Maren Morris is quitting the genre she once embraced.
The Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, 33, announced Sept. 15 that she’s quitting country music because she feels the industry has reverted back to its racist and misogynistic roots.
“I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” Morris says, “but it’s burning itself down without my help. The further you get into the country music business, you start to see the cracks. And once you see it, you can’t un-see it. So you start doing everything you can with the little power you have to make things better.”
But Morris — an outspoken advocate for marginalized communities — feels she’s hit a dead end in terms of her efforts, so she’s giving herself permission to “walk away.”
“If you truly love this type of music and you start to see problems arise, it needs to be criticized,” she says. “Anything this popular should be scrutinized if we want to see progress. But I’ve kind of said everything I can say.”
Morris — who graced the cover of Billboard‘s Pride Issue alongside drag stars — has championed greater inclusion of voices and music from women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and artists of color. When she won a CMA Award for female vocalist of the year in 2020, Morris used her acceptance speech to honor women of color within country music. She performed at the Love Rising concert in Nashville earlier this year, an event that celebrated the LGBTQ+ community and challenged anti-trans legislation in Tennessee.
The Texas native — who now lives in Nashville with her husband, musician Ryan Hurd, and their 3-year-old son, Hayes — began noticing this shift “after the Trump years” when “people’s biases were on full display” and many were “proud to be misogynistic and racist and homophobic and transphobic.”
“All these things were being celebrated, and it was weirdly dovetailing with this hyper-masculine branch of country music,” she says. “I call it butt rock.”
Morris publicly blasted Morgan Wallen in 2021 after he was caught on camera using a racial slur, and she’s been at war with both Jason Aldean and his wife, Brittany Aldean, since last year over the couple’s transphobic remarks.
In not so many words, the “Middle” songstress categorized Jason Aldean’s controversial-yet-popular new song, “Try That in a Small Town” — which has been dubbed by some as a racist, pro-lynching anthem — as butt rock.
“I think it’s a last bastion,” Morris says. “People are streaming these songs out of spite. It’s not out of true joy or love of the music. It’s to ‘own the libs.’”
“And that’s so not what music is intended for. Music is supposed to be the voice of the oppressed — the actual oppressed. And now it’s being used as this really toxic weapon in culture wars.”
In her new two-track EP, The Bridge, which dropped Sept. 15, Morris reckons with her departure from the musical home she’s always known. On “The Tree,” she proclaims she’s “done filling a cup with a hole in the bottom,” while on “Get the Hell Out of Here,” she admits she “watered the garden but forgot to fill the well.”
Collectively, she describes the tracks as “the aftermath of walking away from something that was really important to you and the betrayal you felt very righteously. But also knowing there’s a thread of hope as you get to the other side.”
Cover photo from Instagram