Country musicians slowly changing tune on guns

NEW YORK • For the second year in a row, the Country Music Association Awards will closely follow a mass shooting of the industry's own fans. Twelve people were gunned down last Wednesday night at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks, California.

In October last year, 58 people were killed and hundreds wounded at a country music festival in Las Vegas.

While much of the entertainment world in the United States has tacked sharply and openly to the left in the last two years, country music has taken a more cautious, tight-lipped approach.

"As far as country music goes, it's sort of a no man's land to really go out and make a political statement," said Andy Albert, a songwriter based in Nashville who writes mainly for country performers.

Cultural and political conservatives are a significant portion of the fanbase, of course, and most performers take pains not to alienate them, whether they agree with them or not.

But country music is far from the politically crimson monolith it is often assumed to be. Big cities in the north and west of the US are major markets for the industry and, in recent years, its fans have become younger, as well as increasingly urban and suburban.

"It's just sort of in the water, it's just understood that none of these artists are trying to use this as a soapbox," Albert said of the songs he writes for other musicians.

Country stars have tended to limit their statements after shootings to condolences for the victims, avoiding any gun debate.

But in a notable if quiet shift in the last couple of years that has been chronicled by Rolling Stone magazine, recording artists have begun to distance themselves from the National Rifle Association (NRA).

For years, the organisation had promoted country music performers in a mutually beneficial arrangement that gave marketing exposure to both sides. In March, the NRA Country website was redesigned and the names of affiliated artists disappeared.

Speaking out publicly, though, remains perilous for country musicians, especially those with liberal points of view. A small handful of musicians have made statements about gun laws, usually carefully calibrated. Some precisely wrought sentiments have also started trickling into the music.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2018, with the headline 'Country musicians slowly changing tune on guns'. Print Edition | Subscribe