Maren Morris Praises 'Pain-in-the-A–' Artists Swift, O'Connor, Chicks, Holiday for Taking on Status Quo

Country music superstar Maren Morris may have been dubbed Changemaker of the Year at Variety Hitmakers, but she piled plenty of appreciation and praise on her inspirations like Taylor Swift, Sinead O'Connor, and Billie Holiday.

Maren Morris knows that it takes strength to affect change, and the strength of character to endure a lot of pushback — and sometimes hatred. That’s why she was quick to call out some of her heroes like Taylor Swift, Sinead O’Connor, The Chicks, and Billie Holiday while accepting Changemaker of the Year at Variety Hitmakers.

The outspoken country superstar who has pushed back against perceived sexism, racism, and homophobia in her genre has certainly faced a lot of criticism for her unwillingness to back down, but that’s what it takes.

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“She does it all with her head held high and with a sense of humor,” said Maggie Rogers, introducing her to the stage per Variety. “Like when Tucker Carlson referred to her as a ‘lunatic country music person,’ she turned around and decided to name her fans ‘The Lunatics.’ If Maren is crazy, all I can say is, I hope I’m crazy too.”

During her speech, Morris acknowledged that it’s not always easy to stand up for what’s right. “I realized very quickly that publicly pointing out these inequalities doesn’t make you the most popular,” she said.

“If you dare criticize blatant misogyny, racism, transphobia within the ranks of your industry, you’re met with isolation, death threats, labeled as ‘ungrateful,’ ‘biting the hand that fed you’ or diminishingly told to ‘just shut up and sing,” she added.

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Morris talked about her ten-plus years in the music industry and how grateful she is to have achieved such incredible highs. But all the while, she was painfully aware, “the system I was achieving success in was deeply fractured.”

In particular, she was referring to the overwhelming gender disparity in country music right now when it comes to airplay and accolades. “Even as I stand here today, not a single solo woman artist has been in the Top 20 on the country airplay charts in the last two weeks so ‘change’ is still desperately waiting to come,” she said.

As for how she’s able to continue standing tall and speaking out for what’s right and equitable for everyone, Morris said that she’s able to lean on the “brave” women who came before her. “They were massive pains in the ass,” she said proudly, adding that it was through them she realized this was the only way.

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“I realized you have to be a giant pain in the ass to make any kind of change because you’re criticizing and trying to dismantle a status quo and making comfortable people feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Morris went on to highlight a few of those heroes, including Taylor Swift who she singled out for “turning the tables on exploitative businessmen and taking back ownership of her life’s work.” This, of course, is in reference to Swift re-recording all of her early masters so she owns her own music.

Morris also had praise for Sinead O’Connor for bravely taking on the Catholic Church with that infamous Saturday Night Live photo-tearing moment that effectively destroyed her career for decades — only for it to be proven she was right all along.

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And then there’s Billie Holiday, who continued to perform in the face of a racially-targeted FBI investigation, and The Chicks, who stood by their criticism of then-president George W. Bush to the detriment of their career in country music for years and years, as well.

“They were all told to not bite the hand. They were all told to shut up and sing,” said Morris. “Now, I would never be silly enough to compare myself or my story to these women, but I have found deep inspiration in their courage in my moments of loneliness.”

Despite her efforts to fight from within the country music industry, Morris earlier this year revealed she was stepping away from the genre a bit. “I thought I’d like to burn it to the ground and start over,” she told the L.A. Times in September, “but it’s burning itself down without my help.”

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Less than a month later, she offered a little more insight into her thought process on the Popcast (Deluxe) podcast, saying she “couldn’t do the circus anymore — feeling like I have to absorb and explain people’s bad behaviors and laugh it off.”

She also put her message where her music is with her latest EP, The Bridge, which features two songs extremely critical of the culture in her chosen industry.

On “The Tree,” she sings about wanting to take an axe to the whole thing, noting, “The rot at the roots is the root of the problem / But you wanna blame it on me / I hung around longer than anyone should.”

On companion track “Get the Hell Out of Here,” Morris seems to hint at her exodus from country, singing, “I do the best I can / But the more I hang around here / The less I give a damn.”

In her speech, Morris said she’s still trying to figure it all out as far as how she’ll continue in music, but she absolutely intends to continue. “We write the songs, we hold the change we seek to make at the tip of our pen, and only we can tell our story,” she said. “No one else. I love making music, and you don’t fight for what you don’t love.”

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