Freeze Frame: 2003 The Chicks concert that turned their entire fanbase against them

Few celebrities like to talk about politics. Situating yourself as apolitical is the fastest way to become universally adored.

The story of the rise and catastrophic demise of the Dixie Chicks – now The Chicks – in 2003 is a cautionary tale many stars cling to as a reason to avoid politicism of any kind.

Pop queen Taylor Swift looked to this example as the reason for not publicly confirming she was a democrat until 2018. Some even compared them, claiming Swift had “ruined her career”.

But what exactly happened to The Chicks?

Watch the video above.

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LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 1:  The country group Dixie Chicks (L-R Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Robison) pose for a photo session on September 1, 2002 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

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The American country music band was unceremoniously blacklisted in 2003 after they used their platform to criticise then-President George W. Bush over the Iraq war.

At the time, the US were just 10 days away from invading Iraq and launched a bombing campaign alongside allies Australia, the UK and Poland.

The Chicks, like millions of other anti-war citizens, were shocked and upset by America’s involvement in the war. So, they used a concert in London to voice their dismay.

While performing their Top of the World tour at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, singer Natalie Maines addressed the crowd.

“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas,” Maines said between songs.

Journalist Betty Clarke, who was present at the concert as a reviewer for The Guardian, later recalled the “audible gasp” heard from the audience.

Dixie Chicks Performing At Shepherds Bush Empire, London, Britain - 2003, Dixie Chicks (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

“People weren’t used to hearing very famous people give their opinions so honestly,” Clarke told Refinery29 years later.

That single sentence caused an extreme backlash which rippled around the world. It sparked a movement in America that changed the trajectory of the band forever. 

News of Maine’s public condemnation of the US President reached their American fans, who were particularly incensed.

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The majority of US voters actually supported the war. And there was an unsurprising crossover between this type of political mindset and country music fans.

“You’ve just got a majority of the core of country music listening audience kind of feeling the same way about politics,” band member Martie Maguire told MSNBC in 2006.

“And we always kind of felt like the black sheep [regarding our political beliefs] but never really used the stage to talk about politics.”

Country music stations all over America blacklisted The Chicks’ music. Protesters even took to the streets to burn their CDs, with one group using a tractor to roll over the discs.

Dixie Chicks, The Chicks, cover, nude, Entertainment Weekly, 2003

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The band, spooked by the reaction, quickly tried to smooth over the controversy with a statement a few days later.

Maine said on the official website that The Chicks “support our troops… there is nothing more frightening than the notion of going to war with Iraq and the prospect of all the innocent lives that will be lost”.

She then shared another statement, apologising directly to Bush and admitting her on-stage statement was “disrespectful”.

Though, the singer retracted her apology just three years later in an interview with TIME Magazine. “I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel he is owed any respect whatsoever,” she said.

The band then posed for a now-iconic Entertainment Weekly cover, naked with harsh words branded on their body. “Boycott”, “traitors” and “big mouth” were some of the insults they’d faced that year.

The backlash impacted the band’s music sales. In 2006, The Chicks’ album Taking the Long Way didn’t do nearly as well as their earlier albums.

One of the singles, Not Ready to Make Nice, even addressed the political firestorm that Maine’s comment had triggered.

The Chicks

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Though, it seemed the American public were not quite ready to forgive.

The Chicks essentially disappeared for a decade after this controversy. Their official comeback was in 2020, when they returned to the spotlight with a brand new name: The Chicks.

The name was a response to the growing BLM movement after the band recognised the association the word ‘Dixie’ had with racism in the South.

Speaking to Allure in 2020, Maines reflected on the intense fallout and how difficult it was to have their entire fanbase turn on them.

“When we started doing this music, I liked the people in our industry. We always waved that country flag when people would say it wasn’t cool. And then to see how quickly the entire industry turned on us,” Maines explained.

“I wanted the audience to know who we were and what we were about. I do not like when artists get on their soapbox – it’s not what people are there for; they’re there to listen to your music – [but] the politics of this band is inseparable from the music.”