Dixie Denial
These chicks just follow the money

Ihave some sad news for country-western fans. The Dixie Chicks, the kitschy-cool all-woman country band that just recently hit the big time, are in some serious denial, or suffering from a collective case of amnesia.

See also...
... by Jenn Shreve
... in the Dirt section
... from December 14, 1999

How else to explain the following statement lifted from the front page of their Web site? "With the success of their debut album, Wide Open Spaces, the Dixie Chicks were the biggest selling new act of 1998 and the best-selling group overall in 1998. Wide Open Spaces has sold over six million units officially making it the biggest selling debut album ever by a country group."

Debut album? Puhlease. The group has been recording albums and playing together since 1990. Their debut independent CD was Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, which came nowhere near appearing on any Billboard charts. And like many indie bands, they struggled for recognition and dollars for many years before being "discovered."

The Chicks may have started out humble like The Beatles, but now that they're the property of Sony Music, they're looking a hell of a lot like the Spice Girls.

According to their Sony Music-hosted site, "The Dixie Chicks came out of the chute with enough sass and confidence to adopt slogans like 'Chicks Rule' and 'Chicks Kick Ass.'" How original! They also, apparently, have the "sass and confidence" to sing male-bashing lyrics while wearing revealing clothing! Gosh, nobody's tried that before! In the shallow interviews published on the site (Who's your favorite singer? Who's your favorite actor?) two out of three Dixie Chicks' most embarrassing moment involves having one or both of their breasts fall out on stage. Those statements have gotta be good for several thousand ticket sales.

The press release, er, I mean the official Dixie Chicks Web site tells us that "In a music field routinely known for selling to the conservative 30 and over crowd, more than 60 percent of the Dixie Chicks sales have been to consumers under the age of 25." The site clucks that "The Dixie Chicks are bending the music world to their will and making country music more 'hip' than ever." Sony Music even predicts (correctly, it turns out) which song will elicit the strongest media response: "One song that is sure to have journalists writing and politicians pontificating goes even further. 'Goodbye Earl' is a surprisingly upbeat-sounding tune about a woman called Wanda who is repeatedly beaten by her husband Earl."

The "about the Chicks" page does allude to the Dixie Chicks' slow climb to the top, but puts it in terms befitting a VH1 Behind the Music narrative: It was hard, so very hard, but now we're rich, thanks to Sony, and everything is great, great, great! Dixie Chick Natalie sums up her success: "Where I used to have to count my money all the time, now I just know I can eat the $5 M&Ms out of the hotel mini-bar and it's OK."

That's right, Natalie, it's OK. Rock stars can now sell out without guilt. Liz Phair is posing for Calvin Klein. Lenny Kravitz is sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger. Bob Mould recently did a promotional concert for a cigarette company.

In the new world order, it's OK to pretend you're a brand-new phenomenon and that the years of struggling to make it were just a waking nightmare. It's OK to reinvent yourself in order to get rich and send your children to good colleges. It's OK to banish the original style your band developed in order to sound more like all the other country stars. It's OK that you appeared with talentless sellouts like Garth Brooks and LeAnn Rimes in the Official 2000 Calendar of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. It's even OK that you toned down your usual stage outfits in favor of something subdued and palatable for your recent appearance on PBS' Sessions at West 54th. So please enjoy those $5 M&Ms, Natalie. It's OK.

Jenn Shreve is a freelance writer in San Francisco and a media columnist for Salon.com.

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