At a glance, the history of country music might seem quite simple. For journalist Marissa Moss, the reality was something else.
“I realized there would be a country music story that would be told by watching the charts,” she said in a recent conversation. “And it would be a very different story from what I’ve experienced and seen and really loved, and I felt it was important to present that story.”
The result of his decision to look beyond the charts and survey the last 25 years of country music history is Her Country: How Women in Country Music Became the Hit They Never Should Have BeenMoss’s first documentary book, which will be released on May 10.
Moss, a Nashville-based contributor rolling stonee, Billboardthe Los Angeles TimesNPR and other outlets, frames its narrative around three iconoclastic Texas talents who have risen to prominence over the past decade: Maren Morris of Grand Prairie, Mickey Guyton of Arlington and Kacey Musgraves of Golden.
Through extensive reporting on the three women and multiple interviews with Morris and Guyton, as well as a constellation of contemporaries, collaborators, journalists and scholars, Moss, on 304 pages, ably defends, among other changes critics, the urgent need for country music. to embrace diversity. (Moss spoke to me as a source for His country.)
The three women, who have all experienced some of country music’s most toxic tendencies, provide Moss with a guideline to examine the misogyny, inequity and racism embedded in country music’s power structure. Moss looks back on the infamous 2003 Chicks imbroglio involving President George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq, and even the early days of Miranda Lambert’s career, to illustrate how the next generation of Morris, Musgraves and Guyton chose to chart his own course. , expectations be damned.
“It’s like we’re right now, at least from my perspective, where country music is taking two different roads,” Moss says. “It’s been a trend in the history of the genre…but you have this major gender equality gap for women; very specifically, black women, queer women. But then you also have these huge audiences accessing these women completely outside of the standard country music access points.
Moss points to Morris’ pop crossover success with her multi-platinum single “The Middle”, as well as the Musgraves’ award-winning rise to stardom without any significant radio backing, as examples of how women – never particularly well represented on radio or television platforms in the genre to begin with – simply decided not to feel compelled to play Nashville’s game, reaping the rewards of, to borrow a phrase from Musgraves, “follow your arrow.”
“It’s very empowering and exciting for me to watch people who go about their careers that way, who say, you know, ‘I’m going to be true to myself, and my vision, and my moral center, and all those things, despite everything else,” Moss says. “Because they do that in country music, it’s really easy to break the rules and push the boundaries.
Some ugly anecdotes are embedded in His country – the much-discussed “Tomatogate” controversy surges (male artists are the lettuce, women the topping of the country music salad, a radio consultant said in 2015), as do some cruelly myopic and dismissive comments from the directors of programs and other country music guardians. Given this ugliness, it’s no wonder some musicians seem deeply bruised by the machinations of the city where they live and work, as evidenced by a quote Moss obtained from Morris following the use of racial slurs by Morgan Wallen in 2021.
“I was like, ‘Fuck this place,'” Morris says in His country. “But then I said to myself, if I leave, everything will stay exactly the same. I thought, I have to stay in the ring and get fired a little longer. And that’s going to help more people than the way I’m suffering. there’s obviously so much work to do, but I think I’m willing to have some tough conversations and identify as part of the problem to get to a better place because I don’t want to leave Nashville or country music.
If history is any guide, circumstances will almost certainly get worse before hopefully getting better – that’s as true for country music as it is for the world. Yet Morris’s battered but unyielding sense of optimism is also shared by Moss, who hopes His country is as much a vehicle of discovery as it is a clarion call for Nashville and country music fans hungry for change.
“I want people to feel powerfully informed about realities,” Moss says. “[I’m] I hope someone reads this book, who loves country music, but doesn’t feel or hasn’t felt like this is the place for them…would feel like to have been welcomed through these stories, and these women, and to lead [them] on the roads of so many different artists that they may have never listened to before. This is the best result for me.