Country Stars Who've Made Big Political Statements

For many country singers, talking politics is as tricky as trying to put a halter on a Texas Longhorn: It's not worth risking the headache. They find it best to stick to singing about boot-scootin' babes in Daisy Dukes, the fine art of painting pickups with mud, and kicking back with some cold ones.

There are musicians like Miranda Lambert, who has vowed to never talk politics, and there are those who bemoan their political options rather than taking a side. Eric Church told Rolling Stone that he didn't vote in the 2016 election at all, and some of his lyrics sum up his feelings about politicians: "Rattlesnake, copperhead / Either one of them kill you dead." Among the Nashville crowd, there also seems to be a pervasive dread of being associated with one politician or another. When Garth Brooks performed at Joe Biden's inauguration, he risked alienating some of his Trump-supporting fans. But he insisted that he wasn't outing himself as a Biden voter, telling the media, "This is not a political statement. This is a statement of unity," per The Tennessean.

In 2017, the Country Music Association reacted to this climate of fear by attempting to ban reporters from asking performers questions about hot-button political topics like gun control at the CMA Awards, per the Nashville Scene. When the association later retracted the ban, the move probably had some entertainers shaking in their boots. But there are a handful of singers who would rather not just shut up and sing.

Willie Nelson released a song about gay cowboys

During the 2018 midterm elections, some conservative country music fans were surprised to learn that "On the Road Again" hitmaker Willie Nelson is ride-or-die for the Democratic party. In an appearance on "The View," Nelson seemed to find this confusion about his political affiliation befuddling, saying, "I've been supporting Democrats all my life." Nelson is also a vocal supporter of social issues that are important to many in the Democratic party, including LGBTQ+ rights. And in 2006, he tried to make the cowboy lifestyle feel a bit more inclusive by releasing the song "Cowboys Are Secretly, Frequently (Fond of Each Other)."

According to The Dallas Morning News, Nelson's tour manager, David Anderson, came out as gay to Nelson in 2004. This inspired Nelson to record the song, which was penned by Ned Sublette in the early '80s. "I want people to know more than anything — gay, straight, whatever — just how cool Willie is and ... his way of thinking, his tolerance, everything about him," Anderson said. Burt Reynolds makes a cameo in the song's music video.

Nelson also offered his two cents when the Supreme Court was debating gay marriage in 2013, saying that he's been a long-time supporter of the right. "[Gay people] should be just as miserable as the rest of us," he joked to Texas Monthly. The music icon also predicted, "We'll look back and say it was crazy that we ever even argued about this."

Dolly Parton expressed support for Black Lives Matter

Dolly Parton has largely remained apolitical throughout her career, and the celebrated "9 to 5" singer doesn't do political endorsements. Instead of backing Team Blue or Team Red, she'll stick to wearing her coat of many colors, thank you very much. Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, Parton refused to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. "I think they're both nuts," she told CNN. "It's like watching the OJ Simpson trial. ... Whoever testified last is who you believe." She also summed up why she avoids talking politics in a 2018 "Nightline" interview, saying, "I learned a long time ago, keep your damn mouth shut if you want to stay in show business."

But Parton will occasionally weigh in on social issues that have become politically divisive. In 2020, she expressed her support for Black Lives Matter, the movement that swept across the nation after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, a Black man. As BLM supporters fought to end racial injustice and enact police reform, Parton told Billboard, "Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white a**es are the only ones that matter? No!"

Parton also spoke to the magazine about her decision to drop the problematic word "Dixie" from the name of her dinner attraction in Branson after she learned about its racist connotation. "As soon as you realize that [something] is a problem, you should fix it. Don't be a dumba**," she said.

Hank Williams Jr.'s hateful Obama comments

Hank Williams Jr. was the voice of Monday Night Football for years, but ESPN stopped playing his "Are You Ready For Some Football" theme song in 2011 after he voiced his thoughts about then-president Barack Obama. In an appearance on "Fox & Friends," Williams moaned about the speaker of the house at the time, John Boehner, daring to breach the political divide by playing golf with Obama. "It'd be like Hitler playing golf with [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu," he said. 

By the following year, Williams had embraced his role as a political mouthpiece for the right. During a performance at the Iowa State Fair, he made a few false claims about Obama. "We've got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US, and we hate him!" he said, per Metromix Des Moines. Williams also recorded a song titled "Keep the Change" which was seemingly a response to Obama's "Hope and Change" campaign slogan.

ESPN resumed using "Are You Ready For Some Football" as its theme song in 2017. The following year, Williams weighed in on football and politics in "Take a Knee, Take a Hike," an obvious criticism of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick's silent protest of racism and police brutality. ESPN axed Williams' song again in 2020, but according to Sports Business Journal, it was because the network thought it was inappropriate for those early days of the pandemic when gatherings of "rowdy friends" were a no-no.

Kelsea Ballerini's performance with drag queens

Drag queens became one of the right's biggest bogeymen in the 2020s, with Tennessee's Republican governor even signing a bill banning drag performances in public spaces. But in 2023, Tennessee resident Kelsea Ballerini risked the ire of many conservative country music fans by performing with drag queens at the CMT Awards. Rainbow lights lit up the stage as she sang "If You Go Down (I'm Goin' Down Too)" on a set decorated to look like a slice of '60s Americana. For her shindig, she was joined by "RuPaul's Drag Race" stars Kennedy Davenport, Olivia Lux, Manila Luzon, and Jan Sport, who put Betty Draper to shame with their sassy housewives' attire. 

On Twitter, a certain four-letter word was used often to bellyache over Ballerini's big show of support for the drag community. "So CMT finally went Woke! What a disgrace of an American tradition," wrote one critic. But love for drag queens in country music isn't anything new; in a 2012 interview with ABC News, Dolly Parton revealed that she actually entered a celebrity-themed drag contest once. Although she dressed as herself, she couldn't conquer the queens.

Speaking to ET, Ballerini shared a message that Parton would surely approve of. "I love performance and I love self-expression and I love inclusivity," she stated. Sport also had something to say about their playfully defiant CMT performance: "Do not mess with the LGBTQ+ community, okay? We're here, we're queer. Get used to it, baby!" 

Jason Aldean partied with Donald Trump

For New Year's Eve in 2021, Jason Aldean and his wife, Brittany Aldean, were invited to party with former president Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The "Big Green Tractor" singer also hit the putting green with Trump, and he told "Rob + Holly" that he was totally starstruck by "The Celebrity Apprentice" host. "We kind of hit it off and kind of became friends, so it was cool," he said of their golf outing.

Jason hadn't met Trump before and received the invitation to hang with him out of the blue. He guessed that he was probably on the controversial conservative politician's radar because of their shared political views. Months earlier, Jason and Brittany had commanded attention by using their children to attack Trump's biggest political foe, Joe Biden. Brittany angered many of her Instagram followers by sharing a photo of the two toddlers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Hidin' from Biden."

The couple's MAGA loyalty earned them another invite to Trump's NYE party in 2022. Brittany shared some photos from the night on Instagram and wrote in the caption, "A fairy-tale ending to 2022." Her slideshow included a snapshot of Trump planting a wet one on her forehead while Jason looked on with a slightly startled expression on his face. Many commenters disagreed with Brittany's description of her evening with the first-ever U.S. president to be indicted. "A kiss from Donald Trump? That's a nightmare for most women," read one response to her post.

Maren Morris is pro-trans and pro-choice

In August 2022, Brittany Aldean shared a transphobic message with her Instagram followers. "I'd really like to thank my parents for not changing my gender when I went through my tomboy phase," she wrote. Without mentioning Aldean by name, singers Maren Morris and Cassadee Pope took to Twitter to let it be known that they strongly disapproved of the former "American Idol" contestant's comment. "It's so easy to, like, not be a scumbag human? Sell your clip-ins and zip it, Insurrection Barbie," Morris wrote. This sparked a war of words that Aldean escalated by appearing on "Tucker Carlson Tonight." After Tucker Carlson called Morris a "lunatic," the "Girl" singer raised a large sum of money for pro-trans organizations by selling "Lunatic Country Music Person" T-shirts, per the Los Angeles Times.

The incident helped cement Morris' spot as one of country music's most vocal left-wing entertainers. She'd already made the bold move of endorsing Joe Biden for president. "We need leadership that is kind, compassionate, and that cares," she said in a social media video. She also released a protest song titled "Better Than We Found It," and she used its accompanying music video to express her support for immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Morris told Paper that she supports gun safety reform, and when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, she released a statement to Rolling Stone that read in part, "Tomorrow I will fight, but today I am grieving."

Mickey Guyton shamed Morgan Wallen fans

Country music's outlaws were once those who lived on the fringes of society and viewed the law with distrust. But in modern times, the true mavericks seem to be those who dare to speak out against hate and intolerance. Black artist Mickey Guyton, for example, made the brave decision to call out fans of Morgan Wallen for bragging about buying his album after TMZ shared a video of the popular singer using a racial slur. Guyton tweeted a screenshot of one such fan's social media post and wrote, "This is country music." A month prior, she'd shared screenshots of some of the hateful messages she receives all too often. 

Guyton's posts about what she has to deal with possibly helped open her followers' eyes to how her mere existence in the country music industry is an act of protest against bigotry. "I question on a daily basis as to why I continue to fight to be in an industry that seems to hate me so much," she wrote. "But then I realize there is a new artist of color, all bright-eyed and excited to be in this industry."

Guyton also shares her truth in the song "Black Like Me." When she dropped it on Instagram in 2020, she included the hashtag "Justice for George Floyd." She criticized her fellow country music stars who weren't joining the discourse about racial injustice at the time, telling Rolling Stone, "It's sad that it's scary for people to publicly denounce racism."

Johnny Cash refused Richard Nixon's song requests

Johnny Cash's performance for prisoners at Folsom State Prison in 1968 is one of country music's most historic moments. He used his fame to advocate for criminal justice reform long before Kim Kardashian went to Washington, and he, too, discussed the topic with a president. The man in the White House at the time of the Man in Black's visit was another POTUS who had a run-in with the law: Richard Nixon.

Apparently, there were no songs in Cash's repertoire that Nixon found palatable because he insulted the icon by asking him to play two other artists' tunes. Per Salon, one of them was Merle Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee," a lyrical sneer at anti-war protesters. The other was Guy Drake's "Welfare Cadillac," which imagines welfare recipients living large on the government's dime. "I don't know those songs, but I got a few of my own I can play for you," Cash told Nixon. His picks included "Man in Black," which was antithetical to Nixon's requests; it was critical of the Vietnam War and painted the poor in a sympathetic light. 

He also performed the anti-war protest song "What Is Truth" and covered Peter La Farge's "The Ballad of Ira Hayes," which tells the tragic tale of the Native American soldier who famously helped raise the American flag in Iwo Jima. Cash was a vocal advocate for Native Americans, and he'd previously recorded the song for his concept album about their plight, "Bitter Tears."

Meghan Linsey took a knee

In 2017, Meghan Linsey made a decision that incurred the wrath of some country music listeners. The former Steel Magnolia member had recently reinvigorated her career by competing on "The Voice" when she was invited to sing the national anthem at a Tennessee Titans game. In a show of solidarity with Colin Kaepernick and his protest against racial injustice, she kneeled after her performance.

Linsey told Billboard that she was shocked by the vicious remarks that some critics of her peaceful statement were leaving on social media. "There were people threatening to end my life and wishing cancer on me and stuff like that, even going as far to say that I should be executed on the field," she said. Linsey had to patiently explain that her demonstration had nothing to do with being against the military, a common accusation hurled at those who have taken a knee. 

But she was well aware that some people would willfully ignore her own explanation for her actions and view them as an affront to their values. "My decision may hurt my career, but it was the only choice for me," she wrote in an essay for The Washington Post. This cause is more important than my record sales." While she was disappointed that more people in her industry weren't joining her in taking a stand against racism, she understood why they didn't. "Even if they believe in what you're saying, they don't want to alienate their audience," she told Billboard.

John Rich released a song on Truth Social

John Rich of the duo Big & Rich has his own Fox Business Network show called "The Pursuit!," and what better way to promote it than by participating in the culture wars? After Bud Light partnered with transgender model Dylan Mulvaney, Rich tweeted that his Nashville restaurant would no longer offer the beer. And while his Fox News colleague Greg Gutfield helped him write a song titled "Shut Up About Politics" in 2019, Rich seems to have no interest in practicing what he preaches.

The "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" singer and his bandmate Big Kenny were two of the few performers who were willing to participate in the festivities celebrating Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017. Rich also demonstrated his allegiance to Trumpworld in 2022 when he released a song titled "Progress" on Truth Social, the app that Trump moved to after he got booted from Twitter. 

In an interview with Just the News, Rich explained that he chose Truth Social over other platforms because he feared that the track would be unwanted elsewhere. His ploy worked, and the song rose to the No. 1 spot on iTunes' top songs chart. However, Rich worried that the head honchos of radio stations wouldn't give the anti-progressive anthem airplay. "There's a few good ones in there. And when I say good, I mean, you know, lean conservative," he said. "But there's a big [contingent] of them that do not like anybody bucking their woke system."

Taylor Swift got political

Remember when Taylor Swift catered to the country crowd by singing the praises of Tim McGraw and shedding teardrops on her guitar? For years, she followed the lead of other country artists by keeping her lips zipped when it came to politics. But in 2018, there was a big Swift shift: She announced that she was endorsing two Democratic candidates from Tennessee. In an impassioned Instagram post, Swift explained why she was backing Phil Bredesen in his race against Republican U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn. 

"Her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me," Swift wrote. "She voted against the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which attempts to protect women from domestic violence, stalking, and date rape. She believes businesses have a right to refuse service to gay couples. She also believes they should not have the right to marry."

Swift's endorsement wasn't enough to take down Blackburn, but the other candidate she encouraged her fans to vote for, Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper, won his re-election bid. The following year, Swift told The Guardian that she was pro-choice and said of Donald Trump, "I really think that he thinks this is an autocracy." Unfortunately, there's no way to know how much of an impact Swift had on the national vote in 2020 when she endorsed her first presidential candidate, Joe Biden. In a later interview with Entertainment Weekly, she described her reaction to Biden's electoral victory, saying, "It was this moment of quiet, cautious elation and relief."

Chris Stapleton's BLM support

When Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton was asked to weigh in on the Black Lives Matter movement during a 2020 appearance on "CBS This Morning," he didn't hem and haw. "Do I think Black lives matter? Absolutely ... I don't know how you could think they don't," he said. "I think we all have a lot of work to do." He soon learned that some country music fans don't like being told that they need to do any soul-searching when it comes to how non-white citizens are treated in America.

On Twitter, there were calls for Stapleton to be canceled. "You're done. Maybe you can sing for the NFL. They are done too," one person wrote. And Stapleton did exactly that when he was invited to sing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl in 2023. Other pre-game performers included "Abbott Elementary" star Sheryl Lee-Ralph and Kenny "Babyface" Edmunds. Something about them seemed to get under Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's skin. "Chris Stapleton just sang the most beautiful national anthem at the Super Bowl," she tweeted. "But we could have gone without the rest of the wokeness." In response, some netizens cheekily applauded her for praising a BLM supporter.

Stapleton's comments about his critics had far more bite than a shot of Tennessee whiskey. "I feel sorry for people that think anything I said was offensive," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I'm sorry they lack the capacity to approach things as human beings."

Gun violence made Kacey Musgraves get political

Gun imagery is rife in country music, from Johnny Cash's cautionary ballad "Don't Take Your Guns to Town" to Hank Williams Jr. expressing his belief that every country boy needs "God & Guns" to survive. But in the modern era, country stars have faced a reckoning over their genre's fervor for firearms as Americans now grieve hundreds of mass shooting deaths every year.

The relentless killings haven't stopped gun ownership from being championed by country's large conservative fanbase, but in 2019, "Slow Burn" singer Kasey Musgraves decided that she'd had enough. Days after a white supremacist killed 23 people at a Walmart in her home state of Texas, she shared her views on gun control with her Twitter followers. First came an advance warning that political talk was incoming. "I love keeping things about the music and usually stay out of politics publicly UNTIL it barrels past political party preference points and dangerously encroaches on fundamental human rights," she wrote. Before she could even say her piece, one person desperately tried to silence her, writing, "Stick to the singing Kacey. You do realize most of your fans are packing at your shows don't you?"

Musgraves ignored this advice, but she did quote-tweet her critic when she wrote, "I grew up around hunting and guns. There's a time and place for that and even self-protection in ways, but this is different. The system is majorly flawed and NOBODY NEEDS ANYTHING REMOTELY AUTOMATIC. PERIOD. They're mass killing machines."

Loretta Lynn sang The Pill's praises

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, a number of country singers took to social media to react to women all across America losing their constitutional right to abortions. "I'm absolutely terrified that this is where we are — that after so many decades of people fighting for women's rights to their own bodies, today's decision has stripped us of that," Taylor Swift tweeted. And Maren Morris had the perfect soundtrack for that particular moment in history. "Alexa, play Loretta Lynn's 'The Pill,'" she wrote.

When Loretta Lynn released "The Pill" in 1975, many of her conservative fans viewed oral contraceptives the same way those with similar beliefs view the abortion pill today. So even though Lynn wasn't encouraging women to have sex out of wedlock or embrace a child-free lifestyle, there was still an outcry over her depiction of birth control as something positive: an overwhelmed mother's saving grace. "This incubator is overused / Because you've kept it filled," she sings. "The feelin' good comes easy now / Since I've got the pill." 

Lynn was unapologetic when she spoke to People about the backlash to the song, which had preachers denouncing it from the pulpit and radio stations refusing to play it. She'd given birth to have a dozen children herself and revealed that she would have been grateful for the family-planning aid. "I'd have taken 'em like popcorn," she quipped.

The Chicks set the stage for politics in country music

For years, The Chicks' downfall has served as a cautionary tale for other country music artists in the genre who feel the urge to share their political viewpoints with the world. In 2020, Taylor Swift told Variety that their shunning was the cause of her long silence about politics. "I saw how one comment ended such a powerful reign, and it terrified me," she said.

That comment came from the mouth of Natalie Maines in 2003, back when she and her bandmates, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, were still performing as The Dixie Chicks. Then-president George W. Bush was beating the war drum, and Maines told a London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," per CBS News. The reaction to her remarks was brutal and extreme. Former fans trashed their CDs, angry listeners flooded radio stations with calls complaining about Maines, and The Chicks' music was banned from many radio stations. The backlash left their career in tatters.

In 2020, the group released "Gaslighter," their first album after a 14-year hiatus. Maines also criticized another president, saying that Donald Trump made her view Dubya in a whole new light. "Today, I might actually make out with George Bush," she quipped on "Watch What Happens Live." But instead of playing nice with the former POTUS, she and her bandmates performed the national anthem for future president Joe Biden at the DNC.