“I am ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” This comment by Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, created a stir of controversy, for many, it thrust the band into the role of the face of the campaign against the war in Iraq. Masses of country fans destroyed the band’s records, radio stations boycotted its music and the Chicks’ record sales plummeted. With a single statement, the best-selling female band of all time became one of the most hated bands in country music.
“Shut Up and Sing,” a documentary, portrays the progression of the Dixie Chicks’ career since the incident. The film flashes back and forth through the three-year period from when the comment was made to the present. The band’s newest album, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” serves as the soundtrack, giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of each song. As the controversy progresses, so does the band’s emotional state, from shock and fear to anger and resentment, visually directed toward the fans and radio stations that deserted them. At first they consider apologizing but as the fallout continues they become rigidly unwilling to compromise their beliefs.
p. In the Dixie Chick’s latest single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the lyrics state it plainly: “How in the world can the words that I said / Send somebody so over the edge / That they’d write me a letter / Saying that I better shut up and sing / Or my life will be over?” The line provides the title and sentiment for the film, showing that after three years, the band has not yet forgiven the fans and industry that abandoned them.
p. Through the film, Maines is thrown front and center as the leader of the band and the source of the controversy. She perseveres with a fierce attitude and an unwillingness to apologize for her statements. She says what she wants to say regardless of the consequences, never losing her strong spirit and sense of humor in the face of the backlash.
p. The audience sees her sense of humor at its best after country singer Toby Keith criticizes her for being “unpatriotic” during one of his concerts. In response, Maines wore a shirt bearing the initials “FUTK.” When asked about the meaning, Maines turns to the camera with a look of mischief in her eyes and
says, “Fans United Through Kindness.” Later, when fans arrive at a Dixie Chicks concert wearing shirts with the initials “FUDC,” Maines cleverly states, “I almost said ‘I love your guys’ shirts’ but what do you have against Dick Cheney?’”
p. Country music is often associated with more politically conservative beliefs, at times to the point that the politics supercede the music. In the case of the Dixie Chicks, their music was no longer accepted once their beliefs opposed those of their fans. After years of propelling country music into the mainstream, the Dixie Chicks were abandoned by many otherwise loyal fans based on a single statement. This forever changed the direction of its members’ careers. In the midst of the controversy they faced harsh criticism, threats and the constant fear that their careers would never recover.
p. The filmmakers succeed brilliantly in highlighting this hypocrisy. One protestor actually said, “Freedom of speech is fine, but by God don’t do it in mass publicly.” After three years of controversy, if the Dixie Chicks learned anything, it is to stick together and keep talking.