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  • Writer's picturePopEntertainment

Shut Up and Sing (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jun 16, 2023


Featuring Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, Rick Rubin, Simon Renshaw, Dan Wilson, Lloyd Maines, Chad Smith, Billy B, Adrian Pasdar, Gareth Maguire, Charlie Robison and archival footage of George W. Bush.

Directed by Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company. 93 minutes. Rated R.

"Just so you know, we're on the good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas."

It seems like a rather innocuous statement. Much worse is said by people all over the world every day. Other musicians have come out with much more incendiary statements. However, this political opinion, voiced by Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines during a 2003 London concert, nearly destroyed the group's career.

In the notoriously red-state friendly country music world, suddenly Maines and the Chicks – who were arguably the biggest act in Nashville at the time – became persona non grata amongst their genre base just because she had the nerve to speak out about George W. Bush.

Country radio blacklisted its most popular group. Mobs of people protested their shows and burned their CDs. Concert sales slowed significantly. They even received death threats. Talking heads like Bill O'Reilly and Pat Robertson vilified the group for having a point of view. Even Bush got in on the scrum – suggesting condescendingly in an interview that the Dixie Chicks had the right to give their opinion, but they shouldn't get their feelings hurt if others had the right to reject them for it.

Shut Up and Sing chronicles three crazy years in the lives of a band that up until this blow-up was probably most remarkable for their lack of controversy. Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire were just pretty, talented, traditional country musicians who became the biggest selling all-female group in music. They were never a political band, in fact they never had much of an agenda nor were they particularly outspoken about war and violence (unless you count killing no-good-slimy husbands; a time-honored tradition for C&W songbirds.)

So, at first, when on the eve of the war in Iraq, Maines made her statement it seemed to be no story. However, it was seized upon by a holier-than-thou conservative site (a site, by the way, whose contributors have stolen artwork from us several times – so much for your moral superiority...) which found the quote in a British review of the concert and turned it into a self-righteous crusade.

Famed documentarian Barbara Kopple happened to be on-hand working on a tour film about the band at the London show when the tempest blew up. The film became much different than any of them could ever have imagined. It goes back and forth between the band enduring the slings and arrows of the right in 2003 to the 2005-2006 recording of the defiantly unapologetic album Taking the Long Way, which took on the controversy directly with the single "Not Ready to Make Nice."

In this time, Robison and Maguire stand by their singer (they never quite come out and say whether they agree with her viewpoints, but they fiercely protect her right to have and express them) as their careers – which had seemed to be going well – quickly jumped the track. However, impressively, the film shows the three women as they endure the slings and arrows, but do not cave in to all the pressure placed upon them. Eventually, the group was forced to essentially abandon their country music roots and search out a new audience in different areas and demographics.

Most harrowingly, it paints a dismal picture of the freedoms of speech and expression in the Bush administration. If smart, sensible, normal people like Maines, Robison and Maguire can be pilloried for their political beliefs, what chances do others have? The whole thing had the stink of a high-tech lynching. The Dixie Chicks were going to be made an example by a group of extremists. Even the plummeting poll ratings of Bush and his war have not nearly undone the damage.

Less than a week before this documentary was to be released on DVD, the Dixie Chicks swept the Grammy Awards -- winning the top three statuettes for Song of the Year, Album of the Year and Artist of the Year. It seems like a victory for the band and their decision to stand by their beliefs. Still, the winning album, despite some of the best reviews of their career, sold significantly less than the Chicks' previous CDs and their most recent tour was troubled by sluggish sales. So, is there a real winner in this story?

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: February 17, 2007.


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