I hate country music. In all of its forms. I think it’s a pro-conservative, right wing, antiquated form of music best suited for run down bars, filled with whiny, bitching, moaning, chaw chewing, cow poking “stars” who have no idea what good writing is (“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” is proof positive), and is a genre so disgusted with itself it’s lost touch with its roots and instead has turned into another form of adult contemporary pop. That being said I like the Dixie Chicks. Not because of their music, granted, they have great voices, but because one day in a concert, they decided to exercise their freedom of speech and tell their fans what they thought of our government. And the fans, the red state hicks they are, hated that, and turned on them.
What makes them even more respectable truly heroic women is that in the face of losing money, fans, and their fame, they never apologized for using their brain. Not once. You just have to respect that. And “Shut up & Sing” is not a documentary about the Dixie Chicks’ music, but the hardships people have to endure in this country when giving an opinion. They gave an opinion, they spoke their minds, something America was built on, and idiots made a mountain out of a mole hill. Shut up and deal with it. “Shut Up & Sing” is not so much a documentary about the band, or their backlash, but more an attempt to show the world that they are wholesome, American family girls who adore one another. And it works. They’re wonderful people, who happen to lean toward the left, and they paid for it.
But Maines admirably never ceased to fight back whenever attacked for her statement. Meanwhile, we watch as they try to record another album with high hopes and optimism and fail terribly. Natalie Maines is one in particular the audience will gain a fondness for. She’s cute, outspoken, talented, and feisty, and country music be damned, she’s one to be respected for her ability to take a bad situation and turn it into an advantage for the group. When Sony, Lipton, and their publicists attempt to persuade them to provide their fans with a statement of apology, Maines exercises her sheer courage by standing up to them with the group supporting her, and she proclaims that she wouldn’t respect herself if she submitted to the pressure for the sake of money. “They’re not smart enough to make this statement,” one of their publicists urge as they shoot their Entertainment Weekly protest.
Maines is not the only person here who exemplifies true American bravery, but her band mates who fear for their lives, fear the death threats, and worry about money, never turn their backs on her. They support her views, take part in press conferences and consistently stand up for her, when the blame lies solely on Maines. “Shut Up & Sing” tells the audience that they’re not only American because they’re Southern family girls, but because they spoke up for what they believed in and never backed down. As a great man once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Directors Kopple and Peck compile a very entertaining and insightful glimpse into the group’s meetings, their attempts to save face, Maines’ battle of words with douche bag Toby Keith, the frightening experience with a crazed man stalking the trio, and the inevitable “authoritative” response from the government.
“Shut Up & Sing” says many things, but it mainly expresses that the Dixie Chicks were strong to endure the backlash, while their fans were unintelligible, ignorant tools who couldn’t understand the point of Maines’ comments, nor did they even attempt to understand them. In spite of obvious punishment, the trio stuck together, and never turned on one another, and in its Frank portrayal, it shows how utterly graceful this group was under fire. They’re more American than most other people, and to view the price of free speech, “Shut Up & Sing” needs to praised to the high heavens. Take “Shut Up & Sing” and “The US vs. John Lennon” and learn what freedom of speech really is. And learn what America actually thinks about it in the end. Sad, but hell, it’s true. The Dixie Chicks spoke their minds, and that’s what America is all about. Shut the fuck up and deal with it.