NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Billboard) -- Disappointing airplay for the first two singles from the new album by the Dixie Chicks exposes a deep -- and seemingly growing -- rift between the trio and the country radio market that helped turn the group into superstars.
"Taking the Long Way," due out May 23, is the band's first album since singer Natalie Maines sparked a major controversy in 2003 by declaring that she was ashamed to hail from the same state as fellow Texan President George W. Bush. Radio boycotts ensued, and many fans abandoned the band.
The first single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," peaked at No. 36 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart, beginning its descent after just seven weeks. The second single, "Everybody Knows," is now at No. 50, down two places in its fourth week.
Not Ready to Make Nice" performed only slightly better at adult contemporary radio, peaking at No. 32 on the AC chart and falling off after six weeks.
From the beginning of the album rollout, the Dixie Chicks were eager that their songs be worked to radio formats beyond country. The album was produced by rock veteran Rick Rubin, whose credits include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down and Johnny Cash.
By picking the defiant "Not Ready" as the first single, they've reopened a wound that was particularly deep for country radio fans, and left many country programmers with the burning question: Why on earth would the band choose to do this?
After hearing the album, WKIS Miami program director Bob Barnett says he was "excited about the opportunity to introduce some great Chicks music to the listeners." But the group's decision to come with "Not Ready" as the lead single left him "stunned, especially in light of the fact that, when asked, programmers and consultants that listened to the project were virtually unanimous in saying we should put the politics behind us and concentrate on all this other great music we were hearing."
KUBL/KKAT Salt Lake City PD Ed Hill criticizes the song's "self-indulgent and selfish lyrics."
Barnett played the song for a week, but pulled it after listeners called to say it sounded like the Chicks were "gloating" or "rubbing our noses in it," he reports. "We didn't need to pick at the scab any longer."
He and other country programmers were upset that the group chose to launch its new album with a single that rehashed all the angst of three years ago.
The Dixie Chicks and reps from their label, Columbia Records, declined to participate in this story. But -- at least as far as Maines is concerned -- the drop-off at country radio was part of its plan.
Maines was quoted in late January on EW.com, before the single went to country radio, saying: "For me to be in country music to begin with was not who I was ... I would be cheating myself ... to go back to something that I don't wholeheartedly believe in. So I'm pretty much done. They've shown their true colors. I like lots of country music, but as far as the industry and everything that happened ... I couldn't want to be farther away from that."
Maines also said, "I don't want people to think that me not wanting to be part of country music is any sort of revenge. It is not. It is totally me being who I am, and not wanting to compromise myself and hate my life."
At KNCI Sacramento, California, the Chicks' music weathered the 2003 controversy only to be pulled as a result of Maines' new Entertainment Weekly comments, coupled with poor scores in local music tests.
"When an artist says that they don't want to be a part of that industry, it made our decision a no-brainer," program director Mark Evans says. "There are too many talented new artists dying to have a song played on country radio, so I'd rather give one of them a shot."
The Dixie Chicks, who are unquestionably a very talented band, are also unquestionably a country music band. There is no other way to look at it. Sorry, but slide guitar, the fiddle and banjo are not prominently used in any other musical genre. While the Dixie Chicks did enjoy some cross-genre success with their music being played on "pop" radio stations as well as "country" radio stations, anyone that has listened to their music will tell you - they are, at their core, a country music band.
According to Dixie Chick Martie McGuire, the Dixie Chicks don't need country music fans - they want what they perceive are "cool fans":
"I'd rather have a small following of really cool people who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith," Maguire said. "We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."
No matter how the "left" wants to spin this issue, however, this is not a "free speech" issue. Everyone - even the Dixie Chicks - has every right to speak their mind and to pontificate as to their political views (no matter whether they are right, wrong or ignorant) without fear of governmental interference or punishment. However, what happened to the Dixie Chicks is not governmental interference or punishment - there is no governmental action that is infringing on their ability to speak.
Rather, this is a free market issue. The Dixie Chicks have the right to say they hate President Bush and country music fans - but their is no corresponding right that guarantees that, by doing so, there will be no economic ramifications. The Dixie Chicks must consciously understand that, by espousing their political views, country music fans, who do not share or support their views, may choose not buy their music or attend their concerts and country music stations may exercise their right not to play the Dixie Chicks' music on their radio station.