Not Ready to Make Nice
Then, during a concert in London on March 10, 2003, just days before the U.S. military would invade Iraq, Natalie felt she had to say something about what was happening in the world. To those English fans—whose own government joined America's Iraqi invasion—she said, "We do not want this war, this violence. And we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas."
The controversy that followed—documented in the film Shut Up & Sing—came swiftly and harshly. Radio stations refused to play their once-popular songs, conservative political commentators offered outraged judgments, they were labeled un-American and traitors, their concerts and CDs were boycotted, and they received death threats.
"We talked about it nonstop, all the time, and were very into politics and things at the time. We just talked about how silly it felt and how trite it felt to have to put on a show when such serious things were going on in the world," she says. "But we've always known that our job is to perform and that people spend their money to see the music and to see a show. I think a part of me knew I had to say something about it just so people don't think that we're shallow and we don't care what's going on. But I also didn't want to get too heavy because we are performers and are on stage."
Immediately after Natalie said it, Emily knew she'd hear all about it. But thought it would be from a far smaller audience—her mom! "I didn't think it would go around the world," she says.
Martie says the group's manager, an Englishman, didn't initially see the big deal either. "I mean, in England I think they're used to criticizing politicians all the time, and he said, 'Three days tops. Three days tops it will blow over,'" she says. "So we believed it and then it just kept going."
"We know people have the right to not buy your CDs—that's never bothered us. A true referendum on whether you agree with us or not and want to buy our music, that's all fine. What was happening was people trying to destroy our career because we spoke out," Emily says. "I think that was the biggest disappointment, was that it was so organized and it was so vicious. It wasn't just someone saying, 'I don't like what she said. I don't think I'm going buy their next album.'"
In fact, it was much more than that. In Shut Up & Sing, the filmmakers highlight a death threat incident against Natalie in Dallas. Even though police considered the threat to be legitimate, the Dixie Chicks still performed that night.
Does she continue to feel that way? Would she make the same apology today? "At the time, a lot of things hadn't happened—a lot of people hadn't died and Hurricane Katrina hadn't happened. I did feel that the office of the President should be shown respect, but I have to say you just sometimes…you have to earn people's respect," Natalie says. "I was not about to say, 'Oh, sorry. Didn't mean it, I was drunk. Let's go to rehab.'"
Instead, Natalie says she does have a major regret about the incident. "I would have said something super-brilliant if I had known anybody was listening," she says. "But it probably would have gotten me in way more trouble."
Emily and Martie say they never wavered in support of Natalie. "I've disagreed with her over much lesser things," Martie says.
"There's a sisterhood here that I don't think everyone understands. It got so crazy, when something like that happens, you circle the wagons," Emily says. "It's self-preservation."
"And you know that they're there for the right reasons," Natalie adds.
The Dixie Chicks reveal that they have a secret pact in their group. "If any of us are ever unhappy, we are free to move on with our lives and be happy and at peace," Martie says. "We don't owe it to each other to keep this going."
"So it would just be two chicks or one chick," Oprah says. "Or you'll be chick-less."
"We have seven chicks amongst the three of us, so we'll be moms," Natalie says.