Dixie Chicks don’t stick at country radio
By Phyllis Stark
NASHVILLE (Billboard) – Disappointing airplay for the first
two singles from the new album by the Dixie Chicks exposes a
deep — and seemingly growing — rift between the trio and the
country radio market that helped turn the group into
“Taking the Long Way,” due out May 23, is the band’s first
album since singer Natalie Maines sparked a major controversy
in 2003 by declaring that she was ashamed to hail from the same
state as fellow Texan President George W. Bush. Radio boycotts
ensued, and many fans abandoned the band.
The first single, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” peaked at No.
36 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, beginning its
descent after just seven weeks. The second single, “Everybody
Knows,” is now at No. 50, down two places in its fourth week.
“Not Ready to Make Nice” performed only slightly better at
adult contemporary radio, peaking at No. 32 on the AC chart and
falling off after six weeks.
From the beginning of the album rollout, the Dixie Chicks
were eager that their songs be worked to radio formats beyond
country. The album was produced by rock veteran Rick Rubin,
whose credits include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a
Down and Johnny Cash.
By picking the defiant “Not Ready” as the first single,
they’ve reopened a wound that was particularly deep for country
radio fans, and left many country programmers with the burning
question: Why on earth would the band choose to do this?
After hearing the album, WKIS Miami program director Bob
Barnett says he was “excited about the opportunity to introduce
some great Chicks music to the listeners.” But the group’s
decision to come with “Not Ready” as the lead single left him
“stunned, especially in light of the fact that, when asked,
programmers and consultants that listened to the project were
virtually unanimous in saying we should put the politics behind
us and concentrate on all this other great music we were
KUBL/KKAT Salt Lake City PD Ed Hill criticizes the song’s
“self-indulgent and selfish lyrics.”
Barnett played the song for a week, but pulled it after
listeners called to say it sounded like the Chicks were
“gloating” or “rubbing our noses in it,” he reports. “We didn’t
need to pick at the scab any longer.”
He and other country programmers were upset that the group
chose to launch its new album with a single that rehashed all
the angst of three years ago.
The two singles have had a striking lack of impact at
radio, considering the band’s history. Between 1997 and 2003,
it notched 14 top 10 country singles, including six No. 1 hits.
In addition to eight Grammy Awards, the group has won 10
Country Music Assn. Awards and eight Academy of Country Music
Awards. The trio has sold 23.4 million albums in the United
States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
The Dixie Chicks and reps from their label, Columbia
Records, declined to participate in this story. But — at least
as far as Maines is concerned — the drop-off at country radio
was part of its plan.
Maines was quoted in late January on
entertainmentweekly.com, before the single went to country
radio, saying: “For me to be in country music to begin with was
not who I was … I would be cheating myself … to go back to
something that I don’t wholeheartedly believe in. So I’m pretty
much done. They’ve shown their true colors. I like lots of
country music, but as far as the industry and everything that
happened … I couldn’t want to be farther away from that.”
Maines also said, “I don’t want people to think that me not
wanting to be part of country music is any sort of revenge. It
is not. It is totally me being who I am, and not wanting to
compromise myself and hate my life.”
At KNCI Sacramento, Calif., the Chicks’ music weathered the
2003 controversy only to be pulled as a result of Maines’ new
Entertainment Weekly comments, coupled with poor scores in
local music tests.
“When an artist says that they don’t want to be a part of
that industry, it made our decision a no-brainer,” program
director Mark Evans says. “There are too many talented new
artists dying to have a song played on country radio, so I’d
rather give one of them a shot.”