceived in Aldean's recent "Try That in a Small Town" video; other signs in front of boarded-up buildings read "GO WOKE GO BROKE" and "DON'T TREAD ON ME."

An experienced collaborator known for her duets with Taylor Swift, One Direction's Niall Horan and EDM star Zedd — not to mention her Highwomen supergroup with Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires — Morris is currently at work on her next LP with prolific pop producer Jack Antonoff, with whom she recorded "Get the Hell Out of Here." (Greg Kurstin produced "The Tree.") Morris, who lives in Nashville with her husband, singer-songwriter Ryan Hurd, and their 3-year-old son, spoke to the L.A. Times in a phone call from a tour stop in Calgary, Alberta, recently.

Q: Four country songs have topped Billboard's Hot 100 in 2023. But each has raised complicated questions about who's welcome in Nashville — none more so than "Try That in a Small Town," which drew widespread condemnation with a music video shot at the site of a lynching. Has this been a good year or a bad year for country music?

A: I'd say, sure, congratulations on crossing over onto the big all-genre chart. But the stories going on within country music right now, I've tried to avoid a lot of it at all costs. I feel very, very distanced from it.


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