The Dixie Chicks are now the Chicks.
The platinum-selling country trio, which in 2003 became pariahs in Nashville for criticizing President George W. Bush on the eve of the American-led invasion of Iraq, has changed its name, apparently in tacit acknowledgment of criticism over its use of the word “Dixie,” a nostalgic nickname for the Civil War-era South.
But the three women of the group — Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire, who have been among the most outspoken figures in the conservative world of country music — made little immediate comment.
In a brief statement on its new website, the band states simply: “We want to meet this moment.” The new video, “March March,” features images of current and historical protests — for women’s rights, gay rights, environmental causes and Black Lives Matter.
The group’s decision comes as nationwide protests over police violence against black people have put a renewed spotlight on racial inequalities of all kinds — from corporate brands with problematic logos to media organizations with a lack of diversity in their top ranks.
For the Dixie Chicks, the pressure had come over its use of the word Dixie, with commentary in the news media pushing the group to change its name just as the country debates issues like removing Confederate monuments.
The name change comes ahead of the release of the group’s first album in 14 years, “Gaslighter,” due out on July 17.
It is perhaps the highest-profile example of a musical act rechristening itself over questions of historical and social resonance. This month, the country group Lady Antebellum — which has won five Grammy Awards — announced it would become Lady A, saying, “Our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday.”
But the Dixie Chicks occupy an even greater level of fame. Once a darling of country radio, the group has crossed over to become a banner mainstream act and magazine cover subject, even today. The Dixie Chicks have sold at least 33 million albums in the United States, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, and won 13 Grammys, including album of the year for its 2006 release “Taking the Long Way.”
That album was the Dixie Chicks’ defiant response to its abrupt ejection from the Nashville establishment, after Maines, the group’s lead singer, told a London audience in March 2003: “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”
The fallout from that statement was immediate and fierce, with fans protesting the group on tour and country radio stations dropping once-ubiquitous hits like “Wide Open Spaces” and “Without You” from playlists. Ever since, such brutal rejection as a consequence of political speech has been so feared that it has become a verb — “Dixie Chicked.” Taylor Swift’s recent documentary, “Miss Americana,” showed that the fear loomed over even her. (Swift also had the Dixie Chicks as guests on her latest album, “Lover.”)
Quick rebrandings can be complicated. Soon after Lady Antebellum announced its new name, it emerged that at least one other act — a black blues singer from Seattle — had already been releasing music under the name Lady A for years, leading to awkward settlement talks.
The Dixie Chicks faced a similar situation, with a 1960s pop group from New Zealand, but apparently resolved it in advance.
“A sincere and heartfelt thank you goes out to ‘The Chicks’ of NZ for their gracious gesture in allowing us to share their name,” Maines, Strayer and Maguire said in a statement circulated by a spokeswoman. “We are honored to co-exist together in the world with these exceptionally talented sisters. Chicks Rock!”
Exactly how the Chicks will handle the sudden change was unclear. Its social media accounts were quickly swapped on Thursday morning, but some merchandise, like advance vinyl copies of “Gaslighter,” has already been put on sale under the old name.
The Dixie Chicks, founded as a bluegrass group in Dallas in 1989, took its name in reference to “Dixie Chicken,” a 1973 album by the country-rock group Little Feat. The lyrics to that album’s title track — “If you’ll be my Dixie chicken/I’ll be your Tennessee lamb” — contain the kind of casual references to “Dixie” that have turned up repeatedly in country songs, with little mainstream controversy. But as criticism of a romanticized slavery-era South has grown, they have drawn new scrutiny.
The Dixie Chicks became major country hitmakers in the years after Maines joined in 1995, and were hailed by critics for blending sharp bluegrass skills with pop sensibilities. Maines has also become known for being outspoken on progressive causes like the release of the West Memphis Three, a group of teenage boys who were convicted of a murder in 1994 but later released after widespread doubts about their case. Maines’s Twitter account currently states simply: “Black Lives Matter.”
But as protests over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd continued, and Americans re-examined institutions and brands with ties to racist stereotypes, the Dixie Chicks were quickly targeted with demands to make a change. In a recent opinion article in Variety, the entertainment trade publication, the journalist Jeremy Helligar said that the term Dixie “conjures a time and a place of bondage.”