Is Maren Morris Actually Leaving Country Music, or Not?
In September, Maren Morris sounded like she was breaking up with country music, but in the two months that have followed, she has massaged that message to the point that it feels like she meant she was just on a Ross and Rachel-esque break from the format.
So, which is it? And to what extent does she have final say?
Did Maren Morris Leave Country Music?
On Sept. 15, the Los Angeles Times published an interview with Morris with this headline: "Maren Morris is getting the hell out of country music: 'I've said everything I can say.'"
That's pretty definitive right? Keep reading.
Mikael Wood's introduction to the Q&A points out that one new song she dropped that day ("The Tree") said the she's "done filling up a cup with a hole in the bottom" and another ("Get the Hell Out of Here") includes "Watered the garden but forgot to fill the well."
Morris' actual quotes from that story are less definitive. She said she "had to take a step back" and admitted the genre felt like family, so a part of her always felt like she had to play protector. However, she also tells Wood:
"I thought I'd like to burn it (country music) to the ground and start over, but it's burning itself down without my help."
Both new songs are in line with the progressive sound she's built a career on, but there was one tangible piece of evidence that she was leaving country music. The L.A. Times reported she'd moved to Columbia Records from Columbia Nashville. "Burning House" singer Cam made a similar move in 2018. More on that in a moment.
Is Maren Morris Backtracking?
That depends on if you believe the headlines or the nuance in her explanation. Talking to Jimmy Fallon during a visit to the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last week, she labeled headlines around her departure from country music as "hyperbolic."
"I don't think (country music) is something you can really leave because it's a music that's in me and that's what I grew up doing," she said on Nov. 7. "It's the music I write, even if I've been sort of genre-fluid my whole career."
Fallon pressed her for a definitive answer on if she really is leaving country music, and she said, "No, no."
"I'm taking the good parts with me and all are welcome," Morris tells the host. "But, yeah, there were just some facets of it that I didn't really jibe with anymore."
The Truth About Maren Morris + Country Music
In the L.A. Times piece, Morris alludes to the genre's politics as being a problem for her. Wood says Morris is leaving because of "what she views as the country music industry's unwillingness to honestly reckon with its history of racism and misogyny."
Morris says she has grown tired of writing with commercial success (read: radio airplay) in mind.
Signs of discontent were present in late 2022 when she told the L.A. Times she didn't feel comfortable going to the CMA Awards after her pubic disagreement over trans-rights, children and gender with Brittany and Jason Aldean (Morris ended up going, but avoided cameras as much as possible).
It was pretty much radio silence after that, as Morris — an artist who gave a lot of time to country music outlets and radio stations — retreated until the "leaving country" article was published.
On the day of the 2023 CMA Awards, she shared several photos on Instagram with the caption "Bitches unite tonight."
Musically, it's not important that she chooses a genre, but being genre-less presents a marketing problem. What separates Morris from an artist like Taylor Swift is that Swift made her intentions clear when she left country music in 2014. The 1989 album was a pop album, and she let everyone know it beforehand.
Ambiguity will get an artist forgotten, and it will certainly complicate relationships with country music programmers, should Morris decide to chase airplay, playlists or awards in country music categories. Cam found this out, as radio ignored her two singles from The Otherside album (2020).
Morris, 33, does not seem particularly inclined to go after CMA or ACM Awards, but the more open-minded institutions (Grammys, People's Choice) would be attractive, presumably. Who in this world wouldn't like to win Grammy?
None of this may matter to her, and if that's the case, keep your ears open for a very artistically satisfying record next year. There's no better time to be an independent artist (like Tyler Childers), or at least act like one (Zach Bryan). Some of the best music from the last 12 months comes from artists who stopped caring, or who never really cared to play the game (Jason Isbell is sort of the 21st century OG here).
These artists (Childers in particular) have also moved the needle on LGBTQ issues as they pertain to country music, but there's no ambiguity to their sound. It takes a sharp arrow to pierce a thick target.