Maren Morris, Jason Aldean and the very rare country music public feud

Over the previous decade, country musician Jason Aldean has been no stranger to controversy. He endured a very public dishonest scandal whereas married to his first spouse, fought towards allegations of racism after sporting a blackface Halloween costume, and most lately has drawn criticism for dressing his toddlers in T-shirts that learn “Hidin’ from Biden.” The GreenRoom, a Nashville-based publicity agency, helped him navigate all these incidents whereas sustaining his standing as one in every of the style’s prime stars — till final week when, to the shock of many in the business, the firm dropped one in every of its greatest purchasers.

“Music has always been and remains The GreenRoom’s core focus, so we had to make the difficult decision after 17 years to step away from representing Jason,” Tyne Parrish, co-owner of GreenRoom PR, whose purchasers embody a number of prime country acts, instructed Billboard on Sept. 1. “We aren’t the best people for the gig anymore, but will always be big fans of his music — he is one of the greatest live entertainers in country music.”

Although Parrish didn’t specify why the agency was parting methods with Aldean, the assertion got here shortly after Aldean’s spouse, social Media influencer Brittany Aldean, made nationwide headlines when she wrote: “I’d really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase. I love this girly life,” as the caption to an Instagram video the place she displayed a full face of make-up to her 2.3 million followers. Jason Aldean commented with the cry-laughing emoji: “Lmao!! Im glad they didn’t too, cause you and I wouldn’t have worked out.”

When others criticized Brittany’s submit as transphobic — notably country star Maren Morris, who also dubbed Brittany, a vocal Donald Trump supporter, as “Insurrection Barbie” — she each doubled down and mentioned her phrases had been taken out of context as she introduced that she was launching a line of Barbie-themed shirts that learn “Don’t Tread On Our Kids,” referencing the Gadsden flag that has change into a favourite image for a lot of right-wing teams. The episode quickly grew to become prime tradition warfare fodder, with Brittany showing on Fox Information, Tucker Carlson referring to Morris as a “lunatic,” and Morris embracing the state of affairs by promoting shirts that mentioned “Lunatic Country Music Person” with proceeds going to teams that assist transgender folks.

Amid the public feuding, the information about GreenRoom certified as a bombshell in a style that works diligently to keep away from bombshells. It wasn’t simply that the firm dropped Aldean, one in every of trendy country’s most profitable acts who simply bought his recorded music catalogue for a reported $100 million. Essentially the most shocking reality was that they introduced the information in any respect — this hardly ever occurs, business specialists say; PR corporations drop purchasers all the time with out a phrase — and included language that it was their choice.

A number of country music professionals spoke to The Washington Submit below the situation of anonymity as a result of they aren’t licensed to talk publicly, and all mentioned they, together with folks of their skilled and private circles, had been genuinely stunned. (Parrish declined to remark for this text.)

“I was shocked that a company would do that,” mentioned one staffer. “Clearly, they have to work a lot for Jason … and from a financial standpoint, at the end of the day, we’re here to make Money. But I was also like, ‘Oh s—, yes. Finally, somebody’s taking a stand.’ ”

The truth that the GreenRoom’s steadfastly impartial assertion was interpreted as taking a stand towards Brittany’s feedback — a transfer that earned them a lot applause from the business together with backlash from Aldean’s followers — confirmed how rare it’s for the political and social divide in Nashville to spill into public view. Whereas these divides have quietly existed for many years, they deepen by the day — and it’s turning into an more and more fraught difficulty in country music, which desperately tries to keep away from lightning-rod subjects in order to not alienate its conventional conservative listeners whereas attempting to cater to a more moderen, extra liberal fan base.

Cassadee Pope, former “Voice” winner and Nashville singer, was one in every of the first to publicly criticize Aldean, and the back-and-forth continued as others jumped in and battle traces began to emerge. Kassi Ashton, Pleasure Oladokun, Lindsay Ell and Ryan Hurd (Morris’s husband) slammed Brittany’s feedback and urged inclusivity in country music, and singers akin to RaeLynn, Whitney Duncan and Chuck Wicks (whose spouse, Kasi Rosa Wicks, is Jason’s sister and bought the shirts alongside Brittany) commented approvingly on Brittany’s posts.

“This has all gotten to a boiling point. Those two women especially have been very outspoken of their beliefs, so in that sense it wasn’t surprising,” one other staffer mentioned, referencing Brittany’s frequent posts about her love of Trump and Fox Information, nearly all the time co-signed by her husband. Morris has change into one in every of the most outspoken country singers on the topic of the lack of range in the majority-White style. “But a lot of times, it’s not actually communicated the way this back-and-forth was,” the staffer added.

Country music’s public-facing picture is that of 1 huge, joyful household. Nearly all of the billion-dollar business operates inside a couple of sq. miles in Nashville. This results in shut relationships, but in addition creates rigidity in these polarized instances. Those that work in the business usually have a good suggestion — by means of gossip, group chats, conversations overheard backstage at live shows and social Media interactions — who falls the place on the political spectrum.

“I think there’s a lot of whispered conversations where you learn where [country singers] stand on certain issues — stances that have been made behind closed doors that haven’t been made publicly,” one staffer mentioned. “So the fans and public don’t have any idea.”

However even when somebody has views or habits that one may discover heinous, they’d seemingly be compelled to remain quiet, each for Business causes and awkward private ones — a couple of cited that the Southern manner is to comb disagreeable subjects below the rug. However in a city that small, lives will inevitably overlap.

Morris (whose publicist didn’t return a number of requests for remark; neither did a label consultant for Aldean nor an e-mail deal with on Brittany’s model web site) mentioned this dynamic final yr at the annual Country Radio Seminar, revealing she noticed pushback for calling out country star Morgan Wallen on social Media after he was caught on video saying the n-word. Some folks appeared extra upset by the disregard of the style’s guiding ideas of, as Morris put it, “we’re different, we’re country, we protect our own, we don’t go after people in public.”

For some, the intuition to remain quiet has grown tougher. Chris Gelbuda, a Nashville songwriter who runs the standard Instagram web page Music Metropolis Memes, likes to maintain the account lighthearted for his 46,000 followers, a lot of whom work in the business. However he was stunned by what he referred to as Brittany’s “mean-spirited” phrases about transgender youngsters. “I had a lot of friends that were hurt by it, and I was hurt by it,” he mentioned. “It makes my blood boil.”

So he printed a important submit, sparking a deluge of DMs and rare fights in the feedback. He estimates that supportive responses had been “100 to 1,” although he misplaced about 1 p.c of his followers. (Singer Fancy Hagood left celebratory emoji and publishing govt Rakiyah Marshall wrote “LOUDER!”; Naomi Cooke, former lead singer of the trio Runaway June, announced her plan to #unfollow.) Gelbuda said if anything, he views the lost followers as “spring cleaning.” In his post, he wrote that he wasn’t holding his breath that others in the industry would speak up. Later, he compared it to the situation with Wallen, who after a brief suspension from his label and award shows is more popular than ever.

“A lot of people that were definitely appalled by what Morgan did definitely kept quiet about it for fear of pissing people off, because everybody knows everybody here,” Gelbuda said, noting that he includes himself in that category because he has close friends who work with Wallen. “So I’m not perfect either. … But every time one of these things happens here, it’s generally like, ‘Let’s lay low until it blows over and get back to selling records.’”

Another part of the equation that can be overlooked, particularly when casual observers assume all country music is conservative, is that Nashville’s Davidson County is predominantly Democratic. “It’s a little blue oasis in the middle of Tennessee,” said one longtime manager, who estimated that 65 percent of country music executives lean liberal. Yet even if they’re often at odds with the views of their artists — this manager advised at least one of their singers to say nothing about the Aldean/Morris situation — they generally keep that quiet.

“There might be a high-level executive and an artist’s manager who are really against something … and they might have internal conversations that they are outraged and don’t agree,” one staffer explained, “but don’t necessarily speak out because that could affect the Enterprise side.”

For those who don’t follow country music, the fact that Brittany’s comments got so much attention might seem surprising — after all, she’s not the one who’s a famous singer. But in a genre that prides itself on authenticity, family is in an inextricable part of an artist’s brand, and the wives of Nashville stars have become their own cottage industry as influencers.

The millions of followers of the Nashville wives also call more attention to the political divides in the industry, thanks to the subtle but often telling Instagram activity. There was little overlap between the artists who supported certain posts. Sara Evans and Summer Pardi (wife of Jon Pardi) clicked like on Brittany’s original video, and Cole Swindell, Lauren Alaina, Chris Janson, Michael Ray, Parmalee and Taylor Young (wife of Brett Young) liked her posts about the “Don’t Tread On Our Kids” shirts. RaeLynn, a former “Voice” contestant, posted her own “Insurrection Montana Barbie” video.

Meanwhile, on Morris’s post about her “Lunatic” shirts, she saw likes from singers including Tenille Townes, Kalie Shorr, Lucie Silvas, CMT executive Leslie Fram and host Cody Alan, as well as songwriter Lori McKenna and Hayley Hubbard (wife of Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard). Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town left a series of clapping-hand emoji to express support.

A number of business executives agree that one cause the incident exploded in the Media is that these issues are so rarely discussed out loud in country music. They are also wary of country’s reputation outside of Nashville, from observers who see these headlines and think they confirm all the worst stereotypes about country music.

“If country music wants to be considered an equitable and humanity-filled genre, we have to start walking the walk and talking the talk,” one staffer said. “We can’t just want to be whoever we want to be but make sure our numbers hit.”

“We were on the shortlist for a ‘Real Housewives’ franchise for a long time,” the staffer added. “We’re still on that list, but keep getting bumped — and this is probably why.”

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