Why Maren Morris Is 'Sick of Being a Yes Man’

Morris was among the honorees at Variety’s annual Hitmakers event.

Reports of Maren Morris quitting country music are exaggerated. „You don’t fight for what you don’t want,” Morris says on Zoom during a chat from his Nashville home, pressed as his son Hayes sleeps. „I’m doing all this because I want it to be better for everyone, not just a few.”

Morris isn’t going anywhere—he’s not leaving Nashville, he’s not stopping his mission to make the music industry more fair, and he’s certainly not leaving his Texas roots to become a „pop star,” as he puts it. „Obviously not – that’s hilarious.”

her Variety The Hitmakers Award for Changemaker of the Year comes after years of Morris using his success in country music to push the genre toward greater inclusion on all fronts — most emphatically, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. That push has meant clashing with some of country music’s most visible stars and becoming the loudest progressive voice on Nashville’s conservative-leaning political spectrum: not looking the other way when Morgan Wallen used a racial slur or Jason Aldean’s wife Brittany posted. A controversial transphobic joke on Instagram has landed the 33-year-old singer-songwriter in the middle of an authorized version of the culture wars. When Tucker Carlson, still at the helm of his Fox News Bully Sermon, called her a „crazy country music person,” she wasn’t up to good, leading to branding her a fundraiser on an official T-shirt. A new name for his fans, „The Lunatics.”

“I don’t think of myself as this bad guy or anything; I was so sick of being a yes person going forward,” says Morris. „I’m successful, but – I think – at a moral cost. I can’t keep doing the same song and dance.

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Now after five ACM Awards, five CMA Awards and three No. 1 songs on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, Morris is stepping back from country radio promotion and awards show junkets into unfamiliar territory — not country-bred in the music line, but no. No The country is one. His latest EP, „The Bridge,” with two songs that are easy to read as indictments of the industry he’s trying to shake off, is Morris’s opening salvo, a creative expression of the vast freedom he’s been fighting for: „It’s liberating to actually realize. I had the keys the whole time,” he says.

Morris traces his willingness to speak out against the genre’s status quo to another hit-making Texan country act: The Six and their famous 2003 rendition of the Iraq War — which changed their name to pre-„Repeal.” culture” verb, „Don’t get Dixie-Chicked.” „I found these beloved superstars and heroes of mine completely disenfranchised within their own genre,” Morris says. „I think that’s probably where it started for me, and I think I never shook it. „

Before Morris began speaking out for social justice causes, in 2019 she joined HighWomen, a supergroup formed ostensibly as a reaction to the lack of women on country radio. „It was definitely subversive for the time,” Morris says. „Four women came together with this idea — not just the songs, but the idea of ​​what Highwoman is — that changed a lot of people.”

The Highwaymen are named after the Highwaymen, whose heritage and fearlessness Morris and his bandmates aim to continue as an outlaw country supergroup. „I still watch them, as well as country music girls, because it’s intense to be there,” Morris says. „Anytime you raise your hand and innocently ask a question, there are consequences—or wonder out loud if there’s a better way.”

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Morris’ questions are especially urgent in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. She recalls standing on stage at the 2020 CMA Awards, where she received three trophies for her hit single “The Bones,” and being shocked by what she saw. „I looked around the crowd and for the first time felt stupid that there were only white people there,” says Morris. „I wish I could wake up soon.” In one of her acceptance speeches from the show, she thanked black female country artists and asked the audience to seek out their music — giving up as much of the stage as she could for people on the near-impossible path to those CMA steps.

What followed was a long year of talking, followed by the kind of what Morris calls „bad faith arguments with bad faith people” that are inevitable in the social media era. Because of his radio bona fides, he has been able to force people in the country music industry to confront issues like racism and transphobia that are usually ignored; In the process, however, she learns the hard way how isolating it can be to embrace conflict within such a tight-knit community. „I’m not apologetic in any way that I approached transphobes,” she says. „It’s not hateful to call out a hateful person for doing a hateful act!”

Something the singer-songwriter now knows all too well is how deep the nation’s inequality runs, and how difficult it is to make change alone. „For years we’ve been trying to figure out who can make this genre,” Morris says. „Is it the labels? Is it the streaming platforms? Is it the publishers? Is it the writers? Who’s really on top?” The answers are still unclear, and despite much attention being paid to the genre’s growth and country music’s lack of diversity, little has changed.” Emotions aside, I look at the facts — the fact is, the country chart is bad. [for women and minorities] than a decade ago,” he says. „Whether I snickered or not, it got worse.”

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It’s a relief to let go of the responsibility of being a cog in the colossal machine of country music. But that didn’t mark the end of Morris’ career or his creative and personal relationship with Nashville’s vibrant, country-centric music scene, although his EP „The Bridge” included „Get the Hell Out of Here,” his first single. Committed Poppy produced by Jack Antonoff.

„I haven’t moved out of Dodge. I love living in Nashville, and I don’t consider myself an outsider to country music,” he says. „There are so many amazing people making music here. I’m a part of this city, and I want to make it better, just like I want the music industry to be better.

Her path to getting a job and her beliefs are close to aligning. For Morris, it was worth it. „The moral is that it took a lot of sleepless nights and traumas and depressions and manic episodes to get here,” he says, laughing. „It’s a lot of work and I’m still at it. But I sleep heavy at night.

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