the post-chely era

Are Country Music Fans More Willing to Welcome Drug Addicts, Bush Haters, or Lesbians?

There’s a reason you’re quick to associate country music with America’s heartland: that’s where country music stars and country music fans are from and stuff! Not being a country music fan myself (okay, Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” is aces, but that doesn’t count), I decided to ask my friend Charla, a good girl from Arkansas-by-way-of-Louisiana, who I’ve known since grade school when we met at one uneventful summer camp, and who is a country music fan (do not mention the words “Tim McGraw” or “Mindy McCready” to her unless you’re ready to give up an hour of your life), to read with me this Times article about country stars trying to maintain the good graces of their fans. Newspeg: Chely Wright.

There’s McCready, who everyone loved until her drug problem and suicide attempts and sex tape. There’s the Dixie Chicks, who made that comment about George W. Bush, and whose members Emily Robison and Martie Maguire left Natalie Maines behind to start a new project. And of course Chely Wright, who was never that big a deal, but is now on everyone’s mind because she was on the Today show. (Oh, and she told people she likes the ladies.)

The Times‘ Jon Caramanica wonders aloud which of these types of “scandalized” stars have the best chance of wooing their country audiences, but that idea sets up the notion that Wright has already alienated fans by coming out. Which, of course, is true for some fans, but it’s too early to tell whether she’ll be erased from county radio (and if so whether it’s because she’s gay, or because her music isn’t up to snuff). So I asked Charla: Who would you take back?

“Oh I don’t care about that Chely girl being gay,” Charla, who is straight and last month turned 29, again, tells me. “But I never listened to her music before. But I will check it out.” And as for drug using country stars? “Like, whatever, what’s that got to do with Mindy’s music? She’s great. And I’d probably watch her sex tape too.” Fine. How about the two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks starting a new project and hoping country fans don’t remember their bandmate who hated on George W? “[Laughs.] If the album is really really good, they’ll be fine. Otherwise it’ll just give [country music fans] another reason to reject them. But I don’t think some people have gotten over it. Some people, though, are just too stupid to realize Court Yard Hounds is just the Dixie Chicks without Natalie.”