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Why Maren Morris Is Really Quitting Country Music: "It's Burning Itself Down"

The 33-year-old singer just released two new songs that criticize the "toxic" genre.

After coming to fame with her 2016 song "My Church," Maren Morris became one of the biggest stars in country music, releasing huge hits including "The Bones" and "The Middle." She's won the Grammy Award for Best Country Solo Performance and five awards each from the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. But now, the 33-year-old singer is leaving the genre behind. On Sept. 15, Morris released a two-song EP titled The Bridge about her transition from country and into different types of music. Her two new tracks—"The Tree" and "Get the Hell Out of Here"—include pointed criticism of the state of country music.

"These two songs are incredibly key to my next step because they express a very righteously angry and liberating phase of my life these last couple of years, but also how my navigation is finally pointing towards the future, whatever that may be or sound like," Morris said in a statement as reported by Billboard. "Honoring where I've been and what I've achieved in country music, but also freely moving forward."

The star went more in-depth about her issues with the country music business and her decision to leave it behind in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Read on to find out more about Morris' career evolution, why she says the country world has become "a toxic weapon," and how fans reacted to the news.

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Morris says country music has become about "owning the libs."

Maren Morris at the 2022 Academy of Country Music Awards
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock

Morris has been vocal about where she stands on political and social issues, including supporting democratic politicians and being an ally for the LGBTQ community. Last year, she made headlines after speaking out against transphobic comments made by country musician Jason Aldean and his wife Brittany Aldean.

The Los Angeles Times, asked Morris about Jason's controversial song "Try That in a Small Town," which came out earlier this year and has been slammed for lyrics that some say promote vigilante violence and racist beliefs.

"People are streaming these songs out of spite," Morris said. "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."

Asked if her departure from country music means that "the libs have been owned," the singer responded, "I'm sure some people may think that. And I would say, 'Feel free. Go ahead.' I don't want to have an adversarial relationship to country music. I still find myself weirdly wanting to protect it. But it's not a family member. That's the [expletive]-up part, is that I'm talking about it as if it's a person, but it's not. So it's a lot of deep deconstructing that I'm still unraveling."

She's given up on trying to change the culture from the inside.

Maren Morris at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards
Tinseltown / Shutterstock

Morris explained that she felt that it was her responsibility to point out problems she saw in the genre and be a part of correcting them. But she realized that she had another option, too.

"If you truly love this type of music and you start to see problems arise, it needs to be criticized. Anything this popular should be scrutinized if we want to see progress," she said. "But I've kind of said everything I can say. I always thought I'd have to do middle fingers in the air jumping out of an airplane, but I'm trying to mature here and realize I can just walk away from the parts of this that no longer make me happy."

Elsewhere in the interview, she explained, "I thought I'd like to burn [country music] to the ground and start over. But it's burning itself down without my help."

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She called out the gender imbalance in country airplay.

Maren Morris performs during the CMA Music Festival in 2017
Debby Wong / Shutterstock

Country music radio has faced criticism in recent years for not playing music by women artists, which is something that many female country singers have also spoken out about. Morris touched on this in her interview.

"Obviously, being one of the few women that had any success on country radio, everything you do is looked at under a microscope," she said. "You're scrutinized more than your male peers, even when you're doing well. So I've had to clear all of that out of my head this year and just write songs. A lot of the drama within the community, I've chosen to step outside out of it."

Morris pointed to a time when she believes that country music took a turn into more hateful ideals.

"After the Trump years, people's biases were on full display," the "Chasing After You" singer said. "It just revealed who people really were and that they 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. I call it butt rock."

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Morris' new songs criticize the state of country.

The music video for Morris' new song "The Tree" shows her walking through an empty small town that includes a store that is going out of business. A sign reads "Welcome to Our Perfect Small Town from Sunrise to Sundown." This has been interpreted as a dig at Jason's song, which calls to mind "sundown towns"—towns that did not permit the presence of nonwhite people after the sun set. Part of the video for "Try That in a Small Down" was filmed in front of a Tennessee courthouse where a lynching famously took place.

In her video, Morris lights a match to burn down a tree, but then watched it burn on its own. The lyrics of "The Tree" include the line, "I'm takin' an axe to the tree/The rot at the roots is the root of the problem/But you wanna blame it on me."

In a post on Instagram, Morris described "Get the Hell Out of Here" as being the aftermath of "The Tree." She explained, "[T]his is a story of me feeling pulled in every direction, needing everyone else's understanding and acceptance but my own and how self-destructive that ultimately became. I relinquish control of trying to change everyone's mind or bad faith behavior and focus on my own power going forward."

She's received both backlash and praise for her decision.

Morris' Instagram post about her new music is full of comments from country fans who are angry about her criticism of the genre.

"You didn't leave country music, country music left you when started getting Hollywood brainwashed," reads one comment. Another person wrote, "Country music has always been singing about beer, trucks, family, God, and small towns. Country music isn't the problem, it's you." Someone else said, "The funny thing is she really believes it's country music that's the problem when she is the problem! Mind her own business and make good music! Stop trying to shove her idiotic beliefs on everyone. She believes you either believe what she believes in or you are wrong! She sucks!"

Morris is also receiving support, however. One fan wrote, "All these haters in the comments are just proving her point of how toxic the country music community is. I can relate to her pain as a long-time fan of country music." Another person commented, "You are an ally, you are a disruptor, you are brave, you are courageous, you are beautiful, you are kind, you are uniquely YOU." She also got some love from Sheryl Crow, another artist who has worked in country music among other genres. "Once again, you are blowing my mind @marenmorris," Crow wrote. "Proud of you."

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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