May 18, 2024

Changemaker of the Year, Maren Morris celebrated her honor at the Variety Hitmakers, presented by Sony audio, by listing off the women who inspired her including Taylor Swift, Sinead O’Connor and Billie Holiday.

Introduced by singer and songwriter Maggie Rogers, her colleague praised Morris for using her voice to uplift others. to fight for gender and racial equality, and to re-imagine traditionally exclusive spaces, “specifically in the world of country music.”

“She does it all with her head held high and with a sense of humor,” Rogers said. “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,” Rogers concluded before inviting Morris to the stage with a round of applause.

In front of the crowd, Morris thanked Rogers and joked, “I’ve also had a cocktail, so I’m crying already.”

Morris recalled her first days in Nashville, over ten years ago chasing her childhood dream of becoming a musician. “I have the photos of the awful outfits my mom put me in as a kid-performer to prove it,” the singer joked. “Cheetah print cowboy hats, satin pants from Limited Too. I was the country Lizzie McGuire.”

Listing off her astounding amount of “mountaintop career moments,” including chart toppers that crossed over into different genres and her Grammy award, Morris paused to reflect.

“All the while knowing, the system I was achieving success in was deeply fractured. And above all, centered, get this, men over any other sort of human being making comparable or often times better music,” she said. “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.”

“I realized very quickly that publicly pointing out these inequalities doesn’t make you the most popular. 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.’”

In the moments of “backlash” Morris said she found solace in the stories her “brave,” musical heroines. “They were massive pains in the ass,” Morris said. “It was then 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. Taylor Swift turning the tables on exploitative businessmen and taking back ownership of her life’s work by re-recording each of her previous albums, The Chicks criticizing a sitting United States president on invading Iraq at the height of their country music career, Sinead O’ Connor shining a light on the abuses of the Catholic church on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ or Billie Holiday continuing to perform ‘Strange Fruit’ in protest even with a racially-targeted, FBI investigation threatening her. They were all told to not bite the hand. They were all told to shut up and sing. 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.”

Revealing she had to step away because she felt drained working in her past “facets” of the music industry, Morris says she’s still in the “throes” of figuring it all out but concluded her speech with this thought. She would make change from within, with herself.

“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, no one else,” Maren said. “I love making music, and you don’t fight for what you don’t love.”

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