Grammy winner Maren Morris released two new songs — “The Tree” and “Get the Hell Out of Here” — on Friday (Sept. 15). With them, she also shared the nuanced emotions behind her decision to leave country music and her feelings about the socio-political divide that has deepened over the past several years.
“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,” she said in a statement. “Honoring where I’ve been and what I’ve achieved in country music, but also freely moving forward.”
On “The Tree,” she sings, “The rot at the roots is the root of the problem/ But you want to blame it on me.” She adds on “Get the Hell Out of Here”: “I hung around longer than anyone should/ You’ve broken my heart more than anyone could.”
She went into detail about her decision in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, sharing that the growing sociopolitical divide within country music — and the right-leaning views of some of the genre’s artists and fans — has been an ongoing challenge and barrier.
“After the Trump years, people’s biases were on full display,” Morris told the paper. “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.”
“I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” she added. “But it’s burning itself down without my help.”
Morris — who graced the cover of Billboard’s Pride issue alongside drag stars — has also been one of the fiercest advocates for diversity, inclusion and progress within the country music genre, championing greater inclusion of voices and music from women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and artists of color. When she won a CMA Award for female vocalist of the year in 2020, Morris used her acceptance speech to honor women of color within country music. She performed at the Love Rising concert in Nashville earlier this year, an event that celebrated the LGBTQ+ community and challenged anti-trans legislation in Tennessee. Last year, Morris also had a war of words with Jason Aldean and his wife, Brittany, over gender-affirming care.
Morris’ move away from the genre comes as four country songs, including Aldean’s controversial “Try That in a Small Town,” have topped the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.
“I think it’s a last bastion,” Morris said of the consumption of “Try That in a Small Town.” “People are streaming these songs out of spite. 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.”
Morris noted that she did not initially consider herself a political artist — merely an artist writing songs about the happenings in the world around her. “But the further you get into the country music business, that’s when you start to see the cracks,” she pointed out. “And once you see it, you can’t unsee it. So you start doing everything you can with the little power you have to make things better. That doesn’t make you popular.”
She went on to say why she thinks it’s necessary to speak up. “If you truly love this type of music and you start to see problems arise, it needs to be criticized,” Morris told the paper. “Anything this popular should be scrutinized if we want to see progress. 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.”
Morris noted that she is “still unraveling” a lot of her feelings of connection with country music.
“I don’t want to have an adversarial relationship to country music,” she added. “I still find myself weirdly wanting to protect it. But it’s not a family member. That’s the f–ked-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.
“These songs are obviously the result of that — the aftermath of walking away from something that was really important to you and the betrayal that you felt very righteously. But also knowing there’s a thread of hope as you get to the other side,” Morris continued. “I hope it comes across that way because I truly was in a space of hope when I wrote the two songs, even though ‘Get the Hell Out of Here’ is really heavy. It’s about disarming that trauma and saying, ‘I can’t bail water out of this sinking ship anymore. It’s so futile. I choose happiness.’”